I have agreed to give a talk at the Maine Botanical Garden in Boothbay Harbor this coming October. The topic is “Incorporating Wild Plants into the Garden Scheme.” This topic has legs, I think, since more people are becoming interested in the uses and benefits of our wild plants.

At one time, most writers would not dignify the idea of having wild plants in the garden by even discussing it. But times have changed as we become more considerate about and concerned with wild plants. To me, it’s a no-brainer, because it is something I have always done. As a long-time cottage gardener, it seems quite natural to me to plunk a wild plant down next to a cultivated favorite. Just another day in the garden.

Consider this: All plants were wild at some time in their past. We have brought many species into cultivation and have hybridized many of them. But nothing can change the fact our modern plants have wild ancestors.

Add to that the many uses of wild plants beyond their physical appearances. These range from medical to culinary. And so the complete gardener of today seeks to add something special to the established garden. There’s a wild plant for that.

Here are just a few wild plants that can fill niches in modern gardens.


Do you have a damp or even wet area that could benefit from a strikingly handsome wild plant? Look no further than boneset — Eupatorium perfoliatum. Boneset grows to 2 ½ feet tall, and has a unique appearance because the stem appears to grow through the symmetrically opposite leaves. Actually, these are twinned leaves, the base of which abut and meld together around the stem.

Boneset. Photo by Tom Seymour.

The white flowers of boneset occur in flat and sometimes rounded clusters in late summer and early fall. To grow boneset, gather a flower cluster, break it apart and dry it. You can either plant the individual seeds, which are attached to the flower, or you might broadcast it, much like a child waving a mature dandelion head around. I prefer the latter.

I have located boneset growing along rivers and streams, lakeshores, and in wet, boggy ground. Boneset appreciates full sun but can still thrive in partly sunny locations.

As a medicinal plant, boneset is used to treat many ailments, but is especially useful as a fever breaker. A strong tea of boneset brings on sweats and a stronger dose has laxative qualities.

Oxeye daisy

Sure, you can buy cultivated varieties, but bother when you have the wild, oxeye daisy near at hand? The ubiquitous oxeye daisy — Chrysanthemum leucanthemum — is found virtually everywhere, so finding some to transplant (with landowner permission, of course) shouldn’t pose a problem.

Also remember even wild plants can benefit from being planted in rich, friable soil and being given nutrition in the form of compost or chemical fertilizer. You might even be able to coax oxeye daisies to grow to such a size no one would ever think they are wild.

In addition to their friendly, simple looks, oxeye daisies have culinary value. The unopened buds can be eaten raw and taste remarkably like carrots. I like to nibble on them as I walk about outside. The foliage, when chopped, also contains a carrotlike flavor and does much to enhance a simple salad.

Common milkweed

Common milkweed — Asclepias syriaca — was never highly thought of by gardeners. And yet, more people are growing milkweed in “butterfly gardens,” gardens whose plants attract monarch and other butterflies.

The young shoots, as well as the immature seedpods are edible when boiled, but it is the monarch-attracting properties that endear common milkweed to most people. Start your own butterfly garden by either transplanting young milkweed shoots or, more difficult, start them by collecting seed in fall.

So whatever your garden situation, I’m sure there is room for one or more kinds of wild plants. Do give them a try.

Tom Seymour, of Frankfort, is a homeowner, gardener, forager, naturalist, registered Maine Guide, amateur astronomer, magazine and newspaper columnist, and book author.