a plant i’d order: trachystemon orientalis

trachystemonIT WAS KEN DRUSE, the garden writer and photographer, who gave me Trachystemon orientalis years ago, after many unsubtle hints on my part. Like any plant you don’t know and haven’t seen, it seemed a treasure: something precious, a jewel, oh could I please have just the tiniest bit, Ken? Today I garden in a small sea of this borage relative (think comfrey, another cousin, if you want to know the inclinations of Trachystemon, which is also a cousin of Pulmonaria). I have to smile when I recall how we relative few who had it “back then” kept such a tight fist on our prize possession.

Blue-flowered plants seem to always have that mystique. While still partly leafless in early spring, about mid-April here, Trachystemon sends up its showy blue flowers on stems perhaps 10 inches tall in my conditions, and gradually after that the big, heart-shaped leaves, about the same height, finally fill in, making a pleasing bold statement, if not a spectacular one.

trachystemon-foliageGood news, bad news: Trachystemon will do in sun or shade, and even in dry shade at the roots of trees (or in damp spots). This rhizomatous do-er seems to be happy with total neglect, almost anywhere (Zones 5 or 6-9). It outcompetes many weeds—a great trait in a groundcover, too. But this kind of cooperative nature also means it is a thug in climates like England’s, where it has been naturalized for as long as anyone can remember (so the Pacific Northwest, for instance, would be a potential romping grounds).

I am about to move some of my little blue ocean to the hardest places in my garden, where only toughies like Geranium macrorrhizum or perhaps Helleborus orientalis or Epimedium—or Trachystemon—will do the trick.

  1. Ted says:

    Very interesting. My garden is populated with many other rompers – this might fit right in. I’ve never seen it in the local nurseries, so I’ll consider it ‘trial’ in my Z4/5 garden. Thanks again Margaret!

  2. Johanna says:

    Finding the right place for these thugs is so important! A friend gave me “something from my yard” a few years ago, he was rearranging things and thought I should have it. It turns out to be comfrey. Very pretty, terrible spreader, considered a carcinogen, and now I am in the process of trying to dig it out.

    Wish I had a place for it, it’s got great structure and presence like your Trachystemon, but it won’t stay put!

  3. linda jean says:

    Thank you for telling me the name of the plant that is doing so well in my shade garden. I bought my plants from Ellen Horning (Seneca Hill Perennials) who said Joe Eck and Wayne Winterrowd had recommended it highly. Anyway, unlike 15 years ago when I started gardening and I obsessively and fastidiously wrote down everything I bought and where I planted it (Microsoft Access tends to support such obsessions), I tend now to just buy it, plant it, and promptly forget its name. Thank you, since every year now I wonder what it is (and a dozen others).

  4. Tracey says:

    Hello Margaret,
    I am so thankful I found your website and newsletter. Enjoying it, and wishing I had more time for it. I am going to try trachystemon, despite both mail order websites stating it’s for zone 6. I am zone 5, in a suburb about 30 miles south of Chicago. Heavily wooded on my 5 acre property, and constantly battling deer. I know they will not touch my pulmonaria (which I now rely on heavily), so I think this cousin is worth a try. I will let you know how it does.

    1. Margaret says:

      I have had the Trachystemon for many, many years Tracey, so it surprises me that they state Zone 6 (although a lot of my plants are rated as such and have similarly been here forever). Thanks for the kind words, and happy spring.

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