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.
This is embarrassing, I’m a failure at growing zucchini. This most prolific plant that is the subject of jokes and interesting stories. Like the report in the 2019 Old Farmer’s Almanac: “In Berlin, Germany, a 16-inch, 11-pound zucchini was mistaken for an unexploded World War II bomb.” And I’m sure you have heard the joke told in many ways but the punch line is always to lock your car so you don’t receive any unexpected gift zucchinis from generous neighbor gardeners.
Shown above: Female on left, male on right. First blossoms are usually male. The female flowers quickly develop a tiny fruit that can be fertilized manually with a small paint brush if the bees don't do their job. Male and female flowers can be eaten raw, fried or stuffed.
Summer squash (aka zucchini ) are often described as a no-fail plant. “With just a few plants you’ll have enough for friends, neighbors, and friend’s friends”, according to Grocery Gardening by Jean Ann Van Krevelen. She also advises to keep harvesting or plants will stop producing. Pick every day and pick when small when they are the most flavorful. It was the "small" part that caught my attention. The larger the size the less flavor for zucchinis. I want mine small, in fact much smaller than the ones in the markets (see female flower/fruit in above picture.)
Daniel Stone, author of The Food Explorer, describes David Fairchild’s exploration for new food plants for America at the turn of the last century (1900s). Fairchild first tasted zucchini in California. It originated somewhere in Central America and was developed as a food crop in Italy and France. Nature’s intent was for zucchini to be eaten small, before the blossom falls off; its name is Italian for ‘little squash’ according to Stone. According to Wikipedia, the fruit is typically harvested as a baby vegetable, approximately finger size, and is referred to as "baby marrows" in South Africa. That was the size I wanted to try.
Anyway, my plan was to grow a few plants in a tub this year to have a ready supply of perfectly sized (before the blossom dropped) fruits to sauté for an evening meal. I grew exactly two zucchinis and, yes, they were perfect. But then no more.
Where did I go wrong? Maybe they don’t like being constricted in a tub, maybe they need more than 6 hours of sun a day (the maximum in my woodland garden), maybe they had too much or too little water? Lot’s of questions, no answers.
Do I try again next year to have a supply of the perfect zucchini? I have more than six months to ponder whether to use space for this or a less finicky plant.
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.
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.
Most gardens are coming into their peak season. Now is an excellent time to get your camera or smart phone and take some pictures. Why?
I’ve learned there are many uses for garden photographs. My reasons to take photos started with record keeping. Then I expanded my photo collection to use in garden programs. Now I also share on social media and get creative with cards and prints. Do you have pictures of your garden? Here are some reasons to consider regularly taking photos.
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.
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.
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* Vegetable Basics, May 3 1:00 - 3:00 pm, offered at WITC campuses in Hayward, Ladysmith, Balsam Lake, Superior, Ashland, and Rice Lake. Register with WITC at witc.edu in continuing education