Herb Profile: Yarrow Varieties

| August/September 1996

As ornamentals, yarrows offer ­everything from 2-inch, mat-forming evergreen ground covers to 4- to 5-foot-tall flowering specimens for the perennial border. In considering the various species, I like to classify them according to their native habitat and growth habit. Those of alpine origin are generally low growing (flowering height about 10 inches), whereas those native to lower elevations are more vigorous and invasive and from 2 to 5 feet tall in flower.

Alpine yarrows. Many of the alpine yarrows are excellent candidates for a rock garden, for low edging to a ­border, or for a small-scale, dramatic ground cover, especially among stepping stones. All cherish sun and well-drained soil, and all are long-lived and tolerant of ­severe cold. Although wet winters can be detrimental to the silver-foliaged species, the damage can be minimized by planting them so that their foliage spills over rocks or gravel and thus dries quickly when it does get wet. Most of the alpines bloom in late spring and early summer, but some will continue well into late summer. If prevented from flowering, they are a good choice for miniature landscapes or model railroad gardens. Several of the alpine species are used in their native countries to impart a bitter, aromatic flavor to herbal liqueurs, which is said to make the drink more intoxicating.

• Silvery Yarrow (A. umbellata, usually offered as A. argentea)

The delightful evergreen silver filigree foliage of silvery yarrow forms a small mound or cushion topped by pretty little pure white daisies on 6-inch stems, which keep well in a fresh bouquet. Native to southern Greece, it prefers alkaline soils and is hardy to Zone 4.

A. x jaborneggii

This hybrid (its parents are A. clavennae and A. erba-rotta subsp. moschata) is much like silvery yarrow, but the foliage is a little greener in spring. It, too, forms a dense evergreen mat with fine white flowers.

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