A Yellow Perennial Garden - Rear - Front - Succulents - Details

Acid | Alpine | Center | Fence | Shade

This is my refuge from the pressures of others' expectations and the close quarters of urban living, a private place of peace and belonging for me and plants, insects and birds that share our world with us. The scale is that of a woodland glade, with views terminated by tall plants and vines on fences, with varied light and soil, and water for wildlife to drink and bathe in. Artificial elements take second place to natural ones. I'm not driven to excel here as I was for so much of my life, instead I'm able to be one with our mother earth. Nothing is a weed if it's yellow. I keep any plant here if I enjoy having it as company.

At one side is the sofa swing I grew up in, shaded from afternoon sun by a neighbour's cedar hedge. At the other, shaded in the morning, is the picnic table from the Cumberland homestead where so much of my heart was left. Ribes aureum provides food for chipmunks and robins, a small pond provides water for them, and a 12 m clump of Thuja occidentalis provides shelter for the birds who feed on black oil sunflower and niger seed in feeders hung from the house eaves. Seed-bearing plants are cut only in the spring to provide natural bird food over the winter. I've seen 42 species of birds find shelter, food or water here so far, as well as 12 wild animals and over 300 insects; I'm surrounded by young song sparrows most of the summer. One major thing is missing though: Batrachochytrium dendrobatidis has arrived in Ottawa and almost extirpated the toads that announced the arrival of spring throughout my childhood and in my backyard ponds until now. I've only seen one in all the time I've been here.

As with my Fletcher meadow trial of many years ago, I'm starting with many species and varieties of plants and expect them to settle themselves down to perhaps half the initial number. As a naturalist, my aim is to create good habitats, then let plants flourish that happily grow there.

Plants need light, water and nutrients. Since most of my area is short on light, I ensure a supply of the other two. Cocoa shells, neighbours' leaves and bonemeal provide a continual infusion of nutrients, a sprinkler system that is turned on during droughts ensures steady soil moisture in most areas.

Plants that have proven themselves here and that I can recommend to other Ottawa gardeners are in bold. Notes and photos will grow and disappear as the plants do.

Fence Garden

Back Fence Panorama September 2011
220° panorama September 2011
This forms the outside boundary - tall plants, shrubs and vines. mouseover thumbnails for full images
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Achillea 'Moonshine' was added 2016; 80% sun. Achillea 'Moonshine' Achillea 'Moonshine'
Anthemis tinctoria (Cota tinctoria), native to the Mediterranean, was found in a local meadow, undoubtedly a garden escape. It forms a low tight clump that blooms until hard frost. Some sources say it's biennial, but mine is a short-lived perennial (3-5 years) and is self-reproducing by seed although only half the offspring are yellow, the others have almost white rays so I remove them. It's rays fold down tightly under the disc at night, spreading back horizontally to full diameter only in mid-morning. It's evergreen in warmer climates; composite diameter 30 mm; 80% sun. Anthemis tinctoria Anthemis tinctoria
Aurinia saxatilis (Alyssum saxatile) is from chalky soils of Europe; the native plant is yellow, but cultivars cover white through gold. It grows off last year's stems if they're left in place. Small pollinating insects love it; flower diameter 6 mm; 80% sun. Aurinia saxatilis Aurinia saxatilis
Baptisia 'Solar Flare's purple stems accentuate the yellow flowers, but bloom is brief; 50% sun. Several other yellow Baptisia have succumbed here to fungus. Baptisia 'Lemon Meringue' Baptisia 'Lemon Meringue'
Chrysogonum virginianum, a North American native along streams, prefers light shade and moist soil, forms a tight clump via short runners on the edge of the bog garden, divides and transplants well, a cheerful little plant; flower diameter 15 mm; 40% sun. Chrysogonum virginianum Chrysogonum virginianum
Coreopsis verticillata is native to North America, selection 'Zagreb' has compact tidy growth and won the 2001 RHS Award of Garden Merit. It's spreading about 4 cm each year, and flowering very well; 90% sun. Coreopsis verticillata Zagreb Coreopsis verticillata Zagreb
Digitalis grandiflora from central Europe is supposed to be a perennial, but it's acting like a biennial for me so far; 70% sun. Digitalis grandiflora Digitalis grandiflora
Echinacea 'Balsomemy' is a patented Echinacea ×hybrida selection by Ball Horticultural Company; 80% sun. Echinacea 'Balsomemy'
Helenium autumnale, named by Linnaeus after Helen of Troy, is a local native and forms a dense medium-height long-blooming clump; 40% sun. Helenium autumnale Helenium autumnale
Helianthemum nummularium from dry sunny chalky soils in Europe forms spreading clumps about 10 cm high that are covered in blooms June and July. The native plant is yellow, but cultivars cover white through to deep red; flower diameter 23 mm; 30-50% sun. Helianthemum nummularium Helianthemum nummularium
Helianthus microcephalus 'Lemon Queen', a local native, was added spring 2015; 2 m tall; composite diameter 55 mm; flower diameter 1 mm; 70% sun. Helianthus microcephalus Helianthus microcephalus
Helianthus strumosis, a local native, arrived by itself 2018. Helianthus strumosis
Helianthus tuberosus, native to North America, was cultivated for its edible tubers by our first peoples. It spreads by underground stolons, the stems are strong enough that the excess can be pulled up even in clay. Helianthus tuberosus Helianthus tuberosus
Hieracium canadense, a local native, is forming a tight clump next to the cedar tree; composite diameter 16 mm; 20% sun. Hieracium canadense Hieracium canadense
Hypericum perforatum is naturalized locally from Europe, pollen-collecting insects love it. It's common name, St.John's-wort, comes from the tradition of harvesting it on St.John's day, 24 June, for medicinal purposes; flower diameter 25 mm; 40% sun. Hypericum perforatum Hypericum perforatum
Inula ensifolia is native to eastern Europe and blooms from July until frost; 50% sun. Inula ensifolia Inula ensifolia
Iris pseudacorus, native to Europe and the Mediterranean, is listed as invasive by those who panic whenever a new species finds a niche in our polluted landscape, but it's almost never found in truly natural biomes, only along streams we've loaded with fertilizer runoff and such where it helps to clean the water; flower diameter 80 mm. Iris pseudacorus Iris pseudacorus
Potentilla recta, originally from Eurasia and naturalized locally, produces lots of sulphur yellow flowers in 20% sun; flower diameter 25 mm. Potentilla recta Potentilla recta
Ranunculus lingua is native to wetlands, this is a double form; 70% sun. Ranunculus lingua double
Ratibida pinnata is native to the Canadian prairies. The flower rays emerge horizontally and tightly rolled up, over the next week they unroll and descend to point straight down for maximum visibility, only then do the fertile flowers start opening; height 2 m; 60 mm ray length; 15 mm cone diameter; 70% sun. Ratibida pinnata Ratibida pinnata
Ribes aureum (R.tenuiflorum), a locally native shrub with black berries, blooms profusely in 80% sun. It's berries aren't particularly tasty to us, but chipmunks love them, eagerly climbing the vertical branches to reach them. The branches are weak for their height and droop after each rain. Ribes aureum Ribes aureum
Rudbeckia fulgida, a North American native, blooms from mid-summer until temperatures really plunge; 50 mm diameter; 50% sun. Rudbeckia fulgida Rudbeckia fulgida
Rudbeckia hirta, a local native, blooms from mid-summer until late fall. It's short lived, but maintains itself by producing seed. Despite being intermixed with R.fulgida, it maintains its specific identity that way; the hairs on the leaf margins are diagnostic for this species. It is hybridizing with R.nitida though, resulting in hirta-shaped plants with sharper teeth on the leaves and the green centers of nitida and one with peaked centers that blooms weeks earlier than any of the others; 80 mm diameter; 50% sun. Rudbeckia hirta Rudbeckia hirta
Rudbeckia nitida is supposedly native to wet areas of the southern USA, however since it's hardy to zone 3 its original range must have included the northern prairies. Its large glossy rays appear vertically, then gradually expand and descend for maximum visibility as the fertile flowers open; height 2 m; 90 mm composite diameter; 1.1 mm flower diameter; 60% sun. Rudbeckia nitida Rudbeckia nitida
Sedum acre from Europe is a ground cover that hasn't found a spot it likes in my garden yet. Sedum acre
Silphium perfoliatum, native to eastern North America, is a conversation piece: it's a binary plant! Each bloom appears between two stalks, then each splits again, so each spike produces 1,2,4,8,16... blooms at a time. The favourite of large butterflies among all my plants. Stout wind firm stalks and high blooming habit make this an excellent choice for the back of a garden. (Mine grows 3 m tall; it's located where my compost heap used to be.) Deadheading keeps it blooming almost until frost. It's known as cup-plant for the rain-retaining cup formed by the fused opposite leaves; 60 mm diameter; 70% sun. Silphium perfoliatum Silphium perfoliatum
Solidago canadensis is native locally. Due to the sheltered location and mid-sun here, its stems need a ring support. It attracts a wonderful variety of pollinating insects, especially Hymenoptera. And no, goldenrods do not cause hay fever, their pollen is so heavy and sticky it doesn't go anywhere unless carried by an insect. It's grasses and ragweed that blow their pollen all over the late summer and fall landscape; flower diameter 3 mm; 60% sun. Solidago canadensis Solidago canadensis
Solidago rigida, native locally, flowers along a thin 2 m spike; its one spike is reliable but so far hasn't produced any offsets or viable seed for me; 70% sun. Solidago rigida Solidago rigida
Solidago rugosa is native locally; the cultivar 'Fireworks' is widely sold in USA garden centers, but Canadian retailers universally consider Solidago weeds they wouldn't be seen dead with! The earliest Solidago to bloom here. Solidago rugosa Solidago rugosa
Tanacetum vulgare, native to Eurasia, has been spread throughout the world for its supposed medicinal properties: to treat intestinal worms, rheumatism, digestive problems, fevers, sores, to bring out measles, to help women conceive, to prevent miscarriages. Paradoxically, high doses were supposed to induce abortions; 20% sun. Tanacetum vulgare
Thermopsis montana is native to cool moist forests of the southern Rockies. The genus name means lupine-similar; both have pea-shaped flowers. In garden soil it grows a meter high, needs a high ring support and still flops after a rain; flower size 15 mm; 60% sun. Thermopsis montana Thermopsis montana
Verbascum chaixii is native to Europe, growing over a meter tall; 50% sun. Verbascum chaixii Verbascum chaixii
Zizia aptera, native to moist thickets and open woods of Ontario, was grown from seed. It multiplies well in tight clumps; flower diameter 1 mm; 50% sun. Zizia aptera Zizia aptera

Center Garden

Center Garden May 2013
This was built spring 2011 as a geophyte garden - bulbs, corms, tubers and rhizomes. mouseover thumbnails for full images
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Eremurus 'Moneymaker', with E.isabellinus as a parent, is the only E. that has survived here It's clearly marginal, frequently skipping flowering; 80% sun. Eremurus 'Moneymaker' Eremurus 'Moneymaker'
Hemerocallis species were used for food throughout Asia since time immemorial, but didn't appear in Europe until the 1500's. They are so easily grown and so variable that there are now over 50,000 named cultivars. A row was added summer & fall 2011 in 80% sun. From left to right:
Hemerocallis 'Andrew Christian' is a tetraploid with wonderful fragrance morning & evening; flower diameter 150 mm. Hemerocallis 'Andrew Christian' Hemerocallis 'Andrew Christian'
Hemerocallis 'Omomuki', also a tetraploid, has heavily ruffled petals; flower diameter 140 mm. Hemerocallis 'Omomuki' Hemerocallis 'Omomuki'
Hemerocallis 'Siloam Amazing Grace' is a vigorous diploid, loads of blooms with rolled petal ends; flower diameter 135 mm. Hemerocallis 'Siloam Amazing Grace' Hemerocallis 'Siloam Amazing Grace'
Iris 'Summer Olympics', a germanica, was here when I came and was moved from its sunless location buried under the cedars; it's a show just as the tulips fade; 60% sun. Iris 'Summer Olympics' Iris 'Summer Olympics'
Lilium occupy the left side. Lilioceris lilii, now endemic here, emerge when the shoots are about 10 cm high and are picked off and squashed during the two week emergence period. Any grubs that do hatch are wiped off the leaf undersides as soon as they are detected. With this regimen, leaf damage is rare, but they have to be planted deep to survive the attention of chipmunks and squirrels. A layer of sand a few cm. deep reduces digging damage from my chipmunks (no guarantee with yours!); 80% sun.
Lilium 'Citronella' is a partly recurved outfacing Asiatic strain originating from L.davidii ×L.amabile hybrids; stems of small bulbs (offsets) are a bit weak for the weight of blooms they produce, but mature bulbs are fine; flower diameter 110 mm. Lilium 'Citronella' Lilium 'Citronella'
Lilium 'Pearl Melanie' is a 2 m high tetraploid outfacing Asian, windfirm despite its height; flower diameter 130 mm. Lilium 'Pearl Melanie' Lilium 'Pearl Melanie'
Lilium 'Pixie Yellow' is a vigorous upfacing Asiatic with compact growth that readily forms a wind-firm tight clump. Pixie was a trademark of Cebeco Lilies for a series of about 20 hybrids; it was abandoned in 1992, and many commercial names still include it; flower diameter 160 mm. Lilium 'Pixie Yellow' Lilium 'Pixie Yellow'
Lilium 'Yellow Power' is a 2 m tall outfacing light yellow; flower diameter 150 mm. Lilium 'Yellow Power'
Narcissus mixture: a mixture of early, mid and late varieties, mostly 1Y-Y, fills the center of the garden; 70-90% sun. Narcissus 1Y-Y Narcissus 1Y-Y
Narcissus miniatures fill the front of the garden; 70-90% sun. Narcissus 'Yellow Cheerfulness' Narcissus bulbocodium Narcissus 'Pacific Coast' Narcissus 'Rip Van Winkle Narcissus 'Yellow Cheerfulness' Narcissus bulbocodium Narcissus 'Pacific Coast' Narcissus 'Rip Van Winkle
Sedum floriferum (Phedimus florifer) from China is under the front section; botanists consider it conspecific with S.kamtschaticum, but gardeners won't: its growth pattern is very different, taller and denser, its blooming period is far shorter and its seed heads are dead looking black rather that the crisp deep red of S.kamtschaticum. Also, it gets black terminal rot in soggy weather; S.kamtschaticum doesn't; flower diameter 18 mm. Sedum floriferum Sedum floriferum
Sedum hybridum (Phedimus hybridus) from northern Asia is under the back section. It looks great in June, but by mid August has almost totally died back leaving an unsightly tangle of dead stems. I'm replacing it with Ranunculus repens; flower diameter 18 mm. Sedum hybridum Sedum hybridum
Tulipa clumps used to dominate the front but due to squirrel predation are gradually being replaced by mini-Narcissus; 70% sun. All tulips are attractive to grey squirrels, which I have in abundance. With the help of a thin layer of cocoa shells, whose smell seems to confuse squirrels, some keep up with predation, but squirrels also eat the blooms of short species. Thick layers of cocoa shells go mouldy, but thin layers are an excellent soil amendment for bulbs. (Don't ever get the ground-up version; it's instant mould, cakes into a wrinkled layer and looks terrible.)
Tulipa urumiensis, native to Iran, is one of the shortest dwarf tulips but isn't multiplying here; Bombylius major love it when it's out Tulipa urumiensis Tulipa urumiensis
Tulipa 'Jaap Groot' is a mid-season mutation of Golden Apeldoorn, a Fosteriana-Darwin hybrid. Its petals open so wide during warm days they look as though they're ready to fall off, but still close up normally at nightfall Tulipa 'Jaap Groot' Tulipa 'Jaap Groot'
Tulipa 'Roi du Midi' is a long-stemmed late sport of La Courtine; it stays open later than any other I have and stands up to heavy rain well Tulipa 'Roi du Midi' Tulipa 'Roi du Midi'

Alpine Garden

Alpine Garden July 2016
This area was built summer 2008 where there used to be a patio. It's dry: partly under a roof overhang, an alpine scree of 20% sand and 20% limestone gravel. Alpine and other small plants fill hexagonal hypertufa pots installed in a Giant's Causeway pattern. The soil for the pots is loam, sand and vermiculite; alkaline-loving plants are mulched with calcite (chicken grit), acid with Turface MVP. I'm experimenting with hardy cacti at the rear where it's the driest.
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Alyssum montanum from the Mediterranean is growing behind the pots. Many plants are straggly, but once I found one with acceptable form, it's a show most of the year. It grows best in dry rocky soil; pH seems unimportant. It blooms from early May through to hard frost, longer than any other plant I have; flower diameter 8 mm; 20-40% sun. Alyssum montanum Alyssum montanum
Draba bruniifolia olympia is native to lime-rich soils of the Caucasus Draba bruniifolia Draba bruniifolia
Draba cuspidata is native to the north side of the Black Sea and prefers dryish sandy loam. Draba cuspidata
Draba 'Judy', a mostly D.aizoides hybrid from Judy Wall, also has yellow seed pods as well as flowers Draba 'Judy'
Draba mollissima is native to the Caucasus, in dry mountain areas among rocks and in crevices. Draba mollissima Draba mollissima
Draba 'Simon' is a hybrid from Wrightman Draba 'Simon' Draba 'Simon'
Erysimum kotschyanum is from hot dry sites in high mountains of Turkey; flower diameter 9 mm. Erysimum kotschyanum Erysimum kotschyanum
Euphorbia cyparissias is native to Europe. It's invasive, so needs a location where it can be controlled. Euphorbia cyparissias
Genista radiata is native to northern Italy. Genista radiata Genista radiata
Genista tinctoria 'Plena' is a dwarf double sport of a species originally from European Turkey that prefers sandy alkaline soils; diameter 15 mm. Genista tinctoria 'Plena' Genista tinctoria 'Plena'
Hymenoxys lapidicola is from quartzite and granitic sandstone areas of Utah; umbel diameter 18 mm. Hymenoxys lapidicola Hymenoxys lapidicola
Hypericum coris is a shrubby native of the limestone maritime and southern Alps from 700-2000 m; flower diameter 23 mm. Hypericum coris Hypericum coris
Iris schachtii is native to Anatolia, Turkey, and is widely cultivated elsewhere. Iris schachtii
Iris suaveolens flavescens is originally from rocky limestone hillsides of the Balkans, but this variety originates from Spain; it accepts full sun to part shade; flower height 65 mm. Iris suaveolens flavescens Iris suaveolens flavescens
Potentilla crantzii is panarctic, usually in dry, favourable habitats like meadow slopes and the base of south-facing cliffs, mostly on near-neutral substrates; flower diameter 16 mm. Potentilla crantzii Potentilla crantzii
Potentilla uniflora is native to north-western North America; flower diameter 18 mm. Potentilla uniflora
Ranunculus acris, naturalized locally from damp permanent-pasture meadows of Europe, is doing well in 30% sun behind the pots. Its petal cells have two flat surfaces from which light is reflected. One is the top of the cells, the other exists because the epidermis is separated from the lower layers of the petal by an air gap. Reflection of light by the two surfaces combined doubles the gloss of the petal, which is why buttercups are such bright yellow; flower diameter 28 mm. Ranunculus acris Ranunculus acris
This Saxifraga was sold by Wrightman as 'Boston Spa' which has a white bloom with yellow center. unknown Saxifraga unknown Saxifraga
Saxifraga 'Elizabeth Sinclair' was introduced in 1967 by H.Lincoln Foster and is a cross between S.×elisabethae 'Sylva' and (probably) S.burseriana; flower diameter 10 mm. Saxifraga 'Elizabeth Sinclair'
Sedum sexangulare is native to Europe & Asia; flower diameter 8 mm. Sedum sexangulare
Senecio pauperculus (Packera paupercula) is native locally on limestone soils; its ray florets are complete so can self-fertilize (the closeup is of a disc floret); composite diameter 15 mm. Senecio pauperculus Senecio pauperculus
Solidago sphacelata is native to calcareous woods of eastern North America, selection Golden Fleece was added spring 2011 for trial after several years of trying to find it in Canada. (Even then, the nursery that agreed to special order it kept it hidden from customers until I picked it up!) It tried to bloom each year but its blooming stems rotted when exposed to my alkaline sprinkler water during dry spells. It was moved here, outside the sprinkler zone, 2016 and is doing much better. The last in bloom of my Solidago. Solidago sphacelata Solidago sphacelata
Waldsteinia ternata is native to central Europe and is on trial as a ground cover behind the pots; it's not doing well. It looks so similar to Ranunculus repens that I suspect a splitter at work rather than botany; flower diameter 22 mm. Waldsteinia ternata

Acid Garden

Acid Garden June 2013
This was built fall 2011 primarily for the beautiful yellow Aquilegia that strongly prefer a pH on the acid side. mouseover thumbnails for full images
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Aquilegia chrysantha, native to mountainous southern USA, is a medium-life perennial that I allow to set seed in order to maintain itself; hybrids (doubles etc.) can only be treated as annuals since they don't reproduce true by seed. It's mostly pollinated by spectacular Sphinx hawkmoths, 7 species of which are recorded in Ontario; flower diameter 40 mm; 20% sun. Aquilegia chrysantha Aquilegia chrysantha
Linaria vulgaris, colloquially butter&eggs, native to Europe and northern Asia and naturalized locally, was added fall 2011. It grows 20 cm high along road edges where it's usually seen, but is reaching half a meter high here; it spreads too fast for most gardens; 20 mm flower size; 30% sun. Linaria vulgaris Linaria vulgaris

Rear Shade Garden

Back Shade Garden June 2010
This area was built summer 2008 with 10% added sand in the top 20 cm to let more air into the soil. mouseover thumbnails for full images
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Corydalis lutea is native to moist woodlands of the southern foothills of the European Alps and grows in heavy to light shade. It's a short-lived perennial that self-maintains through seeding and prefers slightly alkaline soils. Corydalis lutea Corydalis lutea
Epimedium 'Amber Queen' was added spring 2014 Epimedium 'Amber Queen' Epimedium 'Amber Queen'
Ligularia's tropical-sized foliage fills this space with luxuriant growth:
Ligularia dentata, native to eastern China, is a large plant, forming a mound 2 m wide and 1 m high with large irregular flower clusters in September, later than any other Ligularia. Reliable, but untidy blooms compared to other Ligularia; 20% sun.
Ligularia dentata Ligularia dentata
Ligularia'Little Rocket' is doing well, its jet black stems really stand out and it has beautifully curved anthers; 40 mm diameter; 30% sun. Ligularia 'Little Rocket' Ligularia 'Little Rocket'
Ligularia przewalskii from SE Asia is intolerant of direct sun or heat, the leaves droop alarmingly within an hour even with moist soil, but it doesn't seem to affect its health. Its flowers are rather sparse; 25 mm diameter; 20% sun. Ligularia przewalskii Ligularia przewalskii
Ligularia stenocephala (Senecio stenocephalus) from SE Asia has numerous spectacular tall flower spikes, my favourite Ligularia; 20% sun. Ligularia stenocephala Ligularia stenocephala
Lysimachia quadrifolia, native locally, spreads too vigorously by underground runners for most gardeners; it has to be boxed in by deep edging (20 cm or more) to keep it under control. Its delicate-looking down-facing blooms last almost a month. The genus name honours Lysimachus, a general under Alexander who myth credits with using a plant shaped like a spear to pacify a maddened bull. It's true that the European Lysimachia vulgaris repels gnats and flies which upset cattle, however bull horns were the symbol of the sea-god Poseidon and the power to calm seas would have been attributed to any conqueror in the Mediterranean. The modern result of the myth is that any plant with a tall spike of flowers is liable to be called loosestrife in English. Yellow Loosestrife (Lysimachia order Ericales) is totally unrelated to the non-native Purple Loosestrife (Lythrum order Myrtales); flower diameter 30 mm; 20% sun. Lysimachia quadrifolia Lysimachia quadrifolia
Parthenocissus tricuspidata 'Veitchii' is a small-leaved strain that's the only one sold by Ottawa garden centers. It tends to be killed back to the roots every decade or so in Ottawa; 30% sun.
Ranunculus repens from Europe is the ground cover here - a carpet of yellow blooms in spring and of green throughout the year. It's too vigorous a grower for small plants, but is an excellent match for Ligularia; flower diameter 15 mm; 10-30% sun. Ranunculus repens Ranunculus repens
Solidago caesia with its bluish stems and axillary flowers is native locally in semi shade; mine attracts mostly Diptera as pollinators; it's the last to start blooming here, but S.sphacelata outlasts it; 30% sun. Solidago caesia Solidago caesia
John Sankey
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