Midsummer

And gorgeous as the sun at midsummer. 

Shakespeare

Henry IV

 JUNE 21

Midsummer

Midwinter, the Winter Solstice, which we observe as Christmas, is over-celebrated in the United States; while Midsummer, celebrated widely in Europe, particularly in the more northern latitudes, is not observed here at all, unless we count the 4th of July.  In pagan times, the Summer Solstice, the longest day and shortest night of the year, was the day when the powers of light and goodness came into conflict with the powers of darkness and evil.  Because the days become shorter after June 21, Midsummer fires were lit on hilltops to rekindle the sun’s flame.

The Church, wisely incorporating pagan customs into church holidays, celebrated the feast of St. John, the Herald of Light, on the 24th of June.  Taking the place of the sun gods, all their flowers, round and golden like the sun became his.  Hypericum became St. John’s Wort—it was gathered on Midsummer’s Eve to be burned in Midsummer fires; they were also woven into garlands along with green birch, fennel, wormwood, and white lilies and hung in churches and on doors as protection against witches, thunder, and other evil. (Elizabeth Lawrence, Through the Garden Gate, June 25, 1961).

St. John’s Wort never became popular in the Midwest–it had to compete with the vigorously promoted Shrubby Potentilla, a Midwestern native.  Wildly popular 30 years ago, Potentilla is seldom used in landscaping anymore.  While it is still on the market, I don’t have any photographs of it.

While yellow-flowered shrubs are no longer popular here, orange-flowered Butterfly Weed (Asclepias tuberosa) and golden Stiff Coreopsis (Coreopsis palmata) make a stunning Midsummer display.

midsummer flag

Midsummer at the Nelson’s.  Marianne always held a Midsummer dinner every year; the centerpiece of the feast was Gravlax, a salt-cured salmon, a delicious treat that she made for her lucky guests.  Be sure to grow lots of fresh dill to go with it.  Other traditional Scandinavian foods for Midsommer are boiled new potatoes with dill, herring, Wasa crispbread, and  fresh strawberry-whipped cream cake.

midsummer 2

 

butterfly weed and stiff coreopsis

Butterfly Weed and Stiff Coreopsis make a stunning combination in bloom from late June through July.

 

Butterfly Weed front sidewalk

My front sidewalk.

Butterfly Weed (Asclepias tuberosa), so-named because of its attractiveness to Monarch butterflies, is one of the prairie’s most conspicuous flowers.  It is rather scarce in mesic prairies, but it is frequently found in sandy Black Oak savannas and dry prairies.

butterflyweed schulenberg prairie

Schulenberg Prairie, Morton Arboretum

It forms a 1’-2’ stiff upright clump of vibrant orange, flat-topped flower clusters that grows wider and showier every year.  It needs a well-drained situation.  It will not thrive in clay.

Stiff coreopsis,  schulenberg prairie

Stiff Coreopsis (Coreopsis palmata) is abundant at Schulenberg Prairie.  it is found throughout the Chicago area in sand prairies and Black Oak savanna, dry prairies, and gravelly hill prairies.  It grows aggressively in the home garden, but oh, so prettily–you will have to decide for yourself if you want it in your prairie garden.  I have it in mine, but I do pull it out when it begins to swallow up less aggressive plants.

 

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Pale Purple Coneflower (Echinacea pallida) and Butterfly Weed combine in a Summer Solstice Garden today.

Happy Solstice to all.

 

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