Hey there, time traveller!
This article was published 25/7/2012 (3293 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.
During the month of July, we enjoy many of our most popular perennials as they put on their displays of bloom.
Lilies, delphiniums, heliopsis, Echinacea, and many varieties of campanula are just some of the favourite old standbys that bloom at this time of year.
I must admit a fondness for perennials that produce spikes of bloom; I think I find these kinds of plants attractive because they are often "neat and tidy" plants that have a vertical growth habit and are self-supporting and don’t sprawl.
One perennial that fills this bill perfectly is the veronica or more commonly called spike speedwell ‘spicata’.
I have several of these plants in my garden and value them for their good performance and easy care. They don’t seem to require any special attention and are not prone to disease or insect problems.
Spike speedwell must have sun — I grow them in full sun and in part sun, where they get sun for about half a day. Any less direct sunlight and the plants will not be as sturdy and may not be self-supporting — a characteristic which is one of the plant’s main drawing cards, so I never grow this plant in too much shade.
Happy in any ordinary soil type and fairly drought tolerant, veronica does appreciate a drink of water during hot, dry spells. The plants form clumps so they are not at all invasive, which is another feather in their cap.
Because of their vertical growth habit, which is accentuated by the upright pointed spikes of bloom, veronica can be used in a number of ways in the landscape. It fits right into a mixed flower border, can be used as a accent plant, and is often used as a edging plant — albeit a rather tall one — because of its neat growth habit.
Most veronicas have attractive dark green foliage that forms tight, compact clumps. Depending on the variety, spike speedwells can range in height from 20 to 50 centimetres.
Some of the shorter varieties are often used in rock gardens and I have seen veronica used in mass plantings in public gardens. They have a long vase life as cut flowers and although I have never tried this, I have seen veronica used in containers — the plants would have to be planted into the ground in the fall or they would winter kill.
Two of the most popular varieties are ‘Royal Candles’, which grows about 30 cm tall, and ‘Sunny Border Blue’, which is a bit shorter at 20 cm. Both of these varieties have blue-purple flowers.
There is a pink variety called ‘Red Fox’, which is a 30 cm plant and several white varieties, including ‘Icicle’ and ‘Alba’ that are a bit taller at 60 cm or more. Both white and blue spike speedwells are useful as separators in a mixed border where they can be used between blocks of colour that would not be compatible grown side-by-side.
Veronica ‘Silver Sea’ is a blue variety with silvery-grey foliage that is unique and adds interest in a mixed border due to its unusual foliage colour.
I like to pair my blue veronicas with heliopsis ‘Lorraine Sunshine’ — bloom on the heliopsis will outlast the veronica flowers, but they both begin to bloom about the same time — early July.
When the main spikes of my veronicas have finished blooming, I clip the central stem off just above a leaf axil about a third of the way down the stem and I often get side shoots that will put forth bloom in the fall.
The foliage remains attractive all season, so even if the plants do not re-bloom, they are not unattractive in the border.
Spike speedwell is reliable and long lasting — it only needs to be rejuvenated about every five years, which is easy to do as clumps can be dug up and divided into sections and replanted.
An attractive, easy-care perennial, veronica is a welcome addition to any sunny garden. Perhaps you will try it.