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Plant of the Week: Veronica Sunny Border Blue Speedwell

Sunny Border Blue Speedwell has beautiful spiky blue flowers in late spring and summer. (Image courtesy Gerald Klingaman)

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So many choices, how is one to know the best? This is a common problem in everything from dating to choosing plants for your garden border. Ultimately we must make a choice and hope for the best. Sometimes it works great, sometimes not so much. 

Veronica ‘Sunny Border Blue’ was chosen for the Perennial Plant of the Year in 1993 as the “best” of the lot at that time, but when you make choices there is always occasion for second-guessing.

Veronicas are large, diverse groups of about 500 herbaceous perennials long considered part of the foxglove family but now reclassified as belonging to the plantain family. They range throughout the northern hemisphere and grow as prostrate creepers found in rocky places to short, upright growers in open grassy steppes of Europe and Central Asia.  

Sunny Border Blue Veronica, a selection from a batch of V. subsessilis that is native to Western China and India, is one of the upright growers reaching 18 to 24 inches tall when in full bloom.  It grows from a compact crown that produces a dome shaped mass of bright green, 4-reanked linear-lanceolate leaves to three inch long with prominently serrate margins.  Veronicas look a lot like some of the members of the mint family but veronica stems are round while mints have square stems.

The spiky blue flowers overtop the foliage in late spring in Arkansas, producing dense, 8-inch candles of flowers in clusters of five at the ends of stems. Flowers are individually small but in mass are quite effective. The spikes open from the base up, and if plants are routinely deadheaded can be kept in bloom throughout much of the growing season. 

Sunny Border Blue Speedwell was discovered in 1946 by Robert Bennerup, the owner of Connecticut’s Sunny Border Nursery. It had a short run during the 1950s, but like many fine plants, faded into obscurity. In the late 1970s, Robert’s son Pierre was running the nursery and looking for something to differentiate the firm in the changing marketplace. He decided on specializing in perennials and set out to track down one of the Sunny Border Blue Veronicas he reintroduced to the market.  In the mid 1980s, he and three other perennial plant growers founded the professional growers’ group, the Perennial Plant Association. Not all together surprisingly, Sunny Border Blue was selected as that organization’s plant of the year a few years later. 

The border veronicas such as Sunny Border Blue are plants that should have at least six hours of full sun and a moist, but not wet soil. They are best in a lean soil where there is good air circulation around the plant and not too much space competition by larger plants. After blooming, plants should be cut back severely to encourage reflowering during the summer. 

Sunny Border Blue was included in the 10-year-long trial of veronicas at the Chicago Botanical Garden. In the final report, it received only two stars of their five-star ranking system, but because Sunny Border Blue has good market momentum, name recognition and grows well in containers, it remains one of the most commonly offered of the border veronicas. 

By: Gerald Klingaman, retired 
Extension Horticulturist - Ornamentals
Extension News - April 4, 2014