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A Long Row To Hoe

(A Gardener's Letters)
by Ken Beattie
by Ken Beattie


Ken Beattie has hosted a number of gardening-related programs for WTN.

Ken is currently working with the Canadian Wildlife Federation and is also the author of an informative gardening book series.

July 23, 2006

Pulmonaria & Alchemilla

Dear Sis,
Isn’t it a shame that some plants are saddled with the most unfortunate of names? Lungwort ranks highly in this regard. You need to understand that “wort” is an old English term for herb, but still ! In an attempt to encourage gardeners to use these marvelous, shade tolerant plants, I suspect the best way is to inform all that deer dislike these plants. Now Sis, you are a dear, and I know that you are fond of this spotted, furry leafed gems, but I mean the four legged “deer” that are so plentiful in your “woodland” garden. My suspicions are because the Lungworts have hairy foliage and stems the deer avoid them, I can’t attest tot he taste however. As a matter of fact, they were used medicinally for centuries for such things as coughs, phlegm expulsion and even diarrhea. Did you ever try any of Mom’s, the ones that grew under the Lilacs?
Pulmonaria officinalis , P. longifolia, P. rubra and P. saccharata are the most commonly found garden varieties of Lungwort. I for one, love them and have a garden full of them. These cheerful heralds of spring often are of the first to bloom in my shade garden right alone with the Primula. Just in the past few years have I begun to establish a decent shade garden, and these varieties are so well suited to the Prairie alkaline conditions that they are really growing well. Bethlehem sage (P. Saccharata) is the species which exhibits the most spotted members, often appearing white. The cultivar `Argentea” is almost completely silver and delightful in combination with `Pink Dawn’ which remains pink all spring season. The Red Lungworts (P. rubra) and in particular the selection `David Ward’, bloom with a profusion of watermelon pink blossoms, earlier than most of the others. The foliage is nicely variegated with white edges dictating that it must be grown in good shade to avoid foliar burn. Even without blooming, the foliage alone is enough to warrant a prized position in any garden. P. longifolia selections, are, as the name may suggest, long leafed plants and they are quite pointed too. These plants will flower later than the regular Lungworts, therefore extending the color in the shade garden. A newer selection called P. longifolia var. Cevennenensis from France is quite promising. It grows leaves up to 2 feet long sporting oodles of silver spots against a rich dark green backdrop. Hybrids are being developed regulating with such exciting names as `Spilled Milk’, `Excalibur’, `Silver Streamers’ and `Raspberry Splash’.
Your soil in the bed beside the garage Sis, is excellent for Lungworts and just the correct amount of shade too. You might want to increase the humus content by digging in some of the famous farm yard manure to hoard each spring. Lungworts love a rich, woodsy soil that is will drain. They will tolerate wet conditions for limited periods of time. Slugs, naturally, love them because of the shade and moisture, so use your best defense, although, they seem to prefer the good Hostas ahead of Lungwort. 
The plants tend to grow in a mound-like form which should be cleaned and tidied in early spring to remove old tatty leaves and then again after they have bloomed. I can send a few over to your garden if you would like, most of my plants require division already. This is the best and easiest way to propagate Lungwort and you will get several new crowns from each plant. This is one of the many reasons my garden is so full of them.
Right alone beside these workhorses of the shade are my Lady’s Mantle. I believe you have a patch of them too Sis? Great shade plant once again with the most attractive foliage when it gets wet. The water beads on the tiny hairs of the leaves to form perfect droplets. This is apparently what caused the earlier herbalist to take note of this chartreuse gem. Alchemilla take very similar conditions to the Lungworts and contrast in color well too. The wavy foliage of the Lady’s Mantle, it’s sharp, acid green and the billowing chartreuse flowers provide contrast within the plant as well as its neighbors. I use Lady’s Mantle regularly in floral arrangements, on the patio tables as garnish and of course in hand tied posies. The species 
A. ellenbeckii or Creeping Lady’s Mantle is well worth a look too. Excellent in your rockery or as edging along the herb garden path this plant grows as a low, tight mat. The more common species is A. mollis which is more hardy and neglect-proof! 
All in all these two plants should be represented in your garden. Lady’s Mantle will soon grow to fill even the most ambitious rural landscape border as will Lungwort. Both offer the novice as well as the more experienced gardener variety, legal tender for trading as well as many medicinal advantages. Try at least a few this season.
Write again soon Sis, and take good care.


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