National Geographic : 1947 Jul
Wild Flower, or Garden Plant? IT IS sometimes difficult to distinguish be tween a wild flower and a weed. But when either is brought into a garden it ceases to be "wild" and becomes a horticultural object. To the farmer in various parts of eastern North America, the plants on the opposite page may sometimes be weeds; to the field naturalist they are wild flowers; and to the gardener they are cherished subjects in the perennial border. This last is especially true when, in the skilled hands of the hybridist and selector, they yield a series of striking and unusual garden forms. OSWEGO TEA (Monarda didyma): On page 25 we touched briefly on the ancient civilizations which rose up around the Medi terranean. During the long period of the de velopment of their various cultures these peo ples had experimented with the native plants and discovered those which were most useful. Among the spicy condiments and medicinal herbs of the Mediterranean and closely adja cent regions which they found were such things as Rosemary, Common Sage, Clary, Lavender, Woundwort, Thyme, Pennyroyal,. Horehound, Lemon Balm, Marjoram, Hyssop, and both Summer Savory and Winter Savory. Anyone who has an herb garden will immediately rec ognize these as members of the Mint Family. When the cultivation of useful plants seeped into Europe from the Mediterranean region these plants went along and became standard features in cottage, monastery, and castle gardens. As soon as possible after the settlements were established on this side of the Atlantic the colonists brought these same plants to America. But always in this new country there were pioneers, pushing on ahead of estab lished gardens, who were forced to seek for native substitutes. America did not fail them. Among the many useful plants they found most of them already in use by the Indians were two of this same Mint Family, Oswego Tea (Monarda didyma), and Wild Bergamot (Monarda fistulosa). As the country was settled, both of these became fixtures in early American herb gardens along with their im ported relatives. Later, when herb gardens went out of style (they are again becoming popular), these two moved over into the flower garden. This is particularly true of the origi nally reddish-scarlet Oswego Tea, shown oppo site. For a time the similar but less striking, pale purplish-flowered Wild Bergamot almost went into eclipse, but is again making a strong comeback as an ornamental in perennial bor ders. Both of these now have variously colored garden forms. SUMMER PERENNIAL PHLOX (Phlox paniculata): Although natural variations do occur in the wild, the great majority of the plants of this species growing naturally have pinkish-purple flowers. From these, salmony, rose, magenta, purple, scarlet, buff, and white garden forms have been developed. Ten or a dozen other native North American species of this genus have been introduced into gardens. Among the more popular of these today is the highly variable, spring-flowering Moss-Pink (Phlox subulata), much used in rockeries. An even more variable low-growing, annual spe cies from Texas, Phlox Drummondii, is also often grown. European and American hybrid ists have produced many forms in this group. MICHAELMAS DAISIES (Aster, various species): Named for St. Michael, whose fes tival-Michael's Mass-is celebrated on Sep tember 29, when certain forms are at the height of their blooming period, this splendid group of perennials now has great favor with gardeners. Admitting that they put on a great show in the autumn, I still suspect that part of their popularity lies in their name and in the common supposition that they come from some foreign land. Actually, they are as American as pumpkin pie or corn-on-the-cob. The early plant explorers who came to America about two centuries or more ago seized upon these plants and took them back to Europe, where they became a garden sensa tion. When the art of hybridizing became well known, these plants were used, and many new and intermediate forms were developed. Yet all the while in America farmers were mowing them down to clear their fence rows and pastures. Worse yet, for the most part, American gardeners of that period ignored them as being no more than roadside weeds. Those few gardeners who cultivated our native Asters through the years finally were vindi cated when the plants became popular. But that was only after they had come back home under the name of Michaelmas Daisies. It is useless here to attempt a listing of the species which have gone into the make-up of our present garden forms of this group. One which stands out markedly is the New England Aster (Aster novae-angliae) with its large flower heads, originally deep purple but now split into blue, pink, reddish, and white forms. Plants with intermediate-sized heads and forms with small, often white flower heads indicate a blending with other species. Brought to gether by hybridization, they have produced a distinguished group of excellent garden plants.