Plants - Native Plants and Wildflowers

Easy-care meadow rues

Patrick Lima
Photography by
John Scanlan

These sturdy, elegant perennials earn their keep

Next in our garden comes the greater meadow rue (T. aquilegiifolium); its species name refers to the columbine-like foliage, and out of bloom, you're hard pressed to tell the difference. This was the first Thalictrum we grew - and one we have always nicknamed rosy meadow rue. At peony time, puffy clouds of greyish lilac or rosy mauve hang in the air above wiry branches 90 to 120 centimetres tall. This is a grand, easy perennial for various sites: in the middle of a sunny bed with a peony nearby and a foreground of white or pale pink cranesbills (such as Geranium sanguineum 'Album' or G. s. var. striatum); in the back row next to tall, cream-coloured goat's beard (Aruncus dioicus); in the vicinity of rugosa roses; or in front of a shrub with coppery purple leaves, such as the purple smoke bush. Just plant in half-decent soil in sun or light shade, and enjoy its ethereal blooms for years to come. Greater meadow rue has one bad habit, though: its flowers are followed by tan seedheads that shatter, scatter and sprout into many small plants that soon get big. To prevent seeding, trim stems back to the most presentable leaves once the flowers are over. The ivory white version, T. aquilegiifolium var. album, is striking behind deep red or pink peonies, while the new cultivar 'Black Stockings' is similar in all ways except for very dark, blackish purple stems.

Most meadow rue foliage is cut on a pattern resembling a cross between columbine and maidenhair fern. Change the typical light green colour to silvery grey and you have dusty meadow rue (T. flavum ssp. glaucum), a 1.5-metre-tall species valued as much for its leaves as for its hazy heads of soft yellow. Thriving in ordinary soil in sun or light shade, it contrasts nicely with lavender-blue catmint, lady's mantle (Alchemilla mollis), the light blue milky bellflower (Campanula lactiflora) or delphiniums of any hue. This meadow rue should be positioned where its lovely leaves can be seen even after the spent flower stalks are cut back. Last summer, we let a deep violet clematis climb through the yellow meadow rue for the contrast of light and dark flowers.

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