Tuesday, July 23, 2013

Yellow Loosestrife, or Lysimachia vulgaris (I think)




The Joni Mitchell song, and the old expression, goes "you don't know what you've got till it's gone." Only sometimes you don't know what you've got even when you have it.
            Such is the case with the plant I acquired a couple years ago at a garden sale at a local church. The annual sale is one of those great deals where the members of a garden club dig up their extras, pot them and put a modest price tag with the name of species on a little wooden ice cream stick pushed into the soil right next to the newly divided sale-away traveling plant.
            The plant in question, with that heavenly flurry of delicate but long-lasting yellow flowers, was labeled "Yellow Loosestrife/ Lysimachia vulgaris," or so I remember. Obviously I got those words from somewhere and wrote them down. But you know how memory can play tricks.
            I planted a couple my new acquisition that spring along a winding section of path peopled mostly by low ground-covering plants. Plus a few medium types, some yellow primrose, a Rose Campion, a heliotrope. I hoped the new arrival would grow reasonably tall and complement the low-growers beside it.
            Say goodbye, low profile. Say hello to the skyscrapers.
            By midsummer the first year I liked the way it grew. It grew tall straight stalks with dark green leaves (hint of purple maybe) and flowed with little yellow blossoms running up and down the top half of the stalks. The flowers lasted a good long period, longer than the perennials with big showy flowers. It was still blooming when my daylilies came and went. "Lasting" is a big virtue in a perennial garden when the star turns, the peonies and lilies, the lilacs and laurel, shed their feathers so quickly.
            The following year, the yellow loosestrife patch thickened, expanded; waved in the summer breezes along with the tall purple phlox and black-eyed Susans of later July.
            This year my garden club sale acquisition turned into the egglplant that ate Chicago as the old nonsensical "folk song" hyperbolized. It dominated. I had to dig up and transplant some of the stems to another corner of the show, in the wrong season (when do I not do this in the wrong season), in order to let some of the shorter, low-growing neighbors see some sun. That's the way of skyscrapers.
            I transplanted the Rose Campion. I'm not sure Rose will forgive me. The jury is still out on whether it survives the operation.
            This long-lasting perennial remains in close cahoots with another plant not nearly so tall that I acquired at the same time, attracted to the idea that both shared the common name of loosestrife. This one has bending tapering white flowers, giving it the name "gooseneck loosestrife" because of its looping shape. I assume the name "loosestrife" is some folkish contribution rather than anything scientific, earning this plant street cred by belonging to the folklorish world of old-fashioned gardening that I continue to find so charming.
            The first online definition I found for loosestrife is this: "Any of various plants of the genus Lysimachia, having usually yellow flowers. 2. Any of various plants of the genus Lythrum, having purple or white flowers." That covers a lot of ground, and some of the other definitions I found did not exactly agree.
            But for largely sentimental reasons I hope the name I was given, or remember, is the right name. I don't know what the 'Lysimachia' means, but I'm happy with the 'vulgaris.' That word means of the people. We are all the people (plants included).
            That's why I go to garden club sales and the like, and borrow friends we haven't met yet from other people's gardens.