Steve Bender

 

Stupid myths abound. Some people believe Paris Hilton is the daughter of Stephen Hawking. Others say J. Edgar Hoover secretly wore wearing men's clothing. Still others insist that goldenrod causes hay fever.

The first two myths are somewhat understandable, but not the last. Goldenrod does NOT cause hay fever. Its pollen is too heavy to float through the air. To get hay fever, you'd have to stick a goldenrod bloom right up your nose, which means you lack any sort of basic judgment at all.

Meteorologists can consult their charts and tell you exactly what minute on a particular day in September when autumn starts. But Grumpy doesn't need a chart. All he has to do wait for goldenrod to bloom. When roadside fields turn into golden gardens, autumn arrives. I took the above photograph last October at Nancy Goodwin's Montrose Gardens in Hillsborough, North Carolina. Just try telling Nancy that goldenrod's a weed.

Isn't Native Better?

I wish I had a beer for every time somebody has (erroneously) told me, "Native plants are better, because they're better adapted." In that case, why don't more people plant goldenrod in their gardens? Dozens of species are native. They're easy-to-grow, pest-free, drought-tolerant, and adapted to most soils. Not to mention their sprays of golden flowers, prized by butterflies, that combine sensationally with purple asters, red salvias, purple ironweed, wild ageratum, and orange dahlias.

The Brits love goldenrod. It's hard to find a garden in the U.K. without goldenrod in it. Many Americans, though, regard it as a weed -- and to be fair, some species are weedy, such as Canada goldenrod (Solidago canadensis), which spreads aggressively by runners.

However, many goldenrods are well-behaved and stay put in the garden. My favorite is a selection of rough-leaved goldenrod (S. rugosa), aptly named 'Fireworks' (shown below). Forming a compact, many-branched clump about 3 feet tall and wide, its sprays of tiny yellow flowers explode into bloom. (Mail-order source: Sunlight Gardens.)

 

Showy goldenrod (S. speciosa) earns its name too. It grows stiffly upright to about 4 feet tall with arrowhead-shaped panicles. The individual flowers are big for goldenrod and look a little like yellow asters to me. This species is good for cutting. Check it out below. (Mail-order source: Niche Gardens).

 

Sweet goldenrod (S. odora), below, is another winner. It's also called anise-scented goldenrod, because its leaves emit an anise scent if you crush them. This one grows tall and upright, 4 to 6 feet high, with flat-topped flower heads. It thrives in poor, dry soils. (Mail-order source: Prairie Nursery).

 

Basic Needs

 

Goldenrods have two basic needs. One -- lots of sun. Two -- someone smart enough to plant them.

I bet Stephen Hawking likes goldenrods.

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Attention Native Plant Nerds!

 

If you love native plants like goldenrod, then make plans to attend the 2010 Mid-South Native Plant Conference at the Dixon Gallery & Gardens in Memphis on October 8-10. An impressive lineup of speakers includes the one-and-only Felder Rushing, who co-authored the award-winning book, Passalong Plants, with Grumpy himself. To see a brochure or register, call (901) 761-5250 or go to www.dixon.org.

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