Nostalgia and the nose lead to native shrub,
Peat in gardens
Forget me not
Stumper: Pretty... invisible
Cutting for combos
Cutting down spring
Clipping back bulbs
Butterflies & great garden center
article recently you mentioned the American elderberry. My mother
remembers elderberry growing in the fields near Clinton,
Can these elderberry bushes be bought and planted in a
back yard? Where can we buy them? -S.B. -
You can certainly grow American elderberry (Sambucus
canadensis). It's native throughout the eastern U.S., all
through Michigan and along the Canadian side of the Great Lakes and
St. Lawrence Seaway. All you need is a place that suits it, which
is where the soil is loose, the shrub will have at least 3 hours
sun each day, and there is room for it to spread to 10 or 12 feet
tall and wide. The more sun it receives, the fuller will be its
bloom and fruitset, and the greater its need for water. It's most
floriferous in the wild when it grows in full sun along the edges
Perhaps you'll follow the lead of many enterprising people, from
native Americans to settlers and modern day naturalists, who have
used the flowers and berries as food and medicine, fresh as well as
in vinegars, preserves and wines. The purple-black berries ripen in
August. You may have to cover the plant with netting to keep the
birds from harvesting them ahead of you.
Finding the plant requires some dedication. Many garden centers
restrict their inventory to varieties of the European elder
(Sambucus nigra). It's similar in many ways, including its
edible fruit (shiny black rather than purple black). In fact, some
taxonomists categorize our American elder as a subspecies of the
European. Yet there are important differences, such as the
European's bloom season, several weeks ahead of our native, and its
potential to be twice as tall as its American cousin.
It's understandable, even if frustrating, that garden centers
choose to carry the European elderberry. Like many other species
that have close cousins east of the Atlantic, American elderberry
is a relative newcomer to horticulture. There aren't so many
"options" available when you buy one. The European species has been
in production much longer. During those extra centuries of
horticultural attention a greater number of forms were isolated and
cultivated. So there are white-, gold- and pink-variegated European
elders, others with purple leaves, lacy leaves, and some with
flower clusters twice the normal 8-10 inch diameter. 'Black
Beauty', relatively new on the market and widely available, has
dark purple foliage and lacecap flowers that are pink in bud.
Sambucus canadensis is available in its standard form,
a gold leaf variety ('Aurea'), a red-fruited form ('Rubra'; not to
be confused with the separate native species, Sambucus pubens,
which has red poisonous fruit), and a large-fruited form ('Adams').
To buy American elderberry, go to a native plant nursery such as
Michigan's own Wildtype Native Plant Nursery, 900 N. Every Road,
Mason, Michigan 517-244-1140, www.wildtypeplants.com. Or order by mail from
Forestfarm, www.forestfarm.com, 990 Tetherow Road,
Williams, OR 97544-9599, 541-846-7269.
One important tip. Once an elderberry is established in your
yard, which can happen in a year or so given this species' fast
growth rate, cut out an old trunk or two every April before bud
break. Prune them off right at the ground. New canes will sprout
from the base. This removes canes as they become thick and woody
enough to support the borer that is the species' most destructive
Do you recommend the use of
peat as a soil amendment for flower beds? - G.K. -
We don't often use packaged sphagnum peat (Canadian peat).
Sometimes when we see that the soil requires organic matter and are
working where there is no ready source of compost, we'll use peat.
But its cost is relatively high -- to us personally, in dollars and
to the world in natural areas disrupted and energy consumed in its
harvesting, packaging and shipping. Also, using peat takes extra
effort, as we must wet it thoroughly before adding it to the soil.
If we don't put it into a wheelbarrow and knead water into it
before mixing it into the bed, we are very likely to find useless,
bone-dry peat chunks in that bed even years later.
(More discussion developing now on our Forum regarding peat. Go see!)
interested in the plant surrounding your cute little toads in the
picture in your Growing Concerns #616. - L -
That's creeping forget me not (Myosotis scorpioides),
which forms a mat in the garden along the edge of our pond and
creeps out into the water just as it does along streams all over
eastern North America. (Although it's not a native, it seems to
have been here since the 1400's, perhaps introduced by Viking
We enjoy answering questions you send our way. However, some
problems have no solution. Don't expect much help from us if you
pose a "stumper" such as: Sometimes I plant two of something, one
that's where I will see it every day and one that requires a
special trip to see, such as way in the back of the yard or at my
mom's house. Why is it that the one I don't see every day is the
one that ends up being prettier?
Below, right: Climbing hydrangea in bloom. This climbing
hydrangea (Hydrangea anomala petiolaris) is pretty and we
appreciate it every time we look out our kitchen window. Yet the
one we planted way 'round the yard at the side gate we hardly ever
use is even more beautiful!
This week in our gardens
Grow with us! This week we:
some flowers and attractive foliage from the garden, take
them indoors and arrange them in simple combinations in vases.
We'll make notes in the calendar or journal about which look
especially good together. Sometimes, arranging in vases is the only
way we can see some plants together, such as when we team up the
flower of a water lover with leaves from a plant that must have
periodically dry sandy soil, or a shade lover with a sun lover. But
if a pair or trio we arrange are suitable for growing together, our
notes will remind us to plant them that way the next time we're
re-doing a bed or starting new.
Right: Baptisia flower in front of barberry foliage.
False indigo (Baptisia australis) in bloom is stunning
with a background of purple foliage. (Here, it's red-leaf
back some spring blooming plants. The early June heat
spell brought the bloom season of many of these to a close. Now we
cut them back hard, to the ground in most cases, sparing only the
newest foliage and shoots emerging from the base. This removes
stems and seed pods that would turn brown and spoil the show of
later-blooming plants nearby. It also reduces the number of seeds
that drop in a bed, every one a potential weed.
Some of the plants we cut hard in June go dormant for the
season, but come back next year. Others reward us with a second
bloom or a new flush of fresh foliage. In our garden we're cutting
catmint (Nepeta Mussinii), lupines that are not my
selections for seed production, swamp buttercup (Ranunculus
acris), perennial bachelor button (Centaurea
montana), oxeye daisy (Leucanthemum vulgare), poppies
(Papaver orientalis) and columbine (Aquilegia
Cut down foliage
of spring bulbs where it's become distracting. Sure, we
hear we should let the leaves turn yellow and fade away on their
own, but that's advice that comes from growers. Growers want their
crop to have every bit of starch the leaves can produce and the
longest possible growing season so that the young plants they set
out will become the biggest possible bulbs for sale that fall. Most
of us don't need our bulbs to become bigger, as they are already of
blooming size. If those bulbs grow the full season, they increase
-- split into multiple bulbs -- become crowded sooner and need
division to keep flowering well.
What we want from our bulbs is that they replace themselves,
which they have had plenty of time and energy to do already. So
beginning in June we cut away tulip and daffodil foliage with
abandon, if its look doesn't please us.
soil, especially around fast growing plants that we cut
back hard on a regular basis. All that cutting removes from that
spot the minerals that went into making those leaves and stems.
Vegetable parings are excellent renewal material. We pull back the
mulch, spread kitchen scraps on the soil (no meat, unless you want
animals to dig in your beds!), then put the mulch back over them.
If they're too lumpy to cover neatly, put a sheet of newspaper over
them before replacing the mulch.
Right: Carrot and potato peelings ready to go into the
garden. When we make a stew, we end up with over one pound of
peelings from carrots, potatoes and onions. To throw them away is
like tossing away 50 cents and denying our garden the good they can
Peelings spread, being covered with newspaper. These
peelings will add slow release potassium, phosphorus, iron,
magnesium, manganese, zinc and copper. If we don't want them to
show and they're too lumpy to hide neatly with mulch, we cover them
first with a single
sheet of newspaper.
Covering the peelings with mulch. We replace the leaf
mulch that was there to begin with and augment it with some
composted woody fines mulch.
Peelings hidden, spot in garden returned to normal.
Now, who can tell what's going on at the feet of this bee balm? No
one will know except the worms and the soil animals that will
digest the parings and release their nutrients to the plants'
to garden center managers and employees who are confident enough
of their own value and our loyalty to say things like this
(overheard as Scott
Bates at Grass Roots Nursery in New Boston helped a customer),
"No, you don't need to buy a new filter. No sense spending your
money on that. I think you can just adjust your pond's pH to clear
Green thumbs down
to butterfly houses as commercial attractions. Certainly it's
good to teach children about the metamorphosis of caterpillar to
butterfly but how many of those children will never be shown the
real thing in gardens, fields or nature centers? What a sad thing
it will be to hear the next generation of adults say, "I'd like to
see some butterflies. Let's go to the mall."
Originally published 6/18/05