Along the margins of the garden are a variety of “weeds” that flower as beautifully as any any plant in the garden, and through the years I have cultivated several so there is an indistinct transition from garden to the native wetland meadow. The back property line remains swampy through much of the year, and cattails and brambles persistently encroach on the native Joe Pye weed (popularly Eupatorium purpureum, though now classified as Eutrochium purpureum) and Blue Mist flowers (Conoclinium coelestinum, below).
Blue Mist thrives at the margin of this perpetually damp ground, and each year it has spread a bit, though it is inconspicuous until blooming. It is much shorter than the neighboring cattails, Joe Pye, and brambles, so it scrambles for an inch or a foot to poke its head into the sun, and through the late summer the marvelous blooms of Blue Mist are welcomed at the meadow’s edge.
More compact growing cultivars of Joe Pye have been planted in damp and dry spots in the garden, but the native towers over all but the cattails. The foliage and blooms of the chocolate leaved Joe Pye weed (Eupatorium rugosum ‘Chocolate’, above) are distinctly different. The leaves are a dark purple-black, and much finer than the coarse, corrugated green foliage of the native. ‘Chocolate’ branches more densely and plants seldom grow to three feet or taller. The stems of the native Joe Pye, and even the more compact cultivars are almost woody, but on ‘Chocolate’ they are softer so that the plant dies to the ground in late autumn rather than leaving tall stems through the winter that must be cut to the ground.
‘Chocolate’ begins to flower in early September in my garden, a month later than the native Joe Pye (flower, above), and the white blooms are considerably smaller than the large dusky lavendar florets of the native. ‘Chocolate’ tends to seed itself about in my garden, though not uncontrollably, and the seedlings range in foliage color from mostly green with a slight purple tint, to mostly purple, though none has foliage as dark as the parent plant. The blooms are attractive, though to my taste they are not as showy as the native, and they are effective for a shorter time. In my garden ‘Chocolate’ and its seedlings grow mostly in partial shade so I hesitate to make too strong a declaration, but the flowers don’t seem to be favored by bees and butterflies, which of course the native is planted specifically to attract.
On slightly drier ground ironweed (Veronia novaborascensis, above) sends tall, wiry stems above the surrounding foliage, and beginning in August these are topped by clusters of deep purple blooms. The flower color stands out along side of the summer stressed foliage of its neighbors, and ironweed is remarkably vigorous and not bothered at all by drought and high temperatures. More compact cultivars are occasionally available in garden centers, but the native is quite a wonderful weed.