Oenothera ‘Shimmer': Keeping the Wild Spirit of the Prairie in Your Garden
by David Salman
Oenothera fremontii ‘Shimmer' is one of my favorite new native plants. Originally selected by Lauren Springer Ogden and Scott Ogden, from a seed grown crop of Oenothera fremontii, this vegetatively propagated cultivar selection is a standout. Lauren and Scott picked the original plant from all the others because of its unusually narrow foliage that ads a wonderful textural element to the garden. High Country Gardens introduced the plant to the gardening public in spring of 2007.
This is a very xeric plant, native to rocky limestone outcroppings and road cuts in shortgrass prairie from western Nebraska south to western Oklahoma. Growing a deep taproot, this is a long lived species when happy. Oenothera fremontii is known for its profuse display of 3" diameter lemon-yellow flowers. The plant demands excellent drainage, especially in areas with higher precipitation than in its native habitat. But given fast draining soil, this wild beauty is undemanding and rewards the gardener with stunning foliage and flowers.
What I like best about this plant (in addition to the showy flowers and foliage) is that ‘Shimmer' retains its essential wildness and doesn't grow or look like an annual bedding plant or over-bred perennial. ‘Shimmer' is extremely well tuned to changing environmental conditions, such as shifts in precipitation and temperature. Thus, it behaves a little differently each year in its flowering and growth habit, just as growing seasons vary from year to year.
‘Shimmer' starts the season with a burst of growth, and its slender stems are covered with green leaves that turn to pewter gray (very closely resembling a long leaved Dianthus). After a while, the stems will get tall enough to lay over, exposing the crown of the plant. With decent moisture amounts, the plant continues to grow, and new stems fill in the bare area above the crown. These new stems will produce another round of flowering, especially if the plants experience a good rain. ‘Shimmer' is very responsive to rain, especially thunderstorms with the waters rich in dissolved nitrogen and oxygen, resulting in a generous display of its cheerful flowers a week or so after the storm.
A tremendous lightning filled thunderstorm soaked my home garden last evening, dumping just a bit more than 2" of rain. This storm has broken the heat and re-hydrated our parched soils. Now I wait. I'm excited with anticipation of my ‘Shimmer' plants blasting back into flower.