The ‘Red Dragon’ fleece flower caught my eye

Judith Adam

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‘Red Dragon’ fleece flower (Photo by Brendan Zwelling)

First, the good news. This past week I went on an enthusiastic nursery crawl through the Niagara region in Ontario. I was looking for some old favourite annuals like Rocket Series snapdragons, gold marigolds with mahogany and red markings, and any kind of heliotrope. I also wanted perennials with chartreuse foliage, and came up with two dandy selections — ‘Pineapple Upside Down Cake’ hosta, with narrow yellow leaves edged in green; and a sparkling yellow ‘Golden Jubilee’ anise hyssop (Agastache rugosa ‘Golden Jubilee’, Zone 6) that keeps its colour all season and will have soft purple flower spikes later this summer.

Then, an interesting plant with dark leaves caught my eye. The tag told me it was ‘Red Dragon’ fleece flower (Persicaria microcephala ‘Red Dragon’, Zone 7), a tender perennial used as an annual in cold regions. The elongated heart-shaped leaves are dark plummy purple mixed with bronze, and each leaf has a silvery V-shape marking at the centre. Tiny white flowers are produced later in summer, and stand out against the dark leaves. I saw it in a shady nursery display bed; but it will also adapt to a container in sun, where the leaf markings will be brighter and more distinct. This plant has great character, and will be a wonderful companion with purple verbena and trailing silver licorice plant (Helichrysum petiolare). I might try to bring it through the winter in garage storage.

Now, the bad news. After three days’ absence from the garden during warm, sultry weather, I returned to find the roses under assault from budworms and whiteflies. Before the car was unpacked, I could see the obvious damage to rose shrubs in the front garden. Every rose bud had a caterpillar or two boring into it, and there was nothing to do but get started on a swift eradication campaign, although they eat so quickly that it’s probably too late to save the flowers.

For this disgusting procedure, I wear thin disposable gloves and clean all the caterpillars and their excrement mess off. Biological BT insecticide and neem oil products are effective on the worms, but I needed to do something right away. Squishing is immediate and prevents the caterpillars from pupating in the soil, then emerging as moths to lay more eggs later this summer.

The roses are also infested with whiteflies, which have caused extensive spotting on many leaves. They congregate on the undersides of the leaves, and I spray them with a mixture of three parts insecticidal soap to one part rubbing alcohol.

You might well understand how I was considerably irritated over the rose problems. However, worse was to come. Walking into the back garden, I came upon a creature sitting boldly in the middle of the lawn. Yes, it was every gardener’s worst nightmare — a full-grown groundhog. He didn’t even have the decency to run away, so I did. It’s a jungle out there!

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4 thoughts on “The ‘Red Dragon’ fleece flower caught my eye”

  1. Oh heck! You’ll be thrilled to know it grows up here in Lafontaine near Midland with nary a thought of tender care…snowcover makes it happy, but it toughed it out this winter when we had many a Zone 3 and 4 day…. So just don’t tell it that it is supposed to be a tender perennial and it won’t act that way…. A survivor in this wind-swept lean soil, drought-prone area.

    • Hi Diane,

      Thank you for letting me and everyone else know that fleece flower has greater frost resistance than we think. This is really good news! It’s been my experience with other reputedly tender plants (such as buddleia and corylopsis) that if I can get them through the first winter or two with a little coddling, they are then quite resolved to carry on. It might have something to do with developing a thicker crown, or more and better established root system. Or just luck!

      — Judith

  2. Hi Marlene (May 31),

    I’m going to try to keep ‘Red Dragon’ fleece flower over winter in the garage. It’s an unheated space, but attached to the house, and many perennials and tender roses have successfully overwintered there.

    I’m hoping to get to Whistling Gardens in July.

    — Judith

  3. Hi, I had the “Red Dragon” fleece flower a few years ago and unforunately it did not survive.Too bad as it is a very striking plant.
    I also had the good fortune to attend the grand opening of
    Whistling Gardens near Brantford last Saturday. It certainly is amazing
    what they have achieved in just five years. In the first two days of opening over 600 people have attended the gardens.
    It is well worth the trip to see the gardens and each year will bring
    something different to enjoy as the gardens mature and new ideas
    and future programs are developed.
    Congratulations to Darren and Wanda Heimbecker on this
    momentous occasion.
    Marlene Link


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