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Tips for the Compleat Gardener: Summer dances in


We have arrived at the celebration of the longest day, hemerocallis are blooming along the roadside each orange blossom open for only one day, the penstemon [pen-STEE-mon] also known as beard tongue is standing tall in fields, and the ox-eye daisy (pictured) one tends to associate with June weddings, is in bloom. I carried some.

This Chrysanthemum leucanthemum, though known to feed several moths and flying things, is considered an invasive member of the aster family; it seeds with vigor with one healthy plant able to toss up to 26,000 seeds in the air according to John Eastman the “Book of Field and Roadside.”

The ox-eye daisy isn’t considered a major food source for wildlife though all but cattle will eat without complaint. Apparently washing one’s face in a daisy rinse leaves the skin smooth and rubbing the flowers into your clothes provides a repellent for nasty biting insects. Farmers used dried daisy flowers in the bedding for farm animals to repel fleas and other insects.

Eastman traces the origin of ox-eyes to Europe and Asia. It possibly arrived in fodder for horses of invading troops and its botanical name means golden white flower. He said it is one of the invaders that are receding in invasiveness.

The Brooklyn Botanical Garden recommends for gardens Pycnanthemum virginianum [pik-NAN-the-mum ver-jin-i-AY-num], which is mountain mint, a richly scented native much loved by bees and its siblings as well as wild quinine, which has long lasting white flowers on stiff stems with large leaves at the bottom. This last choice is more drought-resistant and a nice garden addition.

I have been noticing a lot of elderberry along the roadsides, sambucus Canadensis which is native to much of North America. The flowers and fruit are edible and you may have heard of elderberry wine but the stems, leaves and unripe fruit are toxic.

Speaking of fruit soon the delicious berries of another rampant invader, the wineberry, will be ripe. It makes beautiful jelly if one has the discipline to strain out the seeds. I remember the huge bag of cheesecloth hanging over a large bowl on my grandfather’s counter with the juice of berries that had been simmered driping slowly down while jelly jars were boiled in anticipation.

The gardener needs the discipline to pull out these rapidly spreading thorny shrubs before they take over, I know this first hand. Before the wineberries are ripe the Rubus occidentalis (wild black raspberries aka black caps) with their white, thorny stems will ripen. These are my favorite tasting native wild berry and harvesting them is a competition with other wildlife. Nature continuously offers us good things to eat especially when we choose not to use poisons.

I have noticed many lawns filled with white clover this year, a short-lived perennial ground cover nutritious for livestock, a great living mulch for veggie gardens it is known for fixing nitrogen in the soil for use by plants and it smells good.

Enjoy the movement into summer and try to forget days are getting shorter while you pose a dilemma to the daisy: He loves me; he loves me not.

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