Garden Heliotrope: Wildflower Wednesday

– Posted in: Native/Invasive, What's up/blooming

garden heliotrope, Valeriana officinalis

Valerian is also known as garden heliotrope. It’s blooming now in my garden.

Garden heliotrope (Valeriana officinalis) has been in my garden a long time. At the old house, I received a piece of it from a neighbor who had an equally old house and garden. It was growing in her garden when she moved in, and I considered it one of those old-timey plants that always grew in old gardens. And well I might, as it has been in the United States for at least 150 years.When I moved here, garden heliotrope was already growing in the Slope Garden. But it wasn’t until I read about garden heliotrope at the Minnesota Wildflowers site that I ever considered it a wildflower, and an invasive one at that.
garden heliotrope, Valeriana officinalis, with bee

Garden heliotrope is a nectar source for bees, but so are many native flowers.

Why would you want garden heliotrope in your garden? Mostly because it is wonderfully fragrant. I don’t think it smells exactly like true heliotrope, but the fragrance is pleasantly floral with a hint of sweetness to it, and it floats on the air–you don’t have to stick your nose close to the flower to get a whiff. As a matter of fact, you are more likely to wonder where that wonderful scent is coming from before you figure out is coming from those clusters of teeny white flowers.
garden heliotrope, Valeriana officinalis and Sundrops, Oenothera sp.

Garden heliotrope can match sundrops for vigor.

I have never seen this plant growing in the wild, but I can believe it capable of growing so thickly it excludes all other plants. When I found it in the Slope Garden, it was one of several plants that had taken over. Every bare spot in the once-cultivated area had either garden heliotrope, evening primrose, some sort of monarda, or columbine growing in it. Clearly these had all been introduced by the previous gardener as ornamental plants and had spread far beyond their intended limits. I’m still editing this bed, wanting to keep a bit of each of these plants, but not nearly as many as are currently growing here. Garden heliotrope spreads by stolons and sets seed borne by the wind. It is easy to pull out where it is not wanted, however, so I have never considered it invasive. Apparently, under the right conditions, it is.

As the authors of Minnesota Wildflowers remark, ” Population expansion is cryptic to casual observers until it suddenly becomes exponential and it starts showing up everywhere.” Meaning, the plant in questions seems perfectly innocent until it reaches critical mass, and you suddenly realize you have a problem. I haven’t seen valerian jump the fence. But when I first started gardening over twenty years ago, I never saw either garlic mustard or wild parsnip. Now they are both scourges. So I am going to keep my eye on this sweet smelling plant. I already had plans to thin it drastically, and I think I will religiously deadhead what little I permit to bloom each year.

Posted for Wildflower Wednesday, created by Gail of Clay and Limestone, to share wildflowers/native plants no matter where you garden in the blogasphere. “It doesn’t matter if we sometimes show the same plants. How they grow and thrive in your garden is what matters most. It’s always the fourth Wednesday of the month!”

About the Author

Kathy Purdy is a colchicum evangelist, converting unsuspecting gardeners into colchicophiles. She would be delighted to speak to your group about colchicums or other gardening topics. Kathy’s been writing since 4th grade, gardening since high school, and blogging since 2002.

Comments on this entry are closed.

Donna@Gardens Eye View June 30, 2013, 5:32 pm

I have always wanted this in my garden and have one in a pot until I find a spot in the white garden or herb garden..

Ilona June 29, 2013, 10:40 am

I’ve tried several times to grow this, but no luck so far! Heliotrope is one of my favorites, and I always to see if the fragrance rivaled it. Thanks for the link to the Minnesota Wildflower site- it was new to me and I love all the info on native flowers.

Aaron June 29, 2013, 4:00 am

Valeriana looks really beautiful and it definitely stands out in the crowd, overshadowing others in the vicinity. You are absolutely correct about the fragrance, actually with out flowers like these, a garden is not complete because what is a garden, if you do not have sweet and flowery fragrance not floating around?

Uwe Beh June 27, 2013, 11:12 am

I love wild flowers and wild herbs. For each walk, I am pleased to experience nature. Unfortunately, I know not many plants. In our garden we allow more and more wild plants.

Kathy Purdy June 27, 2013, 1:12 pm

Welcome, Uwe! I like to use wild plants in my garden, as long as they don’t overwhelm the other plants. When my children were younger, we went on walks and I took a field guide with me and identified the wild flowers as I found them. I learned a lot of them that way. I like to think my children learned some of them, too.

Betsy June 27, 2013, 10:15 am

Loved your pictures of Valerian. I had a start of it for a few seasons but never spread and now is gone. Although it was with sun drops as yours, I think I had too much shade. Your picture looks pretty sunny.

Kathy Purdy June 27, 2013, 1:09 pm

Betsy, when I got my start I really had to baby it the first year or two. I really thought it was going to die. And I did wind up moving it from full shade to part shade and it did better.

commonweeder June 27, 2013, 7:59 am

There is always so much to learn about these plants – even the ones we think are so common. And darn! I missed Wildflower Wednesday again!

Kathy Purdy June 27, 2013, 1:08 pm

It’s not too late to write a Wildflower Wednesday post!

Lea June 27, 2013, 5:59 am

Pretty Wildflowers!
I may have seen it growing wild here, but I’m not sure.
Have a wonderful day!
Lea’s Menagerie

Lily Parkes June 27, 2013, 5:02 am

Hi Kathy,

I have a red Valerian in my garden. I like this herb because my Asian grandmother preserves this as a herbal medicine. Also, the fragrance is really wonderful.

Kathy Purdy June 27, 2013, 1:08 pm

Red valerian is a different plant, Centranthus ruber.

brisbane retaining walls June 26, 2013, 9:24 pm

Those garden heliotrope looks beautiful. Had those in my garden as well. I totally agree with you that because of its fragnance is what I love them. Nice share!

Gail June 26, 2013, 9:18 pm

According to the US Dept of Ag Valerian isn’t in Invasives Are Us (Nashville), TN….We don’t need it, we have enough thugs but I can see how it would be very attractive, a pretty flower and a sweet scent. It’s always good to learn about invasives, thank you for sharing. gail