Gentian for Easy Fall Garden Color

Late in the 2009 growing season, I fell in love with the picture on a plant tag and bought five "gentians" at a home improvement store, even though they were marked as annuals. My intention was to use them in my blue garden to replace some native closed indigo that had succumbed to an unknown rust-like disease. I hoped the plants would flower, set seed, and come up again.

I got nothing.

This year, the plants came back and thrived, albeit without flowers, in both the sunny spot in the blue garden and the much more shady area around the fountain, where I had inter-planted them with begonias. Since a hard frost here (Zone 5B) can come as early as October 5th ,  I had given up any hope of seeing flowers by mid-September. (Normal flowering time is July through September.)

Imagine my surprise when the gentians began to bloom towards the end of October! While this past week (mid-November) has seen temperatures close to 60ยบ F, every night of the prior week dipped below freezing. The begonias are long gone, but the gentians continue to soldier on. Both sets of plants were unaffected by the frost and still are putting out flowers. The blue garden is sheltered by the bulk of the house, but the fountain is out in the open, although the plants are tucked next to its rock base, which may continue to act as a heat-sink, even at this late date.

The plants are much tougher than what I anticipated and their bright blue flowers are a welcome spot of color in a garden that has otherwise finished the season. The flowers stay closed, resembling bottle gentian or closed indigo, when it's overcast or raining. The flowers re-open when the sun returns and are quite long-lasting. Gentians are considered alpine plants, so they will do well in rock gardens, as well as at the front of a border. While they are said to prefer sandy loam, they're doing just fine in my stony, acid clay. They aren't fussy, but do best in Zones 3 – 7.

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