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Gardens Blog

Right Plant, Wrong Place?

785. Joe Pye Weed

It’s a mistake every gardener makes, I think – you come home with a pot of something irresistible and wander round the garden looking for a space, any space, dig a hole and plant it, water it and wait optimistically for it to reward you for offering it a home….

And all being well, it will put out stems, leaves, buds, flowers, fruit or seed heads to the best of its ability. And in the best of all possible worlds, it harmonises delightfully with the rest of your garden and you can be suitably delighted with yourself and your wonderful planting design. Well done.

In reality, what can happen unless you are careful, is that post-planting you discover that what you believed to be a well-behaved and disciplined member of the floral family is actually a free-spirit, flinging up wands of stems and shouldering out its more modest neighbours, going ‘me me me’ and with a sinking heart you realise that if this continues there will be sulks and the neighbours may well do a Brexit on you and snuff it.

Worse still than the attention seeking, may be the fact that in your happiness at finding a space you have failed to consider the colour relationship between the old and the new.

Confession time: I am as guilty as you. Last year I bore home in triumph from the Northiam Horticultural plant sale (a treasure trove of plants, many from Great Dixter, an annual treat) a pot of Eupatorium purpureum which is a plant I have long wanted to grow. I toured the back garden, identified its new home (where a tree peony had suddenly died – another rather sad story and, I hasten to add, was Not My Fault), and in it went. It was so happy there in the slightly shady spot that it quickly established a nice leafy colony.

Cut to early summer this year when up came my beautiful pink Filipendula venusta with its gorgeous plumes. The Eupatorium – which you should know comes with the name ‘Joe Pye Weed’ (perhaps I should have been warned by this) – came up too, and had paler pink flowers which went rather nicely with the Filipendula. However the Filipendula then died down neatly but Joe Pye kept on going, upwards, outwards and bullied roses and penstemons into a pale shadow of their former selves. The crunch came when the Heleniums came out and I realised that I had created a horticultural nightmare of pink and yellow which was the visual equivalent of finger nails on the blackboard. Clearly Joe had to go.

So last weekend Joe was evicted from his nice cosy space , his former neighbours are relieved and calm and tranquillity has returned. Where he was are now Salvia nemorosa Caradonna, deep purple blue with dark stems which buffer the Helenium and connect with the Penstemon Sour Grapes. But have we seen the last of Joe Pye? Certainly not – the Co-Gardener rescued him and has given him a second chance in what is a very difficult bed where, if anything grows there we are grateful to it. Will Joe redeem himself? Watch this space…



As background, Joe Pye (Jopi in the Native tongue), an Indian healer from New England, used E. purpureum to treat a variety of ailments, which led to the name Joe-Pye weed for these plants. Folklore says that Joe Pye used this plant to cure fevers and also states that American colonists used this plant to treat typhus outbreaks. Source: Wikipedia