THE ‘obedient’ PLANT Growing ‘Obedient’ plants in the garden adds a bright, spiky flower to the late summer and autumn flowerbed, as well as being something rather different Very few plants do as they are told. If you want a climber to grow 15 feet up a tree it will grow 20 feet over your next-door neighbour’s fence! If you want a plant to attract lots of wildlife to your garden it will act like a magnet to all the local cats. Many plants behave and do just the job you intended them to, but there is one plant in particular that is obedient by name and obedient by nature. Because of its obedient habit, it’s a fun plant for children’s gardens. Flowers of the obedient plant make long lasting cut flowers and are becoming increasing popular in floral displays. Obedient Plant (Physostegia virginiana) got its common name because you can bend the individual flowers in any direction you like - a nice feature for floral displays. Unfortunately, obedient plant is not so obedient in the garden, where it can spread quite aggressively by rhizomes. Newer varieties, like ‘Miss Manners’, are being bred to remain in well-behaved clumps. Obedient Plant has another common name,’ False Dragonhead’, which came about because of the flowers’ resemblance to snapdragons. So how many plants do you know that can perform a special magic trick? It’s a trick that involves the flowers. When you take the flower of any other plant between your thumb and forefinger and gently try and move it around the flower spike the flower will do one of two things. It will either snap off, or it will spring back to its original position. Physostegia virgiana however has flowers that stay in the new position when you let them go! Hence the common name.
Varieties to ask for
If you are a keen gardener and study plants and flowers in any detail, handling them on a daily basis you will find this completely strange and weird. So how does the plant do it? The individual flower stalks, or to be more scientific the pedicels, are completely malleable. This allows the flower to be moved in any direction without snapping off. The plant needs to be grown in fertile, moist soil in full sun or partial shade. It also needs to be cut back in winter or early spring before any new growth starts and is ideal for the front of borders. Physostegia virginiana can be found growing wild in Eastern North America. It grows where the soil is reliably moist, for example on river banks or in waterlogged meadows. It therefore needs similar conditions when cultivated in the garden environment, although given these conditions the ‘obedient’ bit seems to go out of the window because it will thrive in such conditions and indeed become quite invasive. Physostegia virginiana is fully hardy. The extraordinary flowers are about three cms long and emerge throughout summer and into early autumn, so it is flowering now in many gardens, although it is hard to say how many gardeners actually know about the ‘magic’ bit. The flowers vary in colour, from white to pink to purple; they are lipped and hooded. They are also good for cutting, so stick them in a vase indoors. The leaves are toothed, lance-shaped and bright green.
Obedient plants are
also known as ‘Fa
Physostegia virginiana ‘Miss Manners’ - The name tells you this variety doesn’t spread. White flowers. 18-24 inches tall. Physostegia virginiana ‘Pink Bouquet’ - Profuse bloomer with soft pink flowers. Two to three feet tall. Physostegia virginiana ‘Summer Glow’ - A tall grower with deeper lavender-pink flowers. Three feet tall. Physostegia virginiana ‘Variegata’ - White edges on leaves make this variety interesting all season. Pink flowers. 18-24 inches tall. Physostegia virginiana ‘Vivid’ - Forms short, dense clumps. Bright purple-pink flowers. Two feet tall. www.countrygardener.co.uk www.countrygardener.co.uk
The August 2019 issue of Cornwall Country Gardener Magazine