Artemisias Enjoy a Long Run as Garden Plants

| June/July 2004

  • The deep green tips of mugwort (A. vulgaris) show off nicely as the plant grows into a refined bush that serves well as a landscape plant in borders or at the garden’s edge.
  • A favorite medieval strewing herb, wormwood (A. absinthium) gets its name from its ability to fend off worms.
  • The clean, lemony scent of southernwood (A. abrotanum) is welcoming in the garden and in fresh-cut arrangements.

Many artemisias graced old-time gardens, earning their spot of ground for both practical and aesthetic reasons. Today, every one of them remains valued for its beauty and hardy self-reliance. Some of our best-known artemisias today came to this country with the colonists. They proved so adaptable that they quickly naturalized alongside their North American cousins, among which is perhaps “the most agreeably scented of the race,” according to Louise Beebe Wilder in The Fragrant Path. It’s the western sagebrush, A. tridentatum.

Among artemisias originally from Europe are southernwood (A. abrotanum), common wormwood (A. absinthium), French tarragon (A. dracunculus), sweet Annie (A. annua) and mugwort (A. vulgaris).

Common wormwood and sweet Annie easily are raised from seed; the others are easier bought as young plants and multiplied from tip cuttings or simple divisions. In olden times, artemisias were grown mostly for medicinal, culinary or household purposes (most make great substitutes for mothballs among precious woolens). Various ones reportedly cured everything from baldness to lovesickness, to a host of women’s ills. The wormwoods were particularly noted as intestinal wormicides, although their poison potential makes them too dangerous as home remedies.

In counterpoint, ornamental uses have grown, and with good reason. Artemisias have interestingly shaped foliage, which often is fragrant, and the plants are very drought and cold hardy. Those with gray leaves make excellent visual counterpoints to the greens of our gardens, and they’re also good candidates for the ever-popular white garden plantings.

Here’s a rundown of the artemisias in my garden, Back in Thyme:


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