Monday, June 11, 2007

Wonderful Wildflowers

When I garden, I don't so much "plan" as "go with the flow". Often the most wonderful things happen when I just let things happen.

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!


kris said...

My neighbor has this plant growing along our shared fence - a volunteer - but we never knew what it was. Thanks for identifying it! Great post - I agree, the mullein are totally cool. You've had a lot of interesting volunteers. I like to let "weeds" grow too. I don't yank them unless they try to stage a takeover.

OldRoses said...

You're brave! I let one of these mullein mature in my garden years ago and regretted it ever since. They reseed like crazy here in NJ and can easily take over a yard. I yank them out as soon as I spot them every spring.

Sylvana said...

Kris, I figure that if they aren't overly aggressive, why not try them out.

OldRoses, interesting. I have never had them come up in the yard, just my garden. And they have always been easy to get rid of if I didn't need them - just pull or rip off the top. Maybe mine just respect my authority ;)

Iowa Gardening Woman said...

I have let mullein grow and mature in my yard as well and like in your garden they would get noticed.

Diana LaMarre said...

Interesting post, Sylvana.
I was just out admiring two large mullein that self sowed near my rock wall. I am planning to move them this weekend. I have one or two pop up every year, but I have never had a problem with them taking over---at least not yet!

Lynn said...

Here in Pennsylvania, Mullein will become pesky lie oldroses in N.J. has said. I love the way they look, but I dare not put one in the garden!!!

Nice post.

Lynn said...

the "k" on my keyboard only works if I pound it....everywhere I'm posting I see is missing ....sorry!

Sylvana said...

Iowa Gardening Woman, welcome to my blog! It really is hard not to notice them at an average height of 6'! And the beautifully ethereal silvery fuzziness of them begs to be hugged :)

Zoey, I definitely recommend giving them a try. Although very easy to grow, they are also easy to kill if you find too many growing - so I don't really consider them invasive.

Primrozie, interesting. They do grow everywhere here and do self-sow well (even if it always seems to be in every place but where I had originally based them!) - but they are very easy to control here if there are more than you need/want. After reading OldRoses comment I took a look in my grass and although I really did find a few growing there - they were so unnoticeable that it really isn't a problem for me. Much nicer to step on than crab grass, that's for sure! Your comment has emphasized for me how a species, under the right conditions can go from a well-behaved angel of a plant to an aggressive, garden-eating monster; like spider wort is for me!