On a rainy morning, the absence of bees and butterflies on satellite-shaped, white flowers of buttonbush (Cephalanthus occidentalis, below) is in stark contrast to any sunny afternoon when the gardener must approach with caution, or risk the consequences. I first discovered this native shrub in a swampy area along a local hiking trail, where the buzz of pollinator activity caught my attention. A bit of research led to my conclusion that buttonbush would be well suited to a troubling spot of constantly damp ground in the garden. I have not been disappointed.
While gardens change over time, sunny spots turn to shade as trees mature, and sometimes back to sun as trees are toppled in storms, rarely does dry ground change to wet without man’s intervention. But, in a back corner of the garden, an evergreen holly and ‘Arnold Promise’ witch hazel grew for two decades alongside a natural spring that provided no more than occasional dampness. Until, something changed, and the spring began to flow in greater volume, and with more regularity.
From relative dryness, the ground became swampy, and over several years the holly and witch hazel declined, until finally they were chopped out. The void required plants that would tolerate constant dampness, but I preferred at least some ornamental interest rather than allowing the spot to turn to cattails and brambles. With glossy foliage, and superb flowers that attract a range of pollinators through early summer, buttonbush has eased the disappointment of losing the treasured ‘Arnold Promise’.
When buttonbush and black chokeberry (Aronia melanocarpa, above) were planted, moisture tolerant blue flag irises (Iris versicolor) and swamp milkweed (Asclepias incarnata, below) were planted to fill gaps while the shrubs grew. A few more years are needed before I am completely satisfied with the recent planting, but I’m happy with the start, and of course, it is a joy to attract more pollinators to the garden.