Plant of the week
Actaea racemosa 'Chocoholic' (Bugbane )
Why you should plant it
Actaea used to be known as Cimicifuga , if you are confused by the nomenclature. I was at first, but fell in love with this species all over again after seeing this glorious new cultivar, no matter what they call it. My plant will be in bloom soon: Tiny white/ pink florets run up the central stalk, producing a truly odd scent (which I happen to enjoy). Even without the flowers, the mysterious, deeply brooding leaves are a treat anywhere in the garden. The lacy foliage is a superb contrast to more tailored plants, while the blooms change from a light pink to white over a few weeks if you are in designer mode.
Where to plant it
Actaea is a plant that does like shade, but too much and the dark chocolatey colour will green out. So a very high, dappled shade into bright sunlight suits best. If you do plant it in full sun, make sure it gets loads of water. These plants will simply disappear under soggy, dark conditions. Use woodland-type soil – i.e., lots of organic matter and good drainage. It will grow up to 1.5 metres tall but very slowly, so be patient. It's a Zone 5 plant, although I've seen it in slightly colder areas with lots of protection from shrubs and trees.
What it offers
If you need a deer-resistant plant, 'Chocoholic' might work, but don't count on it. It does make a lovely complement to upright shrubs such as Fothergilla gardenii, especially in autumn, when the latter bursts into neon colours while the actaea smoulders in deep purple with almost black berries along the route of the blooms. Together they make a dazzling spectacle.
Source and cost
Find it at nurseries such as John's Garden Centre in Uxbridge, Ont. (905-862-8175) for $14.50 a plant.
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