St. Johnswort / Golden Cup
Hardiness zone range
4 - 7
Attractive, small to medium sized shrubs with masses of bright, golden-yellow flowers carried in great abundance all over round-shaped bushes during the summer and intermittent until fall. The handsome, aromatic foliage persists well into late autumn, and, with some types, is decorated with clusters of conical shaped red, black, or rust colored seed capsules.
Full Sun or Partial Shade
Culture & Care
They are easy and dependable performers in most soils providing they are well drained and do not dry out excessively in summer. It is a good idea to incorporate some planting compost, peat, composted bark, leaf mold, etc. at planting time, mulch afterwards, and water well until established. They are not normally attacked by any serious pests and diseases, and require little maintenance except an annual prune in early spring to remove old shoots and growth after the winter. They flower on growth made during the current year, so trimming them back to the woody base tidies up the crown and promotes strong fresh growth that will be laden with plenty of flowers later on.
They are bright, colorful, and almost herbaceous so they are widely used in beds and borders with perennials and other shrubs to bring a bright, cheery presence to the plantings. They can be used as individuals or in small groups , but they are probably most effective when used in bold groupings where the massed effect of the mounding plants studded with the luminescent yellow flowers is very desirable. When given adequate moisture, they love the sun and will happily bloom for weeks and weeks with minimal care and attention. They grow and flower quite well in partly shaded conditions, too, so they can be used along the edge of woodland sites or in beds with small trees or shaded by buildings. Some species are American natives and are useful in wildflower areas and natural style plantations. One of the most attractive is Hypericum frondosum; it grows in rocky places and is often found on cliffs over hanging rivers where it gets some shade. The selected form, Hypericum 'Sunburst', has delightful, bluish-green foliage and unusual, but very ornamental, yellow flowers packed with many stamens (looking like miniature yellow shaving brushes). This is a great plant for gardens of all types and sizes. In addition to showy flowers, some have attractively colored foliage that provides a lovely effect and extends the period of interest right through the whole growing period. Our favorites include the rich, velvety purple foliage of Hypericum 'Albury Purple' (Zone 6) and the multi-colored, variegated leaves of Hypericum 'Tricolor' that are gray-green, laced with colorful edges of cream and pink. They should be grown in sunny conditions and, in the case of Hypericum 'Tricolor', it is best sited in a sheltered position or used as a summer container plant in zones colder than Zone 7. They are perfect for including in cottage or old-fashioned style layouts, and, since they are fast growing and quick to establish, they are ideal for including in new plantings, filling in while other slower to mature subjects develop. Flowering sprays are great in fresh floral arrangements, adding color and charm to all sorts of decorations.
There are around 400 species scattered across Europe, North America, and Asia. Most of these are herbaceous perennials, with about 25-30 that are woody species, and several selected hybrids and cultivars that have special garden merit. The botanical name is thought to come from the Greek words kyper (above) and eikon (a picture) that describe the ancient practice of placing a piece above images and pictures to drive off evil spirits. The golden flowers became associated with the sun. They were thought to have all sorts of mystical powers and curative properties and were known as fuga demonum (demon chasers). They featured in pagan rituals and were burnt on midsummers day to pay homage to the sun and good spirits. Early Christians changed this to honor John the Baptist and the plant became known by the commonly used name St. Johnswort (wort is an old English word for plant or herb). Pennsylvania Dutch people call it the "blessed herb" and hang it over doorways to protect newborn babies and prevent the entry of evil. The popular modern cultivar, Hypericum 'Hidcote', also has English connections; it bears the name of the famous garden in Gloucestershire that was created by the wonderful garden designer and knowledgeable plantsman Lawrence Johnston (1871-1958). He had a keen eye for exceptional plants and a genius for placing them in just the right position. This deservedly popular shrub, with an almost unending supply of large, golden-yellow, saucer-shaped flowers from summer to autumn, has become a "tried and trusted" selection that has withstood the test of time to become the most widely grown of all hardy Hypericums. Experts sometimes disagree when asked to name the best Hypericum for general planting. Most name Hypericum 'Hidcote', but others mention Hypericum 'Sungold' (kouytchense) because it has an elegant arching habit and a profusion of big, golden-yellow flowers with reflexed petals that are produced (like 'Hidcote') from summer until autumn, and often followed by bright red, fruiting capsules and coloring foliage in autumn. It is native to China (introduced around 1900) and is believed to be hardier than 'Hidcote'. The other cultivar of note comes from closer to home; Hypericum 'Ames' was selected at Iowa State University and is a lovely selection from Hypericum kalmianum. It makes a nice, compact mound of bluish-green foliage and has masses of smaller, bright yellow flowers carried for many weeks from mid summer onwards. The original species was discovered and named after Pedr (Peter) Kalm (1715-1779). He was the son of a pastor in Finland, who became a student of Linnaeus, and undertook a poorly funded mission in 1747 to search for economically important plants in the northern parts of North America that would have agricultural potential in the colder latitudes of Sweden. He discovered this species on cliffs of rivers and lakes north of Niagara Falls in 1750 and returned safely to Uppsala, Sweden in 1751 with a collection of 325 catalogued plants and a wife that he met in the Swedish settlement of Raccoon, now Swedesboro, New Jersey. Hypericum kalmianum 'Ames' is an excellent garden plant that is hardier than most of the others.
Some species (notably Hypericum frondosum) have a tendency to produce lots of seed that result in little seedlings popping up in beds, along the sides of pathways, and elsewhere in the garden. In mid to late autumn, when the plants have finished flowering and the colored capsules begin to turn brown, it is a good idea to give them a light trim to remove the seed heads before they begin to disperse their seed.
They are great with white, blue, purple, and violet colored flowers so they can be placed near Buddleia 'Black Knight', 'Ellen's Blue', 'Lochinch', and the white colored cultivars like Buddleia 'White Profusion' or the new, compact one 'White Ball'. Other possibilities would include Hibiscus 'Blue Satin', or 'Violet Satin' and the fantastic, new Hibiscus 'White Chiffon' and the almost ever-blooming Hibiscus 'Diana'. The white flowering Potentilla 'Abbottswood' and the soft, primrose yellow 'Primrose Beauty' keep flowering all through the same period and grow to about the same size, making them great partners, too. In mixed borders, we love to see them close to the dramatic, architectural foliage of Yuccas. Yucca 'Golden Sword' is a great selection with nice variegation and big, bold, shooting spires of white bells when they break into flower. The succulent foliage of Stonecrops also works well, so try some of the larger growing spectabile types like Sedum 'Autumn Joy' or 'Matrona'. Where lower ground cover is required, the spreading forms like Sedum 'Vera Jameson', S. kamtschaticum or the variegated form 'Variegatum' are a good choice. The soft blue Stokesia 'Klaus Jelitto', Aster x frikartii 'Monch' and the silvery foliage and soothing coloring of Perovskias and Nepetas also make magnificent perennials to combine them with. When it comes to ground cover, spreading drifts of the soft lemon Coreopsis 'Moonbeam' and the compact growing Coreopsis ' Zagreb' which echo their mounding, rounded shape are hard to beat. If you are looking for long lasting perennials that can be cut and used in flower arrangements, then add in a few Achilleas and Anthemis. If the soil conditions are on the acidic side of neutral, they can be used with evergreen spring flowering shrubs like Rhododendrons, Pieris, Azaleas, Ilex (hollies), or the wonderfully scented Syringas (lilacs) if it is alkaline. They all make great companions and create plenty of color and interest in the first half of the year before the bright, golden yellow flowers get going. Viburnums, Philadelphus, and Deutzia are especially handsome, and their nice green foliage makes a good background when they kick into flower later on.