University of Vermont Extension
Department of Plant and Soil Science
Dr. Leonard Perry, Extension
University of Vermont
If you’re not familiar with
speedwells (Veronica), you’re missing
out on a large group of easy-care, long blooming perennials. The
dozens of cultivars (cultivated
varieties) are either spreading or upright, spring or summer blooming,
mainly blue to purple they may be found in pink or white as well. Their
vary too, from glossy to hairy, smooth to toothed margins, and rounded
The spreading speedwells generally
reach 2 to 3 feet wide. Being low to the
ground they are best along fronts of borders, walks, raised wall
gardens, or as ground covers. Species,
and their cultivars, more commonly seen of the spreading types are the
alpine (V. alpina), harebell (V. prostrata), creeping (V.
repens), comb (V. pectinata), and gentian (V.
gentianoides) speedwells. Most of
these bloom in spring or early summer, so they combine well with
spring-flowering bulbs. Since they are
without blooms most the summer, it is important to choose selections
vigor and attractive leaves.
Unlike the spreaders that form a mat of
leaves, with distinct flowering stems rising above these, the upright
clump-forming speedwells have flowers at the ends of leafy stems.
Upright types often have a tuft of basal
leaves too, especially over winter.
Although the flowering stems of all speedwells resemble and are usually
called “spikes”, they botanically are
“indeterminate racemes”. What this means is that the
flowers along the
stem open beginning at the bottom. At any
one time one-quarter to one-half of the flowers will be open, with some
flowers and future buds present at the same time.
The upright speedwells generally
vary from one to 3 feet tall, depending on selection. Since these
mainly bloom in mid summer, they
combine with many other summer-blooming perennials such as yarrow,
geraniums and catmints. Popular upright species,
and their cultivars, are the long-leaved (V.
longifolia), spiked (V. spicata),
and Hungarian (V. austriaca)
speedwells. Once flowers are finished,
if they are cut off or “deadheaded”, smaller flowering
sideshoots may be
Speedwells are in the figwort
family, related to the snapdragon, foxglove, and penstemon.
Although they come from a variety of habitats
in the Northern Hemisphere, from alpine meadows to grasslands and oak
they share a couple of cultural requirements.
Most prefer sunny locations, less light resulting in poor vigor, open
habit, and floppiness for taller plants.
Most only need dividing in spring if they have lost vigor with age.
They prefer moist, but
well-drained soils. Too wet soils cause leaf
diseases, loss of lower leaves, and root rots. The mid-summer blooming,
speedwells can be cut back to the ground after bloom if the foliage is
infected. They will regrow and, if a
warm season, may even have some reblooming.
In an attempt to answer which of the
many speedwells are best for northern gardeners, Richard Hawke at the
Botanic Garden (USDA zone 5b) conducted a trial of over 5 dozen
between 1999 and 2009. In addition to
noting flowering, habit and size, for final ratings he took into
winter hardiness and resistance to leaf diseases. Common on some
speedwells are powdery and
downy mildews, leaf spots, and leaf rust diseases.
The top rated speedwells in the
Chicago trials were the pale pink ‘Fairytale’, the pink
Van Hees’, the pale blue ‘Ionian Skies’ (austriaca),
the lavender blue ‘Blue John’ (longifolia),
the pink ‘Baby Doll’ (spicata), the
purple blue ‘Ulster Blue Dwarf’ (spicata),
and a purple blue American alpine species (wormskjoldii).
all had no serious pest or disease problems, and good winter survival
somewhat wet soils.
The top-rated speedwells all were
upright, but represented a range of heights.
Over 2 feet tall were ‘Fairytale’, Giles Van Hees’,
John’. The others were about one foot
high, except for ‘Baby Doll’ which reached about 18 inches.
‘Ionian Skies’ was
the only one to bloom in late spring and early summer. The others
bloomed slightly later, then
rebloomed in fall.
There were 18 other speedwells
that rated slightly less, but still good.
Most were upright except for 7 spreading selections. The pale
blue ‘Pallida’ (gentianoides) was spreading but
about 2 feet tall and wide. The others were 9 inches or less
spread over 2 feet. These top ones
included the lavender blue ‘Blue Reflection’, the pale blue
one blue species (pectinata) and one
white (peduncularis), the blue ‘Blue
Eyes’ (pinnata), and the pale purple
‘Mrs. Holt’ (prostrata).
Almost 4 dozen of the speedwells
in these trials had some, to serious, winter injury due to the wet and
sometimes poorly drained soils. This
included some popular cultivars, such as ‘Sunny Border
Blue’, pointing to the
real need for good soil drainage for these perennials.
The complete results of these
trials, as well as of many other perennial genera, can be found online
the Research section at the Chicago Botanic Garden