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Miss Floribunda: A color garden salute to Ukraine

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Posted on: May 15, 2022

Dear Miss Floribunda,

My grandparents came from Ukraine, and I’d like to show my solidarity with my ancestral land during these sad days with a blue and yellow garden. While there are lots of yellow flowers I could plant, I don’t know many blue ones. A lot of supposedly blue flowers just look purplish to me. Ideally, I’d like to have the same blue as in the Ukrainian flag. Thank you. 

Ukrainian-American on Madison Street

Dear Ukrainian-American,

Your idea is very beautiful and a moving tribute. I know that some seed companies are offering discounts on sunflower seeds, the national flower of Ukraine, but it would be a wonderful thing if they offered a combination of seeds or plants to make a garden such as you propose. One problem is that few blue flowers thrive in every area of the U.S. Most blue flowers favor cool mountainous areas, and in our country do best in New England and the Pacific Northwest. 

I contacted Voloshka Jhovto-Blakitna, one of my oldest gardening friends and a second-generation Ukrainian-American, for her assistance. She was quick to point out that you face many pitfalls, especially when ordering plants you haven’t seen in the petal. As you suspect, you can’t always trust the term “blue.” The True Blue petunia, for example, is quite purple. Voloshka suggests when choosing any supposedly blue plant from a catalog or online to look at the Latin name and choose those that have such qualifiers as azurea, cyanus and caerulea.

It is easy to find blue flowers for spring, which will soon be ending, and it’s a little more difficult to find them for summer. Next fall, you might want to plant some bulbs that will bloom next spring. Voloshka recommends the very early blooming Iris reticulata, Harmony, an almost royal blue; the cerulean-blue Scilla siberica, which look more like bluebells than most plants called by that name; and the intense azure Chionodoxa, or glory-of-the-snow. Later in the spring, the exquisite Virginia bluebells (Mertensia virginica) will also spread out in a shady and well-drained location. If you have a moist enough area, the easiest forget-me-not to grow is the Myosotis sylvatica, which blooms from April till June. Towards the end of spring, such bearded iris (Iris germanica) as Baltic Sea and Deep Pacific bloom in shades of indigo. Blenheim Royal and Color Me Blue are ultramarine or lighter.

This brings us into summer, where the Chinese forget-me-not, Cynoglossum amabile, is a deep turquoise and blooms prolifically in intense heat. Heavenly Blue morning glories open into a heart-stopping azure. 

The sapphire gem of a Ukrainian garden, however, is the blue cornflower, Centaurea cyanus. It is one of the twelve traditional Ukrainian flowers, and is known for preserving youth and beauty, as well as protecting against evil spirits. At least in the past, cornflower water was sprinkled on newlyweds as a blessing, and young girls washed their faces in it to bring good fortune. Cornflowers are easy to grow in full sun and look stunning with sunflowers.

Plumbago is also easy to grow, and Voloshka says its color is very close to the blue in the Ukrainian flag. The humble dayflower (Commelina), viper’s bugloss (Echium) and borage bloom in rich hues of lapis. For a more formal effect, veronicas and salvia are good, with Salvia farinacea being a much truer blue than most other salvias. Veronicas come in different colors and heights, but there are some genuinely blue ones for many purposes — some to provide height at the back of the border and some creeping varieties that make a beautiful ground cover. 

All the summer plants mentioned so far require full sun. For shady areas, Voloshka recommends deep blue lobelia for shady areas and hanging planters. For semi-shade, I’m happy to report that more cold-hardy Agapanthus (aka African lilies, aka Blue Lilies of the Nile) have been developed. They come in many shades of blue, from a pale blue perilously near periwinkle to a true cobalt blue. Although many gentians are finicky in warm areas, you might take a chance on the North American native bottle gentian, G. Andrewsii and G. Clausa. Hydrangeas in our area are blue as long as you don’t allow the soil to become alkaline, which will change the color to mauve or pink. Voloshka recommends mopheads like Nikko Blue and lacecaps like Blue Billow.

The Hyattsville Horticultural Society will not be meeting in May but will be offering seeds at the Hyattsville Department of Public Works Open House (4633 Arundel Place) on May 21, from 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. 

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