1 Mar

Gaura, deciduous, white and pink flowers in summer, 2-3 ft., drought tolerant, plant in full sun, stake.

A North American wildflower, now widely grown across the continent. Plants bloom for many weeks, with loose sprays of white flowers tinged with pale pink. In the breeze these move constantly, looking like a cloud of small butterflies. AlthoughGaura may not always winter reliably, plants flower for the entire summer and fall, so consider using it even as an annual in colder winter regions. New plants will often appear from self sown seedlings. Superb in containers, the subtle colour blends easily in borders. Drought tolerant once established.

The Gaura genus was left to its wild forms and considered unremarkable by plant collectors even into the 1980s; but a few passionate horticulturalists saw its potential and began to watch for sports on which to base new cultivars. Now these named varieties are widely available for our planting and viewing pleasure. Most of this breeding and propagation has been based on G. lindheimeri‘Siskiyou Pink’, introduced by the talented folks at the Siskiyou Rare Plant Nursery in Medford, Oregon, in 1994. Dan Hinkley and his Heronistas picked up on it quite soon after; and where Heronswood leads, plant aficionados are sure to follow. So today, most nurseries offer at least a limited selection of Gaura lindheimeri cultivars. Many of these are tagged as Northwest natives. More are being released every year from breeders in North America and others in Europe, Australia, and New Zealand. And a quick survey of recent gardening magazines shows that Gaura is becoming a very popular plant indeed.

‘Siskiyou Pink’ is still my personal favorite. In my garden, the many stems that comprise this vase-shaped herbaceous perennial grow to a height of about three feet. Its leaves attach directly to the stems and are dark blue-green, tinged with deep red. The flowers open over a long season from mid-summer to first frost, one at a time, from red buds to white blossoms tinged with pink that deepen in color as they age. They move nicely in the breeze, so it’s easy to understand why one of the first G. lindheimeri cultivars was named ‘Whirling Butterflies’. The entire plant is light and airy, reminiscent of Boltonia asteroides in its ability to leaven the look of an entire border.

Gauras don’t seem to be susceptible to diseases, and they’re bothered by few pests. Aphids may congregate near the buds, but they can easily be dislodged by a blast of water from the hose. In fact, you may have to uncoil the hoseonly for aphid control, since once they are established, Gauras need very little extra water. They form long taproots and are quite tolerant of drought, even when they’re placed in their favorite full sun. Their flowers will be most profuse if the plants are not given much fertilizer. Easy care, all around!

They are often featured in xeriscapes, although it must be mentioned that they do best in those gardens, and in mine, in well-prepared soil that’s been enriched and loosened with a good deal of organic material. Just sticking them in a straight-sided, cylindrical hole cut through the clay will make them dead in short order, water or no water. In our climate, they die back to their roots in the winter, no matter what soil they’re in. Some won’t reappear, while others-often those right next to the casualties-will. I’ve learned to cut them back to ground level in late February, mark their spots, and be patient. By mid-April, a few leaves will unfurl on a few short stems, and I’ll know that those season-long flowers aren’t far off.


2 Responses to “Gaura”

  1. ML Mallouk September 27, 2011 at 1:43 am #

    This article was most helpful. I recently bought a gaura lindheimeri, but knew very little about it. Reading of the history of its development, and the very detailed descriptions of how to take care of this plant gives me confidence to plant and design with it. I am a new student of horticulture and garden design.

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