Cheerful Giants of the Garden

The Island Bed in the front garden really peaks in high summer. That’s when the cupplant (Silphium perfoliatum) and sweet joe pye weed (Eupatorium purpureum) come into bloom. These friendly giants are Midwest natives and great plants for birds and pollinators.

Cupplant and Sweet Joe Pye Weed
Cupplant and Sweet Joe Pye Weed

In spring the Island Bed is blue – there is squill (Scilla sibirica) in April, and later on Geranium ‘Johnson’s Blue’ and Ohio Spiderwort (Tradescantia ohioensis).

'Purple Rooster' bee balm and swamp milkweed, which grow a mere 3-4', are in front of the really tall guys.
‘Purple Rooster’ bee balm and swamp milkweed, which grow to a mere 3-4′, are in front of the really tall guys.

By mid-summer the ‘Purple Rooster’ bee balm (Monarda didyma) is flowering, along with the pink and white blooms of swamp milkweed (Asclepias incarnata).

Another view of the cupplant.
Another view of the cupplant.

But the cupplant steals the show by the end of July. To an extent that’s because it is impossible to ignore at 8-10′ high in my garden.

Cupplant with wild bergamot from the Driveway Border.
Cupplant with wild bergamot from the Driveway Border.

But cup plant is not a malevolent giant. Instead, the bunches of yellow daisies are cheerful and friendly.

'Purple Rooster' Bee Balm
‘Purple Rooster’ Bee Balm is maybe just past its peak.

Some people fear cupplant as unmanageable, but I don’t find it to be so. It does self-sow, but the seedlings are not too hard to dig out. I certainly would not cut off the seed heads, which are a favorite of goldfinches.

Ditto the swamp milkweed.
Ditto the swamp milkweed.

The clumps do get very crowded, and I like to yank out every fourth stalk or so by the end of May. This results in sturdier plants, I think.

Sweet Joe Pye Weed
Sweet Joe Pye Weed

The sweet joe pye weed starts blooming within a few days of the cupplant. Pink and yellow are not supposed to go well together, but these plants seem like natural companions to me. Perhaps that’s because the joe pye weed’s flowers are a very understated, soft pink.

Sweet Joe Pye Weed blooms.
Sweet Joe Pye Weed blooms.

The texture of the flowerheads is soft and fuzzy as well. Sweet joe pye weed does self-sow, but not aggressively. As with the cupplant, I like to thin the stands of this perennial in order to get fewer but stronger stems.


Path between Island Bed and Driveway Border.
Path between Island Bed and Driveway Border. I took this and the other path picture with my phone. Judy took the other photos.


Oh, and I wanted to show that there are indeed paths between the beds in the front garden. Here is the path between the Island Bed and the Driveway Border.

Path between the Island Bed and the Sidewalk Border.
Path between the Island Bed and the Sidewalk Border.

And here is the path between the Island Bed and the Sidewalk Border.

What’s the tallest perennial flower in your garden?

44 Comments on “Cheerful Giants of the Garden

  1. Wow, you aren’t kidding about the cup plant being tall… and it looks great in front of the house, plus the leaves look perfect. What a nice plant!

  2. The flowers of Prairie Dock (Silphium terebinthinaceum) grow even taller then those of Cup Plant, plus the stems rise out of that fantastic clump of leaves. I wrote about Silphium in my blog a few weeks ago–look it up again.

  3. That’s really tall! I love almost any colour combination, but pink and yellow is one of my favourites in all seasons. The tallest perennial in my garden is probably a Thalictrum called ‘Elin’… about 6 or 7ft tall.

  4. Like Cathy, I’ve always been a fan of pink and yellow; I think they look great together. Your cupflower is amazing and the ‘Purple Rooster’ Mondardia really catches my eye. I have a tall Lobelia cardinalis near the river that was just coming into flower before I left for the beach…thanks for the reminder to check on it.

  5. Your “giants” are incredible! And I like the paths. I just have a “thing” about paths… The Russian sage and common orange day lilies are some of the giants in our beds.

  6. Must have a cupplant! The tallest I have in my garden is Rudbeckia Maxima which I love and grows huge. Unfortunately, a couple of torrential rains early in the season made it flop and even though I tied it up best I could afterwords, it has stayed bent over most of this summer. Have you experienced any flopping with cupplant?

    • Yes, the cupplant will definitely flop. I have tried a variety of staking strategies, including 10′ rebar (didn’t need that this year).

  7. I love your tall plants Jason! They are as a wall in a garden, aren’t they?
    And the path on your last photo is so cozy…

  8. Love your celebration of Tall! My Sweet Joe Pye Weed is blooming like crazy in the front yard this summer since it’s pl

  9. This is what I get for trying to use my phone to comment. Anyway the SJP weed is spectacular and the bees adore it. Can’t think what’s tallest in the back, maybe a stray sunflower or two. You have a gorgeous garden.

  10. Love the paths between the borders and how different everything looks from the spring. Tallest in my garden? Some of the perennial phlox get pretty high and the delphiniums are also my tall ones. Cheers!

    • It is a completely different garden from the spring. Glad you like the paths, sometimes I’m tempted to take up the grass and put down pavers.

  11. I love the ‘Gentle Giants’! I have a hard time pulling the Joe Pye seedlings (soft-hearted fool that I am). I may try the thinning you do…one of my Joe Pye’s always has very weak stems and flops horribly…next year, I’m going to do it!

  12. At the moment my tallest flower is the brugmansia. It hasn’t flowered yet but the green parts are about 6 feet tall. Love the colour combo in that last photo. happy sigh

  13. I love giant flowers in August. I think we need big and bold at this time of the year. I love your two giants. I have Rudbeckia maxima too and big Miscanthus grasses with tall Echinacea. Dainty and subtle are no good in late summer.
    All sorts of lovely things in your garden.

  14. I have a swamp sunflower picked up from a plant exchange that reaches 8-10′. This year it hasn’t reached that high though (maybe the cold winter set it back?). Love your Joe Pye Weed and ‘Purple Rooster’ Bee Balm.

  15. The Goldenrod is the tallest at almost five feet, yet the label said two-three feet. It was supposed to be Sun Baby, but obviously was mismarked. The first year it was less than three feet. It seeds itself like the goldenrod in the fields too.

    • Did you order that goldenrod or buy it at a nursery or garden center? Seems those mistakes happen most frequently at garden centers. Still, I like goldenrod, even when it is unruly.

      • wholesale nursery. I have had other plants not perform to specs too, but not always from the same resource. I believe it may have to do with conditions where the plant finds itself, abundant sun, good soil, or even shade where it stretches to get light.

  16. So fantastic Jason! I do so enjoy seeing those happy giants and yes I think that the purple and yellow are stunning together! The tallest plant in my garden is Joe Pye Weed….what a whimsical and outstanding garden you have in that shot up there! Happy gardening! Nicole

  17. This is lovely Jason and exciting to see lush tall growth in August. I grow Rudbeckia lacinata, with golden rod and Echinops, Verbena bonarenis and tall grasses. By this time of year my back hurts too much to bend down into small plants!

  18. What a fantastic height your plants reach, and what an impact they have. I rather love hollyhocks and marsh and

  19. My joe pye weed and cup plants are in too much shade so they’re much shorter and less flowery than yours. But there’s no where to move them so they stay. Yours are truly magnificent!

    • There are some really nice tall Rudbeckias that I don’t have – R. maxima, R. laciniata … I’ve seen them at the Botanic Garden.

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