Helianthus salicifolius ‘First Light’

Now it’s your turn. I need help. (Damsel in distress alert!) Originally, my intention when starting this blog was to get feedback on plants. Then I went straight into blabbering mode and shared all my favorites. Well, now I have some questions about a newbie in my garden. Anyone out there tried Helianthus salicifolius ‘First Light’? Raise your hand.

Because I just adopted one. Linden Hill in Ottsville, PA (www.lindenhillgardens.com) was the scene of the crime. It was the buds that hooked me. The thin, needle-like foliage was also a come on. But the clincher was those buds that look like jewel settings before they fit the diamond inside. I walked by it a zillion times and didn’t succumb. I told myself that Zone 6 was a stretch. And I didn’t lose a single bud on the way home.

It’s not like I had a spot selected for it. Okay. The truth is that it sat for a couple of weeks before its new home was shovel ready. Still, the buds remained in their charming jewel setting state. I began to wonder whether that was the full show. Finally, the moment came to get it into the ground. My rule is that I can’t purchase further plants until everything at home is in the ground (anyone else inflict this on themselves?). So by mid-October, ‘First Light’ was positioned beside a stand of Panicum virgatum ‘Shenandoah’. And then the flowers finally started to pop.

Pop’s a good verb for the explosion. Because out of those infinitely modest buds came an electric show. Although I’m not mad for yellow daisies, these were adorable. My plant stands less than 3 feet. So here’s the first question = Anybody know if ‘First Light’ truly remains short? If so, what’s not to love?

Next question = Anybody know if this guy is prone to wander lust? I might not mind if it makes the rounds but remains short. By the way, ‘First Light’ is a confusing name. ‘Last Light’ would be more apropos because the plant was really the last hurrah in my garden. Long after everything but a few roses, asters, and mums were silenced, ‘First Light’ was still singing away.

And finally = Anybody have experience with the hardiness of this treasure? Speak now…

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13 Responses to Helianthus salicifolius ‘First Light’

  1. I’ve not any personal experience but grow other Helianthus sp. here in Kansas. but I’ll search it out for next year now that I’ve seen yours! The Missouri Botanical Garden lists the salicifolius species as a Missouri native and hardy to Zone 4….The USDA Plants database shows it native to New York and Wisconsin and as far south as Texas.

    • Tovah Martin says:

      Thank you so much for the 2 thumbs up, Prof. I’m going to stand beside it next spring and send “Zone 4″ vibes in its general direction. If the species can do it, why not my little honey? I’ll take the hardiness part, but hope that it doesn’t stretch to the species’ height. Blooming at 2 1/2 feet in its first season seems like a good omen to me…Happy Holidays to Kansas!

  2. Lisa from PA says:

    While I do not have ‘First Light’, I also appreciate the jewel-like appearance when the buds are still intact, especially with some morning dew or light rain upon them. In that state, they remind me a smidge of Rudbeckia ‘Henry Eilers’ (buds only, as ‘Henry’ is about 6′ tall in my garden). There are so many plants that are distinctly attractive to me only in certain stages of their growth, and I think ‘First Light’ in bud stage is one of them. ‘Henry Eilers’ is another one one that makes me smile in the bud stage and maybe the first week of bloom. Like you, daisies don’t make me jump up and down. My one exception might be Chrysanthemum ‘Old Court Variety’. Looks like somebody gave it a good shaking. A friend of mine grows Alchemilla Mollis (Lady’s Mantle) for the foliage only and cuts off the blooms! But that’s another story. I also (try) to have a rule of no additional plant purchases until the ones in pots at home get planted. Doesn’t always happen. Sometimes the sales and selection can’t wait until you have time to get everyone in the ground. If I don’t have room for all purchases, I donate my leftovers to plant sales at our local library fundraiser. Too many plants, so little time! :) Tovah, hope you have a wonderful holiday~ best wishes~~ Lisa

    • Tovah Martin says:

      Zowie, Lisa — I checked out Chrysanthemum ‘Old Court Variety’ and it does indeed look like a tornado struck. Interesting about ‘Henry Eilers’ — I brought one home from a Wave Hill plant sale. You know the feeling — impulse buying isn’t such a great idea with plants unless you can really talk to someone at the point of purchase. When I researched it at home, it turned out to be MUCH too tall for the target location. So I put it in my meadow. It just couldn’t compete. Gone in less than a season. Sounds like you’re saying that I shouldn’t weep long about losing that one…Yes?
      Hoping to meet you in person somewhere next year, Lisa. Maybe at Linden Hill? In the meantime, have a merry holiday, peace to you and your family, and may your garden sprout luxuriantly in the coming year…

  3. Lisa from PA says:

    The funny thing about ‘Henry Eilers’, the close up picture in the catalog I first saw it in was just amazing…I had to have it. It is quite hardy here in zone 5 and is still standing intact since it has seeds for the birds. When I bought it (two actually), I didn’t know where to put it and decided to plant it (temporarily) in a raised bed I had used for summer vegetables. I thought it would be a good place until spring and by then I’d know where to place it. That was a year and a half ago. It’s in the same place! While the flowers are nice they do not jump out at me, however I am taken by its’ basal foliage. I just love plants that winter over with tough as nails basal foliage. So ‘Henry’ might get moved next spring near the back of a border or in front of my ‘Carl Forester’ grasses. My ‘Old Court Variety’ was apparently not hardy in my zone despite the plant description as all three plants I purchased never resurfaced after the first winter. Oh well. My garden club will be bus tripping to the Phila Flower Show on Monday March 5th, but if I have a chance to go back down on the 10th, I’ll make sure to attend your lecture and finally meet you. I believe you already met Nancy and Denise (Pressed Flower Convention) from my garden club the end of October and I think Nancy has suggested to the club that we make arrangements to have you come speak at one of our meetings, depending upon your schedule. Whether that will happen is up to the officers and planners, and they may discuss it further at the January business meeting. I hope they are able to make the necessary arrangements- I would certainly look forward to learning from you in person! Hope you have a wonderful holiday and a healthy and Happy New Year! I can’t wait for the garden catalogs to begin arriving!!! Lisa :)

    • Tovah Martin says:

      Good to know that ‘Henry Eilers’ isn’t a wanderer. I was worried about that when I saw the root system, but it sounds like yours didn’t take over the scene. But I love your spin on it = good basal foliage. In a snowless winter (so far, if you don’t count our white halloween), we’re seeing some traits that we never considered before. At least gardeners who are observant (like you) will notice all sorts of wonders. And on that account, ‘First Light’ slips into nothingness over the winter. But I love your ‘Carl Forester’/'Henry Eilers’ pal system. Good idea! Here’s to a New Year filled with lots of ideas coming in all seasons and all parts of the country. And I would LOVE to come speak to my newfound friends in your garden club!

  4. Lisa from PA says:

    Correction…I just went out to my compost bin to deliver some kitchen scraps, and I passed my buddy ‘Henry Eilers’ on the way. I must have been thinking of another plant, Tovah, as ‘Henry’ has no basal foliage intact currently! It’s a good memory, just rather short these days! Lisa

    • Tovah Martin says:

      Well, I can’t remember the last time we had a visible garden that wasn’t buried under snow at this time of year. But other years, when the snow thawed my horehound looked exactly the way it looked in summer. But this year it’s not looking as thrifty as normal. Just goes to show you — every year is unique. That’s the beauty of gardening, no?

      • Lisa from PA says:

        You’re right about the lack of snow. It’s raining hard here today and is quite balmy. I was out feeding the birds earlier and I couldn’t get over how lush and healthy my soil looks! Wished it looked that great in the heat hell of August! I really wanted to get my tools out and “go play in the dirt.” The nicest plant in my garden right now (which I can see from the house) is a variegated Jacob’s Ladder = ‘Touch of Class’ I think. It’s so bright, it is the spring beacon in my winter landscape. Lisa

        • Tovah Martin says:

          Do you believe it? I was actually putting up my deer fence a few days ago! And two thumbs up on polemonium. Mine has been a perennial winner — last summer my neighbor (nongardener) picked it out from the entire garden to top his wish list. And mine is still (sort of) looking good. Interesting to hear that it survives the PA humidity. Anyone further south have experience with it?

  5. DMac says:

    Just found your post from Dec 2011. We have a lot appx 50 of the First Light’s that form a curving wall through our front yard. We planted them in the spring of 2011 hoping they would create a band of interest/ color and divide the two sections ,wow they do that. First the parts we don’t like, the lower stems and leaves appear to have rust up about one foot from August forward giving them a dead appearance. About the first of Sept the tops on some get so heavy they start to lay over so you may have to stake them. This is their second year and some plants developed thick stalks about 1/2″ dia and the tallest this year was almost 5 ft high. Their blooms only last about 4weeks but it is a show when they come on. We have been cutting ours back when they are finished blooming otherwise it gives our front yard an unkept look, I cut them back on Oct 5 2012. It will be interesting to see what they do next year we may have to dig and divide I expect they will over grow the area. Hope this helps! D

    • Tovah Martin says:

      I need to send you a division of my ‘First Light’ – whole different animal from yours. I was surprised when I researched the plant and saw it listed as 5 ft. Mine is in its 2nd year and only 2 ft max. Nice, tight, rigid, no problems whatsoever. Acts like a perfect gentleman. And I even love it in bud stage. Do you have full sun? Whereabouts is your garden? Honestly, it was so gorgeous today that I went outside and gave it a little hug.

  6. DMac says:

    Sorry for the delayed response, full sun at all times and in north Fl. Weather has been rather mild and they are already coming on strong, should be a good year.

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