One of the changes in the plant and animal worlds is that as scientists improve their skills, they find they have erred in some previous name registrations and they have to start over. It's nice to get things clarified but in a strange way, some of us seem to be confused forever. Sometimes we cannot make ourselves change old habits and the first names we learned are those we stick with.

Gail was quite familiar with Actaea long before me but today I wouldn't be without it in the garden. When I first was introduced to the plant, the name was Cimicifuga and the first variety I met was atropurpurea. Cimicifuga atropurpurea. Now that was a mouth full and some folks got all confused just looking at the words.

A few years back Cimicifuga became Actaea. Plant suppliers aren't quick to change and it was and still is listed both ways. I was familiar with a Vermont wildflower named baneberry that has bright red, white or pink berries and as soon as I saw the cimicifuga-actaea name change, I walked out to the garden to compare plants. One look at the baneberry leaves and the identification became obvious.....and finally correct!


Actaeas are very striking, architecturally interesting plants that lend texture, color and height to your garden. Stem and foliage color ranges from bronze-green to the blackest of blacks with some dark purple in the midst of the spectrum if you can follow my color continuum. Although the plants are eye catchers all season, August in Vermont is when they begin to reign supreme. They produce bottle brush-like blooms that start straight up on tall, strong scapes and then as they age, the scapes bend like the necks of big swans. The bloom color continuum spreads from white to creamy white to soft pink depending on the variety.

These plants have fragrance, some good, some not so good, that lures butterflies, night moths, hummingbirds and various bees. It's best not to plant them near an entry door or near an unscreened window because their lure for insects is strong. As the wind blows, they sway musically so a location you can enjoy is best.

actaearoot actaearoots


Actaeas have a shallow root system for the size of the mature plant. They are easy to transplant but should not be allowed to dry out during the process. One year Gail dug up an atropurpurea and planted it in a 30 gallon clay pot. When fall arrived she planted it in a well amended hole thinking she'd move it to a permanent spot come spring. Spring came and went and the Actaea grew and grew to over nine feet tall. Most varieties are in the 4.5 foot range which makes them perfect for a backdrop or specimen planting, mixed with dwarf conifers. Some varieties, especially the darkest ones, are pricey but we can't think of another plant that offers what these do. We usually offer five or 6 varieties at the nursery and they seem to sell out as fast as we can keep them growing. If you chance to stop by, take a look.





Green leaves and tall slim stems, white bottle brush flowers joined by flowers from side branches later on. 4 to 5.5 feet tall. $12.75
Great background plant, 6-7 feet tall, sometimes taller with amended soil and regular moisture. Purple green leaves with bronze hue. Draws bees, hummingbirds and night moths. Try with tall Oriental lilies, or Lilium superbum for August contrast. $15.50
4 foot tall, dark purple leaves, almost black stems. Offers great contrast with gold, lime and green hostas and with ligularias. Foliage is excellent in arrangements and doesn't need to be "hardened" before use. $25.00
Gail says "Outstanding!" Very dark purple foliage on 3 foot plant, a bit shorter than other dark varieties. Late, fragrant, bottle brush pink-white blooms draw in the butterflies. $25.00



Deep, dark purple foliage with pink bottle brush bloom on +4 foot plant. $25.00


Here's a plant George picked up years ago, and on and off we have had different varieties. Eventually we'll bring back large swaths of all those we have had before but for now here are three that are available at the nursery this year and for limited Internet sales, confirmed first by an email. They have become very popular as woodland garden plants but their adaptability has brought them attention.

First glance makes gardeners think they are looking at an unusual astilbe, but really these are from two different plant families all together. They are commonly known as goatsbeard but the difference between the small aethusifolius and the 5.5 foot tall dioicus adds to the confusion with the astilbes.

The plants like moisture and partial shade although we have had them at the old nursery for years growing in full sun in poor soil. They will grow quite well in clay but do best in soil that's well amended with organic conditioners.

In our days of trying new deer control techniques George once planted a number of Lilium superbum and some Lilium 'Bellingham Hybrids' bulbs around some Aruncus dioicus. The deer never touched the Aruncus and the lilies came up beautifully through the light green dioicus leaves--and then the deer ate them. Have to admit lilies are sometimes a challenge but Aruncus is easy! Try some but leave a little space.






A compact 12" mound of interesting cut foliage in a green- brown tone. The June blooms are creamy white and 10" tall. Although it prefers partial shade, we grew one for years in full sun until it grew over 3 feet wide and needed to be divided. A great rock garden plant that also does well under and in front of the various Actaeas.
Creamy white, long, showy plumes above medium green cut leaf foliage. Stems wave in wind and hold seed heads through winter. Does best in filtered light and a moist area although we have some in full sun. When you see a plant a couple years after planting, you'll know you got a great deal. This is what garden architecture is about! $15.50
A more compact dioicus, still with creamy plumes but half the size. A good contrast when layered in front of the larger variety and the Actaeas.
N/A 2017