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Whirling Butterflies

Gaura lindheimeri is for me a very frustrating plant!

I spend several months of the year getting cross and vowing to pull it out and then it does this …

pink salvia and white gaura lindheima

And all is forgiven!

I have in fact dug one of the plants I had in my border out, vowing to give it to Elizabeth as I think it will be more suited to her garden than mine.  Mine has grown lush and leggy, forget the 1.5 – 2 feet spacing that is recommended on seed packets, here mine lurches through the border. In the damp soil and the last two wet summer we have had, the lax stems lie along the ground for 12 – 24 inches before deigning to rise vertically upwards. Yes I pinch it out to keep it “compact and bushy” does it listen? No it does not.

To be honest, my irritation with Gaura starts in the Spring, the new leaves always appear with with dark spots on them looking for all the world like Black spot, but its not, apparently it is normal for the leaves to have dark spots.

Gaura lindheimeri is easy to grow from seed, and will flower in its first year. The secret is not to plant it out too early or too small, it is better to keep pinching them back and potting them on and plant into the garden in July when something else has “gone over”and been cut back.  Although they flower for months, and can start as early as May for an established plant, they really come into their own late in the season and mine will probably continue flowering until November now. As they are considered slightly tender, (ie Hardiness H3 -may need some winter protection) it is always worthwhile and very easy to take cuttings, which need to be overwintered in a frost free area. It is also not long lived, unless you have very free draining soil. Which I don’t have, but Elizabeth does.

view of the garden through gaura lindheimeri

Gaura really do add movement to the late summer border and it is easy to see where the name whirling butterflies came from as the white flowers dance in the slightest breeze (So obviously here on the coast they are doing a fandango most of the time). I noticed earlier in the year that there were a lot of  G. ‘Siskiyou Pink’ around, even in some supermarkets! This is a slightly smaller and pink version of the White form and for a moment I was tempted, but I resisted.

I am undecided if I will have this in the garden next year, as a compromise I will take cuttings … but will it make the final cut? I really don’t know.

gaura lindheimeri salvia involucrata and salvia uliginosa

So, if you were wondering whether to include this perennial in your own planting scheme, this post has been worse than useless (sorry). The RHS has given it an Award of garden Merit – so that is a plus and just now, in my garden it is looking quite dreamy!






12 comments to Whirling Butterflies

  • Dobby

    So does Elizabeth get any or not?

  • Those spots are somewhat disconcerting and make me think that the plant is suffering from measles or the like. Your flowers look as if they are fluttering finely Karen. My gaura disappeared a couple of years ago so I grew some from seed this spring which have just sat still in suspended animation – not a flower in sight but plenty of spots :)

  • It is a beautiful plant, I was slightly surprised that our seed-raised plants overwintered in our heavy clay last year so easily (but then it was a fairly mild winter). I love its ‘whirling butterflies’, and it forms a wonderful gauzy screen at the front of one border, tumbling towards the grass. But half our stems also prefer to flop horizontally, and with the winds we have had, there have been lots of stems collapsed onto their neighbours, so it is mostly rather a mess. Only a couple of flowers on each stem seem to open at a time, so it is not the best cut flower for the house either. But for all these glitches, it has been flowering non-stop since about May, as you say, and shows no sign of stopping yet. I will try taking cuttings, if it’s not too late, just in case the winter is hard as I have become used to its wandering ways, and the garden would not be the same without it.

  • Hi Karen, I dug up all but one of my seed grown gaura-the white one- as it was just as you described- lax and spotty and taking ages to flower. In my sister’s sandy sunny garden they are bushy and covered with flowers, and not missing the wet windy west at all! Lovely photos.

  • I never have any luck with Guara – it seems to die every winter for me so I have now given up.

  • It really is very pretty indeed – It’s looking at its best, and seems to be supporting itself quite successfully by leaning on other plants. My only experience with it is of flopping and straggling, but I’m sorely tempted to give it another go…

  • Yes, this is on my seed list, hope it will look as good here as it does in your garden, thanks!

  • I hadn’t heard of this plant before reading this post – and neither the post nor the comments which follow are quite inspiring me to grow it. But it is, as always, a pleasure to catch a glimpse of your garden, none the less!

  • The deer nibble mine way back in the early spring, and then it comes roaring back (tallest flowering spires are 8′ tall now). In my city garden they remained weedy. Sometimes I guess the deer know best.

  • I’ve grown it this year. I was frustrated it took so long to start flowering but it does look pretty now. I didn’t know that about the dark spots, I thought it was me doing something wrong. My idea for growing it was I read that it made a good cut flower but I beg to differ. It is very pretty but the flowers open and die in stages as they work their way up the stems. So there are always some flowers open but more importantly always some that are dead and scruffy. I will consider it again as a late flowering plant but won’t be including it in my cut flower patch again.

  • I’ve grown gaura off and on for several years. The first year it did great, beautiful spires of white flowers on a full plant. The next year, not so great. Since then, I’ve tried it a couple more times, and it’s never been as inspiring as that first year. But I’ll probably try again next year, just…. because. When she was good, she was very, very good; when she was bad, she was just a spindly little thing nestled down among the daylilies and rudbeckia.

  • Personally I think you should cut your losses and give it all to me! If you regret it I can always give you some back. And your garden is indeed looking dreamy.