An Outstanding True-blue Native Plant

This week I am down in Kennett Square, Pennsylvania for the International Plant Trials Conference at Longwood Gardens. I came down to learn about how different gardens formally trial plants along with gleaning a lot of new plants to use in the gardens of Coastal Maine Botanical Gardens.

Speaking of CMBG, we have a ton of exciting things going on up in Boothbay, Maine. Most notable is that we are beginning a 20 year master plan. This plan will guide us on how we grow and evolve the gardens over the next two decades. A few weeks ago, we held our first stakeholder meeting where the designers asked staff and board what they would like to see in our garden. The lead designer was opining on the trend of botanical gardens to set up native plant gardens. He amusingly remarked that often we set aside native plant gardens to showcase the native plants that often will not grow that well on their own. Why not showcase the best native plants that can hold their own in a garden of a mixed composition?

Closed gentian

I am hoping that one of the gardens we add to CMBG is a trial garden where we can evaluated both native and non-native plants to use in landscapes here in New England. A truly outstanding plant that we have evaluated for years in our garden is Gentiana clausa. This gentian, which is called closed gentian or bottle gentian, is a tough native perennial that can stand out in any planting combination. The common name for the plant comes from the flower’s appearance. It never truly opens its petals which makes it look like it is in perpetual bud. The buds and flowers are a deep, intense blue. We have a mass beside of the pond in our Alfond Children’s Garden. I notice guests often stopping to take a look in August and September at these plants. The plants hold up well for over a month. Even after frost, they turn a light brown that we leave until the flowers totally dry. After the first hard frost, the plants which still hold their flowers erect look as though they are in suspended animation.

Gentiana clausa is native along eastern North America from Canada down to Tennessee and North Carolina. The plants prefer somewhat moist sites with some dappled shade. The more south you live, the more shade I would give these plants. Definitely add this gentian to your garden and I bet it will be a plant you cherish for the late season, blue flowers.



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rodney eason

Rodney Eason - Director of Horticulture and Plant Curator at Coastal Maine Botanical Gardens, father of 4, husband to a Renaissance woman. I spent the first part of my life in North Carolina, the middle in Pennsylvania, and now I am determined to become a Mainer  while keeping my southern drawl. I consider the rhetorical question, "you're not from around here, are you?" a compliment. I love great gardens, beautiful plants, and inspiring architecture. Because of this, I am on a lifelong quest to find a garden that artistically combines beautiful plants while being centered around an evocative building. For me, this would be Beatrix Farrand's Dumbarton Oaks, with the plants of Lotusland and Chanticleer, around Fay Jones' Thorncrown Chapel. My wife and I are now making our new home and garden in a 130 year old New England house with a farmer's porch near the Damariscotta River in coastal Maine. When our kids get into college, we want to hike the Appalachian Trail as a family over a summer break. My likes (in random order): the smell of fresh basil and rosemary, bold foliage, India Pale Ale, good running shoes, Top Gear, the smell of New England in the fall (it reminds me a bit of English Leather, which my grandfather wore), and the sound of our family laughing together around the dinner table. I dream of one day owning an old Toyota 4X4 pick-up and seeing the Avett Brothers in concert.
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  1. [email protected] on September 19, 2013 at 8:29 pm

    Wow. Thanks for reminding me of these underused, truly beautiful plants with the bluest flowers I’ve ever seen. Saw a gentian plant at a garden center years ago, wanted to buy it and never did. Kicking myself now…

  2. Ellen Sousa on October 8, 2013 at 10:22 am

    Thank you so much for highlighting this native plant – I have never seen it growing anywhere except Garden in the Woods, but that pure blue definitely makes it garden-worthy especially in smaller gardens where their flowers can be appreciated. Pretty sure I’ve never seen it for sale anywhere but Garden in the Woods, either, but I’m guessing Project Native in Western MA might have it too…

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