My Favorite Weeds!


Letting a few pretty weeds slip into a flower border is quite acceptable and is, in fact, an age-old technique. Source:

As a gardener, I’m supposed to react to the presence of “weeds,” those plants that arrive spontaneously in our gardens, by pulling them all out. But the problem is that there are some “weeds” I actually like! I find them attractive and not really all that invasive.

I admit that they do self-sow a bit, appearing spontaneously where I would never have thought to place them, but—at least in my flower beds!—they don’t do so abundantly enough to choke out the other plants. I simply find them here and there, inserted among my other plantings.

If ever they do go too far and start to encroach on plants I want to keep, I just pull them out! All the plants described below are easy to yank out.

Here are some of my favorites:

Black-eyed Susan or Black-eyed Coneflower (Rudbeckia hirta)


Black-eyed Susan (Rudbeckia hirta). Source:

A North American native of variable longevity (there are annual, biennial and perennial strains), the black-eyed Susan produces large yellow composite flowers with a distinctly raised black central cone, hence tis common names. Sometimes the flower bears a ring of dark markings around the cone. The whole plant, except the flower, is covered in short bristles, which is not surprising, since its epithet hirta means bristly.

The black-eyed Susan blooms over a long season, from mid-summer to mid-fall. There are many cultivated varieties (the perennial ones are often called gloriosa daisies) with yellow, orange or near-red flowers, sometimes double or with a green cone rather than a black one. It attracts bees and butterflies and, if you don’t cut it back in the fall, goldfinches will feed on its seeds over the winter. I find it self-sows quite modestly, yet it’s always there, somewhere, every summer.

You can readily find plants and seeds in garden centers and catalogs.

Dimensions: 8 to 36 inches x 12-18 inches (20-90 cm x 30-45 cm). Zone 3 (biennial and perennial varieties).

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Brown-eyed Susan (Rudbeckia triloba). Source: ルドベキア・タカオ,

Other coneflowers sometimes also invite themselves into the garden, then remain by self-sowing. I particularly like brown-eyed Susan (Rudbeckia triloba), a short-lived perennial with much smaller but more numerous yellow or yellow and red inflorescences with a dark brown cone. It’s a very late bloomer, from September to snowfall where I live, but starting as early as July in milder climates. Both plants and seeds are quite readily available.

Dimensions: 4 ft x 8 inches (1.2 m x 25 cm). Zone 3.

Blue Vervain (Verbena hastata)


Blue vervain (Verbena hastata) Source:

This North American plant at first forms a rosette of narrow serrated leaves at the base, then several upright, multi-branching stems, capped with narrow spikes of mauve-blue (more rarely pink) flowers. Only a few are open at a time, in a circle around the flower spike, forming a sort of crown of bloom that moves upwards over the season. Flowering begins in July and continues until September. Butterflies and hummingbirds love it!

This is not a long-lived plant, but it reseeds modestly in sunny and not too dry gardens, so can maintain its presence. Wildflower specialists readily offer the seed if it doesn’t find your garden on its own. Sow it in the fall, because the seeds need a cold treatment in order to sprout.

Dimensions: 2-4 feet x 1 foot (60-120 cm x 30 cm). Zone 3.

Common Evening-primrose (Oenothera biennis)

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Common evening-primrose(Oenothera biennis). Source: Andreas Rockstein,

Here is a plant that, I have to admit, sometimes self-sows a bit too much, but it is so easy to eliminate when it goes too far: just pull it out! Its roots give way readily and it never produces offsets: once it’s out, it’s out!

It is one of the rare North American native weeds to have conquered the globe, as it’s now abundantly naturalized on every continent except Antarctica.

As the botanical name biennis implies, it’s a biennial. The first year, it produces a low rosette of lanceolate, willowlike leaves and the second, a tall stalk of pale yellow cup-shaped flowers. They open in the evening and close the next day before noon … then start again each evening through the summer.

There is a lot of confusion about the true name of this plant: depending on where you live, the plant you’re seeing could be O. muricata, O. glazioviana, O. depressa or a hybrid between one or more of the above. I wouldn’t lose any sleep over that: even botanist can rarely tell them apart.

You’ll find seeds of common evening-primrose offered in several seed catalogs.

Dimensions: 1 to 5 feet x 12 to 14 inches (30-150 cm x 30-40 cm). Zone 2.

Dame’s Rocket (Hesperis matronalis)


Dame’s rocket (Hesperis matronalis) Source:

This biennial or short-lived perennial has a long history as a medicinal plant used for treating “women’s diseases,” although these days, even herbalists no longer seem to have much use for it.

That’s how this widely distributed Eurasian plant made it to the New World. Brought over as a medicinal plant, it quickly escaped into the wild and is now firmly established pretty much throughout North America, where it is usually found in the somewhat humid environments, often on the forest edge or along streams.

The pink or white flowers (you often see the two colors mixing together) are produced in huge numbers from mid-spring until midsummer. A lot of people mistake it for garden phlox (Phlox paniculata), but dame’s rocket blooms far earlier. Also, its flowers have four petals while phlox blooms have five.

And what a perfume! In fact, it’s widely used in perfumery. The downside is that the flowers are scented only at night. It therefore makes an excellent cut flower: that way you can enjoy its fragrance in the privacy of your home even when it’s too dark to be in the garden.

This plant self-sows abundantly, but is very easy to eliminate if it goes too far.

This species is easier to find in seed catalogs than as a plant. Sow it abundantly: individual plants are rather scraggly; it needs company to look its best. Dimensions: 2 to 3 feet x 1 foot (60-90 cm x 30 cm). Zone 3.

Do note that dame’s rocket is considered a noxious invasive in a few states, so check local laws before you plant it. However, this is really a question of closing the barn door after the horse has bolted. It’s already so well established in most areas where it’s officially banned that the laws make no difference!

Forget-Me-Not (Myosotis spp.)

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Forget-me-not (Myosotis spp.). Source: Rasbak, nl.wikipedia

There are all sorts of species of forget-me-nots found throughout the Northern Hemisphere, both native species and introduced ones, so who knows which one has found its way into your garden? They all look pretty much alike anyway! The most common in garden settings is, however, most like woodland forget-me-knot (M. sylvatica), originally from Europe, as it’s the one most often offered commercially by seed.

You don’t need to know the correct botanical name to appreciate the beauty of the tiny blue flowers of forget-me-nots. To start with, so few flowers are true blue! The plants blooms early in the spring, usually when tulips are in bloom, then dies (it’s a biennial). However, next year’s seedlings are already growing strongly by then, so you don’t really notice the mother plants fading away, as their babies are already replacing them.

Of course, besides blue forget-me-nots, there are also varieties with white or pink flowers. I find the blue ones tend to dominate, the whites hold their own, but the pink varieties rarely persist very long in the garden.

Forget-me-not seeds are very easy to find, both in garden centers and seed catalogs.

Dimensions: 6 to 12 inches x 6 inches (15-30 cm x 15 cm). Zone 3.

Great Mullein (Verbascum thapsus)


Great mullein (Verbascum thapsus). Source:

This attractive biennial plant, which has dozens of other common names, depending on where you live, appears in my flower-beds from time to time, disappears, then reappears, adding a note of fantasy to the ensemble.

How could anyone treat this strikingly beautiful plant as an undesirable? With its beautiful rosette of fuzzy gray-green leaves the first year and its thick, upright stalk bearing bright yellow flowers the second, plus blooms over the entire summer, it’s always a star! Even when it dries up and dies at the end of the second year, becoming only a chocolate-brown stem still standing upright, at least that offers a bit of winter interest, notably when there is white snow all around.

There’s no use looking for plants of great mullein in garden centers: they never seem to carry it, nor do they usually sell its seeds. However, you can grow it readily from seed collected from wild plants in September or October in a field near you. Just sow them immediately or in early spring.

Dimensions: 3 to 7 feet x 2 feet (90-200 cm x 60 cm). Zone 3.

Musk Mallow (Malva moschata)


Musk mallow (Malva moschata). Source:

Like dame’s rocket, musk mallow is a Eurasian herb that was introduced to North America as a medicinal plant, but now grows abundantly in the wild.

The pink or white flowers look a bit like a child’s windmill. Each flower lasts only one day, but every morning brings new ones and that continues pretty much throughout the summer. In fact, it seems to bloom more in hot, dry summers than cool, moist ones. The blooms have a musky scent and are edible. The mid-green, deeply cut leaves are edible too, and quite attractive.

I know gardeners who can’t stand musk mallow because “it doesn’t stay where I planted it.” Indeed, it is short-lived (2 or 3 years) and therefore disappears quite quickly, but then reappears where you least expect it. For a meticulous gardener, it certainly will seem like more of a weed than an asset.

However, for laidback gardeners like myself, who prefer gardens with a little less control, musk mallow is a boon. It always seems to sprout sporadically here and there rather than in dense clumps that could overwhelm nearby plants and its cut leaves let sun get through to lower-growing plants. I just find it adds a bit of colorful spontaneity to my garden … and who doesn’t need a little spontaneity in their life?

Musk mallow seeds are fairly easy to find, both in catalogs and sometimes in garden centers.

Dimensions: 16 to 24 inches x 6 to 24 inches (40-60 cm x 40-60 cm). Zone 3.

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Common mallow (Malva sylvestris). Source: Alvesgaspar,Wkimedia Commons

Its taller cousins, hollyhock mallow (Malva alcea fastigiata), a musk mallow lookalike except it is twice as tall, and common mallow (Malva sylvestris), with darker flowers bearing distinct purple veins and peltate leaves, are also occasional spontaneous visitors, although more likely to arrive from neighboring gardens than from the wild, as they’re nowhere near as well established in fields and meadows as the ubiquitous musk mallow.

Even taller, to up to 6 feet (180 cm), are the lavateras, like tree mallow (Lavatera thuringiaca), yet another pretty self-sower.

Oxeye Daisy (Leucanthemum vulgare)


Oxeye daisy (Leucanthemum vulgare). Source:

The oxeye daisy is so common in fields in temperate parts of North America, Australia and New Zealand that it’s hard to imagine that it could ever have been otherwise, but it is in fact an exotic species there, native only to Eurasia.

A neighbor lets the abundant daisies in his lawn bloom from start to finish and only begins to mow in mid-July, when they finish. It’s not such a bad idea; daisies are indeed beautiful. With their white composite flowers with a yellow disc, they are the very embodiment of a flower. If you ask a child to draw a flower, most will spontaneously draw a daisy!

Of course, the species grown in most gardens today is the Shasta daisy (L. x superbum), a hybrid with a complicated ancestry, and it generally makes a better garden plant, with more and often larger flowers over a much longer season (some varieties, like ‘Beckie’, will flower from early summer well into fall), but they don’t usually self-sow and can be short-lived. Oxeye daisies aren’t all that long-lived either, but maintain themselves by self-sowing. They can self-sow a bit too much, sometimes … but how you can you pull out such a pretty plant?

This is the only plant described here that spreads not just by seed, but by rhizomes, so it can be a bit harder to control.

While you can readily find Shasta daisy plants in just about any garden center or mail-order catalog, that can’t be said for oxeyes. If they don’t show up on their own, you may need to encourage them by purchasing seed from a wildflower specialist or moving a specimen to your garden from in a field near you. Not from a public park, of course, but otherwise, I don’t think removing one daisy would bother anyone.

Dimensions: 16-36 inches x 36 inches (40-90 cm x 90 cm). Zone 3.


It seems odd to speak of “care” with these plants, since all of them showed up in my garden on their own and simply grew on their own. Plus, they are considered weeds … and by definition, weeds take care of themselves! Also, it’s in the nature of weeds to be widely adaptable, taking just about anything, including soils both poor and rich, acid and alkaline, loamy, sandy, clay and rocky! However, the plants described above are all normally plants of meadows and fields, thus of at least moderately sunny environments, so will need full to at least partial sun in the garden.

If you sow them, clear a space of other vegetation so they can get a head start. If you transplant them from elsewhere, you don’t even need to amend the soil: they’re that tough! Water a bit more the first year if conditions are dry, but otherwise, just let them do their thing.

The important thing is to remember that you have to allow at least some seed production, or they’ll eventually die out. So, no deadheading or, at least, let at least few plants each year go to seed.

There you go! Eight “weeds” that I find particularly beautiful and useful, plants that may already have found their way into your garden. Try them letting them grow and see. And there are plenty of pretty weeds where they came from! If a plant shows up in your garden on its own, is attractive and doesn’t seem extremely invasive, perhaps you could learn to love it rather than brand it as a weed?

Learning to live with Mother Nature rather than fighting her? Maybe we could start a new trend in the gardening world?!20180802A

Seeking the True Blue Flower



Blue is one of the rarest of floral colors; only black is more elusive. And that’s probably because of the complex chemistry involved in producing a blue pigment, because bees, butterflies and other pollinators actually find blue quite attractive and easily visit blue flowers. That means that, evolutionarily speaking, blue flowers should be a good choice for blooms and flowers ought to have evolved as readily in that direction as they did towards the pink, white and yellow flowers that are so common.

But it turns out blue is hard to produce. The blue in flowers comes from a pigment that normally gives red or purple hues: anthocyanin (from Greek meaning dark blue). Various forms of it as well as related chemicals give flowers their blue coloration. But most plants with reasonable quantities of this compound produce purple to red flowers instead. Why?

Well, that’s complicated. Suffice it to say that various molecules and metal ions have to be present and also the environment near the pigment cells has to be alkaline. Many plants with true-blue flowers (notably in the families Boraginaceae and Convolvulaceae) have pink buds that turn blue as their environment becomes more alkaline, but most anthocyanin-rich flowers have acid sap and therefore their flowers turn out purple or red. In flowers, blue is a co-pigementation: it needs the right conditions to express itself.

Blue Flowers Are Highly Desirable

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These orchids have been dyed blue. Photo: Tangopaso, Wikimedia Commons

Blue flowers are much appreciated in the florist industry, so much so that dyeing or spraying white flowers blue to make them more saleable is a common practice. Dyes are even injected into living plants to give a blue tint to their flowers. That’s the case of the blue orchids that are so often seen on the market these days. They are actually blue-tinted Phalaenopsis and the next time they bloom, the flowers will be white.

There are scientists all over the world working to introduce genes for blue coloration into popular cut flowers—roses, carnations, chrysanthemums, etc.—with, so far, only mitigated success.

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The Applause rose has “blue genes”, but looks dark lavender to me! Photo: Blue Rose Man, Wikimedia Commons

The efforts to create a blue rose (Rosa) by transferring genes from blue-flowering plants into hybrid tea roses have resulted in a so-called blue rose, Applause, launched by Suntory in 2009 … but in my opinion, it’s not really blue. It’s closer to lavender. Of course, that is an exciting new color for roses, but the true blue rose has yet to be created.

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To me, these “blue carnations” from the Mooncarnation series are violet. Photo: Pagemoral, Wikimedia Commons

The same played out for carnations (Dianthus caryophyllus). Scientists transferred genetic material from blue-flowered plants, plus deleted carnation genes that were hindering the coloration. The resulting “blue” carnations (all those that I know of belong to the series Mooncarnation) are actually different shades of purple and violet. Now, these are new colors for carnations, of course, but they certainly aren’t blue.

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Newly introduced, this “blue chrysanthemum” is not yet commercially available. It’s closer to blue than blue roses and blue carnations, but still, it doesn’t look quite blue to me.  Photo: Naonobu Noda/NARO

Very recently (July 26, 2017), scientists announced the creation of the first blue chrysanthemum (Chrysanthemum x morifolium). It was obtained by inserting genes from a bellflower (Campanula medium) and a blue pea (Clitoria ternatea) into a chrysanthemum. Again, these new mums are being touted as true blue, but I still see a lot of lavender in the flowers and would definitely not call them blue.

Note that these manipulations are all examples of genetic engineering. In other words, these plants are GMOs, a term that scares the s___ out of many people. That said, blue roses and blue carnations have been on the cut flower market for a decade now and I have yet to hear any outcry.

True Blue Blossoms

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Ipomoea tricolor ‘Heavenly Blue’: now that’s a blue flower! Photo: Russel E, Wikimedia Commons

Obviously, there are true blue flowers, and in fact they evolved all on their own and have been around for millions of years. I don’t think anyone will deny that a ‘Heavenly Blue’ morning glory (Ipomoea tricolor ‘Heavenly Blue’) is blue. Moreover, this cultivar was not developed in a laboratory nor is it even a hybrid. Instead, it’s a selection of the wild I. tricolor, a species with naturally blue flowers.

And that’s just one example among many … well, among “quite a few.” There are probably no more than a few hundred true-blue flowers among the some 400,000 plants on this planet.

How to define “blue”?

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Bluebells (here, Campanula cochleariifolia), are not really blue, but violet. Photo: Jerzy Opiola, Wikimedia Commons

In horticulture, there is a long tradition of claiming any flower even the slightest bit close to blue as being a blue flower. Above all, violet-blue flowers—definitely more violet than blue!—are universally called “blue” and violet is an abundant color in the floral world. I’ve always felt this was a case of wishful thinking: we’d like to have blue blooms, so we accept anything close to blue as being true blue.

This seems to be a worldwide phenomenon, by the way: in all the languages I know (4), purple flowers are regularly called blue. Linnaeus himself, the father of botany, named many violet-colored flowers coerulea, which means blue.

Also, I suspect the definition of blue varies from one individual to another. As I researched this article, I realized that I take a rather narrow view to “true blue”. I tend to apply that term to lighter blues (cyan, azure, sky blue, etc.), while to my eye, shades that could be considered blue (indigo, cobalt, etc.) are violet. I’m not sure everyone would agree!

Obviously, we could take the scientific definition of blue as a benchmark. Blue is caused by light rays ranging from 450 to 500 nanometers … but who has a device capable of measuring that?

True Blue Flowers

Here are some flowers that, in my eyes, are true blue. I’ll admit it’s a subjective choice, but—hey! —I am the one writing this article!

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Allium caeruleum. Photo: col&tasha, Flickr

  1. Allium caeruleum (blue globe onion) – bulb, zone 3
  2. Amsonia spp. (bluestar) – perennial, zone 4 to 6, according to species
  3. Anagallis arvensis (poor man’s weather-glass) – annual

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    Borago officinalis. Photo: Sten Porse, Wikimedia Commons

  4. Borago officinalis (borage) – annual herb
  5. Brunnera macrophylla (Siberian bugloss) – perennial, zone 3
  6. Centaurea cyanea (cornflower, bachelor’s button) – annual
  7. Ceratostigma plumbaginoides (leadwort) – perennial, zone 6
  8. Clitoria ternatea (blue pea) – tropical climber, annual
  9. Commelina communis (dayflower) – annual weed

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    Corydalis flexuosa. Photo:

  10. Corydalis flexuosa (blue corydalis) – perennial, zone 6
  11. Cynoglossum amabile (Chinese forget-me-not) – annual
  12. Eryngium spp. (sea holly) – perennial, zone 4
  13. Evolvulus x ‘Blue Daze’ (compact morning glory) – annual
  14. Hydrangea macrocarpa (blue hydrangea), blue in acid soils – shrub, zone 6
  15. Ipomoea tricolor ‘Heavenly Blue’ (morning glory)—annual climber
  16. Linum perenne (perennial flax)—perennial, zone 3
  17. Linum usitatissimum (common flax) – annual

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    Meconopsis betonicifolia. Photo: Andrew Curtis, Wikimedia Commons

  18. Meconopsis betonicifolia (blue poppy) – biennial or short-lived perennial, zone 3
  19. Mertensia spp. (Virginia bluebells and others) – perennial, zone 4
  20. Myosotis spp. (forget-me-not) – biennial, zone 3
  21. Oxypetalum caeruleum (tweedia) – annual
  22. Plumbago auriculata (blue plumbago) – tropical climber or houseplant

Flowers That Are Often Blue

The following plants come in a wider range of colors, including many violets and purples, but also some true blues. With these variable plants, if you want blue flowers, make sure you pick the right cultivar.

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Delphinium ‘Blue Fountains’: this mix from seed contains blue flowers, but also purple and white blooms. Photo: J.W. Jung Seed Co.

  1. Delphinium spp. (delphinium, larkspur) – perennial or annual, zone 2
  2. Gentiana spp. (gentian) – perennial, zone 2 to 6, according to species
  3. Eustoma grandiflorum (lisianthus) – annual
  4. Hyacinthus orientalis (hyacinth) – bulb, zone 4
  5. Iris x germanica (bearded iris, garden iris) – perennial, zone 3
  6. Lobelia erinus (edging lobelia) – annual
  7. Lupinus spp. (lupine) – annual or perennial, zone 3
  8. Muscari spp. (grape hyacinth) – bulb, zone 3
  9. Salvia guaranitica (blue anise sage) – annual in cold climates
  10. Salvia patens (gentian sage) – annual in cold climates
  11. Viola x wittrockiana (pensée) – biennial or short-lived perennial, zone 4

So-Called Blue Flowers

What follows is just a short list of plants many gardeners consider to have blue flowers, but that, personally, I find too close to violet to belong in that group. So if you’re planning a blue border, you might want to skip these.

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Ageratum houstonianum ‘Blue Hawaii’: a pretty shade of violet, but not blue. Photo: Swallowtail Garden Seeds

  1. Aconitum spp. (aconite, monkshood) – perennial, zone 3
  2. Agapanthus spp. (lily of the Nile) – summer bulb or perennial, zone 7
  3. Ageratum houstonianum (flossflower) – annual
  4. Anchusa spp. (bugloss) – biennial or perennial, zone 3
  5. Aquilegia coerulea (blue columbine) – perennial, zone 3
  6. Browallia spp. (browallia, amethyst flower) – annual
  7. Campanula spp. (bellflower) – biennial or perennial, zone 3
  8. Echinops spp. (globe thistle) – perennial, zone 3
  9. Geranium spp. (hardy geranium) – perennial, zones 2 to 9, by species
  10. Hyacinthoides non-scripta (bluebells) – bulb, zone 4
  11. Iris sibirica (Siberian iris) – perennial, zone 3
  12. Iris versicolor (larger blue flag iris) – perennial, zone 3
  13. Lobelia siphilitica (great blue lobelia) – perennial, zone 3
  14. Scilla siberica (Siberian squill) – bulb, zone 320170829A

Forget-me-not: a Love Story


The forget-me-not (Myosotis) symbolizes undying love.

For this Valentine’s Day, why not a charming medieval legend that unites love and a popular plant, the forget-me-not (Myosotis spp.)?

Here’s how it goes.

20170214bA French knight was walking along a river with his lady. He bent down to pick her a pretty little blue flower, but his heavy armor caused him to lose his balance and he fell into the current. Before sinking forever, he tossed the flower to his lady, shouting “ne m’oubliez pas” (forget me not)! And that was how the forget-me-not got its name.

Curiously, even if the legend is French, the name has been essentially lost in France, where they simply call the plant myosotis after its Latin name. But the name forget-me-not lives on not only in English but in other languages: Vergissmeinnicht in German, no-me-olvides in Spanish, nontiscordardimé in Italian, gleym mér ei in Icelandic, etc.

The Other Legend

There is also another legend that explains how the forget-me-not received its name… but it’s not nearly so romantic.

It is said that God had assembled all the flowers in order to give each one a name until there was only one tiny plant that remained. Then God turned as if to leave, causing the little plant to cry out: “Forget me not, O Lord!” “That shall be your name”, he decided.

A Symbol of Love and Remembrance

The forget-me-not remains a powerful symbol even to this day.

In the language of flowers, for example, it symbolizes true and undying love.

Alzheimer Societies around the world have adopted it a as symbol of memory loss. A forget-me-not invites you to remember both people with this disease and their caregivers.

It is also the symbol of International Missing Children’s Day, held annually on May 25th.

Grow Your Own Forget-me-nots

There are about 100 species of forget-me-not, but the most widely cultivated one is the woodland forget-me-not, Myosotis sylvatica, a biennial or short-lived perennial. It grows readily in our gardens where it blooms in spring. It reseeds abundantly (perhaps too abundantly for some tastes!), so one plant quickly becomes dozens. It performs best in moist soil in sun or partial shade and is very cold hardy: zone 3.

Forget-me-nots for Valentine’s Day?


Wouldn’t a pot of forget-me-nots make a great Valentine’s Day gift?

What is missing is a link between this plant, certainly at least as symbolic of undying love as the red rose, with Valentine’s Day. Forget-me-nots just aren’t available in February… or at least, I’ve never seen any. Wouldn’t it be nice if we were able be able to pick up a pot of pretty blue flowers for Valentine’s Day?

Why not mention this to your local garden center? It’s certainly an easy enough plant to grow from seed and doesn’t need much heat to thrive, making it inexpensive to produce. With supplementary lighting, it could easily be brought to bloom at just the right season.

I’m hoping a nursery somewhere will take up the challenge and that we’ll soon be seeing pots of pretty blue flowers on Valentine’s Day next year! Spread the word!20170214a