OF THE MANY PERENNIALS in my garden, few are more versatile and graceful than the thalictrums, or meadow rues. (The common name comes from the resemblance of their ferny foliage to that of the common rue, Ruta graveolens, although in fact they belong to the buttercup family, or Ranunculaceae.) With over 130 species, the genus Thalictrum represents a remarkably diverse group. All, however, share certain traits that make them prized by gardeners: multitudes of small flowers, usually in soft pastel tints, that cluster in panicles, and lacy foliage that is an asset to the border both before and after flowering.
Of the 26 species and cultivars that at one time or another I have included in my garden in Kingston, Washington (USDA Zone 8), I have found that most are best used as secondary components in the border, rock garden, or woodland. In addition to their clouds of color, they contribute polish and continuity to any grouping of plants without overwhelming the intended effect. In most species, the color of the individual flowers is provided by a feathery bundle of dangling stamens. Unlike the stamens of the bold and nectar-rich flowers of other members of the buttercup family, these stamens depend on the wind rather than insects to deliver pollen to nearby plants. (more…)