Posts Tagged ‘blue flowers’


Plantsman Graham Stuart Thomas observed (Perennial Garden Plants 1976,1990) that Polemonium caeruleum, the old garden standard Jacob’s Ladder, has been cultivated since Roman days. After all those centuries, something new can now be seen in Jacob’s Ladder cultivars as new hybrids have been introduced to the market over the past few years.

Pictured above is Polemonium reptans ‘Stairway to Heaven’, which was introduced by the New England Wildflower Society. P. reptans is known as Creeping Jacob’s Ladder, and forms a loose mound. It is arguably at its most attractive early in the spring, when the new leaves bear a beautiful rosy flush.

The paired leaflets, climbing up the stem, are the source of the rather fanciful common name of Jacob’s Ladder. ‘Stairway to Heaven’ produces small blue flowers that appear around the end of May here. By then, the leaves have taken on their summer colours of grey-green outlined with cream margins.


P. reptans ‘Touch of Class’, below, is a sport of ‘Stairway to Heaven’. It features a tighter mounding habit and larger leaves, with a narrow white border. It was introduced by Sunny Border Nurseries of Connecticut. Polemonium reptans is native to Eastern North America.

Touch of Class

Unlike these two variegated cultivars, Polemonium boreale ‘Heavenly Habit’ has ferny green leaves, but its flowers are more striking than those of its variegated cousins. Below, ‘Heavenly Habit’ blooms beside Corydalis ‘Wildside Blue’.


Here’s a closer look at the showy flowers of ‘Heavenly Habit’. P. boreale, or arctic polemonium, has been variously described as a hybrid with P. reptans or as a variety of P. caeruleum. All of my polemoniums grow in partly shaded locations where they are protected from the full blast of the hot afternoon sun.


My favorite is probably Polemonium caeruleum ‘Brise d’Anjou’, a cultivar of the old European and Asian standard P. caeruleum. ‘Brise d’Anjou’ or Breeze of Anjou, was a chance discovery at a nursery in France and was introduced by Blooms of Bressingham. I love the goldy shade of the variegated leaves.

Maybe the best thing about Jacob’s Ladders is the way, after checking on them in the garden, they leave me humming that old spiritual “We are…climb-ing…Jacob’s…La-a-dder…” as I continue my stroll through the garden.

Brise d'anjou

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Bottle Gentian (Gentiana andrewsii) is a native perennial that grows in damp meadows and woodlands with filtered light. It blooms late in the summer and into the fall. I took the photograph above late in September. The name ‘bottle’ refers to the odd flowers, which are compared to bottles. I prefer another common name, Closed Gentian, because what look like big fat buds never open. That’s it, what you see is what you get. It’s said that these flowers are pollinated by bumblebees because they’re the only insects strong enough to open the corolla tube.

The Bottle gentians growing in our field get to be about 2 feet tall. The leaves climb the stalk in opposite pairs, with a whorl of up to 7 leaves below the flower cluster. There are also a few Bottle gentians growing in the woods, and they tend to stay close to the ground, just a few inches tall.


Gentians are a large family, with more than 300 species to be found around the world. They are usually associated with cool summers and often grow in alpine habitats in temperate regions of the globe. The brilliant blue featured by many gentians makes them desirable garden additions.

This summer, I added my first gentian plant to my garden, Gentiana ‘True Blue’. It’s a hybrid from breeder Darrell Probst that was introduced in 2008. Probst is best known for his work on epimedium, but he has been breeding and introducing a variety of new plants from his Massachusetts nursery, Garden Vision, for three decades. His introductions include Monarda ‘Raspberry Wine’ and Physostegia ‘Miss Manners’ and a series of coreopsis called Big Bang.


Gentiana ‘True Blue’ is reported to grow to 24 inches tall, but in its first year here, it has remained low growing. It settled in well, and I was pleased when I noticed it was preparing to bloom! Next year, it should flower earlier in the season, but it is fun to have these bright blue flowers in October. Unlike its native cousin, True Blue opens its flower so you can fully appreciate them.


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