One of the great perks of being a garden writer are the boxes of sample plants that arrive on my doorstep each spring. All find a place in my garden, but today I wanted to call attention to one of my current favorites: Helenium ‘Short ‘n’ Sassy’. My clump has been blooming nonstop since late June, and it doesn’t show any signs of stopping since plenty of new buds are still forming.
ABOVE: Helenium ‘Short ‘n’ Sassy’. Instead of clipping off spent flowers to produce a more polished-looking photograph, I shot the plant “as is,” with spent blooms in place. Also note new buds that will keep the color coming.
A long-lasting bloom season is certainly one outstanding characteristic, but compact size is another. My clump is 2 feet tall and shows no sign of getting any taller. Admittedly, it is slightly taller than the 12 to 18 inches described in the plant description sent with my box of samples, but I am still quite happy with the plant. I am sure it would be easy to encourage more compact growth by pinching the stem tips in late spring. A site in full sun would also probably yield shorter plants. My plant receives about 6 hours of full sun—slightly less than 8, which is the generally accepted minimum for full sun.
Flowers are one and three-quarters inches across. Orange petals surround brown centers. The exact shade of orange varies from flower to flower, but generally ranges from soft orange to orangy yellow. One bloom is red-orange.
The exact parentage of ‘Short ‘n’ Sassy’ is not known, because the original plant was discovered as a seedling. Whatever its parentage, ‘Short ‘n’ Sassy’ is of native origin. Common sneezeweed (H. autumnale) probably played a role, but one of the more other species—there are 40 or so in all—may also be involved. H. autumnale is found throughout North America, and other species extend the range of heleniums to Central America as well. While common sneezeweed plants range from 4 to 5 feet in height, compact cultivars that stay around 3 feet are available. The genus contains annuals, biennials, and perennials, some of which are shorter and may have contributed to the height of this selection. Because sneezeweed is an unappealing common name, I prefer to use the botanically given name—helenium—for all members of the genus.
ABOVE: This clump is the second season from a sample plant that arrived in a 3-inch pot. Next year, I may experiment with pinching the stem tips to encourage branching and bushier, more compact growth.
While I have places for taller heleniums elsewhere in the garden, ‘Short ‘n’ Sassy’ fits perfectly in my front garden. There, I have tried to avoid any plants (other than shrubs and trees) that are taller than about 2 feet. This minimizes the need to stake, which is not one of my favorite chores. The height restriction also makes the garden very pretty when viewed from down on the driveway. When walking along the narrow paths that run through the garden, having all lower-growing perennials and annuals creates an appealing carpet of foliage and flowers. Everything in the garden essentially functions as ground cover.
I have Skagit Gardens’, a wholesale grower that always sends an interesting selection of plants, to thank for adding this appealing native to my garden. My sample plant arrived on my doorstep as a tiny plant in spring of 2013. It produced a small clump by midsummer of its first year, along with a few flowers. This year it is well on its way to becoming a permanent and cherished resident. The clump is healthy and has expanded nicely with minimal attention. It has an attractive mounding shape, and is adaptable to a wide range of soils. The flowers are especially handsome with bright summer flowers in shades of orange, yellow, and blue. Daylilies are especially prominent just now and make good companions. I also have a handsome unnamed dahlia cultivar that is attractive as well. The dahlia slightly exceeds my 2-foot limit but is worth it for its yellow daisylike blooms and showy maroon foliage.
Consider adding ‘Short ‘n’ Sassy’ to beds and borders where standard-size heleniums would be too large. It is small enough to use in large container gardens, and short enough to consider as an edging or a spot at the front of a border. Wherever you use it, the long bloom season, tough constitution, and compact size are valuable assets! Oh, and the flowers are attractive to butterflies and other pollinators, so what do you have to lose?