Fashionably Late & Dressed in Maroon: Sweetly-Scented, Autumn Fairy Candles Light Up the Shadowy, Secret Garden…

September 16th, 2010 § 6 comments § permalink

Actaea simplex/Cimicifuga simplex ‘Hillside Black Beauty {also known variously as Fairy Candles, Black Snake Root & Black Cohosh}

Actaea simlex ‘Hillside Black Beauty’, here in the Secret Garden with Hakonechloa macra ‘All Gold’, Lamium maculatum, Helleborus x hybridus ‘Royal Heritage Strain’, Paeonia mouton x lutea ‘High Noon’, Stewartia pseudocamilla, and a background of bronzing Matteuccia pensylvanica {native Ostrich fern}

True, there are those who say it’s rude to be tardy, but it seems to me that the more interesting characters always arrive a wee-bit late to the party. Of course, they are always gorgeous, a bit mysterious, and often wearing something dark and dramatic. Well, such is the case with Actaea simplex {aka Cimicifuga simplex} ‘Hillside Black Beauty’, in my Secret Garden. Clad in exquisitely-cut, deep, velvet-maroon, the Fairy Candles —as I like to call them— saunter into bloom in September; wearing their lilac-tinted, flower plumes the way an old-fashioned bombshell might drape her shoulders with an exotic, perfumed boa. Filling the cool, misty air of the Secret Garden with the most delightfully intoxicating scent, {noticed and adored by hungry bees and other early autumn pollinators} Actaea simplex arrives late on the garden-scene with the kind of laid-back elegance of which modern Hollywood starlets can only dream…

Actaea simplex ‘Hillside Black Beauty’ in the Secret Garden {see companion plant listing above}

Known by various intriguing aliases —including Black Snake Root, Black Cohosh and (my favorite) Fairy Candles— Actaea simplex was formerly categorized in taxonomic circles as Cimicifuga simplex (sim-e- sih-few-gah sim-plex); a delightful tongue-twister that, once mastered, I actually came to adore (In fact, I still refer to her by the original botanical name – the Latin just seems to capture her… Je ne sais quoi). Native to the moist, cool woodlands of eastern North America, this statuesque beauty will easily reach 4-6′ tall — spikes in full bloom— when she’s given the conditions she prefers. Hardy in USDA zones 4-8, Actaea simplex ‘Hillside Black Beauty’, and the similarly beautiful ‘Brunette’, require a consistently moist and amply shaded location to really strut their stuff. Too much sun will bleach and burn-out her gorgeous foliage , and dry soil will quickly do her in.

It’s a shame the fragrance of Actaea simplex’s blossoms can not be transmitted electronically. I wish you could sample the delicious scent…

A classy beauty like this demands fine company. And with her year-round, velvety, maroon attire, chartreuse and gold foliage make gorgeous music with her in the low-light. I like to combine the dark foliage of  A. simplex ‘Hillside Black Beauty’ and ‘Brunette’ with low, spreading, golden Japanese Forest Grass (Hakonechloa macra ‘All Gold’ or ‘Aureola’), mound-shaped Hosta ‘August Moon’, and for serious drama, I play her against my favorite chartreuse -stunner, Sambucus racemosa ‘Sutherland Gold’ (European elder). Yes, Actaea simplex ‘Hillside Black Beauty’ is a true garden bombshell – but of the dark variety, not the blonde— like Hedy Lamarr. She’s sultry, she’s elegant, and she really knows how to bring down the house in style….

Inspiration: Hedy Lamarr {image: still from ‘The Strange Woman’ United Artists 1946 (public domain)– via improbable research}

Hedy Lamarr {Alfred Eisenstaedt, 1938 – image via zimbio.com}

Hedy Lamarr {image via zimbio.com}

Hedy Lamarr was an Austrian-born actress popular in films of the 1930s and 40s. Read more about Hedy Lamarr on her IMDB page by clicking here.

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Article and photos (excepting portraits of Hedy Lamarr) are ⓒ Michaela at TGE

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