In the garden: from agricultural tools to rock bands

I think I may have bought the plant because of the name, Jethro Tull, a name that has stuck in the trivial section of my head forever. It’s likely that I heard about the real Jethro Tull in a history lesson when I was in school – long enough ago to call that period of my life historic. He was the 17th century farmer who perfected a horse-drawn seeder in 1700 that modernized agriculture at the time. Or maybe it was the 60s rock band of the same name that I probably listened to and added to the question pile. They’re still around, and ironically, they have a song called “Living in the Past.” For some reason it is so named, the most common Jethro Tull is a cultivated variety of coreopsis that now grows well in my garden.

Coreopsis, common name for tickseed, is a plant native to North America. There are over 70 species and one thing they all have in common is their daisy-like flowers which are a source of nectar and pollen for all kinds of insects. I don’t exactly have large swathes of this plant that would form an ecological niche for specific insects, but the few varieties I have dotted help keep the garden buzzing.

Most coreopsis have yellow undertones, but cultivars can have reddish-purple or even pink tones. I’ve had Coreopsis verticillata ‘Route 66’ for ages. It is a bushy plant full of flowers that have a burgundy center spilling over yellow petals. This one is vigorous and hardy, which isn’t surprising since it’s said to have been discovered growing (or hitching a ride) near Route 66 in Lucinda, Pennsylvania. I also have ‘Zagreb’, equally impressive, but with yellow daisy-like flowers in a shorter, mounded shape, and another called ‘Mercury Rising.’ It is also lush and bushy with flowers the color of a lovely merlot with an orange bud in the center.

Somewhere in the garden there might be a Coreopsis rosea ‘American Dream’. It is a pink variety and unlike other Coreopsis species, it is not as drought tolerant as it needs moist soil to thrive. I’m afraid I didn’t give that one what he needed; however, the others are doing very well.

Coreopsis verticillata are also known as thread-leaved coreopsis because of their delicate, finely textured foliage, which is attractive enough on its own. It is one of the longest flowering perennials, easy to grow and a good choice for the beginner. Plant them in a sunny location, prune them lightly in mid-summer and they will produce even more flowers.

Because they are loved by bees and butterflies, and so easy, every garden should have coreopsis. Don’t worry about the common name tickseed. The plant does not attract ticks nor does it repel them. It is related to the botanical name, Coreopsis, which comes from the Greek words koris meaning bug and opsis, referring to the shape of the seed which resembles a bug or tick.

As for ‘Jethro Tull’, it was a natural cross between varieties of two other species, C. grandiflora, or large-flowered tickseed found in eastern Canada, and C. auriculata, or coreopsis mouse ear. Auriculatus refers to ear-like lobes at the base of each leaf – I have to check Jethro’s leaves for any sign of Mickey. Unlike varieties with filiform leaves, the leaves are noticeably wider. It is the flowers that are particularly attractive. The size of a dollar, they are a brilliant golden yellow with fluted petals that look like tiny ice cream cones.

I have to go sit in the garden with one while I catch up with an old rock band.

Virginia F. Goins