Monday, December 12, 2011

Sumptuous Seedheads

echinacea purpurea seed head  1026
“A plant is only worth growing if it looks good when it is dead.”
– Piet Oudolf, Dutch garden designer

Oudolf's famous quote above, while probably partly in jest, points to a key principle of his design ethic, that worthwhile plants are those that provide long-lasting, variable, interest in the garden, while eschewing the use of plants that have little interest except when in bloom. Interestingly, Oudolf also avoids plants that are un-changing and "static", preferring the drama of constant change.

Well, I have a ways to go before I'm anywhere as adept as Oudolf at staging such amazing seasonal spectacles! Even so, while the garden looks, admittedly, rather sad at the moment, there are still lots of things to just have to look a little closer.

Seed heads, in particular, are many different forms and structures...all designed for the same purpose, to distribute seeds for the next generation of plants. Let's take a tour of some of my favorite seed heads in the garden today!

monarda seedhead  688
Monarda 'Aquarius'

panicum shenandoah  1062
Panicum 'Shenandoah'

bent rudbeckia seed head  1062
Rudbeckia 'Goldsturm'

echinacea  1108
Echinacea purpurea 'Magnus'

persicaria lance corporal seed head  1080
Persicaria 'Lance Corporal'

malva  1076
Malva moschata

agastache golden jubilee  1111
Agastache 'Golden Jubilee'

pennisetum  1104
Pennisetum 'Hameln'

agastache and scizachyrium  1060
Agastche 'Golden Jubilee' with Schizachyrium scoparium 'The Blues'

echinacea purpurea  1102rucbeckia  1100
Echinacea purpureaRudbeckia

calamagrostis december  1063
Calamagtrostis 'Karl Foerster'

north border  1096
North Border with Pennisetum, Panicum, Schizachryium, Rudbeckia

schizachyrium scoparium  1090
Schizachyrium scoparium 'The Blues'

eutrochium little joe  1071Rudbeckia seed heads v
Eutrochium dubium 'Little Joe'Rudbeckia

pennisetum macrourum  1086
Pennisetum macrourum

eupatorium rugosum  1083
Eutrochium rugosum 'Chocolate'

agastache desert sunrise seed head  1018crocosmia  1036
Agastache 'Desert Sunrise'Crocosmia

miscanthus malepartus seed head  1027
Miscanthus 'Malepartus'

clematis tibetana seed head  1025
Clematis tibetana

veronicastrum  1082
Veronicastrum virginicum 'Fascination'

rudbeckia and panicum  1045
Rudbeckia 'Goldsturm' and Panicum 'Shenandoah'

sunny monarda  1113
Monarda 'Raspberry Wine'

winter sun  1113
Winter sun shining through Agastache, Pennisetum and Monarda
Are you enjoying seed heads in your garden right now...or do you have other forms of "winter interest" that you rely on to get you through until spring?


  1. I love your grasses! This was my first year growing miscanthus, and it's absolutely the most gorgeous thing in the garden right now.

    Which grass do you think is best for a shady site that gets only morning sun? All the shade grasses are pretty short, and I'm looking for something that'll get about 4-5 feet tall.

  2. Hi Scott,

    Such beautiful photos! I'm surprised everything is still so yellow - most things here are beyond that stage now and totally dead.

    I tried to go hunting for seed heads and interest today, but most were gone... I think it's because the UK was battered by high winds last week so a lot of the interest has been flattened - Panicum 'Rehbraun', Miscanthus 'Flamingo' and Pennisetum 'Hameln' for example and the fluffy seed heads from the Asters are gone too, leaving just little cups which are interesting in their own right; just not quite as interesting as seeds!

  3. This sumptuous photo essay had to have been a labor of love. It is beautiful!

  4. What lovely pictures Scott. Indeed flowers have their beauty in all seasons. I love your Miscanthus. When the snow gets on them they will be beautiful all over again.

  5. I love the seedheads of some things also. You have some of the better things that look good all the time. Some of them look almost as good as when they bloom.
    Cher Sunray Gardens
    Goldenray Yorkies

  6. Obvious paraphrase, "A life is only worth living...," etc. The agastache is still amazingly upright and such a contribution to the late garden. I assumed it'd be flattened by now.

  7. Very nice,Scott. I can never get my Veronicastrum virginicum to stay up when flowering, much less the end of the season. How do you do it?

  8. What do you mean your garden is a mess? It is like a museum of seedheads, just wonderful! Some of the grasses collapse but many other stay upright during the winter, can't wait to see your shed. I love sheds when they blend with the environment.


  9. Get out! Your Clematis tibetana still has green leaves?? Oh and that Miscanthus is magical...

  10. What a great idea for a post--especially through the lens of your camera! All are incredible, but my favorite shots are the Miscanthus, Crocosmia, and Malva. Your photography should win awards!

  11. Scott, seedheads, seedheads! Good to post this. You're helping start a "new wave" across this land.

  12. Your about 3 weeks and 14 degrees away from what my garden looks like. I too leave as many of the seed heads as possible. My favorites are Rudebeckias and of course the ornamental grasses. I have a Echinacea variety with a huge seed head, twice as big as a normal seed head. Haven't determined the species. Love Pete O. work. Nice post.

  13. Those are really awesome shoot of the seeds head! I don't have winter here but i have many plants with seeds head too!

  14. Great post Scott. You have so many different seedheads and I realise that there were some I didn't look at closely enough in my garden. I do agree with Piet Oudolf; even for roses I only really like them if the blooms die well. Christina

  15. I am bad. I usually cut down my perennials as soon as they turn brown. It might have something to do with my aversion to winter, or the large number of broadleaf evergreens in my garden. However, I do leave the coneflowers and rudbeckias up a little longer so some of the local flock can get a snack.

  16. Your pictures are really pretty! Your garden is still looking very good, lots of interest still. I just bought a Piet Oudolf book and noticed how many of the pictures are taken in fall and winter. I ran out of time this year and left way more up than usual, and it turned out to be a good thing. I hadn't realized how nice Monarda looked "dead".

  17. I do love seedheads. Yours are very nice. I think the clematis are my favorite. I guess Piet would not like my garden much - I was just admiring my evergreens! The light in that last picture is heavenly!

  18. Super seedheads Scott. Love the North border photo especially. Hope you have collected some of those seeds!!

  19. Sumptuous, indeed! I'm with you, Scott - seedheads make for wonderful color and texture in the winter garden. The grasses usually steal the show, but the hidden gems - like your Malva - are so fun to discover. Enjoyed your lovely photos!

  20. Scott, you're a master at enjoying all phases of a plant. It's so hard for me not to want to clean up the spent flower heads (the relatively few I have) but you are perfectly restrained. I need to learn to look differently at their spare beauty!

  21. Dear Scott, apart for Oudolf's necrophilia, your garden doesn't look sad at all and the pictures are beautiful. I want to try some of your agastaches next year, even though my soil is kind of heavy for them. I guess I have to treat them as annuals, because they never get over winter in my garden... Very good post, I enjoyed it as usual.


  22. aloha,

    love the winter garden and all the seed heads/your photography is stellar

  23. Oh No! I suddenly realized all my comments for this post never posted for some reason :-( Let's try again!

    Anonymous: I agree, Miscanthus are just SO graceful and lovely! Hmmmm…you're right, most shade-tolerant grasses tend to be short. How much sun does it get in the morning, you might be able to grow some of the shorter Molinias (3-4' tall). Also, Deschampsia can be grown in part shade. I think, if you get at least a few hours of sun, I would probably recommend Calamagrostis brachytricha (Korean Feather Reed Grass). It's STUNNING in late summer/autumn when it blooms and can take more shade than many grasses. I'm actually going to try some next year :-)

    gwirrel: Well, that was a few weeks ago…and pretty soon after that post, things DID start to go downhill a bit ;-) Oh yeah, wind and rain can do a number on the seed heads. We had such a mild fall and start to winter that there is still quite a bit standing, even today.

    allan becker: It really was, it kind of kept growing and growing!

    Lona: OMG…I'm hoping we get snow this winter…I haven't had a chance to take REAL snow pics in so long!

    Sunray Gardens: I sort of feel the same way :-) There are some plants I just LOVE the seed heads of, the Agastache being one of them…they are so very sculptural right now.

    Denise: Indeed! That's the great thing about Agastaches in Portland…without snow, they stay upright until we cut them down in spring :-)

    Michael B. Gordon: Ummmmm…hahahaha…it really doesn't stay very upright for me either! I think I might stake each stem next year…it flops quite a bit while it's blooming, but once they blooms fade, the reduced weight seems to allow the stems to straighten up a bit again. It's a bit frustrating in summer, to be sure.

    Gatsby Gardens: Thanks so much…you made me feel better…I can usually see the beauty, but occasionally I step back and it does look a tad ratty ;-)

    Loree/danger garden: Well…it did when I did this post, but pretty much that weekend, we got a few frosts and it's mostly dead now :-(

    Plant Postings: You are too sweet…thanks so much! The great thing about some of those…they'll give me seeds for MORE PLANTS!

    James Golden: I do hope so…that would be SWEET, wouldn't it!

    greggo: Thanks…that sounds just about right! Granted, we probably won't get much colder during the winter, it usually hovers just about freezing most of the time. I would love to know what that Echinacea is, if you ever find out!

    Malar: I bet you do…I would love to see you post on them!

    Christina: That's such a good point, I try not to grow things that ONLY look good in flower…Roses being a good example…those with nice hips are invaluable!

  24. Les: I don't think you are alone…and it doesn't make you bad! To be honest, by the time spring gets here, I'm REALLY itching to cut everything back :-)

    Catherine@AGardenerinProgress: Isn't Oudolf amazing…he really helped me see the value of "dead" plants…I agree on the Monarda…they are one of the more interesting plants in winter…especially in large groups!

    HolleyGarden: I love that Clematis too! I've decided recently I need more Clematis in my garden to cover some of my more boring foundation shrubs. I don't think Oudolf would judge you too harshly, after all, wouldn't it be boring if we all had the same gardens!

    Janet, The Queen of Seaford: Thanks…and of course I've collected a few seeds here and there ;-)

    Jocelyn H. Chilvers / the art garden: Absolutely, that's part of the fun of the garden in winter…you just have to work a LITTLE bit more to find the beauty ;-)

    MulchMaid: You definitely aren't alone…I know many people who really don't like to leave them. My love of them could partially stem from my "un-tidiness" ;-)

    altroverde: You should try the Agastaches! I have super-heavy clay too…and they actually seem not to mind too much (aside from the odd one here and there). I'll send you some seed for 'Golden Jubilee' with the Persicaria and you can give them a try :-)

    Unknown: Thanks so much, glad you stopped by :-)