Earth Mother Gardens

earth-mother-jpg.jpgLynda Franco, one of our favorite people, no longer sells at the Greater Springfield Farmers' Market, but as Earth Mother Gardens, she and her husband Jim left a rich legacy, so rich that we have to keep their achievements on the website.
      Jim's and Lynda's contributions to the gardening world in the Ozarks were too creative and too valuable to let pass into obscurity. Their specialties were herbs, spices, and ornamental plants, the latter with a big emphasis on "native." The herbs included were the basic culinary and medicinal favorites, plus many harder-to-find species and varieties. The ornamentals? Well, many of those were simply breathtaking.
      Recently we heard that the Francos' daughter DeJean has plans to bring Earth Mother Gardens back to life. We think that's great news for us and for all gardeners throughout the Ozarks, and we'll keep you posted here on any developments.
      Meanwhile, here are many of the most interesting, most useful, most worthwhile plants to be found in our beautiful Ozarks region. Please enjoy.

At the Market

Jim Franco chats with a visitor at the Farmer's Market in Springfield. Jim and Lynda, who grew their herbs and native plants on acreage in Buffalo, Missouri, both became known for being unusually friendly and generous in sharing garden information.

'Baby Sun' Coreopsis

'Baby Sun' Coreopsis (Coreopsis lanceolata 'Baby Sun') is a cultivar of the common wildflower Coreopsis. It blooms profusely throughout the summer, growing in clumps up to 18 inches wide and 20 inches tall. This is a wonderful plant for Ozarks gardens and especially good for deadheading to produce many more flowers. Note: Another common name is Tickseed.

Earth Daughter

Lynda and Jim's daughter DeJean was a big plus at market helping people find the right plants and, like her folks, sharing a wide knowledge of flowers and herbs.

Mexican Hat Plant

Mexican Hat Plant (Ratibida columnifera) is a perennial wildflower in Missouri and many other states. It likes full sun or light shade and grows to 42 inches tall. The common name comes from its whimsically elongated center. It's also known as Upright Prairie Coneflower, Elongated Coneflower, and Thimble Flower, and by whatever name, it's pure fun.

Yellow Mexican Hat Plant

The Yellow Mexican Hat Plant is exactly the same species as the Mexican Hat Plant with mahogany-colored petals. It turns out that the amount of mahogany or yellow on the petals varies with individual plants, and may be all of one or the other. How about that. 

Goldfish Plant

Sheer fun from the Francos--the Goldish Plant, so called for its finless fishy blossoms. This Costa Rican native (species name Nematanthus glabra) needs high humidity and bright indirect light. It thrives in Ozarks gardens but must be taken in for the winter--its glossy foliage and whimsical flowers make it an excellent houseplant, especially in hanging baskets.

A Different Gaillardia

Gaillardias, also known as Blanket Flowers, are always a delight in the garden for their radiant bicolor flowers (usually yellow and red). This cheery specimen features dark purple highlights on yellow petals. For the life of us, we can't trace down the varietal name. Like all Gaillardias, however, it does best in full sun and well drained soil. This one grows to about 3 feet tall. 

Herb Gardeners' Delight

Featuring an unusually wide variety of plants, all carefully labeled, Earth Mother Gardens was a superb resource for learning all about herb gardening.

Common and Rarer Herbs

The Francos grow all the basic kitchen herbs plus many species that are hard to find. If you don't have your magnifying glass, those shown here include Pennyroyal, Motherwort, Moss Campion, Fleabane, Lysomachia (Alexander), Showy Primrose, Tansy, and Wormwood.

And more....

Here are Missouri native Cardinal Flower, Hyssop, Blue Sage, Rose Verbena, Solomon's Seal, and a few labels we can't make out.

And Color, Too....

The Francos' more colorful bedding plant offerings included sweet william, 'Great Blue' lobelia, 'Indian Blanket' gaillardia, 'Native Son' coreopsis, goldenrod, clove currant, and more.

Mexican Tarragon

Mexican Tarragon (Tagetes lucida) is famed for tarragon-and-anise scented leaves that are useful as a spice or as a tea. The plant has some frost tolerance and is perennial in some climates, especially if sheltered. It grows to 3 feet tall and bears abundant, highly fragrant, golden yellow blossoms in August and September. A member of the marigold family, it's also called Mexican Marigold.

'Red Fox' Speedwell

'Red Fox' Speedwell (Veronica spicata 'Red Fox') is a perennial that bears beautiful, deep-pink flowers from June through September. It grows quickly into a mound 15 inches high and 12-18-inches wide, which makes it ideal for border edging or in mass plantings. It likes full sun or partial shade and attracts hummingbirds, butterflies, and bees.

Green Flowers

Commonly called Spurge, the Euphorbia species include several varieties with remarkable green flowers. The plant is of African origin, thrives in high summer heat, and reseeds freely in the garden.

Rose Turtlehead

This Rose Turtlehead plant, Chelone obliqua v. speciosa, is just starting to bloom. A perennial wildflower that does well in either full sun or part shade, it's a particularly good choice for adding color and variety to hosta and other shade gardens.

Culver's Root

With its elegant flower spikes of pure white, Culver's Root (Veronicastrum virginicum) is a native perennial wildflower and a favorite of gardeners for many generations. It occurs naturally in moist meadows, thickets, and woods. Growing 3-6 feet tall, it blossoms in June-September.

Lemon Vine
One of the Francos' more intriguing plants is Lemon Vine (Pereskia aculeata var. 'Godseffiana'), believed to be very closely related to the 50-million-year-old ancestors of modern cacti. An attractive woody vine that can reach 30-40 feet in height, the plant is grown mainly as an ornamental, likes shade, and produces fragrant white flower clusters in late summer and early fall. Its succulent leaves are a highly nutritious food for livestock and its fruit, the Barbados Gooseberry, is said to be delicious and highly nutritious.

Herbal Groundcovers

Lynda Franco is especially fond of herbal groundcovers, and here are a few choice specimens: 'Chubby Fingers' sedum, 'Pink Chintz' thyme, 'Golden Acre' sedum, 'Dragon Blood' sedum, 'Mini' thyme, 'Hen 'n Chicks' and wooly thyme.

Rose Verbena
Rose Verbena (Glandularia canadensis) is a vigorous trailing Missouri native plant that makes a marvelous groundcover. It grows 6-12 inches tall and spreads to 24 inches. The flower clusters can range in color from deep pink to rich purple. This plant likes full to medium sun and good drainage. It's wildly attractive to butterflies and outstanding in rock gardens, borders, or containers.

Labrador Violet
Behind the Mini Thyme sign is Labrador Violet (Viola labradorica purpurea) a fluffy-textured groundcover with beautiful violet flowers. It grows 3-6 inches high and likes partial to full shade and rich, well-drained soil. It reseeds freely and spreads rapidly enough to displace other groundcovers, which makes it a great choice for covering large bare areas in the shady landscape. Plant 12-18 inches apart for full cover. 

Bronze Bugleweed
Bronze Bugleweed is a common name for several varieties of Ajuga reptans, an excellent groundcover that grows 6-9 inches tall and spreads by runners to create a carpet of foliage. It prefers shade and well-drained soil and spreads rapidly but is easy to control by pulling unwanted plants. Beautiful blue flowers appear from spring through June. Leaves become bronzy later in the season. Tip: This plant is superb for covering bare areas around trees, where mowing could injure tree roots.

Spanish Lavender

Gardeners love Spanish Lavender (Lavandula stoechas) for its conical purple blossoms tipped with  purple-pink "wings" and its several flushes of bloom in summer. The plant grows from 2-3 feet tall and as wide. This variety, possibly 'Otto Quast', has mid-green leaves rather than the gray common to lavender. Although not reliably winter-hardy in the Ozarks, it might with protection survive our milder winters. A superb container plant, it also responds beautifully to deadheading.

Pot Marigold
pot-marigold-jpg.jpgPot Marigold (Calendula officinalis) has a rich history. Beloved in cottage and country gardens since Medieval times, it bears cheery yellow and orange flowers that were once used to color butter. Not a true marigold, it grows to 2 feet tall and blooms from spring to fall. The edible, aromatic petals are said to be good in soups and salads and also have been used for medicinal purposes in decoctions.

Matrona Sedum
matrona-sedum.jpgMatrona Sedum features burgundy stems, rose-edged, gray-green leaves, and maroon-to-pale-pink flowers in August and September. A hybrid of 'Atropurpureum' and 'Autumn Joy', 'Matrona' first appeared in Germany in 1998 and later was named that country's Outstanding Perennial. It grows to 18 inches tall and 12 inches wide, prefers full sun and well-drained soil, resists drought, and likes most soils. Attractive to bees and butterflies, it also makes an excellent cut flower.

Mother of Thousands
Mother of Thousands (Bryophyllum daigremontianum) isn't easy to find, but when you do, it's fun. An annual succulent, the plant is viviparous, meaning that it forms little plantlets along the leaf edge which fall to the soil and take root. Susceptible to frost, it's usually grown as a houseplant but can be taken outdoors in summer, where it prefers bright shade. Caution: Though fun, the plant is poisonous and should be avoided where pets and small children are present. 

stevia-jpg.jpgStevia (Stevia rebaudiana) is a safe, non-fattening sweetener used for centuries by Paraguayan Indians and by Americans since about 1908. The FDA allows its sale only as a "nutritional supplement" and It can't be advertised as a sweetener. The ad ban is said to be due to complaintsby commercial producers of aspartame. Being much sweeter than sugar, it be used in beverages and in cooking. It also goes by the appetizing common name Candyleaf. 

Blue Sage

Salvia azurea
, commonly called Blue Sage and Azure Blue Sage, is a perennial wildflower native to the central and southern U.S. Beautiful sky-blue flower spikes and lanceolet leaves make it most striking in the garden. It reaches 2-1/2 to 6 feet tall and blooms summer through fall. Combined with other color flowers, especially orange, it can be breathtaking.

Hanging Basket Winners
Two of these plants are superb in hanging baskets. Variegated Creeping Fig (Ficus pumila 'Variegata') has green-and-white leaves and is a root-clinging vine growing 10-15 feet long and 3-6 feet wide. Aptenia cordifolia--common names Baby Sun Rose, Heartleaf Ice Plant, and Hearts & Flowers--is a trailing perennial with bright green, succulent leaves and bright red flowers. It grows 10 inches tall with a 3-foot spread. Both plants need good light inside and can thrive in the garden but must be brought inside in winter. (The Ficus is also excellent for covering walls and fences.)

Crimson Sweet Watermelon

The Francos also grow the delicious Crimson Sweet Watermelon (Citrullus lanatus), a favorite of melon-lovers worldwide for its juicy red flesh, crisp texture, rich flavor, and extra-high sugar content. An All-America Selection in 1964, it's still a winner today.

Wild Winter Onions

Winter Onions are perennial onions that produce many seeds or bulbils that take root in the spring and yield delicious green onions in the early spring. The name can apply to any of several perennial onions. This one is likely Allium cepa proliferum, also called Egyptian Onion, Tree Onion, and Walking Onion, which forms tiny bulbs (bulbils) at the tops of leaves. Its tendency to spread around the garden accounts for the name Wild Walking Onion. 

The Francos say Yamikens are the sweetest of all winter squashes and make the best "pumpkin" pies. Jim advises slicing the squash in half, removing the seeds, baking in the oven at 350 for a half-hour, then testing with a fork to see if it's ready. "It's so good, you won't believe it," he says. We tried it. We agree.

Specialty Items

The Francos' gourd birdhouses, one of a few specialty items they sold, were both livable for the birds and nice to look at for the humans.


Fleabane (Erigeron species) is a member of the aster family with small, highly engaging daisylike flowers. Depending on species and variety, the flowers may range in color from white to pink to purple and the plant may reach a foot to three feet tall and be annual, biennial, or half-hardy perennial. The common name comes, of course, from the long-held belief that the oil of the plant repels fleas, a claim that evidently has not been scientifically proven.

Variegated Yellow Loosestrife
Variegated Yellow Loosestrife ( species Lysimachia punctata 'Alexander') has beautiful variegated lance-shaped leaves and cup-shaped lemon yellow flowers from midsummer through fall. It grows quickly to 2 feet tall and wide, likes partial sun, and needs water when the soil is dry 3 inches deep. Excellent for woodland gardens and edging borders, it also attracts bees and butterflies. Note: "Loosestrife" refers to the belief it can lessen the anger of wild animals.

Yellow Loosestrife
Yellow Loosestrife (Lysimachia punctata), the species, has the same cultural requirements as the 'Alexander' cultivar above, but the leaves are bright green and plain, which many gardeners prefer. Note: We planted one of the Francos' Yellow Loosestrifes in our garden and can happily report that when the second year it spreads into a wide, thick clump of beautiful foliage bursting with the brilliant yellow star-like flowers, the result is spectacular. We have to say it's one of the best plant buys we've ever made.

'Red Dragon' Fleeceflower
'Red Dragon' Fleeceflower (Persicaria microcephala 'Red Dragon') is a singularly striking foliage plant. Its heart-shape, sharply pointed leaves are marked with silvery V's with bronzy centers. It can grow quickly in full sun or partial shade to 35 inches tall and as wide, and has tiny white flowers in summer. It likes average and moist soil. Deer-resistant, it attracts butterflies and, they say, is especially good in mass plantings.

Variegated Sedum

Vivid splashes of color make Variegated Sedum (Sedum erythrosticum variegatum) a beautiful addition to any garden. A succulent, it grows in full sun to partial shade and makes a neat clump as tall as 12 inches and 18 inches wide. It also bears clusters of star-like white-to-pink flowers in summer that are terrifically attractive to pollinating insects.


Catchfly (Silene armeria) is a beautiful annual that grows quickly and blooms profusely. Catchfly is so named because Its stems put forth a sticky sap that can capture small insects. It likes sun or partial shade and well-drained soil. The common name is None-So-Pretty. Bonus: It can reseed nicely in the garden and is not invasive.

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