June 25, 2010

Gone Gaura, Gone

I have a weak spot for one particular perennial, and have purchased it multiple times, killed it repeatedly, repurchased it, despaired when it didn't come back, and bought more.
It's Gaura lindheimeri, and I can't give it up.  I am a new gardener, experimenting and learning, and anything that fails me is a lesson, not tried again.  I moved on when all the heathers died.  I got over it when the azaleas expired.

I cannot give up Gaura.

It's called Wandflower for its waving stems that look like butterflies --- I don't mean "attracts butterflies", although it does.  I mean it actually looks exactly like butterflies zipping around on the end of arching stems that bounce in a breeze.  One cultivar name is 'Whirling Butterflies" and I loved it in my garden, shown here in very late summer last year -- it's the big flowery white clump at the far left, still blooming away as the rest of the garden faded.
I like it so much because it does everything at once: it looks delicate and light while massing to fill a space.  Smaller gauras fountain and cascade without overtaking what is planted below.  The wands reach out over the walk without blocking the path.  It's untidy and sprawly but contained.  It blooms all summer and into fall.

I had 'Whirling Butterflies' (big, shrubby, and white) and 'Crimson Butterflies' (red stems, compact) and 'Siskiyou Pink' (rosy pink, an open see-through plant), and I had them planted in various sunny locations near my walk, in the garden, near a tree.  I enjoyed them all summer, waited for them to return in spring, and they never did.  So I tried again, and the next spring they would be gone.  This went on for several years.  I finally figured out I am planting gaura as an annual each year.

They have tap roots and need not just well drained soil, but "highly well drained" soil.  Highly well drained!  I'm doomed.  The dead plants I had to remove from my gardens had slimy wet roots that had rotted, even when I had sited my gaura in a raised bed facing south.  When they say well drained they really mean it.  No fooling.

I guess I have two choices.  I can keep buying a new gaura each year and plant it as an annual.  Or I can try them in pots in cactus mix potting soil, and bring them into the garage for winter.
That's what I'm trying this year, with a 'Siskiyou Pink' wandflower potted up on the patio, ready to entertain me with its whirlygig blooms this summer.

And I put another in the front garden to cover up a spot where the rabbits sheared some lovely Japanese forest grasses down to nubs.  Looks kind of abrupt with the pot just sitting there, but I like the bouncy pink blooms right at the front walk.

When the season is over, I'll tuck them in, give them a spot in the unheated garage, and keep them dry, dry, dry in their pots all winter.  Let's see if this works, because no matter what, I do intend to have these butterfly flowers in my garden.


  1. Love your title - I can't keep the stuff alive either! Artemisia 'Powis Castle' is another perennial I have to assume is annual here, but worth having nonetheless.

  2. Oh No, I just bought it when I was in Kingston last week. I should have known when my friend said she was going to plant it in a pot. I can't plant pots now, never know when I will be there to water them, so I planted it in the garden. At least it was cheap.

  3. Gaura does not survive for me either. One planted many years ago survived for two seasons. Two planted just two years ago in a new bed did not survive their first winter. I'm done. Gave up on heathers also.

  4. I can't seem to grow these either. Must be too much moisture around here for them. I have a friend that has them growing on a bank that gets no extra watering. I love the airy feel of the blooms. I have never seen a butterfly or any other bug on them though.

  5. Funny thing about Gaura is that some people can't keep it under control because it reseeds too easily and it spreads throughout the garden. It may not like being shaded by other plants. I think that may be why I lost mine.

    Just goes to show how the local conditions really affect how a plant behaves. I agree that this is a perfect use for pots.

  6. Ooh, that Siskyou Pink is gorgeous. Crossing my fingers for you, that this one survives. It's frustrating to have to repurchase something you love, over and over, as you try to figure out what it needs to thrive. (Altho I've been there, done that, so you're in good company. :) Still, the fact that you're listening to the plant's needs and trying to meet them tells me that eventually, if it is possible in your region, you will succeed!

  7. Thanks, everybody, for weighing in. Apparently I am far from the only one who has been an abysmal failure with gaura... and I thought it was me!

    Meredith, thanks for the encouragement. I really am learning to do more of what the plants want, and not so much what I want.

  8. What a charming plant! I would be smitten too... :-)

    Good luck!

  9. Garden Ms. S, it really is a charmer. Thanks!

  10. Haven't tried growing gaura, but I have killed more than one heather, which is a shame since I am a Heather. Heather's Garden will just have to be heatherless. Hope you have better luck with the containers!

  11. Heather: how sad to have no heather in Heather's Garden! It just doesn't grow here.

  12. Oh I hope my gaura comes back next spring, it tripled in size this year. I also just planted three heather and hope that's not going to be a huge fuss or disappointment:( time will tell!

  13. Gaura loves full sun.Keep it warm over the winter with peat moss and straw.


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