Whirling Butterflies

Whirling Butterflies

August 02 2020

One cannot dislike a plant called ‘Whirling Butterflies’, I shouldn’t think. It’s a fitting name, it’s four petaled butterfly like flowers dance at the top of wiry, wand like stems. It blooms for months with white or pink flowers, attracts butterflies and hummingbirds, is deer and rabbit resistant and is drought tolerant. Even the Latin name gaura comes from the Greek word ‘gauros’ meaning superb.

Too good to be true? Yes, I’m afraid so. It’s native to Texas and Louisiana and I’ve never been able to get one to winter over here in Montana. The solution is to grow them in pots and treat them as annuals. The reason I say pots is that is if you are lucky enough to have a greenhouse that doesn’t get bitterly cold, you could winter them over in there. The two foot tall and wide plants will fill a large pot (at least 20”) and reward you with hundreds of tiny butterflies fluttering in the breeze. I put ‘Sparkle White’ gaura in a big blue pot on a west facing deck that gets pretty hot in the afternoon and it likes it there very much.

It’s always a challenge to find some interesting plants to put in containers, not to mention expensive. I want bang for my buck! There are a plethora of annuals at most any nursery to fulfill the thriller (tall central plant), spiller (flowering over the edge), and filler (fills in the gaps) theory of design, but I find it hard to find a thriller plant I like. I don’t care for spiky dracaenas in particular, I want my pots to be overflowing with color. I’ve been experimenting with using perennials along with the annuals to add a little pop. You can always plant them out in the garden come fall if they are hardy. Annuals are indispensable though, with their summer long color.

One combination I particularly like didn’t have any flowers at all but was still colorful. I had a ceramic pot about three feet tall and 16 inches square that needed a tall plant to be in proportion. I chose an Overdam Feather Reed Grass, which is green and white striped, grows about two feet tall with much taller flower stalks. Next I used a carex , a bright yellow and green striped sedge and a Heuchera ‘Green Spice’ which had red veined light colored leaves with green edges. I also threw in a Northern Sea Oats which has dangling flat seed heads that turn bronze in the fall. One good thing about using colored foliage is that it lasts all summer. All but the Sea Oats were removed from the pot and put in the ground after frost.

This year I’m trying a dwarf butterfly bush and a double orange flowering quince as my ‘wow’ plants. If you can bring the pots into your garage (or greenhouse) you may be able to save these plants, it’s worth a shot. Both are zone 5.

It’s fun to experiment with something unusual in containers. It’s a chance to play with plants you might not be able to grow normally and who knows, you might have butterflies dancing around your back porch.

Gaura lindheimeri, reclassified as oenothera lindheimeri, ‘Whirling Butterflies’ Sparkle White and Siskiyou Pink

Buddleia, Butterfly Bush, ‘Petit Black Knight’

Chaenomeles speciosa, Quince, Double Take ‘Orange Storm’

Calamagrostis x acutiflora, ‘Overdam’

Heuchera, Coral Bells, ‘Green Spice’

Carex, sedge, osh. Evercolor ‘Eversheen’