NATURE’S TURN: Hot weather garden, sky-high flowers, succulent food

I recommend the marsh mallow, Althaea officinalis, as a trouble free perennial that has been cultivated since ancient times as a culinary and medicinal herb.

August 3 – 16, 2015

Mt. Washington — The first plants to capture our gaze and imagination in the early August eco-edible garden are flowering perennials that are taller than most humans. Swaying purple flower spikes atop vervain, Verbena hastata, and feathery white candelabras of Culver’s root, Veronicastrum virginicum, were planted long after they attracted me while walking in wild meadows before I was a gardener. When introducing native plants to my garden I purchase nursery-grown stock from a native plant specialist. These provide food for hummingbirds and a diversity of butterflies, bees and other flying pollinators. This endeavor is the eco part of my kitchen garden. Enter the yellow umbels of dill plants – left to flower and seed for use in pickles – that reach to eye level swaying with the natives.

Indian Cup with the author on July 25, 2015. This species recently withdrawn from native plant nurseries; has exhibited invasive tendencies in New England.  Photo courtesy of Peter A. Blacksberg
Indian Cup with the author on July 25, 2015. This species recently withdrawn from native plant nurseries; has exhibited invasive tendencies in New England. Photo courtesy of Peter A. Blacksberg

The high summer sun has also drawn out a profusion of glowing yellow ray flowers on nearly 9 feet high stems of Indian cup, Silphium perfoliatum. This plant, native to the southeastern and mid-western United States, was introduced to New England. It is a Shaker medicinal herb and has been a centerpiece of my garden. The cup plant fit into my profile for an ecological garden, a landscape that supports the indigenous community. Sadly, in researching this article, I learned that although Indian cup is not widely known in our immediate area it is listed as a noxious weed in 46 states and is banned in Connecticut. Native plant nurseries that once promoted it have discontinued its sale. Now we are all charged with helping to limit its spread. Silphium perfoliatum can take over the habitat of flora native to New England, creating monocultures and thus limiting biodiversity.

Black forest kabocha, butternut and Native American Hidatsa winter squash, sprawl on the ground adjacent to the Indian Cup. According to Massachusetts Cooperative Extension, growers should be alert for a return of the squash vine borer. Gardeners do well to routinely check the main stem of all Cucurbits: summer and winter squashes, pumpkins, melons and cucumbers. One way to discourage the borer is to completely bury the stem in soil that is topped with a dusting of wood ashes and rock phosphate. If leaves of these plants are found wilting, the borer could be at work. For more information, go to https://ag.umass.edu/vegetable/vegetable-notes/subscribe

Added to our troubles you may find potato leaves that become purple at the tips before the whole plant turns yellow, shrivels and rather quickly is brown and lifeless. The plants may be suffering from many ailments, one of which is the potato leafhopper. Look at the underside of leaves to find leafhopper nymphs. As described by Katie Campbell-Nelson, Extension Vegetable Specialist, University of Massachusetts, “Notice the crazy way they behave, running sideways!” The leafhoppers have migrated north from New Orleans with the rainstorms that are coming from the south and west.

Vervain
Vervain. August 2, 2015 Photo by Judy Isacoff

Returning to more idyllic topics, gain new height in the vegetable garden by training curcubits on trellises or circling them with spare tomato cages. I started pole beans, morning glories and cucumbers at the base of pea plants that only recently slowed down and were pulled out. The starts are now getting all the light and climbing area they need to mature.

In closing, I recommend the marsh mallow, Althaea officinalis, as a trouble free perennial that has been cultivated since ancient times as a culinary and medicinal herb. It is flowering now, one of the nearly 6 feet tall beauties in my garden. Go for a sightseeing tour of plants: find marsh mallow and Indian cup at Hancock Shaker Village (check for current status), vervain and Culver’s root at Project Native. Hancock Shaker Village, Pittsfield, is 15 miles north of Project Native, Housatonic, on Route 41.

Resources:
A gardener's plate, the reward for caring for the garden.
A gardener’s plate, the reward for caring for the garden.

Native plant nursery, sales, education   https://www.projectnative.org/Project_Native_Home.php

Shaker herb garden  https://hancockshakervillage.org/

Crop conditions updates    https://ag.umass.edu/vegetable/vegetable-notes/subscribe

Home Lawn and Garden information https://ag.umass.edu/interest-areas/home-lawn-garden

Indian Cup https://plants.usda.gov/core/profile?symbol=SIPE2

Indian Cup https://www.eddmaps.org/ipane/ipanespecies/herbs/Silphium_perfoliatum.htm

Reminder:  August 14 – 16   https://www.nofasummerconference.org/