Plant Profiles: Brunnera
Drawing by Rene Eisenbart
Heartleaf brunnera, false forget-me-not, Siberian bugloss
Part shade; rich, well-drained soil
Bad drainage, hot sun, drought
The straight species, B. macrophylla, is a foolproof beginner's plant
Quite a few Northwest gardeners are so inundated by the annual forget-me-not Myosotis sylvatica that they'd just as soon forget it. Yet even the most battle-weary can't deny that, for sparkle and vivacity, it's tough to beat the brilliance of forget-me-not blue.
Ms. Flora hankered something bad after the color blue, this much is clear. Witness the whole family, Boraginaceae, an embarrassment of azure riches from dawn sky to midnight blue. For the six of you obsessed with the borage of blues, feast your eyes on the "gimme more" list.
If all you really want is the name of a stunning foliage plant with forget-me-not flowers, meet Brunnera macrophylla 'Langtrees'. I have here on my desk a one-year-old, four-inch pot of the plant, with no fewer than twenty-two African violet-sized leaves anxious to break out of the box. Even at this immature stage, it sports a big cluster of salt grain-sized blossoms tucked within the leaves, a cluster that might even flower if I'd quit picking the foliage apart.
The heart-shaped, gray-green leaves are covered with short hairs that make the plant look very fuzzy, but that's not what makes it shine. Instead, it's the irregular, brief brush strokes of metallic silver spots that adorn each leaf, aluminum highlights that will pop this plant out of the shade.
At maturity, the basal leaves of 'Langtrees' will be up to six inches across, no small presence among hostas, astilbes, and ferns. The plant can easily tolerate morning sun, does not need constant moisture, and, if happy enough to self-sow (which is by no means guaranteed), often comes true from seed.
That fact -- along with the discouraging ones below -- sets 'Langtrees' apart from the admittedly far more beautiful variegated brunneras. But the striking cultivar 'Variegata' (which some say is the same as 'Dawson's White') is an incredibly difficult plant to grow well, demanding just the right amount of light shade, plus evenly moist, well-drained soil (and if you'd be so kind, cancel the hot summer). Also, word on the block is that 'Variegata' is a highly unstable form. I've seen some three-year-old specimens of 'Variegata' that are decidedly more green than variegated.
I've also spied a couple of the exquisite Creamsicle cultivar 'Hadspen Cream', but I'm not going to say another word about this awesome selection because I've yet to find a U.S. source. Keep looking.
In defense of good old plain green leaves, you're bound to be delighted with the infinitely more affordable straight species, B. macrophylla. This one is a piece of cake to grow in morning sun to light shade, copes with occasional dryness once established, and makes impressive large-leaved mounds that get airier as they grow taller -- waving the banner that much higher for forget-me-not blue.