Saturday, May 29, 2010
In keeping with my tradition of encouraging native plants to grow on my property, I long ago scattered the seeds of dame’s rocket, Hesperis matronalis.
A place along the railroad track, overlooking a tidal river in Belfast, Maine, was alive with pink, white and blue dame’s rocket. This typically flowers in June and as summer progresses, is pretty much forgotten by casual observers. So I took pains to note the exact location of the plants and in late summer, harvested dozens of ripe seedpods. These were the genesis of the rocket that presently grows outside my office and around my front yard.
Of course this year, 2010, has seen things get a little skewed. The schedule of blooming and ripening is several weeks early. Consequently, the rocket that would normally cheer my senses in June is in full bloom now, in late May. Along with rocket are wild lupine and chives, all of a bluish hue. I used to call June the “blue time,” but again, that feature has been pushed forward by a considerable length of time.
Anyway, rocket looks very much like garden phlox, but it isn’t. Phlox has five petals to the flower, while rocket has only four. Rocket properly belongs in the mustard family, a showy example of what that group offers.
In addition to striking color, rocket releases a powerful, sweet scent at night and also on overcast days. The aroma has such an effect on me that when it wafts past my nose, I am a child again, carefree and totally happy. I’m not an aroma therapist, but it’s easy for me to see how scents and aromas can play on our emotions and well-being.
Anyway, if this has you interested in rocket, just keep a sharp eye out and if you see what looks like phlox (actual phlox comes around well after rocket has faded away), take note and mark the spot. Return in late August and bring a small bag. The seeds are borne in a typical, mustard seedpod. Hold the bag under the ripe pod and pull it from the stem. If it breaks, that only means that the seeds are fully ripe, ready for dispersal.
Then go home and envision where a three-foot, showy flower would look best and scatter the seeds. Wet them with a hose or watering can and with that, the “jobbie is deen,” as the Scots would say.
Don’t expect much the next year, but after that, watch out. These plants spread on their own after becoming established. Even when they show up in places I would prefer they avoid, I have never felt the need to pull them. They are simply too pretty, too deliciously fragrant and too ethereal. Soon, rocket will fade and other wild plants will take center stage.
But for now, dame’s rocket says it all. I just love it and hopefully, you will too. Enjoy!