Amsonia tabernaemontana

I’ve spent the lion’s share of my life searching for the right bun. You know what I mean: Girl on the lookout for something sculpted, curvaceous, tight, and nicely rounded. Oh…and green.

I thought that I had it pinned with boxwood. But then the snow plow came along and nipped that love affair in the bud. Now I’ve found it with Amsonia tabernaemontana.

When it comes to buns, small little tuffets are adorable, it’s true. But in my eyes, bigger is better. And what I love about A. tabernaemontana is that no slavish clipping is required. The mound you get does not require any scissorhand action whatsoever (as opposed to spiraea, for example, that requires pruners as an appendage-extension).

I’ve got one amsonia that’s a real stunner. Ever notice that certain individuals are more comely than others? It happens with humans, and it’s also the case with plants. Although not all my A. tabernaemontanas are equally svelte (I used them as a repetitive theme in my perennial border, so I have several). Some (especially those growing in particularly fertile soil) actually get so floppy that I have to cut them down after flowering. It’s the one closest to the road in the lean, mean soil and the hot sun that annually fans itself into a lovely orb.

In spring, it’s studded with pale blue blossoms that make a statement by sheer numbers. In midsummer, that plant is a perfectly rounded nugget. In fall, the foliage turns blazing orange. And then the stripped stems bleach silver but hang in there. Sometimes I leave last year’s sticks up most of the winter. Usually, they begin to topple when the first snow strikes. So I cut the plant back just to give the plowman one less solid object to aim his heaps at. But when I flip through the calendar, there’s only a brief interval when this plant isn’t a main, stunning element in the garden.

I know there’s nothing new about Amsonia tabernaemontana. It’s been upstaged by the feathery-leaved A. hubrichtii that is the current darling of the perennial realm. The cultivar ‘Blue Ice’ is getting loads of press at the moment. I like it, for a different role in my garden. But it doesn’t claim the same wonderful silhouette or form the substantial mass that I treasure in Amsonia tabernaemontana. Although I’ve spent many posts talking about newbies in this blog, I decided it was high time to pay tribute to an old faithful.

Oh, and friends — My apologies for going off-line temporarily. The good news is that I gave birth to a new book while I was “away.” More about that later. But I’m back and posting now. Thank you all for your patience. I missed you.

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14 Responses to Amsonia tabernaemontana

  1. Tovah, I’m curious, what did the snow plow due to the boxwoods? Break them off or smother them? I’m wondering because I had some boxwood die back last winter primarily in an area where they were buried in a snow drift. Is that a common thing? And will they come back?

    Can’t wait to hear about the new book.

    • Tovah Martin says:

      Actually, what the snowplow did was bash the boxwood. It wasn’t fatal — but it required a whole new shaping = a new haircut to get rid of the bald spot. Same with several deciduous shrubs. So I’m thinking here’s something that has the ideal format. It grows into a shrub-like mass, but it dies back to the ground and regains its stature in a year. What happened to your boxwoods? Totally defunct?

      And thank you so much for your patience, Prof. I was dancing to bullets with a summer book deadline (and the garden to tend). Okay, to let the cat out of the bag = it’s on houseplants. That’s a lifelong specialty of mine. Don’t know the pub date for it yet, but it’ll probably be at least 9 months from now.

  2. Lisa from PA says:

    Tis another plant of yours that I do not have. I’m taking notes and running out of paper, lol. I like the description- seems to be a true 3- 3 1/2 season plant. I like the shape and the fact that it turns orange in the fall. Will look for it at my local garden center, for sure. Thanks!

    • Tovah Martin says:

      I guess what irks me is that garden centers are shifting to ‘Blue Ice’, Lisa, and forgetting this old faithful. ‘Blue Ice’ is a nice plant with brighter blue flowers. I’m growing it in a mass planting. But it never achieves the form that A. tabernaemontana gains. Check out my response to Prof. Roush below = I let the cat out of the bag on my book topic. You heard it first here.

  3. Heidi S. says:

    Glad to see you are back to posting!

    This is a favorite of mine too!

    Mine aren’t as perfectly mounded as yours but they came from divisions a couple of years ago, so there is still hope. I also like to plant them where they can be easily reached since they beg to be touched.

    • Tovah Martin says:

      Thank you for your patience, Heidi. Wish I had a secret to the mound formula. REALLY good idea on the touchy-feely advice. We should keep that in mind more often. I have another tabernaemontana very close by — equally sunny, etc and it just isn’t equally ravishing, but I’m hoping that it’s just adolescent (after 5 years?). Similarly, I saw a A. hubrichtii once that looked like bristles on a brush. Mine’s straggly so far.

  4. Lisa from PA says:

    Tovah~ A friend in my garden club will be up your way in the fall for a pressed flower event. She’d like to contact you- what is the best way for her to do so? Thanks~ Lisa

  5. Lisa from PA says:

    Tovah~ I think it’s a conference of sorts, attended by people who learn and make different projects with pressed flowers. It’s a true work of art. My friend’s garden is huge and she has every plant known to man. She grows for the flowers, the foliage, the leaf stems, you name it. She keeps flower presses and old phone books in her car in case she sees something she just has to press! I’ll make sure she sees your post and I’ll get her to email you. She wants to come to your terrarium workshop with me in October at Linden Hill. By the way, my garden club is going on a bus trip July 29 to Linden Hill and getting the first class garden tour treatment from Jerry Fritz! Very excited!! Lisa

    • Tovah Martin says:

      Don’t you love gardeners who color-coordinate their leaf stems? They’re the creme de la creme. And there’s so much to learn about pressing flowers. Tell her to check out Vermont Botanicals = she’s my favorite flower presser. And Jerry is such a hoot! He’s got a contagious energy that always ends up filling the entire back of the station wagon.

  6. Lisa from PA says:

    I do like Vermont Botanicals. However, hers are more the art of flowers, while my friend and her pressed flower guild actually make pictures, forms, people, animals, baskets, arrangements, etc., out of bits and pieces of pressed flowers. The fiddle heads from Vermont Botanicals I think is my favorite though, and my favorite picture my friend Nancy made is of a hummingbird, all made out of flowers and leaves, etc. Hope you get a chance to go see them in action October 14-16 in Manchester, CT. (

    • Tovah Martin says:

      Actually, I first saw Maggie Lake’s work (Vermont Botanicals) at a vendor booth at the Philadelphia Flower Show. Is that where you saw her work also, Lisa? And I second your motion on the fiddleheads. But I also first saw the conglomerate picture form of pressed flower work at the Philly Show in the art competition. It’s SO fascinating!

  7. Lisa from PA says:

    I am sure I saw Maggie Lake’s work at the Phila Flower Show, but I also checked out her website at your suggestion. I don’t have the patience or talent to do such intricate work- would rather be digging in the garden, but I sure do appreciate someone else creating such beautiful pictures.

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