For Garden Bloggers’ Bloom Day, September 2014, I am posting photos of my obedient plants blooming in my Virginia garden (Physostegia virginiana). I actually think of Thomas Jefferson when my obedient plants bloom in the fall. He grew these Native American perennials at Monticello which I learned when a friend pulled a clump from her garden for me to plant in my garden. In four years, the original plant has thrived and spread via rhizomes (underground stems) but only a few feet in the same garden bed. Not too much but just enough to provide extra plants to share and abundant flowers to cut for the office while leaving enough in the garden for color. My plants are in a garden strip that is partially under a crab apple tree and partially in full sun, both seem to be fine for this drought resistant, deer-resistant perennial.
The flowers, similar to snapdragons, attract butterflies and hummingbirds. If you twist the individual flowers back and forth, they stay in the new position for some time, hence the name “obedient.” Ever the scientist, I tried this and it worked but you have to wonder, how did the first person discover this and what was he or she doing fiddling with the flowers?
Still, I like obedient plant, its tall structure provide a wash of pink in the fall, when you least expect it. The flower stalks are great for cutting and putting in vases at the office, along with purple asters. I prefer the pink flowering variety, but there are obedient plants with white flowers (‘Alba’) and even green and white variegated leaves (‘Variegata’). If you read about obedient plants, you may notice the caveat about spreading but in my garden it is not invasive at all. In the spring, the emerging stems are easy to identify, they are square (a mint family characteristics) and green with chocolate brown, vertical strips. Being shallow-rooted, I can easily pull unwanted plants if I have to but could just as easily share with my gardening club. If unwanted growth is a concern, try ‘Miss Manners’ (white flowers) or ‘Pink Manners’ (pink flowers), both of which are known to maintain a clumping habit.