With flower forms ranging from slender pale-pink catkins to round red bobbles to fat wiggly pink caterpillars, there's a sanguisorba to suit every taste.
Where to plant
Sanguisorbas prefer fertile soil and rain to dry, hot spots, because many come from Asia where early summers are wet and humid.
Some grey-leaved forms of sanguisorbas are better in sunnier positions.
How to plant
To get the full effect, plant tall sanguisorbas in ribbons of five, seven or more - or let one pop up now and again.
When they bloom
The most useful in late-autumn and winter for lasting winter silhouettes are the dark-red forms of Sanguisorba officinalis and their hybrids. However, flowering times vary so not all flower late.
The raspberry-red ‘Arnhem’, for instance, flowers in July and by late-autumn the flowers have usually disintegrated. The early-flowering forms with pale-pink or white catkins (principally S. tenuifolia) generally reach only three feet in height (90cm) and self-seed rather enthusiastically so many gardeners have abandoned them as there are better shorter forms.
How to propagate
Sanguisorbas are generally long-lived, but if you do need to propagate dig your clump up as it breaks into growth. Cut away most of the tapering tap root as new growth appears at the top of the tap root. Pot up sections and plant out once well-rooted.
Generally the bobbled forms attract flies only. The fluffier flowers attract bees and butterflies and, the fluffier the flower, the more attractive.
Pale plumes of Miscanthus sinensis will highlight any dark bobbles, or try columnar variegated grasses such as Calamagrostis x acutiflora 'Overdam', or the black-beaded molinia - 'Transparent'.
Plant ‘Arnhem’ with the tall, floaty, lemon scabious Cephalaria gigantean and the daintier Cephalaria dipsacoides - although you will get seedlings from the latter.
Tall, late-flowering perennials include Helianthus salicifolius and the purple aster relative, Vernonia arkansana 'Mammuth'.
Best sanguisorba varieties
Sanguisorba officinalis ‘Cangshan Cranberry’
This tall sanguisorba bears mulberry-red bobbles in autumn and these look stunning with tall, late-season grasses such as Miscanthus sinensis ‘Ferne Osten’ and Calamagrostis x acutiflora ‘Karl Foerster’.
‘Cangshan Cranberry’ has very fine red-edged foliage and it’s completely self-supporting too. As winter arrives it fades gracefully, producing a fine-tined silhouette, so generally it’s cut down in late January along with the grasses. This form was collected by the American plantsman Dan Hinkley in the Yunnan Province of China in 1996.
Asian forms of this widely distributed plant are taller and later flowering than European forms, so highly useful now. (6 - 7ft/up to 2m).
Varieties with red and wine bobbles and burrs
Sanguisorba officinalis 'Arnhem'
A mass of small raspberry-red heads in June and July. It can reach a lanky 7ft and it does need staking. In dry summers it becomes dormant and leaves a gap in the border. (up to 2m/ 6ft).
A seedling found by Martin Lowne of West Acre Gardens near King’s Lynn in Norfolk. This forms a large clump with wine-purple heads, reaching six feet in height (up to 2m). It is self-supporting and flowers in July.
Sanguisorba officinalis CDC 292
Small, round, maroon thimbles between August-September on upright stems. Foliage up to the flowers. 60cm/2ft.
Deep ruby-red bobble flower heads and small green leaves - useful at the front of a border. Good with roses. 30cm.
Sanguisorba 'Blacksmith's Burgundy'
Fat, deep burgundy burrs on a tall narrow plant - a wiry specimen. 5ft/1.5m.
Sanguisorba 'Raspberry Coulis'
Found as a seedling by Brian Ellis of Avondale Nursery in Coventry - home the National Collection. Warm maroon drumstick flowers over a long season on upright stems. 3ft/1m.
Conspicuous maroon burrs that appear in mid-summer. Grey-green foliage. 3ft/1m.
Sanguisorba 'Red Thunder'
Selected by Piet Oudolf for its deep red bobbles and taller, stiffer stems. This beefier variety makes a superb silhouette in winter light.
Where to buy
Marchants Plants: www.marchantshardyplants.co.uk
Avondale Nurseries in Coventry: www.avondalenursery.co.uk
Phoenix Perennial Plants near Alton in Hampshire - 01420 560695