A Gardening Journal

The Best Season Ever: 'Firecracker' Lysimachia in Flower

Gardeners whose beds are all tidied by April (my realistic target date is mid-July) will want to show off their colony of 'Firecracker' lysimachia in Spring, when its emerging foliage is as deep a burgundy as that of any smoke bush.

 

By Summer, the burgundy has softened—OK, faded—and the stems can have grown so tall that they could lean or even flop. But by then, the butter-yellow flowers have appeared, and are happy to chat with other yellows you have thoughtfully planted nearby. My choice is 'Fernspray Gold' hinoki cypress, whose horizontal branches and feathery yellow foliage put steadying arms around many a willowy 'Firecracker' stem.

 

Lysimachia ciliata Firecracker Chamaecyparis obtusa Fernspray Gold 071216 640

 

I thin the hinoki to make plenty of gaps between branches, as well as gaps between the dense patches of foliage of individual branches. Lysimachia ciliata 'Firecracker' spreads very diligently—and is reasonably shade-tolerant, too—so it's inevitable that there are stems emerging directly beneath the conifer's lowest limbs. They act like fluffy peony hoops, giving 'Firecracker' stems that, by now, can be three feet tall and higher, plenty of graceful support, plus detailed coloristic commentary.

 

The bright foliage of 'Fernspray Gold' is a different color every millimeter, depending on how new the leaf segments are and how much sun or shade they receive as they age. Young foliage in plenty of light is white-yellow; older foliage in part shade is yellow-green. Because the 'Firecracker' stems in Summer are tall enough to poke up through the bottom branches, the perennial's different colors can harmonize with the cypress's foliage cheek-to-cheek. Lysimachia leaves that were merely solid burgundy in May, and on stems too short to reach even the lowest hinoki limbs, are now a complex suffusion of burgundy and green that's elevated in both senses. Those ever-changing combinations of green and burgundy interact with the ever-changing combinations of white, yellow, and green of the surrounding hinoki foliage. 

 

The backs of the petals of the lysimachia flowers—which dangle, so the back is usually the only side you see—are solid butter yellow. They are the ostinato to the subtle improvisations of the two plants' foliage. Only if you tilt a blossom up to see its face does the raspberry base of each petal come into view.

 

Lysimachia ciliata Firecracker from head on 071216 640

 

See the tiny white hairs on the stems? Hardly noticeable but, apparently, they are the reason this species is named Lysimachia ciliata. You may recall from high school botany the similarly-tiny cilia that some protozoans used to propel themselves through the water, so this plant's tiny hairs are, indeed, cilia-like.

 

Seen from the side, the pendulous flowers have a ballerina-like stance, with the five white anthers on pointe and the petals forming the tutu.

 

Lysimachia ciliata Firecracker flower from side 071216 640

 

As far as I can tell, Lysimachia ciliata 'Firecracker' is the same as Lysimachia ciliata 'Atropurpurea'. I recommend you use the 'Firecracker' name, because there's also, confusingly, a Lysimachia atropurpurea species. Its 'Beaujolais' cultivar—with grey foliage and thrilling burgundy flowerbuds so dark they seem black—is always on my wishlist.

 

 

Here's how to grow another vigorous and showy lysimachia: L. clethroides 'Geisha'. Its handling is the same, but it is much hardier: to climate zone 3 instead of 5. In my experience, Lysimachia ciliata 'Firecracker' doesn't display its tendency to revert to all-green foliage.

 
 
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