My gardens are in the cottage style.
Lots of plants arranged to nest together, growing through each other with very little open space between them. A mixture of perennials, shrubs, annuals and containers, balanced — I hope — to provide an abundant, but ever-changing display of color.
I’m always interested in filler plants that add seasonal color without taking up a lot of real estate, especially in established gardens. I don’t want to give anything up to get something more.
One of my favorites for this is meadow rue, or thalictrum. There are several species available for the garden, and the summer-bloomers are the best fillers.
Plants are tall, ranging from 3 to 6 feet when in bloom. Because of this height, they are usually placed at the center of the garden — or at least a few feet in. The main stem emerges from the ground early in the season, usually not noticeable among other plants. Lesser plants might get overrun, crowded out and gradually disappear. But meadow rue just keeps growing upward until it is above surrounding plants, then the side branches and leaves unfold.
Foliage is attractive, and deceptively delicate in appearance. Compound leaves are composed of many small, rounded leaflets, connected by slender, nearly invisible stems. The effect is airy and light, and plants dance in the breeze.
Flowers are tiny and abundant, borne on the same fine stems in an open, billowy cloud. Typical colors are shades of lavender to pink, though there are some white forms. Bloom begins in mid-to late summer and lasts well into September. I appreciate that they will rise above plants that have already flowered and create a new display while drawing attention away from those finished bloomers.
Lavender mist meadow rue (thalictrum rochebruneanu), is the most readily available. Plants grow in full sun or partial shade and in ideal conditions with rich, moist, well-drained soils, can reach up to 8 feet tall — though 4 to 6 feet is more typical. Tolerant of a wide range of soils, and hardy to the 30-degree-below-zero cold of USDA Zone 4. Stalks of this species are the sturdiest, and can be grown without staking or surrounding plants to support them. Stems have a purple cast, which enhances the floating effect of the leaves and flowers.
Yunnan meadow rue, Thalictrum delavayi, is quite similar. Stems are more lax, so it is best grown among shorter perennials that will support its weight in flower, or it can be discretely staked along individual stems. Height is three to five feet, and light and soil requirements are the same as for lavender mist. Don’t worry about dividing plants as they mature—roots resent disturbance and plants are happy to thrive for many years without any attention. Slightly hardier, at zone three.
Hewitt’s Double is a delavayi selection with double flowers, and my favorite variety is another double—a hybrid called Splendide. Doubling amplifies the impact of the lavender flowers—turning them from nodding bells to shaggy pompons and making the display even showier. Height is four to six feet. A white flowered form, Splendide White, is also available.
The ornamental effect of meadow rue can be enhanced by backlighting, where the low angled light of early morning or late afternoon shines through the cloud of flowers. I grow it among red-flowered bee balm and lavender phlox. The bee balm blooms before the meadow rue and phlox, and the combined effect of lavender flowers distracts from the spent flowers of the bee balm.
All the thalictrums are disease resistant and are not browsed by deer or rabbits. What’s not to love?