As my garden has gotten bigger I have developed the habit of leaving some of the weeds to see what they actually are. Through the years I have been rewarded with lots of fabulous free flowers: violas, columbine, catchfly, hoary vervain, poppies, sunflowers, dame's rocket, lilies, goldenrod, milkweed, asters, veronica, rudbeckia hirta, pennycress, Virginia waterleaf, downy yellow violet, Solomon's seal, buttercups, winter cress, tansy, evening primrose, rose twisted-stalk, ground cherry, geranium, wild strawberry, white campion, and lots & lots of oxeye daisies - the current backbone of my garden!
But the one that I get the most people asking me about is my mullein. It is a biennial that looks like a velvet loose-leaf cabbage in its first year - very nice for the front of the border. In the second year, the plant elongates to 6 feet tall at times! Time for the back of the border at that height; and even if you move it in that second year, it blooms just fine.
It's a member of the snapdragon family that looks more closely related to lamb's ear or cacti. In fact, part of the reason that I personally love this plant is that, as it "ripens" after flowering, it reminds me of a saguaro cactus - well a soft, fuzzy version anyway.
They dependably start up around the garden every year and are fairly easy to move. I loved the way that these were bunching here in my prairie garden, so I moved a few more here.
Just when I thought they were looking fabulous themselves, the peony bloomed. I love the white pompons behind the silvery, fuzzy foliage of the mullein. What a happy accident!
Mullein are EASY to take care of. After you get them re-established after transplant they should NEVER need anymore care - no water, no food, no fuss. Nice.
Some of these mullein are already three feet high, but don't worry - behind them is Queen-of-the-Prairie which also gets up to 6' tall. And behind that are my compass plants which can get 7' tall!!
I will be planting winter cress among the mullein this year as I find them in my veggie beds. They have beautifully full tufts of yellow in mid-spring.
In front of them I have seeded pennycress that I collected from the patch that started itself there the last three years. This is a great little annual from start to finish. Nice form, pretty flower, interesting seed pods, and great ripening color. It also blooms right before the winter cress, so there should be continual color in this bed.
Don't have a prairie garden? Don't worry, I think they work well in the average, well kempt garden too!
The mullein are impressive at all stages, even in death. They create stately bird feeders throughout the fall and winter months- goldfinches and woodpeckers especially love the seed.
Mulleins have encouraged me to continue to let the weeds grow. Who knows what gem I will find next!