I’ve had Chelone in my garden for as long as I’ve lived here. In fact, it is one of the first perennials I planted almost 18 years ago. I have a second clump divided from the first and pieces have gone home with friends over the years. One thing that definitely describes it: well-behaved. “Oh, ho hum”, you might say; but in this garden world of self-seeding, wide-spreading, disease-prone and floppy plants, that’s a compliment indeed.
My first clump is in dry soil and morning sun and has the job of shading the roots of Clematis rubra ‘Album’–no stranger to root competition. The second clump thrives in saturated, clay soil next to my pond with roots still in standing water after an unusually long and wet spring. The nearly 4’, stiffly upright plants are flowering now; the flower shape looks exactly like a turtle’s head. Dark and blemish-free, the foliage is a nice foil to the lighter perennials surrounding it, though the clump in dry soil does have a few crispy leaf tips on close inspection.
Until recently I was unaware that Chelone species hail from the southeastern United States. Strange, it doesn’t seem to mind our cool summers. The species of my Chelone is undetermined—it resembles both C. lyonii and C. obliqua and so it may be a hybrid of the two.
I love this plant even though the flowers are mauve—my least favorite color on earth. Its blooming companions are white gladiolas, Echinops (globe thistle) and Eryngium (sea holly). Whites and blues are good compatriots as it doesn’t quiet “go” with pinks or lavenders. Easy, reliable and uncommon in this part of the country for some silly reason, it also makes a heavenly cut flower. Chelone is a first class perennial.
© Colleen Miko, 2011