Garden.True.North is about gardening in Zone 3,
sharing thoughts, ideas and tips for all northern gardeners.
sharing thoughts, ideas and tips for all northern gardeners.
Hollyhocks are an old fashioned cottage garden plant that provide visual height to your garden. They are considered either biannual or a short-lived perennial. They need full sun and rich, moist soil. I have my growing in a spot that receives about 6 hours of sunlight a day. My plant has now been blooming for over 6 weeks and shows no signs of quitting. Leaving the flowers to seed will help ensure plants for future years as hollyhocks are self-seeders. Another option is to cut it back to the base after blooms have faded to have it come back for 2-3 years.
I'm hoping that mine will come back next year.
Aralia cordata 'Sun King', common name is Golden Japanese Spikenard, is bright chartreuse, stands about 4 feet tall and 4 feet wide plant. It brightens up any area it might be in, one could say it dominates, or putting it nicer it is a focal plant.
I added this to the front of my vegetable garden for all these reasons. My vegetables are fenced in and are the first things visitors see when entering our property. This showy plant keeps the area from looking too utilitarian. It is placed in a challenging area, since it is right next to a black-topped drive in a 3 foot by 10-foot bed. I needed a plant that would die completely back in the winter so it does not interfere with snow piles from the drive.
It produces clusters of star-shaped flowers in late summer that add to late flower bouquets. It does well for me in an area that gets about 6 hours of sun and is advertised as doing well in full sun to full shade. In other words, it is not picky except that it does not do well if allowed to dry out. I also have had no trouble with deer nibbling on this one.
The University of Arkansas Extension named it the plant of the week in September 2015, a link to their write-up is shown below. The University of Tennessee named it the plant of the month in May 2016. Since its introduction in 2000, it has received a lot of positive press.
The downside of this plant is that it suckers, although I have not had a problem with that yet after two years. The chartreuse color may overwhelm a garden of native plants; this would seem out-of-place. It is non-native, the common name gives you a clue on that, although there are native Spikenards.
This plant has does its job for the place I had to fill. I enjoy its brightness and low maintenance requirements. In the right place, I can recommend this as a plant to try.
For more information:
University of Arkansas Extension
Missouri Botanical Garden
University of Tennessee
I looked over the deck and below saw the sun highlight several white flower spikes in an area that is intentionally left wild. Nearby I had planted one Black cohosh nearly a dozen years ago. Could it have seeded this new clump?
Native? In all probability it came from the plant in the garden bed. Black cohosh is not native here although it is to Eastern North American and as close as Iowa. I doubt that those seeds would have traveled that far to land here.
Name? I found it confusing in trying to research this plant. It’s botanical name has been reclassified from Cimicifuga racemose to Actaea racemose. Some sources recognize this new classification, others do not. What’s an amateur to do when professionals disagree on the name?
Go with the common name? Not much help there either. This plant goes by: Black cohosh, bugbane, black snakeroot, fairy candles, rattleroot, bugwort, and richweed to name a few. Are you confused? I am.
Where to plant? What first attracted me to this plant is that it can be planted in part to full shade. I have it in a spot on the woodland edge under a cedar tree. It likes medium moisture and an organically rich soil. It is very slow to establish. I have not had deer or rabbits nibble on the plant, but then I didn’t even know about this new clump. There are some reports online that deer like to eat the flower spikes.
Black Cohosh or bugbane or whatever you want to call it can be started as a plant (that’s how I got started), from bare roots, or seeds. It can take 3-4 years for the plants to start flowering. What is confusing me right now is that the volunteer plants are blooming and the one I planted hasn't even sent out a flower shoot yet for the season.
The seeds are even more finicky requiring a warm moist period followed by a cold moist period to germinate. It may take 1-2 years for the seeds to germinate.
How to use? The plant can grow 4-6 feet tall with the flower spike and a 2 to 4-foot spread. It provides a nice vertical flower for up to 3 weeks in shady spots in mid-to-late summer. This is a very low maintenance plant once it has a nice place to live and minimum clean-up in the spring.
Black cohosh was used in the 1800’s to treat a number of conditions from snakebites, inflammation, child birth pain and menstrual symptoms. As for medicinal use, be forewarned that the entire plant is poisonous if used in large doses causing nausea, dizziness, and can also cause miscarriage. The bad odor from the blooms, described as spoiled meat, is said to repel bugs if rubbed on the skin. Not sure what might be worse, the bugs or the smell of rotten meat.
According to Jack Sanders (who wrote about it in his book, The Secrets of Wildflowers), Black cohosh was the main product of the first large successful business in America owned by a woman. Lydia E. Pinkham Medical Company, founded in 1875, sold Lydia E. Pinkham’s Vegetable Compound to treat female complaints. In addition to Black cohosh the medicine contained about 20% alcohol which may have contributed to it being a best seller when proper ladies did not drink liquor. The compound is still marketed today without the alcohol.
I like the plant, but prefer my alcohol without the extra poisonous compounds thank you very much.
Clockwise from top left: Butterfly Weed, Bugleweed, Sneezeweed (photo credit: Photo by Sue Trull, Ottawa National Forest), Joe Pye Weed
As my series continues on plant names, this post concerns ones with “weed” in the name. I speak for all gardeners that we want to avoid weeds. However, there are four that I think you might want to allow into the garden bed. According to Webster’s dictionary a weed is defined as:
A plant that is not valued where it is growing and is usually of vigorous growth; especially one that tends to overgrow or choke out more desirable plants.
So here are some that are suitable for your garden that I recommend.
Alchemilla mollis or Lady’s Mantle requires little care, a requirement for my garden. It is a non-native from the eastern European mountains and is hardy in my zone 3 garden. Not often featured in garden books, Lady’s Mantle is also overlooked for perennial gardens.
This time of year I appreciate its froths (yes, that is the description all the books and websites give the blooms) of tiny chartreuse leaves. They are a colorful filler in the perennial beds as well as floral arrangements. They can be used as a dried flower for fall bouquets. Before blooming the velvety gray-green leaves are especially attractive after a rainfall.
The Elderberry bushes are in full bloom and there is a buzz about them. I originally planted the shrubs to harvest the berries that are reported to be an excellent immune booster to prevent colds and flu. I have discovered that the flowers are pollinator attractors, both flowers and berries look great in bouquets (they can also be used to make a liqueur or wine) and the berries provide food for people and birds. As a result of all the additional benefits of elderberries, it turns out that I have made only one batch of elderberry syrup.
Here in the North we don't find it unusual to have "summer" and "snow" in the same sentence. This post is about one of my favorite spring bulbs, the Giant or Summer Snowflake, Leucojum aestivum ‘Gravetye Giant’. Leucojum is a small genus of bulbous plants belonging to the Amaryllis family. Currently the genus includes only two known species; the giant or summer snowflake (Leucojum aestivum) and the spring snowflake (Leucojum vernum). These bulbs are similar to the more common Galanthus or snowdrops. The snowdrops usually are first to rise -- often peeking through the snow. Leucojum or snowflakes, follow later. My Summer Snowflakes are just ending their bloom period after giving me enjoyment and some darn nice bouquets for three weeks.
Definition of “Falsy”: Okay, I’ll let you look up the definition. For this article I’m using the term to define plants that have in their common name the word “False”.
I wander around nurseries with hardly any idea about what I want, hoping that I will see something interesting to fit my garden. I’ve found some good plants this way. And I like wandering around greenhouses. However, this is not the best way to select plants because when I get home I end up walking around my garden with said plant in hand wondering where to put this new acquisition.
I have some criteria for perennials in my garden: longevity, low maintenance, hardy in my climate, resistant to diseases and pests, no winter protection needed, long blooming or attractive foliage, not invasive, and doesn’t need staking. But sometimes I just want to have fun and I throw all those important criteria out. Sometimes that fun is something that has an interesting name.
In the next few weeks I’m going to write about plants that have such unappealing names it’s a wonder they are offered by greenhouses and nurseries. It’s a testament to how good these plants are that they have overcome horrible common names. When at the garden center, don’t dismiss these after looking at their name tags. I’m placing these plants into five categories.
* Early Seed Starting Webinar, April 3, 2019 6:00-7:30 pm, register with WITC at witc.edu in continuing education