Potentillas (The Herbaceous Kind)
(Cinquefoil) Distinctly different to the popular shrubby potentillas, the flowers of herbaceous kinds (these are the none woody types) look very similar. Simple and pretty, unlike their shrubby cousins these bloom for a long time. In shape the flowers are similar to Geum, but each bloom are carried on long, branched stems that erupt from a clump of strawberry-like leaves, a plant they are closely related to.
Above: Potentilla x hopwoodiana, Potentilla recta Sulphurea, Potentilla 'Gibson's Scarlet'
The flower colours are often bright and clear, having no murky traits, but the petals can have flares and flecks of contrasting colours. In form these are either single or semi-double, forming a neat rosette. Some start to flower in May, but the majority begin in June blooming right through until the autumn.
Where To Grow Potentillas
Potentilla require a nicely drained soil, but not one that dries out entirely. Although they prefer a sunny site, they can cope with some sun.
It is the overall effect of the mass of flowers and the sheer quantity of them that is the best reason for growing these dependable plants. The long stems of some varieties can be rather floppy, a trait that is useful for hiding the edge of a border or for tumbling over the wall of a raised bed. Alternative you can do as I did with Potentilla 'Gibson's Scarlet', they can be planted in the middle of a border. The stems worked their way up between taller perennials, creating a water fall of flowers that cascaded down the whole plant. Other potentillas are nicely upright and useful for further back in the border, especially if the border is narrow.
Above: Potentilla rupestris, Potentilla 'Arc-en-Ciel', Potentilla 'Esta Ann'
How To Care For Potentilla
Potentilla are very, very easy to care for; simply cut back the foliage in when it dies back anytime before the new foliage sprouts in spring. Of course, it won't hurt to remove old flower stems just to tidy the plant. I have found these plants rarely need dividing, but it never hurts to lift, divide and replant Potentillas every 4 years or so to keep them vigorous.
What To Grow With Potentilla
Anything upright and tidy with leaves that differ in shape to Potentilla will complement these lovely plants - salvia and irises for instance.