Louis Raymond experiments in his own gardens like

a mad scientist, searching out plants that most people have

never seen before & figuring out how to make them perform.- The Boston Globe

…Louis Raymond ensures that trees can grow in Brooklyn…

or just about any other place where concrete consumes

the dirt and skyscrapers shield the sunshine.- USA Today

 
 

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Myrtle's easy when the conditions are right.

 
 
 
 

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Louis tries to capture the exact words to describe the fleeting but deep pleasures to be found in these Summer-into-Autumn incredibles.

 
 
 
 

New Gardening to Do!

Allergic to bees? You can still have an exciting garden, full of flowers and color and wildlife.

 
 
 
 

Plant Profiles

Variegated Great Burnet

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The flowerheads of Great Burnet are like burgundy-pink mikes sampling the sounds of the garden in late Summer.  Did you bring your sheet music?  I grow the variegated cultivar 'Shiro Fukirin' partly because it is variegated, with leaflets brightly edged in cream. 

 

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But also because an older clump can be seven feet tall.  I love any perennial that I have to look up to.

 

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I moved my clump into the Pink Borders last Fall so its showy foliage and raspberry flowers can be in unabashed harmony with those beds' other pink, white, and blue neighbors, not to mention the strappy burgundy foliage of Eucomis 'Sparkling Burgundy' bulbs.  It's barely three feet tall this first season after the move, but give it another year or two and it will be the graceful willowy star of the pink gardens' late-season show.

 

 

Here's how to grow this Fall-blooming beauty:

 

Latin Name

Sanguisorba officinalis 'Shiro Fukirin' (also 'Shiro Fukurin')

Common Name

Variegated Great Burnet

Family

Rosaceae, the Rose family.

What kind of plant is it?

Herbaceous perennial.

Hardiness

Zones 4 - 7

Habit

Clumping but diligently outward-spreading.  Shorter non-blooming stems of foliage earlier in the season are soon joined by stems that clearly have height on their minds, growing foot by foot to six or even seven feet by the time they are in full bloom in late Summer.

Rate of Growth

Fast.

Size in ten years

A clump three feet wide at the base, and with stems to seven feet tall leaning outward modestly (if supported) to five feet across.

Texture

Open and upward; wiry and see-through at the top third of the stems, which is where the flowering begins.

Grown for

Vertical spikes of tiny flowers are cheek-by-jowl up the last inch of each stem.  They look like a miniature version of those plastic corn-on-the-cob holders—but without the pair of sharp spikes, and in burgundy-pink instead of butter yellow.

 

the foliage: narrow leaflets about the same size as the "cobs" of flowers, but in threes not solo, and beautifully edged in cream.  Early in the season, the foliage is delicious in salads—colorful, too.

 

its lateness of bloom: September into October here in Rhode Island.

 

its size: The flowering stems bear foliage to about four feet, but as they elongate higher and higher they start to add buds to their repertoire.  By the time the flowers themselves emerge the plant can be six or even seven feet tall.

 

its vigor and durability: 'Shiro Fukirin' is long-lived as well as energetic; if it's even moderately happy you'll have it forever.

 

its rarity: 'Shiro Fukirin' is puzzlingly hard to find, but all the more exciting when the hunt is successful.

Flowering season

Early Fall: September into October here in Rhode Island.

Culture

Good soil and reasonable drainage, although 'Shiru Fukirin' isn't fussy, and, indeed, seems very tolerant of my heavy and often sopping-wet-in-Winter soil.  Full sun is best, but a bit of shade is fine, too.

 

How to handle it

Because of its potential size—to seven feet tall and wide—'Shiro Fukirin' can have an almost architectural presence despite the delicacy of the foliage and the airy array of the small flowerheads.

 

The challenge is that the tall stems start to lean outward soon after they reach their most impressive altitude in August and September, and the clump will be an untidy sprawl if not supported.  As is so often the case, trying to bring a sprawled clump back to order is much less effective than keeping it in order all along. The more you can act prophylactically, the better.

 

The easiest option is to pinch the stems in early June, which encourages side branches that, happily, never reach the tipsy height of unpinched stems.  On the other hand, that height itself is, therefore, lost.  Orderly perennials are a satisfaction, indeed—but not nearly as exciting as orderly perennials that are also "Holy moly! Get a load of that monster!" huge.

 

If you're going for height, then, omit most of the pinching but get out the twine and the stakes.  In June, put in four or five green four-foot pea stakes around the clump, in a circle about two feet in diameter.  Gather most but not all of the Sanguisorba stems—which are very wiry and a pleasure to work with—inside the circle as you tie twine around it, stake to stake to stake.  Leave a few stems outside the twine; pinch them so they'll stay shorter and provide some fullness at what will be, as the colony grows through the summer, merely its waist.

 

As August progresses, the stems inside the twine—which, remember, you didn't pinch—will be five or even six feet tall.  Ignore their look of graceful billowing self-sufficiency; they're too young to realize the entropy that their imminent adulthood will bring on.  (Sound familiar?  Ah, youth.)  Now add, say, three or four green six-foot pea stakes in a circle concentric with the first but at say, six inches wider all around.  In other words, if the four-foot stakes are in a two-foot circle, the six-foot stakes would be in a three-foot circle.

 

Keep most but not all of the tall stems inside the twine that you tie from stake to stake; the few that remain outside will sprawl stylishly onto and into a couple of the Sanquisorba's even-taller neighbors.  (Keep reading for suggestions of what to partner with 'Shiro Fukirin').  Meanwhile, the stems you pinched back in June will have branched out nicely.  If it happens that a few of those side-branches incorporate naturally into this second round of staking, great.  Let the rest of the pinched stems continue to grow free-range.

 

With this bit of pinching followed by bi-level staking, the colony will billow but not flop.  It will be tall and statuesque without looking like it's been taken hostage. 

 

'Shiro Fukirin' will be even more exciting when it has synergizing neighbors.  Although the flowers seem burgundy at a glance, there's enough pink mixed in that 'Shiro Fukurin' is best not planted with neighboring plants that will be celebrating yellow, red, or orange in September and October.  Blue, burgundy, white, green, and silver are the coordinating colors to explore.

 

To the back, then, bushy mounding plants four feet and taller, so some of the tallest 'Shiro Fukirin' stems can lean backward without danger of falling off the cliff.  Pink rhododendrons, say?  Their large and dark foliage will be a great backdrop, and their May and June flowering peak wouldn't be hidden by the young growth of the 'Shiro Fukirin' to their front.

 

To the front, consider plants that are mounding and full to two or even three feet.  Besides the sheer aesthetics of anchoring this tall and ever-upward perennial, these fore-plantings have practical use, too.  Unless your beds are fabulously well-watered or your climate is as cool and rainy as that of Edinburgh, by the time the clump is at its height both literally and visually it will have lost much of its bottom-most foliage.  Fore-plantings hide the bare shins of an otherwise elegant plant. 

 

Foliage that's smaller works as well as larger.  For smaller, consider ferns.  Dryopteris erythrosora 'Brilliance' would be great because the fiddles are pink, unfurled new fronds are copper, the mature growth is bright green, the growth is thick, and it doesn't get much taller than two feet.

 

There are many choices for foliage's that's larger.  I wound up having the bright-green and almost hydrangea-like Leucosceptrum stellipilum nearby; you can see the pairing in the second picture above.  

 

Perhaps most inspired, though, would be low purple foliage.  Wiegela 'My Monet' is deep burgundy all season long.  And each of these three shrubs rushes into their burgundy Fall foliage while it's still late Summer, creating a seasonal show in plenty of time to coordinate with the 'Shiro Fukirin':  Hydrangea macrophylla 'Lady in Red', Itea virginica 'Little Henry', or—sigh—Enkianthus perulatus 'Compactus'.

 

Or if, by odd chance, you've made the adjacent soil sandier and tending to dry, then plant the burgundy-blue Sedum 'Matrona', purple-leaved dahlias, or (my choice) the purple-leaved pineapple lily, Eucomis 'Sparking Burgundy'.

 

Stay away from the low ornamental grasses that have tight plumes, which would look repetitive.  But purple lovegrass, Eragrostis spectabilis, would be a thrill:  Its pinkish flowers are in clouds not cob-like spikes.

 

'Shiro Fukurin' is fully hardy, and it's easiest to cut all the stems right down to the ground in the Fall instead of waiting until Spring.  Also, with hard frost the foliage would all Fall away and pitilessly expose your diligent pea-staking.  Better to dismantle it, which also preserves the pea-stakes for use a second season.  (Stick the top end of each stake in the ground the next season, though: It's always less worn than the end that had to play the bottom all season by spending several months stuck in the dirt.)

Downsides

With the exception of needing either a little pinching or a little support, this is a carefree perennial.

Variants

Sanguisorba is an easy, hardy, and diverse family of perennials.  S. officinalis 'Tanna' is the baby in the house: just a foot tall and with reddish flowers.  S. menziesii is another shorty, to two feet with green foliage and dangling catkin-like flowers in shocking pink.  S. tenuifolia has thin green leaves—thinner still in the 'Thin Leaf' cultivar—and dangling flowers in either white or near-red.  S. obtusa 'Lemon Splash' has yellow-splotched leaves (not to my taste, though: they look as if they've contracted some ailment or another).  S. canadensis is native, with white flowers in September.

 

New cultivars seem to come to market almost yearly; all are worth considering.            

Availability

On-line but not often; very occasionally at destination nurseries.

Propagation

By division in Spring.  

Native habitat

Sanguisorba officinalis is broadly native to cooler areas of the entire northern hemisphere, including Asia, Europe, and North America.  S. officinalis 'Shiro Fukirin' is, clearly, native to Japan.

 
 
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