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 year one of my gardening goals was to get the potager (a fancy term for my vegetable garden) in better shape. This garden has slowly evolved from a flower patch around a flag pole to a fenced in garden with raised beds and wide paths. In this blog pictures will tell the story.
Before & After: left - June 2008; right - July 2018
Above: June 2016
Here's what I did to clean things up:
I'm finding the garden much easier to work in, actually a joy to maintain and I can now find my vegetables without wading through the weeds.
The pictures below tell the rest of the story, hover over the picture to see each step taken over the last decade.
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.
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, February 6, 2019 6:00-7:30 pm, register with WITC at witc.edu in continuing education