Sunday, August 14, 2011


Any moment now, purples and golds will be popping out at you from roadsides and fields. The brilliant purple of asters will set off the clear gold of goldenrod, and your eyes will feel as if a flashbulb (remember those?) just went off in your field of vision.

So, now is the time to come to the defense of goldenrod, a prolific but graceful wildflower that will grow almost anywhere. All through my childhood, this carefree flower was reviled as a severe allergen – hay fever sufferers ran the other way.

Only as I was taking the Master Gardener course in the late 1990s did I learn that the real bad boy of the roadsides was ragweed. Poor goldenrod was falsely accused just because it blooms at the same time. And ragweed is …well, it’s not a very pretty plant, or even a noticeable one.

Most of the late-summer wildflowers that grow in Connecticut have at least a fleeting beauty – chicory has those superb sky-blue flowers, however briefly. All the members of the aster family have perky, if small, flowers in colors ranging from pale lavender to the afore-mentioned deep purple. Queen Anne’s lace is irresistible, and as aptly named as any flower on earth.

Mullein, goofy looking though it is, has spectacular fuzzy grey-green leaves, setting off its bright yellow flower spikes.

But ragweed just produces masses of pollen-drenched green flowers – virtually invisible unless you know what you’re looking at. Like most allergenic plants, ragweed is wind-pollinated, which is why the pollen ends up in your nostrils and sinuses. Its leaves are jagged, but not because anything has eaten them – it may just be a plant that has few, if any, feeders. Certainly it has no fans, despite its botanical family name - Ambrosia, of all things!

Eradicating ragweed is not easy, because it will regrow readily if mowed. Hand-pulling is best, especially if you compost the seed heads at high temperatures to kill them. The key is to do it right away, because after the flowers bloom, seed sets very quickly. Today’s downpour should make for easy pulling of the entire root system. And while you are at it, it’s a great time to pull crabgrass, too!

But to get back to goldenrod: besides making a bold statement in the garden with its statuesque stalks and colorful flowers, goldenrod is a terrific cut flower. A bouquet of goldenrod, black-eyed Susan, Queen Anne’s lace, a dash of blue – maybe a stalk of lobelia – and a few stems of one of those purplish fountain grasses (Pennisetum alopecuroides is one hardy type) is about as easy as pie, and really inexpensive!

If you feel like spending a couple of dollars, a bunch of Alstroemeria from the supermarket will add a big punch of color.

It looks as if we’re in for a patch of rain, and however much we need it, a bountiful wildflower bouquet might cheer things up while you’re house-bound.

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