The calendar shows that we have arrived at the fourth Wednesday of the month once again, time to honor the wildflowers, natives or visitors from other lands that are growing in the Fairegarden. The person responsible for this wonderful idea of casting the spotlight on these sometimes less showy but very important plants is dear friend Gail of Clay and Limestone.
Let the show begin with a tall fellow, grown from seeds gathered at offspring Semi’s wild and wooly free for all garden two years ago. This is a biennial Evening Primrose, Oenothera biennis. Note the x-shaped stigma common to this species, says the wildflower book. Is that the green in the center?
Oenothera biennis is quite tall, well over six feet. The blooms last for only a few hours in earliest morning, opening at dusk when it is too dark for proper portrait making, so the lady with the camera has to be an early riser. Some of the common names involve the word cure, as various parts of the plant are used medicinally.
Next to take the stage is pokeberry, Phytolacca americana. The Latin derives from the Greek phyto, meaning plant and lacca meaning crimson lake referring to the red juice of the ripe berries. I can vouch for the stains of dark wine color on skin and clothing. This juice was once used as ink, adding to the common name pool, Inkberry.
Phytolacca americana is naturally occurring here, rising up in nook, cranny and beyond from undigested seeds that pass through the many bird’s digestive systems that dine on this feathered gourmand’s delight. One such seedling has been allowed to grow unimpeded by pruning near the arbor. It now completely blocks that entrance so we take the side path through the fairy garden to get to our destination. This may be a fool’s decision when the thousands of seedlings appear next spring. They are easily pulled when young, not so easy when adolescent and older. These young shoots are the source of another of the common names, poke salat, or salad, although they must be boiled twice in clean water to remove the toxins. Every part of this plant is highly poisonous.
Prunella vulgaris also was a pioneer in the gardens here. We admire the evergreen rosette of leaves and lavender flowers of mid summer. The common name of Self Heal refers to the myriad medicinal uses.
Prunella vulgaris is not native, coming over on the boat from Europe long ago, but it has made itself at home and is considered one of the family now. The spent flower heads are held upright and are quite attractive in form and height at a mere twelve inches or so. It is considered one of those winter interest plants that die well, click here and here to see others. This year it certainly will be included in the post on the same topic that will be entitiled Fading Faire. However, it reproduces like bunnies and many of the offspring are pulled for compost.
The brightest star in the August garden is Helianthus ‘Lemon Queen’. Standing well above my five foot almost four inch frame and spreading across at least that distance, it is covered in blooms. Each bloom is visited by bees and butterflies, mostly skippers.
Helianthus ‘Lemon Queen’ was purchased last fall at our local gem, Mouse Creek Nursery. The owner, Ruth insisted I give it a try. “One plant is all you need”, she said. That was music to our ears for we are basically thrifty, contrary to what The Financier might believe. The bloom last year was, shall we say, subtle. This year, we wondered where all of the new green leaves poking up from the mulch came from in early spring. It has spread nicely and a clump was dug and moved to the other side of the white/yellow garden to fill in there. By next year, Lemon Queen should provide a sea of pale citrus flowers in the area. “Hooray” say the pollinators and garden tenders!
Naturalized from southeast Asia, Persicaria pensylvanica is another adopted wildflower that is welcome here. It grows mainly in the gravel pathway behind the main house and reappears as a carpet of seedlings each spring.
Smartweed, Persicaria pensylvanica makes the perfect bed partner to the purple leaf Perilla that springs up in the same area and beyond. If the seedlings were not ruthlessly removed of both of these fine and attractive plants, the forest of waist high pink and purple would require a machete to pass through. But who is to argue with free plants that sow themselves? All that is left to the gardener is editing. The Native Americans used the smartweed medicinally and used the leaves to rub on the fingers of thumb sucking children to discourage that practice.
This little delicacy needs identification! Finding it nearly impossible to get a photo of the hair like foliage and tiny flowers, the wiry stems were found to show up better backed by the pink sloggered foot of the photographer. Does anyone know what this might be? It grows into a tangled mess of stems, leaves and flowers about a foot high and wide in sunny spots here.
Sneezeweed, Helenium autumnale will bring the curtain down on this month’s selections. Poorly named, for this plant is not the cause of allergic reactions in most humans, it blooms at the same time as the guilty party, Ragweed. It was also used as snuff at one time, among other medicinal uses by Native Americans.
Native or exotic, planted by woman or critter, the wildflowers of the garden deserve much more recognition. Let us raise the word weed from insult to one which signifies a plant that grows well with no effort on our part, the ultimate in low maintenance gardening!