Bringing woodland flowers into the yard lends a wild hand to gardening.

A border of lupine and asters could make a rambling hedge against an open field. Clintonia, violets or trout lily scattered in a wooded lot make for delicate ground cover.

Master gardeners from Essex County encouraged use of native plants — some often considered weeds — at a recent Yes You Can Garden in the North Country series session held in Lake Placid.

"What is a weed?" asked Don Grout, a master gardener with Cornell Cooperative Extension in Essex County.

"It's something you don't want in your garden," came a quiet rumble of response from some in a crowd of about 60.

The Sunday series has become a standing-room-only event at Uihlein Foundation's Heaven Hill, and this presentation was no exception.

"Lots of people think violets are weeds," Grout said, "but I love them."

Master Gardener Frank Lescinsky turned slowly through a series of more than 40 slides, meant in part to test the crowd's identification bar.


Knowing what wildflowers are, what type of soil and shading they like and how to acquire them were reviewed in detail. The North Country woods are alive with wildflowers and plants of all colors and size.

They aren't all available for transplanting, though.

It is illegal to dig up and remove flowers or plants in any state forest or field, Lescinsky said. And if the forest property is privately owned, then ask permission.

It is also important to check sun, shade and soil conditions because some wildflowers are temperamental. Even when they do take root, a wildflower that grows every year may skip a season with changes in weather or soil.

"If you see wildflowers on a hike, take notes," Lescinsky said. "See if you can duplicate that on your property first. And don't touch anything in the forest preserve, that's illegal."

Several comely and interesting wild plants are also invasive species, including purple loosestrife and Japanese knotweed.

At images of loosestrife with its glorious spike of purple flowers, the group issued an ominous, "Boooo."

"Don't dig it up, please," Lescinsky urged.

But other tall and common flowers drew a curious buzz.

Joe-pye weed grows 6 to 7 feet tall, the master gardeners explained.

"They look great in a big open field," Lescinsky allowed.


Milkweed is another wildflower that loves roadside edges and open areas. Considered a weed, the tall stems clustered with pink flowers are often mowed down.

"It leaves the monarch butterfly without habitat," Lescinsky said, showing an orange type of milkweed called butterfly weed.

Wild bluets and violets grow rampant on stonewalls and along cool, partly shaded woodland areas.

"A lot of people would consider goldenrod a weed but they're a beautiful plant," Lescinsky said.

"Again, it's only a weed if you don't want it in your garden," Grout added.

The master gardeners spelled out several options for landscaping with wildflowers.

"What do you want, something showy, ground cover, something out in the garden or in the shade? Get the right thing for you; it's got to satisfy your environment," Grout said.

And just because flowers come from the wild doesn't mean they will take care of themselves, the master gardeners emphasized.

Said Lescinsky, "As our guru Amy Ivy (of Cooperative Extension in Plattsburgh) often says, 'The gardener's shadow is the best fertilizer.'"

E-mail Kim Smith Dedam at:

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