Shrunken Treasures

A photo of Columbine 'Little Lanterns'

Our Missouri natives provide beautiful blooms on tough plants. Some of these spectacular beauties can grow upwards of 6’ or ever more, causing them to be too large for some of our smaller gardens.

By Abby Lapides

[This article was first published in The Gateway Gardener July/August 2018.]

Our Missouri natives provide beautiful blooms on tough plants. Some of these spectacular beauties can grow upwards of 6’ or ever more, causing them to be too large for some of our smaller gardens. Luckily, through selective breeding, we now can enjoy the best qualities of these plants but in smaller packages. Being local “nativars” they naturally thrive in the crazy weather and soil conditions that make St. Louis so special.

The spring wildflower Columbine gives us bloom after bloom of showy bells with red spurs and yellow stamens that are uniquely Columbine. ‘Little Lanterns’ is a mini version of the tough native only reaching about 10” in size verses the 2-3’ of the native. Columbine feature distinctive lobe-shaped foliage that create a lacy soft landscape in the shady garden. These tough plants prefer well-drained soils and are especially drought tolerant. They are also distasteful to deer and rabbits.

An image of Joe Pye Weed 'Baby Joe'

Joe Pye weed ‘Baby Joe’
photo courtesy Ball Seed

‘Baby Joe’ Joe Pye Weed gives us the ginormous blooms of the Missouri native Joe Pye Weed, but only reaches 2-3’ tall verses the native’s 6’ stature. Large clusters of deep lilac appear on purple stems in mid to late summer and fall. Loving moist soils that don’t dry out, they are excellent in rain gardens or a soggy spot. Deer and rabbits usually leave them alone and butterflies go crazy for the nectar filled blossoms.

‘Kobold’ blazing star blooms from top to bottom in summer causing it to look like a purple firework that’s

An image of Liatris 'Kobold'

Liatris ‘Kobold’, photo courtesy Monrovia

just been shot in the air. This tough plant only grows 2-3’ tall; it easily tucks into a mixed perennial garden. Butterflies go bonkers for these blossoms and you’ll go crazy for the fluffy flowers.

The buttonbush has been prized for its perfectly globular, fragrant white flowers that pollinators cover and the round red fruit that follows. ‘Sugar Shack’ features these unique flowers on a shrub that’s at most ½ the size of the native shrub. The native buttonbush typically reaches 6-12’ in size, sometimes reaching upwards of 20’! ‘Sugar Shack’ maxes out at 3-4’ tall and wide, easily fitting into most gardens. Buttonbush love moist areas and can grow in standing water.

An image of Itea 'Little Henry'

Sweetspire ‘Little Henry’, photo by Proven Winners

Another excellent shrunken version of a native shrub is ‘Little Henry’ sweetspire. While typical sweetspires can spread 4-6’, ‘Little Henry’ stays a petit 2-3’ tall with a 3’ spread. Fragrant white dangling flowers adorn sweetspire in spring and early summer. In fall the green foliage turns brilliant shades of red. These easy-going shrubs will grow just about anywhere, sun to shade, wet to dry soils. I like to call these my “problem solver” shrubs, because of its superb versatility.

The dark purple flowers of the majestic great ironweed sparkle in early autumn. It can be

An image of Vernonia 'Southern Cross'

Vernonia ‘Southern Cross’ photo courtesy Walter’s Gardens

difficult to appreciate these beauties on their extremely tall stems- sometimes maxing out around 10’ tall. ‘Southern Cross’ gives the same gorgeous flowers and, reaching only 4-5’ tall, puts them at a height so we can appreciate them. The airy flowers appear on stiff stems and long thin leaves that have a similar look to the fine leafed Arkansas blue star. Deer and rabbit resistant, this tough plant thrives in just about any sunny garden.

Using some of these small-sized beauties can give us the natural beauty and benefits of a native garden in shrunk-down space.

Abby Lapides is owner at Sugar Creek Gardens Nursery. She has degrees from the University of Missouri, and is a member of the Landscape and Nursery Association of Greater St. Louis. She is a regular contributor to The Gateway Gardener magazine.