Listening to the piper’s call to join him?

This spring while browsing one of our local garden centers, I came across a beautiful foliage plant — Polemonium reptans ‘Stairway to Heaven’ — a variegated form of a shade plant commonly known as Jacob’s Ladder. I didn’t know much about the growth habits or care needs for this plant, aside from the tag’s suggestion to avoid afternoon sun and dry soil conditions.

I knew I was probably pushing the avoidance of dry soil when I planted it on the eastern outer edge of my shade garden located under the moisture-demanding red maple (Acer rubrum). I should have listened to the hesitation in my planting choice, because the Polemonium seems to be laying flat on the ground every other day without hand-watering attention.

Its variegation seems to come and go as well, depending on the level of moisture it gets. This photo was taken after a night of steady rain, so the plant was perky and the white edging has started to return.

But there have been times this summer where the leaves were a flat, dull green with little variegation present at all.

I’ll face the choice this fall whether to leave ‘Stairway to Heaven’ where it is with the hope that it survives the winter, or move it somewhere shady where it will get more regular moisture but stay out of the afternoon sun. I’m just hoping whatever my choice, it doesn’t lead the Polemonium to look to the west and follow the piper’s call to join him.

Published by Christopher Tidrick

Be real. Love always. Share beauty. Lead well. Learn more.


  1. My Stairway to heaven is under a silver maple and has seemed to fair just fine–it can handle dry woodland soils but probably not with sun to boot. My favorite part of this plant is the pink blush to the margins of new leaves, plus the fleeting tiny cobalt blooms in spring. Hope you decide to keep it!:) Great photos, as usual!



  2. I plan to keep it for sure. Just need to decide whether it's current location is a good one for it.



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