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Saugus Gardens in the Summer

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Here’s what’s blooming in town this week to make your walks more enjoyable


By Laura Eisener


Among the favorite symbols of summer, sunflowers have had a tough time this summer with so many rainy days. Many Massachusetts farms that usually boast spectacular sunflower displays in September are facing smaller plants and fewer flowers than in some previous years. Still, many gardens have individual sunflowers that are quite impressive, and a walk or drive through most neighborhoods will reveal a few plants standing tall this week. Dee LeMay has been enjoying the flowers in her Springdale Avenue garden.

Hummingbirds are still around, and the similar looking clearwing hummingbird moth (Hemaris thysbe) is also out and about visiting its favorite flowers. The nectar-rich summer phlox (Phlox paniculata) is one of the most popular with pollinators, and the variety ‘Jeana’ shown here is an especially long blooming and mildew resistant choice. While its individual blossoms are smaller than most other varieties of summer phlox, there are many blossoms in each cluster so it still has plenty of color.

The native Buttonbush (Cephalanthus occidentalis) grows on the edges of ponds and streams and can be found in many places in Saugus. Its white spherical flowers appeared in this column July 28, and now most of the blossoms have finished although you may still see a few here and there. Most have turned to greenish or reddish spherical seedheads with many small two-seeded nutlets. Just as the nectar and pollen from the flowers can nourish many pollinators, the nutlets are valuable food in fall and winter for many kinds of birds and other wildlife. It grows along the edges of a few ponds in Golden Hills, near where the white water lilies are still blooming.

While there are many water lilies grown in gardens that are tropical, white fragrant water lilies (Nymphaea odorata, also known as American white water lilies) are native to most of North America. They bloom during the day and close at night, with the roots in the mud at the bottom of the pond and the leaves and flowers floating on the surface. Water lilies petioles, or leaf stalks, can be up to five feet long, reaching from the rhizomes at the bottom of the pond up to the surface. Many pointed sweetly scented petals surround a bright yellow center, and bees can often be seen seeking nectar and pollen. At the end of the season, the fruit develops and sinks down into the water. The round leaf blades have a waxy coating to keep them from becoming waterlogged and sinking. They often make a convenient platform for insects and small amphibians like frogs to bask in the sun.

Last week’s column featured sweet peas, and in early fall a wild relative of sweet pea comes into bloom at the edge of the woods on the nature trail at the Saugus Iron Works and many other places in New England. Groundnut (Apios americana) is a native member of the pea family (Fabaceae) known more for what it produces underground than above. The flowers are pinkish beige and fairly small, in clusters that resemble a small wisteria inflorescence, and the pinnately compound leaves also look like a smaller version of wisteria (Wisteria spp.). It climbs on shrubs and tree branches and can also be grown happily on trellises. Once the pretty flowers go by, they are followed by small edible pods, but the tubers connected to underground stems are even more valued as a food source. In addition to groundnut, it is sometimes called Indian potato or wild bean. Native Americans across North America often used these as a food source, storing them through the winter. They are not often cultivated as a food crop but are still gathered from the wild and enjoyed by many people.


  Editor’s Note: Laura Eisener is a landscape design consultant who helps homeowners with landscape design, plant selection and placement of trees and shrubs, as well as perennials. She is a member of the Saugus Garden Club and offered to write a series of articles about “what’s blooming in town” shortly after the outbreak of the COVID-19 pandemic. She was inspired after seeing so many people taking up walking.

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