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Gold in the Garden
Gold in the Garden
Published by Porterbrook
Default Gold in the Garden

Frank W. Porter
Porterbrook Native Plants

Now is the time to be thinking about your fall garden. The abundant rain recently has brought forth a rainbow of colors in our native plant gardens, especially for those who prepared and planted their beds last year. Prairie and meadow flowers are in bud and will begin blooming by early July. But what can we do to highlight the fall garden? The answer is to plant a few species of Solidago (Goldenrods).

Goldenrods (Solidago species) are, without a doubt, gold in the garden. Unfortunately, Goldenrods have been given a bad reputation by nurseries and gardeners. Because Goldenrods begin blooming in late summer, they often signal the beginning of hay fever season. Goldenrods do not cause hay fever. Their pollen is too heavy to become airborne. Another problem frequently associated with Goldenrods is that they are aggressive spreaders and have no place in the garden. This description is only partly correct. Some species of Goldenrod are stoloniferous, having horizontal runners that root at each node. These species are best used to naturalize an area of your landscape. Other species, however, are not quite so aggressive and add a special beauty and architecture to the garden.

All Goldenrods are showy perennials with many small flower heads borne in clusters. With only one exception, the ray and disk flowers are yellow. Individual species of Goldenrods can be distinguished by the types of their inflorescence. One group has their flower heads located in small, short-stalked clusters in the axils of the upper leaves. Another group possesses heads that are crowded closely together to form a narrow wand-like terminal inflorescence. The next group offers long panicles that are somewhat recurved and appear as if the flower heads are only on the upper side. And the final group has flat-topped inflorescences.

The following species can be used effectively in your native plant garden.
Solidago caesia (Blue-stemmed or Wreath Goldenrod) can be found arching out from a wooded bank with its bluish stems and yellow flowers growing in the leaf axils. Solidago flexicaulis (Zig-zag Goldenrod) possesses a zigzagging stem and broad oval-toothed leaves. Its flowers are on short stems extending from the leaf axils.

Solidago odora (Sweet Goldenrod) is a fragrant species whose leaves smell of anise when crushed. Blue Mountain Tea is made from the leaves. The arching branches of its panicles are densely flowered. It prefers dry, sandy soil in full sun to partial shade. Solidago ulmifolia (Elm-leaf Goldenrod) is similar, but the inflorescence has long spreading branches.

Solidago rigida (Stiff Goldenrod) has unusually large flower heads and a stout stem covered with fine hairs. It prefers full sun and is often found on prairies or openings in wooded areas.

Solidago rugosa ‘Fireworks’ is a compact and clump forming plant with radiating inflorescence that truly resembles fireworks. I have used it effectively either to create a small border or as an accent plant.

Other species of Goldenrods can overwhelm a garden. They are better suited to naturalize an area of your landscape or to help remedy a problem spot.

Solidago speciosa (Showy Goldenrod) lives up to its name. Large pyramidal clusters of yellow flowers sit atop reddish stems with smooth leaves. Wet areas are always difficult to establish plants. Solidago patula (Rough-leaved Goldenrod), Solidago uliginosa (Swamp Goldenrod), and Solidago ohioensis (Ohio Goldenrod) thrive in swamps and bogs. They quickly spread to help control runoff water and prevent erosion, while offering beautiful yellow flowers.

For those of you with dry banks or barren spots in full sun, Solidago bicolor (Silver-rod) and Euthamia gramnifolia (Grass-leaved Goldenrod) will help to colonize the area and present striking and unusual flowers. Silver-rod is the only species of Solidago with cream colored florets. Grass-leaved Goldenrod lives up to its name, possessing narrow, lance-shaped leaves and topped with flat clusters of flowers.

The last species to be discussed grows just beyond our area and is an excellent candidate for a rock garden or stone terrace. Solidago drummondii (Cliff Goldenrod) grows on the face of cliffs or rock outcrops and has arching stems with yellow flowers. In the garden it resembles a dwarf Forsythia.

The fall season does not have to be limited to the changing colors of the trees. By combining species of Solidago with Asters, you can have a wide range of colors in bloom in the fall.

First published by the Marietta Register, Marietta, Ohio
By biigblueyes on 06-11-2009, 11:28 AM

Good information! Yellow is a nice color to have a lot of. Thanks.
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By Porterbrook on 06-11-2009, 11:46 AM

Nice to hear from you. Goldenrods absolutely make a fall garden sparkle. And I am especially fond of Solidago odora. One of the sites where I have collected seeds is now gone. It fell victim to land development. And it was directly adjacent to a shale barren. Very frustrating! But at least there is a seed bank from that lost site.

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By biigblueyes on 09-29-2009, 12:24 PM

Odora would mean it's fragrant? What makes it a favorite of yours?
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By Porterbrook on 09-29-2009, 12:50 PM

Solidago species, like so many native plant species, have been given a bad reputation. Some species are aggressive naturally. Others have become aggressive because of changes in their natural habitat. Solidago odora is one of my favorites because it does have the fragrance of anise when the leaves are brushed and because it has a very pleasing growth habit. I try to plant it where visitors accidentally brush it as they are walking through the display gardens. Inevitably, they will stop and ask where the fragrance is coming from. Imagine their surprise when I tell them it is "one of those Goldenrods!"
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By Stoloniferous on 09-29-2009, 12:57 PM

"Some species of Goldenrod are stoloniferous. . ."

Thanks for the great article!
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By biigblueyes on 09-29-2009, 01:06 PM

I looooove fragrant plants. I avoid watering when possible, but it's a treat to get a nice whiff when I do have to water.
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By Porterbrook on 09-29-2009, 01:57 PM

Have you ever grown Cunila oreganoides? It tastes and smells just like oregano. I use it for cooking. It is also a wonderful plant for a rock garden or an area that is in full sun and dry. Its purple flowers look like a small cloud above the foliage. Another plant with a lovely fragrance is Collinsonia canadensis. The pastel yellow flowers and leaves have a nice citrus (lemony) fragrance.
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By Hedgerowe on 09-29-2009, 07:37 PM

When will you be publishing your article on women botanists in history?
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By biigblueyes on 09-29-2009, 08:08 PM

Cunila oreganoides looks very familiar to me. Collinsonia canadensis does not look familiar. They're both interesting, and tempting. Thanks for the recommendations.
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garden, gold

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