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Dear Friend and Gardener

Chrysanthemums and Beyond


Chrysanthemum at 2009 Kiku exhibit at New York Botanical Garden

Chrysanthemums are an iconic autumn flower. You can see potted mums for sale everywhere including the supermarkets where ranks of mums in shades of lemon, tangerine and plum cluster around the entrances. A friend reminded me of a quote from Maggie Smith  in the 1969 movie, The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie, which I never saw. A student had given Miss Brodie a bouquet(?) of chrysanthemums and her response was, “Chrysanthemums. Such a serviceable flower.”

Miss Brodie did not seem impressed, but at the very least chrysanthemums are indeed serviceable, providing bright welcomes on porches, cheering at football games with their giant blossoms on coats, a golden or ruby glow in candlelight in dinner table bouquets.


Dahlias in perennial ageratum tangle

In 1972 Miss Smith starred in Travels With My Aunt in which she played another character who had strong opinions about flowers. While strolling in the garden of her dahlia loving nephew, Henry, she sniffed and with disdainful look said, “Dahlias are so vulgar.”

Happily by 2011 Miss Smith’s characters may not have been any less waspish, but she seemed at least to have gentler feelings about bright flowers when she starred in The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel, a movie that glowed with the warm light of marigolds. I don’t recall that she made any comments about the marigolds at all.

All three of these plants, chrysanthemums, dahlias and deep golden marigolds can bring color and drama to the autumnal garden. While potted mums are on sale everywhere at this time of the year, there are many chrysanthemum flower forms that bring special interest to the garden in addition to their colors. There are neat little pom poms, others with each floret (petal) ending in a spoon, or tubular florets called quills or incurved blossoms that will remind you of a Japanese brocade. There are 14 unusual varieties which will probably have to turn to online nurseries such as King’s Mums, or Garden Harvest Supply to see what unusual perennial varieties are available.

It is too late to order any of these fancy mums now, but you can get an idea of what they look like at the Smith College Chrysanthemum Show that includes the stunning chrysanthemum cascades and will run from November 5-20.

Recently I have been writing about Eric Greene’s dahlias which are so hardy and glamorous. Many of his dahlias originally came from Swan Island Dahlias. Like mums, dahlias can be organized by size with the largest measuring more than 10 inches or more, down to less than 4 inches across. They are also organized by type from collarette which is usually a single form, to waterlily form to petite pom-poms.

Dahlias can add rich and fiery blooms to the autumnal garden, but they have tender personalities as well. Those are the colors I always end up planting even though I am an admirer of scarlets and royal purples in the catalogs.



Recently I attended the stupa dedication at Lilian Jackman’s Wilder Hill Gardens. There I admired her tall, large flowered golden marigolds reminiscent of the marigolds The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel.  Marigolds will bloom into the fall and will also have a place in the autumnal garden. Marigolds are so easy to grow that they are a perfect flower for a child to grow. How happy and proud children are when their tiny seed grows into something so big and golden.

There is no problem in finding marigold seed from American Meadow, Park’s or Burpee Seeds.

Zinnias are another tough annual that will bloom long into the fall in golden shades like the marigold, or in a riot of hot or pastel shades. They also come in a range of flower forms from a neat single to shaggy cactus-flowers and dahlia-type flowers. I have made a promise to myself to always have zinnias in my garden.

All of these, mums, dahlias, marigolds and zinnias, are brilliant in the garden and make great cut flowers as well.

Without thinking too much about it I seem to have a number of asters in my new garden. I brought two clumps of the bright pink Alma Potschke with me from Heath as well as the low growing Wood’s Blue, which is a strong grower and makes a good ground cover even when it is not in bloom.

I added a white aster which has fine white flowers and was a bit disappointing. I also planted two pots of a purple aster which are just coming into bloom.

And then there is the much watched weed in my hell strip. For most of the summer I dubiously watched it grow. I wasn’t sure enough it was a weed and so did not rip it out. My procrastination has paid off because it is now producing very sweet small purple flowers, making more of a show that my new white aster. All the asters attract lots of pollinators.

Before I close I must confess to a lack of organization and record-keeping. The mystery groundcover that I mentioned last week revealed its name once planted where it was no longer crowed and got more sun. A small blossom surprised me. It is an osteospurmum which I planted in the spring, inspired by the hardiness and dramatic beauty of the osteospurmums on the Bridge of Flowers.  Obviously osteospurmums are another annual that will bloom into the fall.

Between the Rows   September 17, 2016

Blues in the Autumn

Wood's Blue aster

Wood’s Blue aster

Blues in the autumn strike a different mood from that of  the traditional expectation of reds and golds of the fall. And yet, there are many blues in the autumnal palette.

Perennial ageratum

Perennial ageratum with dahlias

The very blue perennial ageratum, or mistflower have tumbled in the heat to embrace the dahlias.

Russian sage

Russian sage, perovskia

Some may call it a shade of lavender, but I consider my Russian sage a part of my autumnal blues.



If I allow lavender Russian sage I will also allow purple asters. I love asters in any color.

Is your garden blue in the fall?

Flower Power in the Medicine Cabinet

Artemesia annua

Artemesia annua aka Sweet Annie, a cure for malaria even in modern times

Flower Power has been a hippy anthem but it is also a reminder that we should not underestimate the power of plants as medicine. Antibiotics have been a gift to doctors and patients for decades, but that gift has been abused. Through the overuse of antibiotics for the sick, or possibly sick, and as a preventative in livestock many bacteria strains have developed resistance to these ever more powerful and available antibiotics.

In the New York Times Magazine article (September 18, 2016), Flower Power  Ferris Jabr lays out dangers that we might face. He interviewed ethnobotantist Cassandra Quave about the threat and consequences of loosing our effective antibiotics. Experts say that they (resistant bacterias) currently cause 700,000 lives a year globally and that number will only grow. “We’re standing on the precipice of a post-antibiotic era. We just haven’t fallen off yet, Quave said.

Anti-biotics have been around since the 1940s, but herbal medicines have been around as long as the human race has existed. Even animals like members of the raccoon family in panama know to rub a minty tree resin through their fur to deter fleas and ticks. Sumerian cuneiform tablets dating back to 3000 B.C. list prescriptions, and in c. 50 A.D. the Roman surgeon Dioscordes was putting together his De Materia Medica which gave the medical benefits of 600 plants. This information was used for 1500 years until the Renaissance began to supplant it with revised herbals.

Quave says we need to turn to plants again to create new medicines. Some are skeptical and smell “a whiff of mumbo-jumbo folklore,” and some see the difficulties and expense that will be necessary to understand and use the complicated plant chemistry to make these new medicines.

Fortunately the work has begun and Jabr’s article describes some of them. For instance, Quave found that in southern Italy healers used blackberry roots to treat boils. She collected and worked with those roots in her lab and found that while the resulting product did not kill MRSA bacteria it did prevent them from adhering to living tissue and medical equipment in hospitals. This keeps the level of bacteria down to such a low level that they are no longer dangerous.

Quave said this is a new way of looking at the problem. “We’ve been in the mindset that we need to kill microbes. What we need is to find a balance.”

This is such a fascinating article because it shows us that we should not dismiss the power of plants, and that we might need to take a different approach to managing bacteria.

Second Planting Season – Autumn

Wood Blue aster

Low growing woods aster – ready to be divided

Once Labor Day is past it is time for the year’s second planting season to begin. Many garden centers and nurseries will be putting potted plants on sale. Many friends will realize they have to move plants and will have divisions to pass along. Each gardener may have her own plants to divide, to share or to move to a new location in the garden. We gardeners are lucky. We get a second chance every fall to act on second thoughts, correcting decisions that didn’t work out as we had expected, or acting on new ideas we saw over the summer in the gardens we visited. It’s time to dig again.

In my own garden I have worked over the past two summers to cover the ground. My goal is a garden that needs less maintenance. For me a low maintenance garden, to a large extent, translates into large shrubs and groundcovers.  It has not been easy but I have worked hard to plant my shrubs far enough apart to allow for growth. When I do this, of course, I end up with lots of empty space between. I filled those spaces by planting perennial flowers and low ground covers closely together knowing that they would grow and spread and soon need dividing.

I have just started moving some of my plants. We are working towards a grassless front yard and have planted low growing conifers, a low growing rhododendron with pink flowers and a deutzia which will have white flowers in the spring. I dug up two dark leaved heucheras, one nearly dead from the drought, and one with amazing strength but a dusty demeanor that did not bode well for its survival. Both now share space in the front garden. I brought a few little Woods Blue aster divisions down from the Heath garden and planted them in our South Border. They grow low, bloom late and spread energetically to cover the ground nicely behind and around a viburnam. Some of these new plants will be moved to the raised bed at the northern border of our lot where I will be very glad to have them continue to spread.

Perennial ageratum

Perennial ageratum – Blue mistflower

That raised bed is so large that I am also planning to move some of my perennial ageratums, Conoclinium coelestinum. These vigorous spreaders are also called blue mistflowers and bloom in late summer into the fall. A friend gave me a few for my new garden last year. Because they were transplanted in the heat of mid-summer they never looked vigorous, but they still produced a few flowers.

This year I have a great swath of blue even though it has been so dry. I don’t know about you but I have a few mystery ground covers in the South Border. They have done their job in covering the ground, and it is now time to move them where they can spread further. I am particularly fascinated by an interesting succulent that I have replanted where I can admire it better. We are still in the process of enlarging planting beds so I am glad to be able to move these mysteries. Maybe one day a visitor will identify them for me. Before and after moving any plants they should be well watered to help them make the transition.

As summer draws to a close you will find bargains at garden centers. I saw that trees and shrubs are 30% of at the Greenfield Farmers Coop on High Street, and perennials are also on sale. Sale plants may look a little tired, and when un-potted they may be quite rootbound, but they have plenty of life. I use my garden claw to pull those roots apart. Tearing or breaking them a bit will encourage them to make new roots so don’t feel you have to be very gentle. Then give them a good watering before you put them in their new planting hole, along with some compost, and then water again. I am also mulching all my new plantings. Take advantage of garden center sales! No matter where your plants come from this fall, you’ll be ahead of the game in the spring.

mulch volcano

Mulch volcano

Last week I mentioned mulch volcanoes. Since then a number of people has asked me to explain. The term mulch volcano describes the way some well intentioned gardeners, and even landscapers, pile mulch around and up the trunk of a newly planted tree. The mulch pile can resemble a cone rising six inches or more up the tree trunk, or the effect can be that of a cupcake with a candle in the middle. Either way, piling mulch up a tree trunk stresses the tree and does it no good. Tree roots need water and air but a deep layer of mulch will suffocate them. Deep mulch around a tree trunk has the same effect as planting a tree too deeply. Two or three inches of mulch is all you need to spread around a tree to conserve water, moderate temperature and protect it from mowers and string trimmers.

Between the Rows   September 10, 2016

Garden Blogger’s Bloom Day – September 2016



I haven’t posted on Garden Blogger’s Bloom Day all summer so I wanted to make as full a record as I could as the season comes to a close.


Cosmos took a long time to bloom this year, but they do make me happy

Firelight hydrangea

This is Firelight hydrangea snuggling with Alma Potchke aster, but Limelight and Angel Blush are also thriving and blooming


Daylily altissima

Daylily ‘altissima’ is the only daylily still blooming

Russian Sage

Perovskia, Russian sage, is such a great pollinator plant

Sanguisorba canadensis

Sanguisorba canadensis has no common name I can find, but it likes wet sites, should we ever get substantial rain


Lyon's Fairy Tale - Kordes rose

Lion’s Fairy Tale – Kordes rose. I planted new roses like Kordes varieties in the South border

Polar Express Kordes rose

Polar Express is another beautiful Kordes rose – disease resistant


"The Fairy" rose

I had to have “The Fairy” rose

Thalictrum - meadowsweet

Thalictrum has delicate blossoms but stands tall and beautiful

A bit of an annual salvia, Blue Paradise phlox and Purple Rain rose

A bit of an annual salvia,Limelight hydrangea, Blue Paradise phlox and Purple Rain rose

Dahlias and perennial ageratum

Dahlias and perennial ageratum. Other dahlias also blooming

Wood's Blue aster

Closeup of the low growing Wood’s Blue aster

Chelone, turtlehead

Turtlehead, chelone, did fine this hot dry summer

Red geraniums

Red geraniums were stunning pot plants, especially after I moved them into the sun

angel wing begonia

My new angelwing begonia has been happy on our front porch.

Purple aster

This very late blooming aster on my hellstrip had me wondering all summer if it was a weed

This is my catalog for September. I thank Carol over at May Dreams Gardens for hosting this wonderful series. To see what else is blooming over our great land click here.

Consider the Trees – and Groundcovers

Cornus "Kousa"

Cornus “Kousa”

I was talking to a young woman and her two very young daughters, 6 and 9, about the new house they were preparing to move into. This house is set on a nearly two acre lot. She said the developer was responsible for putting in some minimal landscaping around the front of the house, but she would have the fun of choosing everything else.

She and her girls were looking forward to the trees they might plant. She likes flowering trees, the 6 year old wanted a weeping willow so she could hide under it, and the 9 year old was still thinking. I was happy that she was thinking about trees, trees that would make a statement as her garden took form, and trees that would grow up with her daughters. I’m not sure what plans the papa might have. Our conversation ended, but I got to thinking about all the opportunities people face when they move into a house on a nearly naked lot.

This house is located at the end of a long driveway. I immediately imagined a line of Kousa dogwood trees running the length of that drive. Kousa dogwoods are covered with large (three to five inches) white four-petaled flowers in late spring, May into June. In the fall the foliage turns a deep red or scarlet, and it produces tiny fruits that birds enjoy. They are hardy and happy in full sun with no serious pest or disease problems, about as trouble free a plant as you can find.

At a possible mature height of 30 feet Kousas are still considered small trees. Anyone planting in a line needs to consider the spread of the tree at maturity; one of the hardest tasks any gardener faces is allowing for future growth. Kousas should be planted about 30 feet apart in full sun. Massing plants, trees or flowers have a powerful effect. Even while they are young and small, the number of trees will give a real presence.

A number of years ago an acquaintance asked me for a suggestion for his driveway. In that case I suggested crabapples which bloom in shades of pink to almost purple. Whether or not you are interested in making crabapple jelly, the spring pollinators and autumn birds will thank you for planting crabapples.

Robinson is a fast growing crab with deep pink flowers that mature to white; the tiny fruits are a dark red. It will reach a height and spread of about 20 feet. It also has excellent disease resistance.

Prairiefire will be about 20 tall and wide at maturity. It has reddish foliage and bright pink flowers. The tree has very good disease resistance and the fruits are deep red. All crabapples prefer full sun.

Redbud  Cercis canadensis

Redbud Cercis canadensis

Redbud, Cercis canadensis, is more common in our area than it was even ten years ago. The bright pink/lavender flowers that bloom before it leafs out are eye catching and just lovely. Redbuds will mature at about 20-30 feet tall with an equal spread. Most of the redbuds I have seen are closer to 20 feet. They will thrive in full sun or part shade. They need moist, moderately fertile soil that is well drained, but it is a carefree tree.

All the trees I have mentioned tolerate acid soil, which is what most of us have, but it is good to have your soil tested to see just how acid it is and whether or not liming it might be a good idea. Do not assume.

If you are going to plant a line of trees, I think planting them in a bed that can be underplanted with a groundcovers should be considered. Trees should be planted so that the debilitating mulch volcano is forbidden.  Groundcovers will keep lawnmowers and trimmers away from the tree eliminating bark damage.

One groundcover that has been overused is pachysandra. This is understandable because it is attractive and a good spreader. However, the pachysandra I usually see is Japanese pachysandra and can be invasive. There is a native Allegheny pachysandra whose foliage is not as shiny or evergreen but it is attractive and produces white flowers in the fall. It prefers some shade.

I have used several ground covers in my garden over the years. Lady’s mantle with its round ruffled foliage is a good spreader and noted for its lacy green flowers and the way it collects raindrops.

Tiarella or foamflower is rhizomatous and crawls along the ground but in the spring it sends up foamy racemes of flowers in white or pink, no more than 10 inches high. If you like tiarella but wish it were a bit more substantial you can try heucherella, a hybrid of tiarella and heuchera. The plant and the flowers will be larger and there will be a much larger choice of colors in both the foliage and the flowers. Tiarella and heucherella like some shade, but I have had good luck in full sun as well, if there is sufficient moisture or watering.

Epimedium sulphureum

Epimedium sulphureum

I love epimediums which are a solution to dry shade, but they have done well in my Heath garden with lots of sun and a moist soil. Here in Greenfield my epimediums get more shade, but dryer soil – especially this year.

No matter how trees are arranged in your garden, surrounding them with appropriate groundcovers is a beautiful way of protecting the tree trunks and adding texture and flowers.

Between the Rows    September 3, 2016

View from the Window – August 31, 2016

July 25, 2016 Expansion of Lawn Beds

July 25, 2016 Expansion of Lawn Beds

The view from the window at the end of July shows the expansion two of the Lawn Beds. We wanted to plant Calycanthus in the bed on the left along with two geums , and the low growing sumac on the right.

View from the window August 31, 2016

View from the window August 31, 2016

At the end of August, with only the merest rain shower, the only change, besides the increasing drying of leaves on the horse chestnut, is an attempt to refine the borders and do a little more mulching. More refinements clearly needed. I did also bring the pots of bright red geraniums to the back garden because as welcoming as they were in front of the house they were not thriving. The garden in front of the house gets a lot of  shade.

With luck there will be more bed expansion and plantings before the snow flies.

Eric Greene and his Dahlias


The Greene’s dahlia windowsill arrangement

Eric Greene grows fabulous dahlias, among other wonderful plants, but says he is “the laziest gardener in the world” but he really means he is an efficient gardener. He doesn’t want to work any harder than necessary.

His lazy techniques result in an amazingly large garden that shares his in-town property with a swimming pool enclosed on two sides by shrubs, enormous vegetable and flower gardens, a gigantic compost pile and a small front lawn.

When I first visited the Greene garden during the Greenfield Garden Club Garden Tour I was amazed by the long dahlia allee, and the dahlias weren’t even in bloom yet. I quickly made a date with Eric Greene and his wife Jeanne to find out how the ‘world’s laziest gardener’ handled all those dahlias which grow from tender tubers that need to be dug after the bloom season and stored until the spring.



His long history and love affair with dahlias began when he was given a white dahlia decades ago. That dahlia taught him about exponential growth. When he dug it up in the fall that one dahlia had produced five new tubers. When he planted those tubers the following spring he harvested 25 tubers in the fall. You can see where this story is going. Those white dahlias were planted and replanted and bloomed all around the swimming pool he had at the time. At this point he has 100 varieties of dahlia, and only keeps two tubers of each one in the fall. “I always have plenty of dahlia tubers to give away to friends,” he said.

Amazingly he loved the white dahlias so much that it was many years before he considered color. Nowadays he has a rainbow of dahlias from pale to brilliant colors. Many are bought from Swan Island Dahlias in Oregon.

Greene happily explained the dahlia routines he has followed since moving to his current house 14 years ago. He begins by ordering a load of compost from Martin’s Compost Farm every year. His soil is heavy clay which is not hospitable to dahlias.

On the first weekend in May he digs all the planting holes on both sides of the walkway, removing the soil and placing it where he needs more soil. Then he fills each hole to within three inches of the top with compost, and puts an extra pile of compost off to one side. When all the holes are dug and prepared he begins planting his tubers. The eyes of the dahlia tuber must face up. If there are long tender white roots, put out during winter storage, he removes them. Any green shoots growing from the eyes of the tuber have to be planted so they are fully underground and protected from a frost.

According to his own records his frost free period usually is from May 1 to October 15.

After the tuber is planted he puts a tomato cage around it, and pounds a wooden stake outside the cage. He ties the cage to the stake as extra support because his tall healthy dahlias are heavy and need that strong support. He waters the dahlias after planting, and then as needed. “Dahlias are thirsty,” he said. “I try to make sure everything in the garden gets an inch of water every week.”

In September, when he knows the bloom season will soon be ending he takes his woodsman’s tape and identifies each plant by type, size and color. The names are not as important to him as knowing what they look like.

Frost will kill the dahlias in the fall. He leaves them in the ground for a couple of days and cuts off all the foliage, leaving about two inches of stems. Then he digs them up and lets them sit in the sun all day. He shakes off the loose soil but never washes them.

The identifying tape follows each clump into a grain bag. The woven plastic grain bags do breathe and protect the tubers. All the grain bags then go onto wood pallets in his basement where temperatures stay in the low forties or less. It is essential to keep the tubers cool all winter.

In mid to late April Greene goes through the clumps separating and cutting off the tubers that have at least one eye, and attaching an identifying tape to each separated tuber. The identified tubers then go into boxes, separate boxes for each variety. That way he can easily share particular dahlias with friends. Many tubers are also donated at plant sales.

Jeanne and Eric Greene

Jeanne and Eric Greene

The dahlia walk is just a part of the gardens on the western side of the house. Tall sunflowers, majestic red cannas, airy cleome, small calla lilies and zinnias. The garden is a veritable bouquet. Jeanne keeps the house filled with bouquets, artful arrangements of a floral mix, or single dahlias in separate vases but lined up together on a windowsill.

Greene is a man with many strings to his bow. While he had his first garden as a 10 year old trying to grow corn next to the driveway, he also fell in love with crystals and minerals. After enjoying careers as a sculptor, an art teacher, and manager of companies that mined Herkimer diamonds, he and Jeanne now own and operate Treasure Mountain Mining, an online company selling crystals from all over the world. I have to think there might be some connection between the brilliant beauty and variety of the dahlias in his garden, and the sparkling beauty and variety of the minerals and crystals he sells online.

Between the Rows    August 27, 2016

Dedication of Stupas at Wilder Hill Gardens


Stupa (Buddhist sacred sculptures) to be dedicated on September 4

These two stupas at Wilder Hill Gardens on Shirkshire Rd in Conway will be dedicated this Sunday, September 4 from 3-5 pm. There will be Tibetan dancing, food and fun for young and old(er). Come and help celebrate. This is also a chance to see Lilian Jackman’s beautiful gardens. There is no charge, but donations are welcome. I can’t wait.

I have written about Lilian before here and here and here

Water-Saving Gardens by Pam Penick

Pam Penick

Pam Penick

Pam Penick, who grew up in the southeastern part of our country, wasn’t expecting the very dry garden she would get when she and her husband moved to Austin, Texas. The years she has spent learning how to have a beautiful dry garden have resulted in a desire to share all she has learned.

The Water-Saving Garden: How to Grow a Gorgeous Garden with a Lot Less Water (Ten Speed Press $19.99) begins by showing us some beautiful low-water gardens, in case we thought it was really impossible, and then teaches us the many ways to accomplish that kind of garden.

She urges us to make our gardens water savers, not water guzzlers. That means learning about the various ways that we can keep water from the heavens on our property and preventing it from draining away into the streets and sewers. In our own area we are familiar with the benefits of rain barrels, and even rain cisterns that can hold 500 gallons or more. Rain gardens are less familiar here but there is enormous benefit to keeping rainwater from the roof or parking lots on site instead of sending that dirty water into drains that may end up in streams and rivers.

Berming, microbasins and swales are other techniques that can be used, as well as creating permeable paths and patios by using unmortared stone pavers, gravel or mulch.

Penick gives full directions for these techniques and then launches into water-saving design elements like eliminating lawn. Penick is not a purist, she sees the beauty and appeal of lawn, but suggests that it need not be the main element of our property. Choosing lawn grasses that are more drought tolerant is another way to handle the desire for a lawn.

After planning comes the actual planting. Penick discusses drought resistant plants, and native plants that thrive in your climate and soil. There is so much to consider when planning any garden and Penick’s view is certainly comprehensive.

I was particularly charmed by the chapters on creating the illusion of water. There are photos of grasses that ripple in the wind, wavy clipped hedges, weeping trees, a meandering ‘stream’ made of a single type of groundcover or flower, dry steam beds or even a reflecting pond made by a mirror.

The Water-Saving Garden by Pam Penick

The Water-Saving Garden by Pam Penick     Photo courtesy of Ten Speed Press

Penick concludes with 101 plants for water-saving gardens. Here in Massachusetts we don’t have Austin’s blistering climate, at least not most of the time, but this year our gardens have suffered for lack of rain. The whole region has been declared a drought region. Indeed, the whole country is experiencing more drought and we all need to think about water conservation. If we are going to cut down on supplemental watering we need to think about drought tolerant plants, unless we have a special fund to cover our increased water bills. Many of the drought tolerant plants on Penick’s list are very happy in our part of the world.

Penick is a garden designer, an award winning blogger and the author of Lawn Gone! which I have written about in the past. She has also written for Garden Design, Organic Life and Wildflower. She is a conversational and graceful writer who will delight as well as educate and inspire.

Mystery Solved

Last week in my column on weeds I included a photo of a mystery plant. Before I even woke on Saturday I received an email from Liz Pichette who said it was an aster, Symphyotrichum cordifolium, or heartleaf aster. I was glad she agreed with my waffly thought that it was an aster, but after checking my plant again, I did not see any heart shaped leaves.

However, Liz quickly sent another email saying she thought the tall plant by my porch that I described, but did not provide a photo, was wild lettuce.  Had I ever heard of wild lettuce? No. She gave the name Lactuca biennis, which I then checked on the Minnesota Wildflowers website and it matched perfectly, down to the very very fine hairs on the stem.

Lactuca biennis identified

Lactuca biennis identified

Shirley Pelletier also sent me an email and said the aster looked like the “common wild aster” to her – and I agreed with my weed book which listed the white heath aster as very common. It also said that the branching flower panicles could account for half the height of the plant. I ran out to look again at my plant, and sure enough, the branching portion of the plant is half the height. This business of identifying a plant means very careful observations of all the parts of the plant, and it helps if you have the vocabulary to match up what you observe with the written scientific descriptions in a guide book.

Thank you Liz and Shirley for being so helpful. I resolve to be more observant.###
Between the Rows   August 20, 2016

 Lilian Jackman is the owner of Wilder Hill Gardens in Conway and I have written about her wonderful gardens in the past. On Sunday, September 4  she is inviting everyone to her garden and the dedication of her two stone stupas which are Buddhist sacred sculptures. There will be activities for all, including the children, Tibetan dancing, and food. Come between 3 and 5 PM and join the celebration. There is no cost, but donations are welcome.