How to grow Actaea
The Actaea pictured is ‘Black negligee’; a thigh-high plant with frilly-flowered spikes of tiny white-to-pink flowers. It earns its name from the dark, deeply bisected leaves that suggest a lace pattern around the edges.
Actaeas are perennial, and a good choice for herbaceous borders. Plant them in good garden soil and mulch or feed at least once a year. They are forgiving plants as they don’t mind wet soil and they aren’t fussy about acid or alkaline. Try to give them some shelter and they will grow to a couple of feet wide and over a metre tall. If all you can offer them is an exposed, windswept site with poor soil – don’t bother. They may be forgiving, but there is a limit to their generosity!
September flowers with plenty of early morning and evening scent
They flower in September, so plant yours somewhere where you can loiter in early morning to enjoy the sweet, exotic fragrance. Maybe you will enjoy your ‘Black Negligee’ while you garden in your pyjamas!
Actaea spread by extending their rhizomes – flat fingers of rooty bulbs. They are not invasive and the rhizomes are handy as you will like as not want to divide them to create more plants in early spring. It’s easier than growing them from seed.
If you have enough room plant a few to form a dark wall of foliage, under spires of flowers that can reach waist height with a scent that will catch on the breeze and attract pollinating insects.
There are plenty of varieties to choose from; almost all have the dark foliage that I prefer. Actaea is a favourite of mine as the leaves are a perfect backdrop to pretty much any brightly coloured flower whilst the flowering spikes are worth attention in their own right. I have planted them in our long borders, fronted by bright pink dahlias, yellow fennel and a variety of other “hot” and purple flowers.
Nick Haworth – Head Gardener