Evergreen perennials

Nature's Barometer Plant

Rumex sanguineus (pronounced ROO-meks san-GWIN-ee-us) is known by various common names including Bloody Sorrel, Bloodwort and Red-Veined Dock. It is not eye-catching, but EVERY gardener needs this plant! I reserve exclamation points for the most important points, so pay attention. This plant serves as your personal barometer.

Rumex tells the gardener when containers, window boxes or beds are thirsty. I suggest that you plant one in every mixed container and every garden bed as an irrigation alarm. Just like the Peace Lily in your kitchen window wilts when it is dry but then revives when watered, Rumex wilts horribly when it is too dry. Unless you have ignored its pitiful message for days, a little water will make it perk back up in a few hours.

While it is not a visual standout, the red veined leaves make a terrific addition to containers. The rosette clumps of leaves reach 12-15 inches in height. Rumex has a deep taproot; it ignores heat and humidity and will grow in either sun or shade. When you include this barometer in your plantings, you can stroll past your beds and containers and immediately know which ones need water. They are the ones with the wilted Rumex. If the Rumex looks fine, the bed does not need water. If you have numerous or large gardens, this messenger saves you time.

Rumex also works well as a pond-side plant or near your water garden. It spreads happily in damp areas. It is an evergreen perennial in Zones 6-8, although it may be a little tattered at winter’s end. Use scissors to cut off any damaged leaves, and avoid the red sap because it stains fingers and clothes. I have seen recipes for sorrel soups, but have never tried cooking any of my yard plants although I have chewed on a leaf. The taste was tart but lemony and refreshing – and left me with pink teeth.

Rumex is a reliable soil moisture indicator. Allow it to save you time.

A smart gardener featured Rumex next to a golden-leaf Abelia. The deep red veins of Rumex echoed the red stems of the Abelia, a wonderful combination I observed while on the 2019 Master Gardener tour of private gardens in May.

A smart gardener featured Rumex next to a golden-leaf Abelia. The deep red veins of Rumex echoed the red stems of the Abelia, a wonderful combination I observed while on the 2019 Master Gardener tour of private gardens in May.

A tiny Rumex nestled in a basket lets me know when the Lantana need water. The clear filament around the edges is fishing line used to secure the cocoa basket to the metal frame. Sweetgum balls discourage cats from sleeping amid the flowers.

A tiny Rumex nestled in a basket lets me know when the Lantana need water. The clear filament around the edges is fishing line used to secure the cocoa basket to the metal frame. Sweetgum balls discourage cats from sleeping amid the flowers.

Architectural Acanthus

One of my favorite plants for shade is Acanthus, (pronounced ah-KAN-thus) commonly called “Bear’s Breeches” for unknown reasons.  There are two species available in nurseries, Acanthus mollis and Acanthus spinosus. See the accompanying photograph for a side-by-side comparison.

Both species have bold evergreen leaves that draw attention in the garden. When you see one in bloom, you cannot help but say, “Golly!” The leaves of mollis are large and shiny; the leaves of spinosus bristle with sharp spines. (Bet you saw that one coming, huh?).  Leaf clumps may reach three feet tall. Bloom stems jump up to five feet or more. In the Mary Snoddy garden, the height of the bloom stem is a direct reflection of any irrigation I have thrown their way. The more water, the taller the stem. They do prefer a drier soil, however, so don’t get carried away with the watering. Ensure good drainage during winter to prevent root rot.

Acanthus’s distinctive leaves served as the pattern for carvings on classical Greek architecture. Blooms appear in early to mid summer on sturdy stems, white petals held by dusky purple bracts.

Acanthus are cold-hardy zone 7-10. They are evergreen in my zone 7b garden. Plants may spread by seed or by underground roots. I have seen reports of invasiveness on the internet, but have not experienced any such behavior in the ten-plus years I have enjoyed them. Deer, rabbits and voles avoid them.

Acanthus spinosus  on left;  Acanthus mollis  on right.

Acanthus spinosus on left; Acanthus mollis on right.

Prickly  Acanthus spinosus

Prickly Acanthus spinosus

Mary Snoddy and  Acanthus mollis  ‘Rue Ledan’

Mary Snoddy and Acanthus mollis ‘Rue Ledan’