Photo by Eric Hsu, Chanticleer Garden; design by Doug Croft
Symphytum × uplandicum ‘Axminster Gold’
Variegated Russian comfrey
Zones 5 to 8
Solitary specimen as a focal point or massed in herbaceous or mixed borders
Bold yellow- margined leaves; clusters of drooping blue flowers in early summer
Gardeners forever battling comfrey (Symphytum officinale) may not immediately welcome Symphytum × uplandicum ‘Axminster Gold’, introduced by RD Plants, Devon, England. They have good reason for concern, since S. officinale is one of the parents of S. × uplandicum. The other parent, S. asperum (rough comfrey), is scarcely any better in its rambunctious vigor. However, S. × uplandicum lacks its parents’ spreading tendencies, forming well-behaved, fountain-like mounds. While the pendulous clusters of small blue flowers are attractive, the main show of ‘Axminster Gold’ belongs to its broad, lanceolate leaves generously edged in yellow. Unlike other variegated comfreys, this selection is an outstanding performer that retains its foliar color.
For best coloration, ‘Axminster Gold’ should be cultivated in full sun. Partial shade may benefit plants in climates with prolonged hot and dry summers. Keeping the soil evenly moist will help the plant from browning or scorching its foliage. Cut the foliage and spent inflorescences at the base to regenerate new growth, which will remain presentable for the remaining season. Occasionally green shoots may appear and should be removed to maintain the cultivar. Insects and diseases rarely trouble ‘Axminster Gold’.
Photo by Eric Hsu
Sourcing plants may be the primary challenge, as vegetative propagation is not necessarily straightforward. Contrary to published sources, ‘Axminster Gold’ does not produce true from root cuttings because the variegation originates from meristematic tissue of leaf axil buds rather than roots. Instead, root cuttings will lead to all-green plants. Dividing the crown will yield true-to-type progeny, but at best the quantities are not usually adequate or efficient for commercial production. A more reliable method is to cut inflorescence stems in early summer (before the buds and flowers have matured) and treat them as stem cuttings. These rooted cuttings are identical to the parent plant.
At Chanticleer in Wayne, Penn., ‘Axminster Gold’ is combined with Anchusa azurea, Aquilegia chrysantha ‘Yellow Queen’, Baptisia sphaerocarpa ‘Screaming Yellow’, Crambe maritime and Sisyrinchium striatum. Horticulturist Doug Croft cuts down the foliage to regenerate anew and coincide with Lilium ‘Scheherazade’, an excellent Orienpet lily. For assertive punch, it goes well with Echinacea, Helenium and Persicaria amplexicaulis ‘Taurus’.
Chanticleer, Wayne, Penn.