The Teddington Gardener

Sneezeweed

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Though I couldn’t find a plant label for this magnificent stand of Heleniums in the Duke’s Garden at Kew, it is most likely Sahin’s Early Flowerer, with an Award of Garden Merit. Long ray florets are a mixture of yellow and brownish red in irregular streaks and surround a brown centre and it flowers from July to October. Only Wyndley flowers earlier, sometimes in June but has deep yellow rays streaked with brown-red, particularly on the reverse.

They are tough daisies that provide long-lasting colour and are particularly valued for their bronze-orange and copper-red tones. Flowering may continue into October. Tall-ish to tall plants – Sahin’s Early Flowerer coming up to a modest 75cm-100cm. Moorheim Beauty, commonly available, will reach 1.25m.

Ideal for the herbaceous and mixed borders or for more informal schemes, heleniums while tough, need full sun and rich, moisture retentive soil. Divide clumps every two or three years to maintain vigour.

Once again I’m prompted to see what Graham Stuart Thomas has to say in his ‘Perennial  Garden Plants‘.

Helenium, Compositae. Sneezeweed. These provide the backbone, among yellow, orange and brown shades, of the garden from July to September. Their daisy flowers are attractive, covering the branching  sprays, each flower with a velvety yellow or brown knob in the centre, and with broad, fringed, silky petals. The leaves are of no account. The stems are stout and erect but as a rule the weight of the many flowers make staking necessary. Easily grown in almost any soil short of a bog. They soon get congested and need dividing. These plants assort well with other yellow flowers and coppery-foliage plants, and need the big green leaves of bergenias to give solidity to the foreground and to act as a foil for the masses of strong colour. When mixed with warring colours of phloxes, monads, sidalceas and lythrums they appear blatant, vulgar and offensive, but if grouped with good greenery, creamy white flowers and the magnificent macleayas, with perhaps Cornus alba ‘Elegantissima’, they will come into their own. Reputedly Helenium sprang from the ground watered by Helen of Troy’s tears; dare we suggest that Sneezeweed is connected with this legend? The race has become mixed with numerous hybrids and it is impossible to indicate which species is involved, but generally the tallest cultivars owe their height to H. autumnal; the remainder – mainly H. bigelovii, H. hoopesii, H. nudiflorum – are shorter.

I think that tastes have moved on a little and the warring colours he discusses are more in favour. Sarah Raven, writing in ‘The Bold and Brilliant Garden‘ she matches H. Moorheim Beauty variously with Miscanthus sinensis ‘Silberfelder’, Knifofia ‘Green Jade’, purple Lobelia x gerardii ‘Vedrariensis’, orange Geum ‘Dolly North’ and crimson Dianthus ‘Kings of the Blacks’, orange semi-cactus dahlia ‘Biddenham Sunset’ (and many other dahlias), crimson-leaved Atriplex hortensis var rubra, acid-green Tanacetum vulgata ‘Isla Gold’, magenta perennial sweet pea, gold Helianthus ‘Capenoch Star’… not to mention annuals like Cleome, Zinnia, Tithonia, Antirrhinum, Nasturtium and rudbeckias. Who am I to argue.

Further back in this particular bed at Kew were big bold planting of the daylily Hemerocallis ‘Burning Daylight’ in searing yellow and another, possibly ‘Stafford’, in darker oranges, Romneya coulteri – blinding white, Delphiniums in deepest blues but also soft Ammi majus, Echinacea pallida, more yellow daisies and the spent brown seed heads of alliums.

Piet Oudolf & Noel Kingsbury

One last book reference and I’m done – the recent Planting – A New Perspective written by Piet Oudolf and Noel Kingsbury. Gardening on a larger scale, but one image from Hummelo, incorporates Helenium ‘Moorheim Beauty’ and the tall grass Calamagrostis ‘Karl Foerster’ as more or less permanent features within a grassy meadow setting, with touches of Leucanthemum vulgare and forms of Verbena hastata lifting the greens and later, golds.

Closer to home in the double border at RHS Wisley planted in 2001 (the Piet Oudolf border leading from The Mount down to the lake), uses the grey-white, spiky-leaved, globe-headed Eryngium yuccifolium contrasted with Helenium ‘Rubinswerg’ and Echinacea purpurea. A dramatic silver scheme with purple/orange high (low) lights. The spent seed heads of Allium hollandicum pepper the combination.

Commenting on this double border design at Wisley –

Thirty-three bands of intermingled perennials and grasses, each of equal size, line either side of a straight grass walkway. Looking very formal and rigid on paper, it is anything but in practice. A good example of a simple design concept which underlies and entire scheme, but largely succeeds in hiding itself so that comparatively few people have really understood it. Conclusion – strong signatures are sometimes almost invisible, operating on the level of the subconscious.

Commonly known as sneezeweed from the false belief that the flowers caused hayfever.

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