Evaluating Gayfeathers

I am a fan of all things floral, and in particular, I love all shades of pink and blue in my gardens. Yes, and then purple, and white, but pink and fuschia shades are my preference. They provide a pop of cheerful colour that contrasts with the greens of spring and summer. My favourite plants are peonies, and then hardy roses. I search for perennials wherever possible, and try to use a variety of heights and foliage types.

Purple Blazing Stars Liatris Thumbnail
Purple Blazing Stars Liatris from Vesey’s Seeds

In our first summer at our new house, we were not able to begin planting until late in the fall, and so tended to put in rudbeckia and coreopsis and a few other perennials that were on sale as they were past their glory. We were able to enjoy spring in our second year, and though we were still trying to define our gardens, we planted a few new plants (to us anyway).

This year I tried out Gayfeathers. I liked the bright purply-pink shade that I found on the plant tag, and planted just a few here and there as accents. Gayfeathers are also known as Liatris, Snakewort or Blazing Star. They are a member of the aster family and are native to North America. My plants grew to about 2.5 feet in height. I am told that they grow up to 6 feet, but this was not the case for me.

Bland and spindly Gayfeathers

My Gayfeathers had a tall thin spiky flower, which took for me a long time to bloom, and very narrow foliage – up the stalks and in puffs of thin leaves at the base. They apparently spread, and the crowns can be divided, but mine are not quite ready for that after the first year.

Can you even spot the Gayfeathers?

They were planted in well drained, rich (composted soil), in full sun in prime viewing area on the inside of my wrought iron fence at the front of the garden. They did not need watering regularly – they are tolerant of dry weather – but they did get a fair bit of rain, and benefited from being near the roses, when they were watered. They had a similar size to my small purple Buddleia bush, and did get regularly visited by butterflies.

Buddleia even when crowded by Periwinkle and Ivy, still stands out

While I found the Gayfeathers to be pretty – they were not as visually spectacular as I was hoping. In fact, the variety that I purchased was a little bit dull in colour. They were also a little bit more spindly than I expected. In comparison to my Buddleia, Veronica and Perennial Sage, they just were a little bit lost.

Carefree Veronica bloomed all summer

The Gayfeather flower stalks, lay down in the garden and had to be propped up, and eventually – either the dog, or a rabbit sliced the tops off of them, or perhaps it was SOMEONE WITH THE WHPPERSNIPPER!

So hopefully, the Gayfeather will return this year with a little bit more volume. These really need to be planted in nice big groups to catch the eye – definitely not in onesies! If they return, I will move what I have together into a little grouping, and protect them somewhat from the dog (or the whippersnipper), perhaps with a tomato cage. Planting individual plants here and there as a little accent between my other perennials was definitely an error on my part.

Mixed Liatris Thumbnail
Mixed Liatris from Vesey’s Seeds

Gayfeather can be planted directly into the ground from corms in the spring, available from many cataolgues, including Vesey’s. I think I will order some more, but plant in one central area – and I will order in the darker purple colour for more intensity.

It’s easy to sit around in the depths of winter, thinking about what I MIGHT plant in the spring! Being a plant-hoarder, even though Gayfeathers weren’t my favourite, I still want more plants and more variety, so I will keep trying.

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