As the days grow shorter and we become desperate for any fresh colour in the garden it is time to appreciate the turtlehead (Chelone obliqua). I must admit that this is not one of my favourite plants and it is only because so much else in the garden is looking wretched that I can quite bring myself to nudge it into the limelight. I am not quite sure why I feel like this about what is, without question, a useful plant, but perhaps it is because the flowers are supposed to resemble a turtle (the name chelone is Greek for tortoise) and that is not a particularly lovely thing for a flower to look like!

But, leaving my prejudices aside, this North American native is a useful ingredient in a border. It is, to my eyes, like a fat obedient plant (physostegia) with opposite leaves set at right angles up the stems and squat clusters of flowers, opening over many weeks, similarly aligned. It is native to swampy areas and it does need decent amounts of water in the soil all summer or it can get hit by mildew. Growing in sun or part shade, it has sturdy, upright stems and is one of the plants that could benefit from pinching out the shoot tips in May to encourage better basal branching. The large, toothed leaves are neither ugly nor beautiful and flowering usually starts in August. If you snap off the old flowerheads you should get a second flush. It looks best if planted in a decent clump and it is a natural partner for Michaelmas daisies, Japanese anemones and ornamental grasses. It is easily propagated by division in autumn or spring. It seems that it has not excited plant breeders much either, or there is little natural variation: there is a white-flowered form and a dwarf one that hardly makes the plant easier to love.

Geoff’s rating


Garden rating




One Comment on “Turtleheads”

  1. sueturner31
    September 26, 2017 at 3:30 pm #

    This is a plant I’ve never grown. Perhaps if I see it in my favourite nursery I might now be tempted to buy it. Sue…

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

Sweetgum and Pines

gardening in the North Carolina piedmont

Ravenscourt Gardens

Learning life's lessons in the garden!

RMW: the blog

Roslyn's photography, art, cats, exploring, writing, life

Paddy Tobin, An Irish Gardener

Our garden, gardens visited, occasional thoughts and book reviews


un altro blog sul giardinaggio...


four decades of organic vegetable gardening and barely a clue

The Long Garden Path

A walk round the Estate!


Gardening on the edge of a cliff

Uprooted Magnolia

I'm Leah, a freelance Photographer born and raised in Macon, GA, USA. I spent 8 years in the wild west and this is my photo journal on life, love, and the spirit of Wyoming. Welcome to Uprooted Magnolia.

Interesting Literature

A Library of Literary Interestingness

Garden Variety

A Gardening, Outdoor Lifestyle and Organic Food & Drink Blog

For the Love of Iris

Articles, Tips and Notes from Schreiner's Iris Gardens

One Bean Row

Words and pictures from an Irish garden by Jane Powers

Plant Heritage

We are working to save garden plants for people to use and enjoy today and tomorrow


An English persons experience of living and gardening in Ireland

%d bloggers like this: