July 12, 2010

Three Wonderful "Weeds"

Just mention "weed" to a gardener, and you're likely to hear moaning and groaning. It's too bad that a few good perennials have a common name that includes that infamous word.  I've created a garden section dedicated to three good weeds—Joe Pye Weed 'Little Joe', Swamp Milkweed 'Cinderella' and Ironweed.

Although the top sections of my deer resistant garden are for drought-tolerant plants and lean soil, the bottom section is moist when it rains. Plants for the lower section are suited to rich soil and wet winters, but can survive drought with drip irrigation.

This color-coordinated combination works well with blooms from pink to purple. All three grow to a similar size and bloom times overlap, from middle to late summer. But, I didn't plant these just for a good design. These perennials are bee and butterfly magnets!

A new addition to my garden this year, Joe Pye Weed (eupatorium dubium) 'Little Joe' is standing trial in the deer resistant garden. Although this plant appears on many deer resistant lists, I purchased only one to try. If the deer leave it alone, I'll definitely add more. It is rabbit resistant. I run the bunnies out of the garden several times a day. The foliage is lovely and the blooms, just now forming, are stunning!

Unlike the tall, native Joe Pye Weed, the cultivar 'Little Joe' should reach only 3-4 feet in height. Rated for zones 3-8, it can be grown from seeds or divided in spring.

Another newcomer that is also on trial in the deer resistant garden is Ironweed (Vernonia fasciculata). This is another rabbit resistant plant. Rated for zones 4-8, and growing 3-4 feet tall, ironweed looks great beside 'Little Joe' and the swamp milkweed 'Cinderella'. This native plant can also be grown from seed. It has been blooming on several stems. I decided to  deadhead a few fading blooms to test it for repeat blooms.

Swamp milkweed (asclepias incarnata) 'Cinderella' is such a lovely pink. The original three milkweeds were added a few years ago and I've been increasing the numbers by growing the plants from seeds. I have five new plants this year from the seeds directly sown last fall, so there is now a big mass of at least twelve plants. A host for Monarch butterflies, I'll never be without this wonderful plant.

The deer and rabbits never touch the milkweed, but watch out for aphids. For growing zones 3-8, don't give up on this plant while waiting for it to emerge in spring. Even in my zone 7b, it will wait as late as May to make an appearance, and then quickly grows to four feet in height. Since the Monarch caterpillars eat the foliage, I have this planted behind the foliage of Japanese irises that bloomed in spring, purple coneflowers, bee balm, ageratum and shasta daisies.

To break away from an all-pink theme, these plants are backed by blue Russian Sage, purple fountain grass, and coneflowers that are growing up the slope. Agastache, blazing star (liatris ligustylis) and salvias are also grown in the drier soil. This entire section of garden was completely dug out and replanted in fall 2009. It will take another year or two for all the plants to mature, increase in number and fill in the gaps.

There are two more areas that I want to use for this same grouping. If the eupatorium and vernonia pass the deer trials, I'll expand the other lower sections of the garden to make room for more "weeds."

Words and photos by Freda Cameron, Defining Your Home, Garden and Travel. Deer and rabbit resistance varies based upon the animal population and availability of food. All company or product or patented names mentioned are registered trademarks, copyrights, or patents owned by those respective companies or persons.
Freelance travel writer. My current fiction writing projects include a completed manuscript and several works in progress.

By the way, my name is pronounced fred-ah, not freed-ah. Thank you.

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