In this occasional series of posts I will share with you those perennials that I can not be without.
This is a goat’s beard, Aruncus, introduced by the famous German nurseryman Ernst Pagels. He once told me how, no matter how good a plant might be, he would not introduce it to the market unless he could see that it contributed something new to the current assortment of plants. For Ernst his plants were tools for creating gardens not collectors items. He is of course famous for his many miscanthus grass cultivars, but in his own catalogue he would ruthlessly delete earlier introductions when something similar but better turned up. Unfortunately, not all of the nurseries that took up his introductions followed his lead and this has lead to a few too many cultivars continuing to circulate that bear his name.
Many of Pagels introductions he would claim were pure accidents of nature that he would find spontaneously growing in and around his nursery in cold northern Germany. He was a very modest man, perhaps with a very good eye, but in the case of Aruncus ‘Horatio’ he did actually set out to find it. He deliberately crossed Aruncus aethusifolius, a low growing species with fine glossy leaves with common, much taller and courser A. dioicus. Many seedlings were raised and evaluated and eventually some four were brought to the market ranging in size from A. ‘Johannifest’, A. ‘Woldemar Meier’, A. ‘Sommeranfang’ and the largest of all A.’Horatio’. They are all good garden plants and bring the grace of astilbe to the garden in the form of a far more robust and drought resistant plant – although they are all white/cream flowering.
Unquestionably, it is A. ‘Horatio’ that stands out as a truly exceptional perennial. It grows into a shrub like plant each spring reaching 120 cm., some 40 inches, tall and nearly the same in width. The foliage is fresh green and elegant, but it is the mass of fine flower spikes that set it apart.
Aruncus flower in early summer and in truth they tend to look better just before flowering than when in flower as it seems that once the mass of fine pale flower buds open they start fading from off white to cream and all to quickly turn brown. A. ‘Horatio’ is no different, but its flowers are arranged in long thin flower spikes and these start tuning brown along their length so that an interesting two tone effect develops that looks attractive rather than detracting from the plants elegance.
Aruncus tollerate shade and some drought when established and I often use this plant as an informal background or open hedge in such situations. They never need staking and contribute subtle elegance to their surroundings all summer long and, for a short period in autumn, the bonus of some good mellow tints.
It will be two, maybe three, years before A. ‘Horatio’ becomes the star of your early summer garden, but it is tough and will delight you for many years to come.