Hey there, time traveller!
This article was published 20/6/2012 (3328 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.
Some of my favourite perennials continue to be those dependable old plants that have graced Westman gardens for decades.
Some gardeners view such plants as old fashioned and out of style, but I continue to include many such old standbys in my garden and have no plans any time soon to dispose of them.
Besides the unique beauty of each of these plants, I prize them for several other reasons. Many of them are native plants or trace their lineage back to native plants, and we all know that native plants are usually tough and reliable — admiral qualities in our often severe and unpredictable prairie climate zone.
One such plant that never fails to put on a wonderfully bright display of bloom in my garden each summer is the Maltese Cross or Lychnis chalcedonica. Many will recognize this plant as being the same one that flourished in the flowerbeds of their parents and grandparents as it has been grown in prairie gardens for decades.
To illustrate just how enduring and tough Maltese cross is, I recall as a child admiring blooming clumps of Maltese cross on an abandoned farm site near our farm yard where the flower beds had long since reverted to wild grass. Yet clumps of Maltese cross still persisted and bloomed each summer.
Maltese cross, as its name implies, originates in the Mediterranean region (Malta is an island just north of Africa). As you might have already guessed, plants from this region are usually very drought tolerant to withstand the long dry spells in that area of the world.
The ‘cross’ part of the name refers to the tiny white cross at the centre of each scarlet flower. The blooms are born on stiff stems and the flower clusters are made up of up to 50 individual flowers, each of which has five scarlet petals and tiny white cross-shaped structures in their centres.
The foliage of this perennial is rather bristly and the individual leaves are firmly attached to the erect stems. The upright clumps can grow almost a metre in height.
Maltese cross perform best in full sun — in a location that receives less sun, the stems tend to get a bit spindly and may not be self-supporting. Although the plants will appreciate an adequate supply of moisture, they must have good drainage; they will, however, endure periods of drought.
A Maltese cross plant grown in a boggy or continually wet location will gradually lose its vigour and die. This is not a plant to include in a bog garden, around a pond or along a wet riverbed.
Maltese cross is a very versatile perennial and can be used in a variety of ways in the landscape. Most often it is used in a mixed perennial border, usually positioned toward the back of the border as it is a rather tall plant.
Dots of brilliant red can be created by placing several clumps of Maltese cross in a large perennial border. A large swath of scarlet will be created if several clumps are grouped together.
A grouping of several clumps of Maltese cross can be used to fill an entire bed. While this would create a stunning focal point while the plants are in bloom — in mid-summer — the bed would be without bloom for much of the growing season.
The foliage, however, does remain green and acceptable in appearance for most of the growing season. Deadheading will improve the appearance of the clumps if they happen to be located in a conspicuous location in the landscape.
Lychinis will self-seed; leaving a few seed heads on the plants will ensure that some self-seeding will occur — without any deadheading, lychnis will naturalize and innumerable seedlings will spring up in the vicinity of the parent plants. Maltese cross also can be propagated easily by division.
Good companion plants for Maltrese cross are heliopsis, delphinium, monkshood, speedwell — particularly the blue varieties, and rudbeckias. The brilliant scarlet flowers of lychnis are eye-catching no matter what plants they accompany but look particularly good next to plants with blue and/or golden flowers.
Maltese cross is an old, familiar perennial — not new and avant-garde, but dependable and time-tested. Perhaps you will find a spot for it in your landscape.
OUT & ABOUT
You are invited to our open garden this Sunday, June 24, from 1-4 p.m. Note the changes we’ve made since our last open garden and see the garden at a different time — early summer. Enjoy punch and cookies, and share gardening stories. Hope to see you Sunday!
Albert Parsons is a consultant for garden design and landscaping who lives in Minnedosa.