Amsonias with Brian
With their beautiful blue blooms and striking fall foliage, amsonias make delightful garden additions that impart their colorful appeal throughout the season. And as Brian MacGowan, of Blue Meadow Farm in Massachusetts, observes, these vibrant perennials are becoming increasingly available and require little more in terms of maintenance than the requisite fall pruning. Today, he discusses the virtues of these often-overlooked plantings and recommends some of his favorite varieties.
Also known as blue stars, amsonias comprise roughly twenty slow-growing, clump-forming species, nearly all of which are native to the United States. From the same family as periwinkle (Vinca), Plumeria, and Apocynaceae, they are grown primarily for their attractive foliage and long-lasting cymes or panicles of funnel-shaped flowers, which, depending on variety, range from sky blue to cobalt to shades of violet. Hardy in Zones 4 to 8, amsonias prefer moist, well-drained soil and full sun to light shade, though they will tolerate some drought. They should be propagated from seed in fall or from softwood cuttings in early summer and divided in spring. After adding amsonias to your garden, be sure to handle the plants with care, as they produce a milky sap that may irritate the skin.
A sturdy, late-spring bloomer, A. hubrechtii can grow up to three feet tall and four feet wide. Its finely cut leaves turn an attractive yellow hue in fall.
This narrow-leaved species, which is native to the U.S. Plains, can reach up to three feet tall, though it usually grows to slightly shorter heights. A. ciliata is most notable for its beautiful sky-blue blossoms and its ability to grow in particularly sandy soil.
Slightly larger than most amsonias, this variety can reach heights of up to four feet. A. illustris bears especially glossy bright-green leaves and open panicles of pale-blue flowers.
Probably the most readily available amsonia, A. tabernaemontana reaches heights of one and a half to two feet. With its multiple stems, this variety bears small, matte, dark-green leaves and dense, rounded panicles of powder-blue blooms.
Blue Meadow Farm
184 Meadow Road
Montague Center, MA 01351
Blue Meadow Farm