The days are shorter now, and finally we have cool weather. I’ve begun cutting perennials down, but leave anything still blooming for the bees, if only for another week or two. I have a daylily with a stem and one big bud — I wonder if it will open?
Two perennials are carrying on like this is the moment they’ve been waiting for. Most impressive is the azure monkshood (sometimes known as wolfsbane), Aconitum carmichaelii ‘Arendsii’ (Zone 4), now four feet (1.2 m) tall, with several sturdy stems loaded with deep purple-blue hooded flowers. Shorter species of monkshood with ivory, yellow or bi-colour flowers blossom in summer, but this dramatic plant with dark petals waits until there’s not much competition before appearing by itself.
All parts of monkshoods are poisonous, and both wild and domestic animals know not to ingest it. (Perennial plant author Allan Armitage writes that dogs and cats are smarter than the average gardener!) If you see one of these plants, look up into one of the hooded flowers, and you’ll discover a cluster of beautiful black stamens.
You might be familiar with the yellow fumewort, Corydalis lutea (Zone 6, and possibly Zone 5 near a warm wall) that runs freely through partial shade, never giving offense and easily removed when unwanted. It grows in clumps of ferny leaves nine to 15 inches (22 to 40 cm) tall and is always full of yellow flowers. But do you know its cousin, C. ochroleuca, the white and yellow fumewort? This fumewort sets less seed, consequently it’s slower to move through the garden. Both are useful and decorative plants, willing to grow in dry shade, and lasting until hard frost. They’re full of flowers now and looking vigorous, and the pale C. ochroleuca is quite special. The easiest way to get some is to bake muffins for a friend who has them, and ask for a clump. You’ll soon have it blooming in your garden.