From Scratch: Incorporating Wild Plants into the Garden

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I have agreed to give a talk at the Maine Botanical Garden in Boothbay Harbor next October. The subject is “Incorporating wild plants into the gardening program”. This topic has legs, I think, as more and more people are interested in the uses and benefits of our wild plants.

There was a time when most writers didn’t honor the idea of ​​having wild plants in the garden by even discussing them. But times have changed as we become more mindful and concerned about wild plants. For me, it’s a no-brainer, because it’s something I’ve always done. As a lifelong gardener, it seems only natural to plant a wild plant next to a cultivated favorite. Just another day in the garden.

Consider this: all plants were wild at some point in their past. We have cultured many species and hybridized several. But nothing can change the fact that our modern plants have wild ancestors.

Add to that the many uses of wild plants beyond their physical appearances. These range from medical to culinary. So today’s complete gardener is looking to add something special to the established garden. There’s a wild plant for that.

Here are some wild plants that can fill niches in modern gardens.

Bonesset

Do you have a damp or even wet area that could benefit from a strikingly beautiful wild plant? Look no further than boneset – Eupatorium perfoliatum. Boneset grows to 2 ½ feet tall and has a unique appearance as the stem appears to grow through the symmetrically opposing leaves. In fact, they are paired leaves, the base of which abuts and merges around the stem.

Bonet. Photo by Tom Seymour.

The white flowers of boneset occur in flat, sometimes rounded clusters in late summer and early fall. To grow bones, collect a cluster of flowers, separate it and dry it. You can either plant the individual seeds, which are attached to the flower, or broadcast them, much like a child waving a mature dandelion head. I prefer the latter.

I have located bones growing along rivers and streams, at the edges of lakes, and in wet, marshy ground. Boneset enjoys full sun but can still thrive in partially sunny locations.

As a medicinal plant, the bone is used to treat many ailments, but is particularly useful as a fever suppressant. A strong boneset tea causes sweating and a stronger dose has laxative qualities.

Daisy

Sure, you can buy cultivated varieties, but do you mind when you have the wild daisy on hand? The ubiquitous daisy – Chrysanthemum leucanthemum – can be found virtually anywhere, so finding some to transplant (with the landowner’s permission, of course) shouldn’t be a problem.

Also remember that even wild plants can benefit from being planted in rich, crumbly soil and fed with compost or chemical fertilizer. You might even be able to coax the daisies to grow so large that no one would think they were wild.

In addition to their simple, friendly appearance, daisies have culinary value. The unopened buds can be eaten raw and have a remarkable carrot flavor. I like to nibble on them while walking outside. The foliage, when chopped, also packs a carrot flavor and does a lot to enhance a simple salad.

common milkweed

Common milkweed – Asclepias syriaca – has never been popular with gardeners. And yet, more and more people are growing milkweed in “butterfly gardens,” gardens whose plants attract monarchs and other butterflies.

Young shoots, as well as immature pods, are edible when boiled, but it is the monarch butterfly-attracting properties that make common milkweed so popular with most people. Start your own butterfly garden by transplanting young milkweed shoots or, more difficult, by collecting seeds in the fall.

So whatever your garden situation, I’m sure there is room for one or more species of wild plants. Try them.

Tom Seymour of Frankfort is a landowner, gardener, forager, naturalist, registered Maine guide, amateur astronomer, magazine and newspaper columnist, and book author.

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