There are some plants I just can’t get enough of – and top of that list is the perennial Arkansas bluestar (Amsonia hubrichtii). While many herbaceous perennials are selected for their flowers, this beauty is invariably chosen for its outstanding feathery foliage that transitions from bright emerald green to shades of orange, gold and copper in fall. For the flower-loving folks, yes this does indeed have blue flowers in spring but even a glance at these photos will quickly convince you that it really is all about the autumnal foliage display.
How to use it
Even one plant can be a star in a container.
I added a group of seven one-gallon plants to the far end of our ‘island border’, a key display border viewed from many vantage points within our large garden, from the patio and from most windows of the home. As is typical, the perennials took three years to look significant – you need vision in the early days! I nestled these feathery beauties against a large mossy boulder to play off the texture.
Color companions I enjoy the most are silver and purple, both of which work equally well with the summer or fall display.
To give you ideas from other gardens, here is an example from the Greater Des Moines Botanical Garden where it mingles with golden sneezeweed (Helenium sp.).
At Walter’s Gardens, the nursery that grows perennials for Proven Winners, I spotted it offering feathering companionship and powder-blue flowers to spring blooming peonies and poppies in the test garden.
Of course I am not known for my minimalist approach so you won’t be surprised to hear that when I had a new raised bed to plant by our patio I decided to fill it with over 50 Arkansas bluestar! The design idea was to create a transition from the more ornamental plantings besides the patio to the distant summer meadow and woodland beyond.
Anticipating the fall foliage color, we used steel to form the arc at the rear of this bed, knowing its weathered, rusted surface would look visually exciting with the autumnal display.
This is only year two for this bed but I’m already thrilled with how it is evolving. I also know I’m going to be out taking photos each day as the colors change!
Why you should grow it
Arkansas blue star is reliably drought tolerant in my non-irrigated garden. This summer we didn’t have any measurable rain for three months and our temperatures were frequently in the 90’s with almost a week closer to 100′, yet I didn’t water the Arkansas bluestar in the island border even once and it still looks fabulous. I did water the newer plants by the patio a total of three times as after two months without rain a few plants were showing signs of stress. That may be due to them being in a raised planted rather than in the ground, or due to them being less well established. Next year will tell. Certainty they have started their fall display earlier but I don’t mind that at all!
They are also both rabbit and deer resistant – YAY!!
More combination ideas
Our new book Gardening with Foliage First has several fabulous design ideas. Check out Golden Threads (p285) and Aquascapes (p140). The latter uses a different variety of this perennial called Halfway to Arkansas, but the effect is identical.
Size: 2 feet tall and wide (but tends to splay outwards to a bit wider than this)
Soil: average, well drained.
Site: Full sun
Water: minimal once established
How are you using this perennial? Share your ideas with us in the comments below or on our Facebook page.