Louis Raymond experiments in his own gardens like

a mad scientist, searching out plants that most people have

never seen before & figuring out how to make them perform.- The Boston Globe

…Louis Raymond ensures that trees can grow in Brooklyn…

or just about any other place where concrete consumes

the dirt and skyscrapers shield the sunshine.- USA Today

 
 

NEW Trips to Take!

Myrtle's easy when the conditions are right.

 
 
 
 

NEW Plants to Try!

Louis tries to capture the exact words to describe the fleeting but deep pleasures to be found in these Summer-into-Autumn incredibles.

 
 
 
 

New Gardening to Do!

Allergic to bees? You can still have an exciting garden, full of flowers and color and wildlife.

 
 
 
 

Plant Profiles

Bogbean

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Adventuresome gardeners welcome the occasional plant that is more than functional, let alone beautiful. On occasion, go all the way out on the spectrum of garden interest, leaving Charming and Pretty far back in your rear-view mirror. Speed right by Eccentric and Rare, too. Don't stop until you've reached the distant patch known as Weird and Who Knew?

 

 

If you have a water garden, bogbean can be just the weirdo you need. Its mid-Spring flowers, fringy and white, from lipstick buds, are bogbean's only nod to conventional appeal.  

 

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Those charming flowers, plus the three-leafleted leaves, arise from wide-spreading woody rhizomes that seem more like those of bamboo. I've planted my Menyanthes trifoliata in a couple of my garden's many galvanized washtubs. The tubs are sunk halfway into the pond, and each has had a few holes drilled in the bottom. Their soil is permanently saturated, and so they function as bog gardens.

 

 

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The rhizomes of bogbean have no interest in remaining within the bounds of the tubs. Two rhizomes have leapt out of the tub and are growing out into open water, where they could lengthen a couple of yards, sending out roots along the way and, occasionally, leaves and flowers, too.

 

 

Here's how to grow this eccentric aquatic perennial:

 

Latin Name

Menyanthes trifoliata

Common Name

Bogbean, buckbean

Family

Menyanthaceae, the Bog Bean family.

What kind of plant is it?

Herbaceous rhizomatous aquatic perennial.

Hardiness

Zones 3 - 10.

Habit

Thick and woody rhizomes spread shallowly, horizontally, and indefinitely. They can extend widely into open water, floating a few inches beneath the surface, sending out numerous very long roots that anchor the rhizomes in soil that could be a foot or two below the water surface. Rhizomes will also grow in saturated soil, whether it's covered with a few inches of water or is abutting fresh water ponds, bogs, or streams. Rhizomes send up individual leaves with the species' namesake trio of leaflets and, in spring, vertical stems that bear racemes of delicate flowers.

Rate of Growth

Medium to fast depending on conditions.

Size in ten years

For me, the height of the foliage above the surface of water or soil is only a few inches; the flower stems can be ten to sixteen inches tall. Lateral spread will be indefinite—Menyanthes can form enormous colonies where circumstances are favorable—unless controlled.

Texture

Thriving colonies growing in saturated soil can grow densely enough to suggest a form of aquatic lettuce or Bergenia, or a hardy version of water hyacinth, Eichhornia crassipes, which isn't hardy colder than the subtropics. In my experience, rhizomes that grow out into open water don't mature to dense colonies, but this could be because my rubber-bottomed pond doesn't give the rhizome's lengthy roots any soil to root into.

Grown for

its oddity: You'd be unlikely to dream up Menyanthes. There are no other species in its genus, nor any other hardy non-grassy aquatics with such sparse top growth but far-reaching rhizomes. Despite this species' global distribution—an indication of its success in persisting in diverse and often rigorous climates—Nature seems not to have found this model of plant worthy of further elaboration.

 

its flowers: Fringed and delicate, with pure white petals opening from rosy-pink buds. They are a welcome contrast to the odd-more-than-attractive rhizomes and the reasonable-but-not-stunning foliage. Reportedly, flowering is sparse or non-existent in Zones 8 through 10. The flowers mature to orange bean-shaped seeds the size of lentils, but eating them is not recommended.

Flowering season

Spring: May into June here in southern New England.    

Color combinations

The white flowers go with anything, whereas the rosy-pink buds, if they were longer lasting, would suggest partners that celebrate pink, blue, burgundy, and white.

Plant Partners

The flowering season isn't long and, because it's in Spring, when so many of the showier plants in a water garden are just waking up, the subtle rose of the buds isn't an important consideration in developing plant combinations that include Menyanthes. Instead, incorporate bogbean on the basis of its habit, its texture, and its potential to spread widely.

 

 

Tall partners can be stylish as well as strategic: Menyanthes doesn't climb, so will be a harmless groundcover beneath them. In addition to the classic pairing with the grass-like verticality of aquatic grasses and rushes—choose variegated forms of Phragmites, Typha, Carex, or aquatic forms of IrisMenyanthes would be an exciting contrast with the lacy foliage of smaller forms of the water-friendly conifers Taxodium, Metasequoia, and Chamaecyparis thyoides, near which it would have the same texture and function as Pachysandra.

Where to use it in your garden

Bogbean only thrives in soil that is saturated or shallowly submerged year-round. Menyanthes can grow on the banks of soil that borders ponds or bogs, or directly into their shallows. It is also easy as a container plant in a water garden.

Culture

Full sun to part shade, in almost any soil that remains saturated year-round. Menyanthes will thrive when fully submerged in one to three inches of water, as well as in terrestrial sites where the water table is only an inch or two below grade.

How to handle it: The Basics.

Plant-out potted specimens in Spring or Summer. Divisions are best planted only in Spring, to give new growth plenty of time to establish its roots before Fall. 

How to handle: Another option—or two!

Outside of natural settings, Menyanthes is most often grown in containers, submerged an inch or two in water gardens. Then, the far-reaching rhizomes, afloat in open water, are as easy to spot as they are to clip off. Do this anytime the urge strikes you.  

Quirks and special cases

None.

Downsides

Bogbean's ability to spread widely could, conceivably, be a concern if you were attempting to grow it amid smaller or less rambunctious neighbors. See "Plant Partners," above, for practical suggestions.

Variants

Menyanthes trifoliata is the only species in its genus. The form native to North America is sometimes referred to as M. trifoliata var. minor, but it's not clear how much smaller—"minor"—it is than the form native to Eurasia. To my knowledge, no variants are commercially available.

Availability

On-line and, occasionally, at retailers specializing in aquatics.

Propagation

By seed, and by division of the long rhizomes, which send out roots along their lengths.

Native habitat

Menyanthes trifoliata is native to Europe, Asia, and North America. In North America, it is native from Alaska to Labrador, and south to Nebraska to Virginia.

 
 
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