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Unique flowers add texture to the garden

Consider unusual varieties of more common flowers for that conversation piece

Columbine is a cute little flower native to North America with a very unusual shape with spurs coming off the back. Photo by Ellen Barcel
July 09, 2013 | 09:46 AM
No, they're not from some old sci-fi movie or outer space. But, yes, they definitely are unusually shaped flowers — not like daisies or roses or even carnations. If you're looking for something to add an unusual touch to the flower garden, dinner table bouquet or in some cases dried arrangements, here are several that you might consider.

• Sea holly (Eryngium) is a sun-loving perennial that comes in shades of white and blue. Attractive to butterflies, eryngium does well in dry soil and can be used in both fresh and dried arrangements. The name sea holly comes from the resemblance of the leaves to true holly leaves and the fact that the plant is native to coastal areas of much of Europe.

It's in the Apiaceae family, the same family as carrots and parsley — note the long tap root. Blue Glitter and Blue Hobbit are both very blue while Silver Salentino is white and blue combined. Sizes vary with variety from just a foot to close to three feet tall. This drought-tolerant plant (remember that tap root) does well in Long Island's sandy soil and once established needs minimal watering, except in extreme drought. Sea holly does best in near-neutral soil. You may need to add lime to sweeten yours — test your soil first.

• Coneflower (Echinacea) is a herbaceous perennial in the aster family which grows wild on the Great Plains and eastern North America. While many of the cultivated varieties have flowers that look almost daisy-like with dark centers, others are unique. Passion Flute has spoon-shaped petals — really unusual. Double Decker has the usual, daisy-shaped flowers the first year, but come future years, some of the flowers have a sort of a twin on top — a really whimsical look. Hardy in zones 3 to 9, Echinacea does well in full sun to part shade and is somewhat drought tolerant, another plus for Long Island. Double Decker comes in various shades of white, pink and purple and can easily reach two to three feet in height. It does well in mildly acidic to mildly alkaline soil.

• Allium is a genus of flowering plants native to North America and parts of South America with hundreds of species. It includes onions, garlic, chives and leeks. But, it also includes a number of plants grown as ornamentals with large, round flowers. Ornamental allium grows from bulbs, reaches a height of two feet and is hardy from zones three to nine. A really unusual allium is Hair. Not only does it have the round flowers but, it also has what looks like wild hair growing out of the flower. This is a real conversation starter, especially if it is growing scattered through other more normal-looking flowers.

It does best in mildly acidic, 6.1 to mildly alkaline soil, so you may need to add some lime to your soil. I have heard that this self-seeds. If that's the case, you may want to deadhead the flowers after the hairs are gone.

• Columbine (Aquilegia) is a flower native to North America. It's a cute little perennial flower that is used as food by a number of moth and butterfly caterpillars. Many flower varieties are bicolored, pale purple inside dark purple spurs, for example. But a really unique variety, Dorothy Rose, is light pink and consists of several blooms set inside each other, changing the shape, hence it's common name, Granny's Bonnets. It's deer- and rabbit-resistant and makes lovely cut flowers. Hardy in zones 3 to 9, expect it to come back year after year. Columbine prefer part shade and well-drained soil. It does well in mildly acidic to mildly alkaline soil.

Ellen Barcel is a freelance writer and master gardener. To reach Cornell Cooperative Extension and its Master Gardener Program, call 727-7850.

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