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Gambling with my Anthemis

An anthemis volunteer in my garden! So far it doesn't look like much: four thin flower stems reaching for the sun in a tangle of plants. But I'm excited because most anthemis, though perennial, are not long-lived.

All the members of this genus have daisy-like flowers, usually less than two inches across. Compared to a daisy, however, the button-like center is often bigger in proportion to the fringe of petals around the outside. I think this makes them look cute. Foliage is much prettier than a daisy's: finely divided, lacy-looking. Aromatic, too: a little like artemisia.

In this climate, three species are hardy. Sicilian A. punctata (which exists only in a subspecies, "cupaniana") grows a foot tall, with silvery leaves and white petals. It's supposed to be more reliably hardy than the others, but the one I got didn't survive its first winter.

Two- to three-foot-tall A. tinctoria has two common names I know of. "Ox-eye chamomile" makes me imagine a cartoon of a cow with flower-shaped eyes. The other, "golden marguerite," really doesn't fit my favorite cultivars — the ones with pale, creamy yellow petals: 'Susannah Mitchell', 'Sauce Hollandaise', 'E. C. Buxton', 'Moonlight.' The new seedling has this color, as well as silvery leaves. That combination could mean it's Susannah M ... or it could be a cross.

The easiest anthemis to find — A. tinctoria 'Kelwayi,' from Europe and the Near East — bears bright yellow flowers, and is the most reliable I've grown, because it self-seeds prolifically. When one plant dies off, there are always more coming along.

A. sancti-johannis, from Bulgaria, also two to three feet tall, sports bright orange flowers. It hybridizes readily with A. tinctoria; as a result plants sold as "St. John's marguerite" ... are often not. A friend gave me two plants she called this, but with white petals and yellow disks. In her garden, she says, it self-seeds all over. I keep hoping it will in mine.

Anthemis require full sun and sandy — even gritty — soil, well-drained. They don't like too much water. I killed a lovely hedge of 'Kelwayi' by letting them get sprinkled along with the vegetable garden they bordered.

To encourage better longevity, experts recommend dividing the plants, or cutting them back hard after bloom. But I let them go to seed, in hopes of interesting new plants — like this one.

Photo 1 by C.H. Clark - Anthemis tinctoria 'Kelwayi'
Photo 2 by C.H. Clark - Not Anthemis sancti-johannis

Text and photos © Copyright 2005 Catherine Holmes Clark

Published in the six Nashoba Publications papers on Friday, 22 July 2005

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