I like tall ships, tall men, tall trees and tall flowers.
I am writing this column sitting under a tall sycamore by the boardwalk bordering Alma Pond at Garlo Nature Preserve. On a warm fall day, it is quiet, shady, breezy and cool right here. It is a perfect spot to sit and write about tall, shady plants.
There are several plants in my herb border that have grown too tall for the available space, and have had to be severely cut back before they shade all the sunlight from the other herbs there.
Lovage is one. I love its celery-like taste and smell, and the light green foliage is attractive, but after reaching the eaves of the garage at 8 feet or so, it was time for a pruning. The hollow stems of lovage make excellent straws for a tomato juice or Bloody Mary, and the hand-sized leaves can be chopped for use in soups or salads.
As a hardy perennial the plant can be moved to another location, and will continue to grow well in sun or part shade.
Another lofty herb is angelica. I planted this because it is supposed to attract ladybugs to the garden, although I have not seen much evidence of this, but it grows quickly.
Curiously, angelica is neither a true annual nor a perennial, and, because it takes more than two years before the large yellowish-green flowers appear, it is not a biennial. It dies off after flowering, but cutting off the blossoms before the plant sets seed and then removing the 8-foot stalks in the fall will persuade it to grow as a perennial.
I have childhood memories of crystallized angelica stems which were kept in my grandmother's pantry with other dried fruit for cake decoration. I wonder whether she was surprised how often she had to replace her supply?
Herbal lore includes medicinal and culinary uses for angelica, as well as suggesting it as a flavoring source for wines and liquors. Angelica is a versatile plant, and a nice, tall accent in the flower border.
And then there are sunflowers.
I have a number of them along the side of the house, from where they peek into the kitchen window. I have measured the tallest annual specimen at 12 feet, while the perennial Maximilian is getting ready to flower at 9 feet or so. These giants surround my tallest bird feeder, and are a great source of bird food.
The sunflower is a native American, used by the Incas and most Indian tribes before being introduced to Europe by the Spaniards. Every part of the plant has commercial uses - including yellow dye, paper, life preservers and life belts from the pith of the stem - and wide use of the seeds, which are 25 percent protein in a variety of food for animals and humans.
Hollyhocks are lovely back-of-the-border sights, but I find them subject to a number of pests and diseases, and I think I will replace mine with the displaced lovage. Rust is a big problem, and several insects feast on the leaves, peppering them with sizeable holes.
Every spring, these biennials start out beautifully, but by the time
they flower, I am ready to give up on them.
And finally the plume poppy (macleaya) will provide height where needed. They also migrate to other parts of the garden, and could almost be classified as invasive. Once introduced into an area, they will pop up unexpectedly all over the place. The leaves are large, and the plant may reach 11 feet high.
All of these tall plants are attractive in the garden, providing contrast and shade to their shorter companions.