By Nadine Kampen, Master Gardener
If someone described a perennial plant that thrives in Zone 3 through Zone 8, blooms and reblooms for four months with good deadheading, is tall and gorgeous and ‘blue’, great for pollinators, fabulous for cut flowers, requires little care, is tolerant of a wide range of soil types, is essentially pest and problem free, and looks stunning in just about any type of garden bed, would you be interested?
The description is for a plant named ‘Sunny Border Blue’, a seventy-five-year-old Veronica hybrid. Watch for it in local nurseries or ask for a division from a friend. There’s still plenty of time to transplant this high performer in your garden to enjoy a long season of bloom ahead.
Veronica ‘Sunny Border Blue’ was hybridized by Robert Bennerup in 1947. He crossed various Veronica species that he collected in Denmark, some of which were V. longifolia and some V. spicata. One of the crosses resulted in a plant that astonished him by blooming for over three months – the longest of any of the Veronica species or hybrids he had seen. He named it ‘Sunny Border Blue’ and marketed it through the family’s nursery, Sunny Border Nurseries in Connecticut. Interestingly, this hybrid was almost lost after 20 years when the stock disappeared from the nursery trade. Fortunately, plant sources were located in some gardens in Maryland and stock re-supplied in 1977 by Potomac Nurseries and then available once again through Sunny Border Nurseries. In 1993, this hybrid was named the Perennial Plant Association’s Plant of the Year. In spring 2022 during an MMGA education session, Lyndon Penner mentioned this perennial as a worthy addition to the prairie garden. Clearly, from anecdotal reports from other experienced gardeners, this beautiful plant is all it is touted to be.
‘Sunny Border Blue’ prefers the full sun but will also do well in partial shade, needing around five hours of sunlight daily. The plant’s blue flower spires, highly attractive to pollinators, are roughly 15 to 20 cm (6 to 8”) high for a total plant height of around 45 to 60 cm (18 to 24”). Healthy soil rich with organic materials will usually produce greater height and a more robust plant. For seasonal care, cut the woody stems to ground level in fall or in early spring before new growth appears. By mid-June, the plants will be growing well with blooms apparent in late June, depending on daily temperatures.
To enjoy blooms all season long, once the flowers spires are spent, clip them at a lower leaf cluster. These reliable plants will produce a second and often a third blooming season into the fall. For soil moisture, watering needs show up in the appearance of the leaves – if temperatures are too hot and there is not enough moisture, the leaves will start to droop. Water deeply on occasion. Continue to condition the soil with compost and manure from season to season to keep your plants healthy.
To propagate, use vegetative cuttings or division. The plants will reappear in the same location each year, widening at the perimeter without dying back in the middle. Plants are easy to divide in the spring and they can also survive mid-summer transplanting provided the root ball is not heavily disturbed.
Here are some species and related cultivars that may interest you:
Veronica longifolia (long-leaved speedwell, 60-120 cm / 2-4′) features upright stems and with tall spires of bright blue flowers. This species has been used in many hybrids, including ‘Sunny Border Blue’.
Veronica spicata (spike speedwell, 30-60 cm / 12-24″) has spires of pink, blue, or white. ‘Red Fox’, for example, is an attractive rose-red V. spicata cultivar, considerably shorter than ‘Sunny Border Blue,’ produces deep rose-pink flowers on narrow spires. This handsome plant returns reliably in our prairie Zone 3 climate. Other Veronica spicata cultivars are ‘Blue Fox’ (lavender-blue); ‘Icicle’ (white), and ‘Noah Williams’ (creamy white, variegated leaves).
Veronica alpina (alpine speedwell, 10-20 cm / 4-8″) is a creeping Veronica with oval leaves and small flowers. Cultivars include ‘Alba’ (white); Veronica ‘Goodness Grows’ (blue) is probably a hybrid of V. alpina ‘Alba’ x V. spicata.
Veronica grandis (heartleaf speedwell, 45-60 cm / 18-24″), similar to V. spicata with slightly heart-shaped leaves.
Veronica incana (Synonym: Veronica spicata ssp. incana) (woolly speedwell, 30-45 cm / 12-18″) has woolly, white leaves. Cultivars include ‘Silver Sea’ (purple blue), ‘Wendy’ (lavender-blue).
Veronica prostrata (prostrate or rock speedwell, 15 cm / 6″) is noted for creeping foliage and small blue flowers, with cultivars including ‘Heavenly Blue’ (sapphire-blue), ‘Trehane’ (deep blue, golden foliage), and ‘Aztec Gold’ (lavender-blue, bright yellow leaves).
Veronica austriaca ssp. teucrium (Synonyms: Veronica teucrium, Veronica latifolia) (Austrian speedwell 15-50 cm / 6-20″) cultivars include ‘Blue Fountain’ (light blue), and ‘Crater Lake Blue’ (blue).
Veronica repens (dwarf creeping speedwell, 10-15 cm / 4-6″) has small blue flowers. ‘Sunshine’ (bluish-purple) is a cultivar with yellow leaves.
Take time to do a little personal research on these lovely plants. There are over 250 Veronica species and countless cultivars are available to gardeners, many of which do well in our prairie climate zone. Colour selections include an attractive range of blues, purple-blues, pinks, rosy-pinks, and whites. Overall height varies, with options for tall and upright plants such ‘Sunny Border Blue’, medium plants like ‘Red Fox’, and lower growing and creeping species and cultivars. Whatever your taste and gardening environment, there will be something to suit your interests.
Photos by Nadine Kampen
Published: July 2022