Gardening Articles: Flowers :: Perennials

Perfectly Blue (and Pink!) Scabiosa

by Lynn Ocone


'Butterfly Blue' scabiosa is a modern perennial that is especially hardy and easy-to-grow.

Perhaps you know scabiosas, or pincushion flowers, for their cheerful summer blooms atop tall, wiry stems. One in particular, blue Scabiosa caucasica, is widely grown and much appreciated for its cut flowers. But two of my favorites are S. columbaria 'Butterfly Blue' and S. c. 'Pink Mist'. Alan Summers, president of Carroll Gardens, a mail-order and retail nursery in Westminster, Maryland, says that these are the only perennials to bloom year-round in his zone 6 garden. "These are the best scabiosas for garden show," he notes. "They're definitely the 'bloomingist' perennials there ever were."

In contrast to other scabiosas, 'Butterfly Blue' and 'Pink Mist' tolerate regions with hot, humid summers. Summer days reach 100°F and higher in Wayside's gardens, but the plants don't seem fazed. As with all scabiosas, they require a light, well-drained soil. Given a sunny spot and consistent water, they're easy to grow (in zones 3 through 10), and they are pest and disease resistant. Just clip faded flowers to encourage more blooms. And, if you choose to shear the plants, don't cut deeply into the foliage.

'Butterfly Blue' and 'Pink Mist' look very similar except for the colors of their two-inch blooms: 'Butterfly Blue' is lilac blue and 'Pink Mist' is lilac pink. Foliage on these dwarf plants forms a lovely rich green mound that's six to eight inches high and 18 inches or more across. Strong, six- to 12-inch flower stems carry the lacy blooms above the foliage.

The duo looks great planted side by side in groups of three or more. For a mass display, space plants about 15 inches. Or, plant in small groups near the front of your mixed border.

In her southern California garden, horticulturist Cristin Fusano has created an alluring combination of colors and textures by edging 'Butterfly Blue' with pink cranesbill (Erodium reichardii) and silver thyme (Thymus vulgaris 'Argenteus'). To the side, she plants bearded iris in groups of three and five, and billowing behind is sea lavender (Limonium perezii), with airy, rich blue flower clusters.

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