Occasionally, one has a nice plant that does well in your garden but is overlooked by many gardeners. Such plants often serve the triple purposes of a conversation piece, an educational opportunity, and a bragging item. Such is the place occupied by Knautia macedonia in my garden. I've grown it for years in my front landscape, or rather, it has grown itself; self-seeding, carefree, drought-resistant, and pest-free. I planted it, it grew, it spread, and I simply enjoy it and remove the dead stems each Spring. It has survived years of neglect, drought, and, this year, an almost record amount of rain. Frankly, although sometimes I have to point it out to visitors, I wouldn't attempt a garden in the Midwest without it, even though the common name of the genus, "widow's flower" gives me a bit of pause.
I learned of Knautia macedonia years ago from Lauren Springer Ogden's first book, The Undaunted Garden. Mrs. Ogden had a section at the end of the book highlighting, if memory serves, about 50 plants that were well adapted to her arid eastern border of the Rockies. Knautia macedonia was one of those and I remembered her description when I saw it for sale at a local nursery. The photos here, I believe, represent the original species, although I think it used to be more scarlet than it seems to be now. Or perhaps I was just younger and the colors were correspondingly brighter. At one time, I also grew K. macedonia 'Mars Midget' in the same area. 'Mars Midget' is a shorter cultivar with this overall color, but with whiter stamens. I don't know if it survived, or perhaps interbred with the species to give me a bit of a darker red hue. There is another commercial selection available, 'Thunder and Lightning', but it doesn't appeal to me because it is one of those modern monstrosities of plant selection with variegated leaves combined with a more puke-purple flower. Yuck.
Knautia grows on the northeast side of my front border, at the feet of bright red Rugosa hybrid 'Hunter' as you can see above, and it blooms for most of the summer before dying back to a reliable perennial base. The smaller flowers in the photo above are all K. macedonia, the brighter red larger flowers are 'Hunter', and the mauve-red blobs at the left of the photo are 'Kansas' peonies that are past their prime. A closer photo of the Knautia macedonia mishmash is shown here at the left. The plants are relatively short, but the flower stems rise high above the border and sprawl carefree around all their neighbors. Gardeners' who like Knautia must be willing to tolerate a moderately disheveled but predominately pretty lass who is a little loose with her limbs and who is prone to procreate at random places throughout the garden. ProfessorRoush most definitely falls into that class of gardener. Also self-seeding and equally flirtatious, but not yet blooming in the same area, is my bright red, square-stemmed 'Jacob Cline' Monarda that will later add more bright red to this scene sometime during the second flush of 'Hunter'. Red without end, amen.