Plant Spotlight: Veronica

As anyone with children knows, there comes an age when the child becomes fixated, to a certain extent, on colors. As they are often learning to identify colors at the same time they’re learning to speak, it makes sense that they impart a level of importance to color that sometimes exceeds the importance they assign to things like picking up their toys or keeping more of their food on the table and less on the walls. It’s only a matter of time, then, that they determine which color they prefer above all others. And though they may change their mind a dozen times before they're eight years old, in the moment they are convinced that their choice is the only sensible one to have.

Sometimes, then, the child asks others (such as myself) to justify their decision for a color that differs from their chosen favorite. In having children of my own and having taught third grade Sunday school, I realized that this debate can become something of a sparring match as though the future of truth is at stake. As often as this justification has been required of me, I’ve been pleased to tell the child that my favorite color is blue because God’s favorite color is blue. “How do you know God’s favorite color?!?!” is the certain and incredulous response from the now perplexed child. “Because He painted both the skies and the seas blue and since He used it more than any other color, it must be His favorite... and green is clearly His second favorite since most plants on Earth are green.” The end result of debates like this is usually a pensive expression on the face of the child, seasoned with both excitement at such a peculiar answer and a desire to move on to a new topic.

Whether or not you buy my justification, blue is my favorite color. I love it more than I love cheese. More so even than a string quartet performing Bach. So, as a landscape designer, and with so few blue plants or flowers to be found in the plant kingdom, I often find myself in something approximating a moral dilemma as I struggle with design after design in which no blue is to be found. The blue hydrangeas are beautiful, but their use is limited by their cultural requirements. “Blue” hostas are a favorite of mine, but their blue is much closer to gray/green than any blue skies I’ve ever seen. The flower of the salvia is phenomenal, but the plant itself tends to flop open and lay like an upside-down crab by mid-summer. Not so appealing. But the Veronica…

Veronica is a late spring – summer blooming perennial which has a flower-head very much like that of the salvia spike. The difference between the two is the foliage. Whereas the salvia ends up looking like a stepped-on heap of litter, the Veronica foliage stays upright all year long. There are several different types of Veronica on the market that range both in color (reds, violets, purples, whites, and blues) and size (10”-2’). They are all butterfly attractors. If I were pressed to declare a favorite, I’d probably vote for Veronica spicata ‘Royal Candles’. Royal Candles is considered a dwarf selection which reaches about 12” tall. It’s a tough and compact plant with deep green leaves, likes a sunny location, and works very well as a border plant or in mass plantings. The smaller varieties like ‘Royal Candles’ also work very well in container plantings.

If you, too, like the color blue but have a difficult time in finding a plant that serves your interests, remember Veronica this year. Most nurseries and box stores carry it. They’re inexpensive enough to trial (around $10 for a one gallon plant) and are sure to soothe the itch you may share with me in my never-ending quest for blue.

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