|Above: Three shots of Honeybush or Melianthus major at Louise Wall’s home in Qualicum Beach. |
Below: Louise Wall’s Pokeweed plant—two shots, plus a nice group of Gooseneck Loosestrife (Lysimachia clethroides) and her huge Banana tree.
Plant people are always on the look for “new” (to them, and in my case, new to me) plants, and so I was interested to have my friend Louise Wall, of nearby Qualicum Beach tell me about such a plant she had bought last year from a local nursery (Arrowsmith Greenhouses, on Hwy. 4 heading toward Port Alberni). Its name is Melianthus major, or Honeybush.
Louise called it a peanut butter plant because when you crush the exotic-looking foliage, it smells somewhat like peanut butter. Since she understood that it was not totally hardy even here, she partially buried the pot in which she bought it, but this spring there were only “brown sticks” emerging from the pot. But, hold on, even this cold spring soon some green shoots were emerging from the soil.
The plant grew and grew and now it has two large reddish-brown flowers on it. It is actually quite gorgeous as you can see from the photos included here.
Now, just how hardy is it. Well, folks in Ontario need not consider trying to grow it unless prepared to pot it and leave it in a cool, frost-free garage for over the winter. Even here it is considered borderline, although one gardener in Edmonds, Washington, and one just down the road from us, in Lantzville, manage to keep it without any particular special protection. Last winter, considered relatively harsh, the Lantzville one died to the ground but, like Louise’, grew vigorously once spring came.
Some folks don’t like the scent of the foliage, but on the other hand, love the saw-toothed, almost bluish colour of the leaves. The folks at Heritage Perennials even suggest it is worth growing as an annual if you live in an inhospitable climate and have no way of over-wintering it.
One thing is sure you must give it lots of space. It is not unusual for it to grow up to 180 cm (70”) high.
The other perennial that I had seen once before, but never really knew what it was is American Pokeweed—you can see the plant quite well in Louise’ garden in the top photo here.
Now, how Louise acquired this plant is interesting itself. A neighbour called and said she had this plant that she had just found out the seeds of which, once developed were poisonous to people. She was concerned about her visiting grandchildren and asked Louise if she would like the plant.
Louise said yes, and you see the results here.
So if you, like Louise, don’t have any visiting children, you might like to look for this. It appears to be hardy both here in B.C. and in Ontario as it does grow in Ohio and further north.
Though the main concern with this plant is its poisonous nature (not simply the seeds, as Louise’s neighbour indicated, but all parts of the plant particularly including the roots), it is interesting to note that many birds and animals eat the seeds of Pokeweed on a regular basis—although birds have often appeared to be ‘tipsy’ after eating the seeds.
One of the uses of Pokeweed is the young green shoots in early spring. In some circles, folks even grow the plant in their basements so that they can harvest the green shoots as early as possible each spring. Although in the first year it is generally not recommended that more than one ‘clipping’ of the early green shoots be made until the plant(s) have matured. In the second and subsequent years, three clippings: mid-May, early June and late June are suggested, stopping just as blossoming begins in July.
While I was visiting Louise Wall’s Qualicum Beach garden, I loved seeing the Gooseneck Loosestrife (Lysimachia clethroides) in full bloom. Now, before someone writes and says how invasive it is, I know that, but then many, many herbaceous perennials are invasive, but that doesn’t stop people planting interesting flowering plants!
Do not confuse this popular loosestrife with the infamous (in some people’s minds—not mine) Purple Loosestrife (Lythrum salicaria). This one is not even in the same plant family. But do keep in mind it is invasive, but when it exceeds what you consider to be its bounds, simply chop out a portion to reduce its area. Another way to contain a plant such as this is to actually plant it in a large pot and sink the pot into the garden bed. Be sure to keep the ridge of the pot just above the soil surface. Doing this makes it much easier to control the spread.
And while I am writing about Louise Wall’s garden, I must also mention her banana tree planted at the back of her home. It is now actually taller than her bungalow home! She protects it a bit in the winter (just the main stalks), and cuts the stalks off about halfway up in spring. The plant then begins growing from those points. Of course we don’t get bananas on our banana trees here because the growing season is too short. But, let us face it, bananas are really a symbol of the tropics, and not too bad to look at in the garden!