Gardening


In June I shared a visit to the Harriet Beecher Stowe Center in Hartford, CT with you. Last week an outing took me to another beautiful garden site, Elizabeth Park, with three generations of ladies that included a dear friend, her mother, and my future daughter-in-law, Jamie. This was Jamie’s first encounter with Elizabeth Park as she is a recent transplant to the area from Long Island. It couldn’t have been a nicer day as the weather was warm but not hot with just enough cloud cover to allow us to walk about quite comfortably.

Elizabeth Park is of seven major parks that ring the city limits of Hartford, Connecticut and were created to benefit all of the citizens. Bushnell Park led the way in 1854 followed by Colt Park, Goodwin Park, Keeney Park, Pope Park, Riverside Park, and of course, Elizabeth Park by 1895. The lands for these parks were attained through purchase or bequest. Such is the case for Elizabeth Park which was bequeathed to the City of Hartford upon the death of Charles M. Pond in 1894. During his life, Charles Pond had acquired 90 acres that were bordered by Prospect Avenue on the east and Asylum Avenue on the north. His only request was that the park be named for his deceased wife Elizabeth who loved the flowers and many gardens around their vast estate. The site of the current rose garden was their nursery. Charles also left a very generous $100,000 fund for the ongoing care of the grounds, an amount roughly equal to $2.8 million today.

 

The original landscaping for Elizabeth Park was done by the sons of Frederick Law Olmsted as he had retired in 1895. Frederick Law Olmsted, Jr., and John Charles Olmsted followed in their famous and prolific father’s design footprints. The park now encompasses 101.45 acres and includes 12 different gardens, 4 greenhouses, 2 gazebos, 2 bridges, and a pond among various other outbuildings, sports fields, tracks, and playgrounds.

Annual bed 2

The day of our visit we saw people strolling the grounds, bikers and runners on the paths and roads, and dog-walkers that included 2 Portuguese water dogs that were enjoying a cool swim in the pond! Our daughter attended one of the many weddings that take place in the Rose Garden each year and we have been to one of the fun outdoor concerts that are held during the summer.

full garden

But the big draw always remains the flowers. The Rose Garden was the first municipal rose garden in the United States and is the third largest with well over 15,000 roses in 475 beds. If you think that it’s difficult to take care of your flower beds then just imagine the number of hours that it takes to care for 2½ acres of roses! The day of our visit the gardeners were trimming the arbors that line the 8 paths to the main gazebo, known as the Rustic Summer House, as those roses bloom mid-June to late July. They actually remove the clips that hold the trailing vines on the arbors, unwind them, trim them, and reattach each one. It seems quite a laborious process but the gardeners just worked steadily and systematically.

It was impossible to take in all of the roses that were still in bloom, many of which will continue to bloom into the fall. Each new variety was as beautiful as the next as these images show.

But the roses aren’t the only beautiful blooms at Elizabeth Park. The Annual Garden is planted in early June as the 10,000 tulips that were planted in the fall die back. Those bulbs are pulled out as they don’t always re-bloom but in their place is a circular annual garden with crescent-shaped beds of plants that were started from seed in the greenhouses. Some of our favorites included the sunflowers, Helianthus annuus, cleome, Cleome, and heliotrope, Heliotropium.

And Zinnias! Lots and lots of zinnias!

Walking from the greenhouses past the Annual Garden you come to the Perennial Garden. In existence since 1914, the Perennial Garden is an herbaceous delight of 8 large beds bordered by Japanese yew. The Japanese anemones, Anemone hupehensis var. japonica, also known as thimbleweed, were standouts with their delicate pink blooms above the purple stems.

A summersweet bush, Clethra alnifolia, with its upright panicles of white and pink were very attractive to the dozens of pollinators that seemed to be everywhere, including on the hydrangea, Hydrangea paniculata, the coneflowers, Echinacea, and the blue shrimp plant, Cerinthe major.

Other beautiful areas include the Horticultural gardens where herb beds, oleander (Nerium oleander), and giant castor bean (Ricinus communis) plants grow side-by-side.

The Julian and Edith Eddy Rock Garden is a shady and peacefully contemplative area with the spicy anise aroma of agastache (Agastache foeniculum).

Closer to the pond are the Charlie Ortiz Hosta Garden and of course, the renowned Pond House. I always thought that it was thus named due to its proximity to the Laurel Pond, but no, it is named for the Ponds.

The area surrounding the Pond House is worth a visit in and of itself just to encounter the quirky surprises that are around each corner, such as the stone face planter that peeks out of a slightly ajar door and the gravity-defying terra-cotta planters. The Pond House has a working kitchen garden that is full of herbs and vegetables that are used by the café where we enjoyed a delicious and relaxed lunch that gave us the break that we needed to head out to the gardens once again.

As you can imagine, it takes a lot of work and money to sustain something as large as Elizabeth Park. In fact, in the 1970s, the City of Hartford had decided to plow the park under due to the expense of keeping it up. Fortunately, a group of volunteers formed the Friends of Elizabeth Park in 1977 and the Elizabeth Park Conservancy is still very instrumental in working with the City of Hartford to keep the park free and open to the public. If you are 18 years of age or older then you can volunteer to help in the maintenance of the park, just check out this link, Volunteer. Should you want to learn more about the history of Elizabeth Park there will be a free tour on Saturday, September 14th, 2019 at 10:00 a.m. starting at the flagpole outside of the green Cottage.

Susan Pelton

All images by S. Pelton, UConn, 2019

It’s that time of year again when all of the Monarch caterpillars and butterflies start to invade the UConn Soil Lab’s garden. For those of you who remember, the Soil Lab is a Monarch Waystation, a registered space that provides resources necessary for monarch butterflies to produce successive generations and sustain their migration. We have common milkweed planted in-front of the lab for the Monarch’s to chow down on. The nectar provided by milkweed is essential for the Monarch’s to produce successive generations and make their trek from Canada and the United States to Mexico. They migrate to Mexico in order to stay warm during the winter months, and return in the spring when the weather is more favorable. Monarch Waystations and crucial in their journey, the Monarch Butterfly’s natural habitat is decreasing daily by 6,000 acres in the United States due to over development. Topped with increased use of pesticides, herbicides, and other harmful chemicals that kill milkweed, waystations provide a safe space for the Monarchs to eat and breed.

I took these pictures towards the end of July, these where the first Monarch caterpillars I spotted. These guys, along with the countless aphids, were chowing down on some of the milkweed in front of the lab.

They grow up so fast! It’s remarkable how quickly they can eat milkweed. The last couple weeks I counted over 10 Monarch caterpillars in our waystation, a refreshing sight considering we didn’t really have any last year. It’s nice to see that the waystation is actually providing a stable area for the Monarchs to live and breed.

Once they got their fill of our milkweed, the Monarchs find a nice spot to pupate. They form their chrysalis and hang out for about 10 days while undergoing metamorphosis.

Dawn was able to snap a picture of a Monarch just emerging from its chrysalis. You can tell they are getting ready to spread their wings when the chrysalis looses that green sheen it has and turns black.

MB

Monarch @joecroze

There it is, the final product. The Monarch has 4 stages that make up their life cycle, and can produce 4 generations in 1 year. The Monarchs born in August will live around 2-6 weeks, eating milkweed and laying eggs. If they eggs they lay have the chance to complete their life cycle and metamorphose into a Monarch butterfly, it will head south, chasing the warmer weather.

Enjoy the weekend!

-J.Croze

A well-designed garden is more than a collection of beautiful plants. There is a purpose to its layout and an overall theme. Hardscape elements like pathways, walls, patios give the garden its structure. Lawns can be used to enhance gardens or gardens planted to break up large expanses and create vistas.

NS Hs back garden

Gardens edge lawn areas at Nickel-Sortwell House in Wiscasset, ME.

Garden ornaments and furniture add that finishing touch to many gardens and landscapes setting the style, period and formality of the space. On a recent visit to Maine, I was delighted to find a great many exciting garden features, both in planned landscapes and in more casual ones.

Across from the Nickels-Sortwell House in Wiscasset is a lovely sunken garden. It was designed by Rose Ishbel using the foundation of the Hilton House, which burnt to the ground in 1903. Alvin and Gertrude Sortwell had purchased the burnt out lot and used the garden for private reflection as well as for entertaining for a number of years. The garden was eventually donated to the town.

Among the features of the sunken garden is a lovely stone birdbath. Garden ornaments can be useful as well as aesthetically pleasing. Birdbaths are available in many different styles. Not only can they serve as a focal point but the birds appreciate them as well.

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Sunken garden across from Nickel-Sortwell House, Wiscasset, ME

The sunken garden also had this Victorian style cast iron bench. Set against the old foundation, it was sited to give one a close up view of some lovely blossoms but also a bit of privacy. There are probably even more types of seating than birdbaths. Whether you choose more formal designs in wood or metal, a laidback Adirondack chair, rustic twig furniture, cement benches or a swing, put your seating where you can enjoy the view. A favorite spot in my yard is a 6-foot swing we put up in the shade between two trees. The gentle swinging lulls one into a sleepy stupor these hot days but then thoughts of weeds taking over the garden manage to get me moving again.

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Garden bench in sunken garden across from Nickel-Sortwell House, Wiscasset, ME

Walking through Wiscasset and other nearby towns was a delight due to the colorful blossoms and well-tended gardens along the town’s main roads. Containers were popping up everywhere from overstuffed window boxes to urns flanking the front door to vivid arrangements of all sorts.

Planter box 1

Cradle filled with red geraniums, Wiscasset, ME

Both main and side streets shared details of their owners’ individuality and taste. Attractive gates beckon one to enter another space. Annual plantings abounded but also some more subtle perennial plantings like this Mary garden echoing the blues from the house.

Moon gate 1

A gate beckons to places beyond. Wiscassett, ME

mary garden wiscasset 1

Blue hydrangeas pair well with the blue trellis and house colors.

One day we visited the Coastal Maine Botanic Garden in Booth Bay. If you ever get the chance to go, by all means do. What an incredible place! The design of the garden is so well integrated into the landscape that it looks like it was implemented years ago although it was the brainchild of a small group of dedicated gardeners who felt that Maine needed a Botanical Garden in 1991 and it was first opened in 2007.

Fast forward to 2019. New gardens are still being developed and planted but there are almost 300 acres to explore. The first thing that struck me while strolling through their lovely beds was the size of their plants. Many of their plants that I also grow in my gardens were two to three times as big as they are in my yard. Their Asclepius incarnata, for example, was nearly six feet tall. Mine have never topped three feet. The flowers on their sweet shrub (Calycanthus floridus) were so huge I had to look at the sign to make sure I wasn’t misidentifying the plant.

Sweet shrub 1

Sweet shrub with the largest flowers I’ve ever seen! they were about 3 inches across.

Many paths lead through the woodlands paralleling the Black River. Plentiful seats from natural rocks to logs to manmade items line the trails. Sit and bathe in the forest, admire the vista or just catch your breathe. Along the woodland trails, water features and curious but most befitting garden ornaments prevailed.

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Simple but elegant & perfect in this woodland setting at the Coastal Maine Botanic Garden.

Most inventive was the children’s garden with its garden tool bridge, green roofed buildings and almost every vegetable imaginable. I’m sure it was entertaining to every child that entered but it also enthralled adults with the creative use of plants and their choice of garden ornaments like their garden tool arch, the entrance to the garden.

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Whimsical entrance to the Children’s Garden at the Coastal Maine Botanic Garden

There are so many items that can be used to dress up your gardens. Take a walk around, envision a focal point where you might want eyes to drift or just a relaxing venue for a seat or chairs and a table. The only limiting factor is your imagination.

Happy Gardening!

Dawn P.

8 fritillaries on milkweed

Some milkweeds are still blooming. Look for butterflies, like these great spangled fritillaries , on the flowers

Taking a walk around the yard, garden and woods, we are never at a loss of finding interesting, and sometimes annoying, plants and insects. Below are a few favorite and fun things that we found last week.

wineberry upclose

Wineberries, Rubus phoenicolasius, are non-native plants with edible fruit.

Wineberry is native to China and Japan and is a relative of raspberry and blackberry. It was originally brought to this country in 1890 as breeding stock. Today it is classified as invasive due to its aggressive tendencies. https://www.massaudubon.org/learn/nature-wildlife/invasive-plants/wineberry

Tobacco hornworms shown above are actively feeding on tomato plants. If you find a stem of your tomato plant with few or no leaves, scout for this caterpillar. Remove and dispose of as you see fit.

Hibiscus border

This hibiscus border is colorful in August

Many plants can make a suitable border, as seen above on this property featuring a hibiscus border. Perennial hibiscus Hibiscus moscheutos is easy to grow and gives a tropical, colorful look in the summer.

Check undersides of squash leaves for the egg rafts of the squash bugs. If, found, you can crush or use the sticky side of tape to remove them from the leaf. Dispose of tape in the garbage.

red spotted purple on clethra alnifolia

Clethra alnifolia and red spotted purple butterfly

 CLethra alnifoilia is a native shrub often found on edges of ponds, streams or in other places where soils are wet. Flowers are very fragrant and attract many pollinators and butterflies.

 

juvenile red- tailed hawk on rock wall late summer

Juvenile red-tailed hawk

This juvenile red-tailed hawk has found an ideal spot on top of a stone wall to wait for prey like chipmunks, voles and squirrels. Young red-tails have blue eyes.

grapevine beetle 2019 Pamm Cooper photo

Grapevine beetle resting on a grape leaf

The grapevine beetle, Pelidnota punctata, is often found on or near wild or cultivated grape. The beetle is attracted to lights and is frequently found in swimming pools where lights are on for part of the night. Although it feeds on grape leaves, it is not considered a pest. Larvae feed on organic matter.

 

In the spirit of ” gung ho” (Gung ho!, motto (interpreted as meaning “work together”)  Carol Quish and  Pamm Cooper did this blog together

This has been a banner year for the weeds in our yard as the excessive rain has not only nurtured their growth but also kept me out of the yard on too many days when I could have been staying on top of weeding. Some weeds submit easily to pulling while others will put up quite a fight. Bull thistle, Cirsium vulgare, has ridiculously sharp spinose teeth on its stems and leaves so that any attempt to grab its rosette of leaves and pull results in a bit of pain. Appropriately also known as spear thistle, bull thistle’s basal rosette can grow up to 3 feet in diameter with a fat taproot that further aids in the difficulty of hand-pulling it. It reproduces from seed so if you can manage to extract it before it sets seeds from its purplish, globe-shaped flower in its second year then you can break the cycle. It is supposedly not only edible but tasty once the spinose teeth are removed, a fact which must have been discovered by an extremely hungry person or else someone wearing chain mail gloves.

Bull thistle, Cirsium vulgare crop

Bittersweet nightshade, Solanum dulcamara, is easy enough to pull out when it’s young, before it becomes semi-woody. Its threat lies in the fact that it flowers from May to September, each star-shaped purple flower producing a bright red berry and each berry containing up to 30 seeds. As the berries are eaten by birds these seeds are dispersed far and wide. Once it starts to grow this perennial vine sends out suckering roots and prostrate stems that can climb to 30 feet. This is a plant that loves the deep shade of the understory, where it’s unusual arrow-shaped, 3-lobed leaves thrive.  A member of the Connecticut Invasive Plant list, bittersweet nightshade is prohibited from sale, movement, or distribution by state statute.

Common yellow woodsorrel, Oxalis stricta, and its cousin, creeping woodsorrel, Oxalis corniculata, appear everywhere in our yard: under trees, in the lawn, and in the flower and vegetable beds. With its trifoliate leaves it bears a resemblance to clover except that its blossoms are delicate 5-petaled yellow flowers. All parts of woodsorrel are edible and its high in vitamin C but eating large quantities can inhibit the body’s absorption of calcium. These creeping weeds pull out easily.

Common blue violet, Viola papilionacea, may be considered a weed or a wildflower, depending on where it is growing in your yard. I don’t mind that it runs rampant beneath several Norway spruce trees in our yard. The almost full shade area is a great habitat for this low-growing perennial which prefers a shady, moist area. These pervasive plants tend to grow in basal clumps of heart-shaped, toothed leaves that have violet flowers in May and June. Supposedly the common blue violet will adapt to being repeatedly mown in a lawn by growing smaller leaves on shorter stems. The clumps are easy enough to pull out by hand but you may not get the entire underground rhizome by which it easily spreads.

Another ‘weed’ that I don’t mind is Lady’s thumb, Persicaria masculosa. Although it is a member of the same family as knotweed, Polygonaceae, Lady’s thumb is a delicate summer annual. The tiniest pink flowers bloom on raceme-like spikes that may reach up to 2 feet high but are generally around 12 inches. Unfortunately, each of those tiny flowers becomes a seed that will germinate the following spring. I only recently found out why the common name for this plant is Lady’s thumb. A close-up look at the leaf will reveal a triangle-shaped smudge midway down the leaf which is the lady’s ‘thumbprint’.

But the weeds that I dislike the most are the seedlings of trees and shrubs. I find that they are the most pervasive and simply ridiculously difficult to eradicate. First is autumn olive, Elaeagnus umbellata, another card-carrying member of the Connecticut Invasive Plant Working Group. Unlike perennial weeds, the seedlings of woody plants are not so easily disturbed. Even cutting back autumn olive as soon as growth is seen, which I admit to having done, is a bad idea as this may just promote more growth. Late September and October is the best time to treat with an herbicide applied to freshly cut stems, not to the foliage as is commonly done.

 

Chinese wisteria, Wisteria sinensis, although not listed as an invasive species in Connecticut, can become an issue in a home landscape. I take full responsibility for this being in our yard though as I planted a wisteria many years ago, wanting those delicate drooping purple flowers to grace our deck, long before I knew about its potential. I never knew that you could purchase a ‘bad’ plant from a reputable nursery. The main plant sends out suckers from its base all season but I just break them off. It’s the seedlings that establish themselves in other areas before I notice that they are there that are an issue. Some control can be achieved but cutting the plant back over the entire season or even removing it entirely. However, small pieces of the roots left in the ground cam send up new growth. Foliar or cut stump applications of an herbicide in the spring or summer when the plant is actively growing is recommended.

And finally to my least favorite weed, the bane of our landscape. White mulberry, Morus alba. Also known as Russian mulberry (even though it is native to China) or silkworm mulberry, it was introduced to North America by the British who thought that they could use it to establish a silkworm industry. In fact, the Virginia assembly passed acts between 1656 and 1669 to penalize the non-planting of mulberry and offered bounties for its production and for silkworm cocoons. By the 1830s Connecticut was the epicenter of raw silk production in the United States with Mansfield producing raw silk with a value of $60,000 in 1834 and Windham County producing 5 tons of silk cocoons annually. It became a cottage industry where many families produced 5 to 50 pounds a year. The Cheney Silk Mills in Manchester also played a large part in this field. (Silkworm image, Cheney Brothers, circa 1900, Connecticut Historical Society)

Silkworms, Cheney Brothers, manchester, circa 1900, CT Historical Society

The rearing of silkworms was very labor-intensive, I won’t go into the process here but you should check it out at Connecticut’s Mulberry Craze. Why isn’t this still an important industry in Connecticut? As it so often is, the answer is money. Over-inflation by speculators devalued the market and then this was followed by a harsh winter which was the demise of many trees. The final blow was the development of man-made fabrics.  But enough white mulberry trees survived to become popular ornamental specimens that have naturalized into our urban landscapes. (Image by T. Davis Snydor, the Ohio State University, Bugwood.org)

T. Davis Sydnor, The Ohio State University, Bugwood.org

The deciduous leaves of white mulberry come in a variety of shapes and can be un-lobed or divided into 3 to 5 lobes, all on the same branch. It has edible purple drupes that can be messy and stain decks and pavement.

White mulberry can grow to 50 feet but because it is often cut down as a seedling it ends up looking more shrub-like. If I’m lucky I catch it shortly after it has come up in which case the roots will easily come up. I cut it down continually where it is unwanted and cut stumps can be painted with a non-selective herbicide. White mulberry will survive in any kind of soil and any kind of drainage and tolerates conditions from flooding to near-drought. It prefers full sun, in which case the leaves will be more pronouncedly lobed than those that grow in shade. I have to give it credit for its tenacity. But not in my backyard, please.

Susan Pelton

UConn Home & Garden Education Center

One of the most common plant-problems we see in the lab is interveinal chlorosis. This issue can affect house plants and garden vegetables, to landscape trees and shrubs. We often get inquires about the plant-tissue analysis we offer in the soil testing lab as a means to identify various problems. While this is an extremely useful tool for diagnosing nutrient deficiencies, when we see a plant showing interveinal chlorosis, we usually check the soil test results first.

What is interveinal chlorosis? A good place to start is defining what chlorophyll is. Greek for green leaf, chlorophyll is the pigment in plants that gives them their green color, and traps the light necessary for photosynthesis. Photosynthesis is the process in which plants produce sugar from light energy. The chlorophyll molecule is held together by a central Magnesium ion. Interveinal Chlorosis is a yellowing of the tissue between the veins of a leaf due to the decline of chlorophyll production and activity. A give-away tell of interveinal chlorosis is that the veins generally retain their green color, hence the name, inter-veinal. When a plant cannot produce chlorophyll it loses its green color and could face stunted growth, fail to produce fruit and flowers, and eventually die.

What causes interveinal chlorosis? The quick version is nutrient deficiency. We already know that Magnesium is a central part in chlorophyll, but there are other essential elements like Iron, Manganese, and Molybdenum that are necessary in many enzyme activities, and a deficiency in one of these nutrients can lead to interveinal chlorosis. In our lab we most commonly see interveinal chlorosis caused by a lack of Iron or Magnesium. When thinking about a nutrient deficiency, it’s important to remember that there are other factors to take into account than just whether the nutrient is present in your growing media. Interveinal Chlorosis brought on by a nutrient deficiency can be caused by a pH imbalance, injured roots or poor root growth, and excessive amounts of other available nutrients in your growing media.

How can you get rid of interveinal chlorosis? We are available in the lab, and in the Home & Garden education center to help you figure out what’s causing your interveinal chlorosis. Once you determine what the cause is, fixing the problem shouldn’t be too difficult. Most of the time it’s a pH issue. If your soil is too alkaline, generally having a pH value of over 6.7, iron becomes more insoluble and less available for absorption. Soil pH can be corrected using a few different approaches, the most common method for acidifying soil is adding Sulfur. Generally, 1 lb Sulfur/100 sqft will lower pH ~ 1 unit. Nutrient deficiencies can also be remedied using foliar and trunk applications, as well as soil treatments amendments.

More information on diagnosing and remedying interveinal chlorosis can be found through the UConn Home & Garden Education Center and the UConn Soil Nutrient Analysis Lab. Information on foliar fertilization can be found here: http://www.soiltest.uconn.edu/factsheets/FoliarFertilization.pdf. Happy Gardening!

 

-J.Croze

The 4th of July celebration and tea may not seem to have much in common until we remember how the Revolutionary War got started. ‘Taxation without representation’ was the cry of the early colonists upset first with the Stamp Act and then with the tariffs England levied up them for consumer goods, including their much beloved beverage, Chinese tea. On December 16, 1773, the famous Boston Tea Party took place and containers of imported tea were tossed into Boston Harbor in retaliation against England’s actions.

Destruction-of-tea-at-Boston-Harbor-lithograph-by-N_-Currier-circa-1846

Destruction of tea at Boston Harbor by N. Currier circa 1846 from https://historyofMassachusetts.org

Needless to say, this limited the supply of tea to the American colonists and they had to search for alternative ingredients to brew their own teas. This wasn’t too difficult as herbal teas had been used as beverages and for medicinal and other purposes for thousands of years. Early settlers to this country brought favorite herbs and seeds with them.

Being resourceful and with some guidance also from Native Americans, the colonists quickly found plants, both native and cultivated that could be used for flavorful drinks. These beverages were called ‘Liberty teas’, and many of the flavorful ingredients are still favorites today. You too can create your own Liberty tea garden whether as an interesting addition to the landscape or perhaps, as a way to teach your children about early American history.

Many plants used to make tea are growing in your backyard gardens and in the wild. Pick leaves of wild or cultivated strawberries to use in your tea. Leaves are thought to be most flavorful when the plants are in bloom. Blackberry and raspberry leaves are also excellent in teas. Often the colonists would add some lemon balm or other lemony flavored herbs for a tasty concoction.

Lemon Balm

Lemon balm by dmp, 2019

The herb garden was a source of many Liberty tea ingredients. Members of the mint family, chamomile, sage and rosemary were grown for their unique and varied flavors. The colonists sometimes mixed flower petals from such edibles as calendulas, roses and violets. Flowers collected from herbs like borage, lavender and sage could also be added to teas.

Calendula & Chamomile

Calendula and chamomile blossoms, dmp, 2019

Most of us are familiar with the plant, Oswego tea, although we commonly call it beebalm. The native, lavender flowered species (Monarda fistulosa) can be found in moist areas from Georgia to Ontario. It is a member of the mint family, which you can tell pretty quickly because of its square stems. Tea from its leaves became a favorite as it resembled the flavor of Chinese tea. Both blossoms and leaves give a hint of citrus flavoring. Most often the beebalm in our gardens in a cultivar of another native beebalm species, Monarda didyma. Flowers are usually bright red but pink, blue and white cultivars are available and the leaves and flowers of this species can also be used in teas.

Bee balm

Red beebalm, Monarda didyma, by dmp, 2019

Sweet or anise scented goldenrod leaves were also quite popular Liberty tea ingredients. When crushed the narrow, lance-shaped leaves give off a slight licorice fragrance. These native plants can grow 2 to 4 feet tall and have warm, golden-yellow flowers. The leaves are dried for use in teas.

Other plants used by the colonists were elderberry and Labrador tea (Rhododendron tomentosum), both shrubby plants inhabiting moist areas. Sweet fern (Comptonia peregrina) with its heavily scented serrated leaves is typically found in drier, upland areas.

sweet fern 3

Sweet fern by dmp, 2019

Leaves from New Jersey tea (Ceanothus americanus) were also favored for beverage making as was the bark from sassafras. I remember making sassafras tea as a Girl Scout and now come to find out that the FDA banned sassafras oil as a food additive because of cancer concerns.

This brings us to a very important point regarding both the collection of plant materials and the consumption of herbal teas. First, be sure that you have positively identified the plant. There are several dozen species of goldenrod, for instance, and while I believe none are poisonous to humans, only the sweet goldenrod makes for good tea.

Second, do realize that some plants may cause an allergic reaction in some people. For instance, people that are allergic to ragweed, might also express a sensitivity to chamomile. Talk to your physician, an herbalist and/or read up on plants to discover both their positive attributes and any potential negative effects.

Dry herbs for tea as you would culinary ones – in a desiccator, microwave or by air on drying racks. Always be sure plant parts are healthy, clean and free from disease. Store in air-tight containers.

As you celebrate the 4th of July this year, do remember to lift a glass of herbal tea (iced, of course) to commemorate the brave early colonists who fought hard to win this country’s independence.

Dawn P.

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