A Giant among Giants

Cephalaria & friend photo credit: Kathy Diemer

Fe Fi Fo Fum,  Cephalaria gigantea here I come!  And for those of us that like something quite tall, but without all the obstruction and flopping of others in its height range, this gentle giant will surely be invited to stay for a while.  Lucky for us, this goliath of the Cephalaria family loves to put down roots and will thrive for decades as long as it has lots of sun and modest rainfall.

Though not a native (sorry), yellow scabious is hardy in zones 3 – 7 and will produce creamy yellow pin cushion flowers on tall 4 – 6’ stems.  And these stems do not flop, but rather sway back and forth in the wind as the bees and butterflies hang on for the ride.  The stems are tall but openly spaced so the rest of your garden can easily be viewed through them.  I have read that this beauty should be planted at the back of your garden, but the center of the garden gives it a much deserved location where it can really show off.  The light yellow flowers bloom from June to July and complement the other garden mates without any color clashing.  Try planting late summer bloomers around it to hide the foliage that usually browns (and needs to be cut back) by August.

Fred and Mary Ann McGourty introduced me to this glorious plant over fifteen years ago, when I ventured to Hillside Gardens in Norfolk, Connecticut.  Fred seemed to sense my adventurous nature, steering me to several of his favorite non-traditional collections, while Mary Ann took me through the extensive, well manicured gardens, sharing experiences and some of her preferred plantings.  I’ll never forget strolling up to one of the most striking climbing hydrangea specimens I had ever seen.  For over thirty feet, its branches circled round and round the trunk of an enormous pine. And as high as you could see, these branches were sprinkled with white flowers that sparkled in the shade like a miniature Milky Way Galaxy.

As I reflect on the plants collected over the years, my garden seems to be a Pandora bracelet made from carefully chosen plants, trees and shrubs that please me far more than any bead.  The plants offer a sentimental feeling, reminding me of someone that gave it to me, an occasion that it represented or the reward after a hard search.  Although the McGourty nursery no longer exists, whenever one of the Hillside plants comes into bloom, I fondly remember them and know their garden lives on in mine.



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