Wednesday, July 28, 2010

Wildflower Wednesday: A Different Kind of Coneflower

Every time I go to the MG Idea Garden to work, I pass by one of my favorite places, Meadowbrook Park with its prairie restoration area.  All summer I thought to myself that I would go work in the garden for a couple of hours and then take some time for a walk through this prairie area.  But the intense heat of this summer has foiled my plans--by the time I leave the Idea Garden, I am soaked through with perspiration and ready to find a cool spot to sit down, not put on my walking shoes and put in 30 minutes of exercise.  As a result, I've seen the big show of prairie blooms only from a distance as I whizzed by in my car.

Last Thursday, though, with Wildflower Wednesday in mind, I stopped, not to walk, but to see what was blooming in late July and to capture a few photographs.  One of the most prominent flowers right now is the Gray-headed coneflower, Ratibida pinnata. On one of my first posts about this prairie planting, I misidentified this plant as a Rudbeckia, but a reader kindly corrected me. There are so many native yellow wildflowers, including many varieties of Rudbeckia and Helianthus, that even with my trusty wildflower book, I have trouble seeing the distinctions among them.  But once you've become familiar with this coneflower, it's easy to recognize it immediately.  The most distinguishing features are their yellow ray flowers which droop downward from a conical disk about 3/4" tall.  Before opening, the disks are an ashy gray, which is where they get their name.

The Gray-headed coneflowers grow on slender stalks up to 5 feet tall. Like their counterparts, the purple coneflowers, Echinacea purpurea, the Ratibida are popular with wildlife.  In the previous photo, you can see something, possibly goldfinches though I didn't see any on this day, has already devoured some of the seeds from the central disks.

Many of the native plants in this prairie area have already finished blooming, while a few others, such as the ironweed and asters won't be blooming until fall.  But one other plant was noticeable on this hot July day.  Those who attended the garden bloggers' gathering in Buffalo a few weeks ago raved about the bee balm they saw everywhere, so they will quickly recognize this plant, Wild Bergamot, Monarda fistulosa.  Though definitely not as showy as its cultivated relatives, these natives are common throughout the state, not only in restored areas like this one, but also along roadsides.

A member of the mint family, native Monarda can grow up to 5 feet tall with fragrant flowers that form dense round heads.

Many Native American tribes made tea from the flowerheads and leaves to treat colds, fevers, whooping cough, abdominal pain, headaches, and as a stimulant. Chewed leaves were placed on wounds under a bandage to stop the flow of blood.  Wild bergamot is still used in herbal teas.
  (from Illinois Wildflowers by Don Kurz)

I apologize for the lack of good photos--it was windy on this day, and the blooms wouldn't stop moving.  I do have some cultivars of Monarda in my garden, but they're past blooming.  And I had hoped to have some native Gray-headed coneflowers of my own to share this year, but they were the victims of a seed mix-up . . . a story for another day.

Wildflower Wednesday was begun by native enthusiast Gail of Clay and Limestone.  Do stop by and visit her for more features on some native wildflowers.

Friday, July 23, 2010

A Few More Reasons to Love Coneflowers...

The number one reason . . .

And a second reason . . .

Still another . . .

Or perhaps you would be persuaded by something different . . . 

But Number One is enough for me . . .

. . . Need I say more?

All photos taken in my front garden this week.

Tuesday, July 20, 2010

I've Got It Made in the Shade

Is there such a thing as a perfect garden?  After viewing many public gardens and some magnificent private ones, both large and small, in the past few years, I think there might be such a thing..  But I can assure you that if perfection exists, it's in someone else's garden---definitely not in mine. 

There is always a long list of unfinished chores to accomplish--weeding, edging, trimming, fertilizing, and on and on.  Or looking at the garden in bloom, I realize I need more color or different textures or some height.  Looking at the shade garden (above) in mid-April, I enjoyed the spring-flowering bulbs, but realized I should have planted more last fall.

But in mid-May, with the spring bloomers fading and the heart of this garden finally in full growth, I had a moment of bliss.  My shade garden, for me at least, is almost perfect.

I had just planted a small shady area at our old house, when we decided to move to the family farm in the late summer of 2004.  I didn't want to abandon all those new plants, so one fall weekend I dug most of them up and hastily transplanted them to the easiest shady spot I could find here--right next to a huge spruce tree.  They thrived in spite of fighting for water with the spreading roots of the spruce.

The pricey (at that time) 'Endless Summer' hydrangeas settled in as well as several other single specimen plants.  But the mainstays of the garden then and now are the hostas.  Most of them are NOIDS, being either passalongs or part of a "bargain bag" collection offered by a discount plant catalog. A few more were purchased later and added, but their tags are buried somewhere.  I wish I knew the name of this chartreuse hosta and where it came from, because it's my favorite. Serendipitously, it's at the center of a grouping of hostas.

Of course, I love the varied foliage of hostas, but I also enjoy the purple and white blooms that appear above them in mid-summer, adding a little color to an otherwise predominantly green landscape.

This shady area was very small, so in the fall after I retired, I decided to expand it, digging it up by hand and doubling its size.  It's still a small garden by most standards--I've said before not to expect any expansive sweeps of gardens if you visit here; all I really have are some flowerbeds situated hither and yon that I collectively call my "garden."  But for me, what the shade garden lacks in size, it makes up for in beauty. 

The next spring--two years ago--I decided to border the expanded area with old-fashioned coral bells.  Several very small, inexpensive plants were purchased that filled in only the center front of the garden.

But then I discovered the wonderful world of heucheras!  'Purple Palace,' 'Plum Pudding,' (I still don't remember which is which), 'Dolce Creme Brulee,' 'Key Lime Pie,' 'Tiramisu' all called out to me with their promises of no-calorie sweetness. The border is now filled with these, which I much prefer to the plain old coral bells.  (Though 'Key Lime Pie' has since disappeared--perhaps another hungry varmint thought it made a good dessert.)

And what better companion for hostas and heucheras than ferns. Only one Japanese painted fern was originally moved, then a few bareroot starts from the same discount catalog were planted. 

They did nothing for the first two years, but suddenly they have taken the leap and even multiplied.  Add to those, some passalong cinnamon ferns kindly given to me by Lisa, and I now have almost as many ferns as hostas.

Astilbe haven't fared as well here, but the constant rains of June gave my lone survivor a better start this year.

This area is actually what you would call dappled shade and gets a few hours of direct sunlight, making it possible to grow a sun-lover like this daylily glaring in the sun.

As you can see, everything is packed in tight here, meaning you must look closely or you might miss something.

This spring I noticed this stem coming up and wondered what it was.  Fortunately, I realized it wasn't a weed and left it alone.  On the garden walk last week, I saw much larger specimens of this plant and realized it was Solomon's Seal.  A few minutes of thought, and it came to me that this must have come in with the cinnamon ferns.  Thanks, Lisa, for the bonus plant!

Careful inspection on a dewy early morning may find heuchera blooms draped with glistening spiderwebs.

Often small creatures can be found hiding in the blooms or the foliage, like this daddy-long-legs on a hydrangea bloom.

Even stranger creatures might be found like this gift from Beckie.  Actually, I staged this photo, considering writing a parody of Stevie Smith's "Not Waving, But Drowning" for June's Muse Day post.  But as much as I like that poem, it's rather depressing for a Garden Muse Day, and Mr. Troll is far too jovial for gloomy thoughts.

Still, he does look as if he's drowning in this sea of lamium, doesn't he?  A few  lamium once bordered  the shade garden, but as they encroached upon other more desirable plants, I've moved them--and moved more of them--to a bare area underneath the spruce.  It's not looking this good right now, but in early June it certainly made me look like a gardener with a very green thumb.

As summer has progressed, the nearly perfect garden of May is showing some imperfections.  Tiny holes are evident in nearly every leaf, probably the work of earwigs, the worst infestation I've ever seen here.

Probably the biggest flaw, though, is of my own doing.  I keep buying plants and more plants, then "shoehorning" them into small bare spots ala Joy, without thinking about the size they will become when mature.  Spring sale impulse buys included this heucherella, 'Sweet Tea,' which fortunately fit into a small spot.

It was a tighter squeeze, though, for this peachy-bronze heuchera bought at the same sale.  'Southern Comfort' provides a little liquid refreshment to go with all those dessert heucheras:)

A much larger bare spot was found for another impulse purchase,  this Jacob's Ladder 'Snow and Sapphires."

But a few weeks later, when I added this pink caladium nearby,  there no longer was a spot of soil visible. Today as I look at the shade garden at the height of summer, I am beginning to think everything is much too crowded, and some thinning out needs to be done.  I think it's time to get out the spade again and head westward . . . or maybe northward . . .

Another example of  "it seemed like a good idea at the time" is this fountain given as a birthday gift by my daughters.  I loved this small water feature, and the blue is the perfect accent here in the shade garden.  There's only one problem--it's a solar fountain, and the water flows only when the sun is shining on the collector.  Oh well, it's still pretty to look at.

And finally, while I'm being critical, this garden lacks a focal point, unless you count the large 'Sum and Substance' hosta at the back of the garden.  I may have solved this problem, however, after a shopping trip to a garden center with Beckie yesterday . . . stay tuned for a later update.

Despite the obvious imperfections, I still enjoy this garden area where I have it made in the shade.

Thanks for hanging in here with me on this long post--I can't seem to stop talking once I start:)  But I hope it wasn't too bad, because I neglected to mention one obvious advantage to this area this hot summer-it's the only cool spot in the garden!

Thursday, July 15, 2010

July GBBD: Bloomin' Hot!

It's hard to believe it's already the 15th of July--where has the summer gone?? Once again it's time to showcase what is blooming on this Garden Bloggers' Bloom Day, a monthly meeting hosted by garden guru Carol of May Dreams Gardens.  Like most parts of the country, it has been very hot here the last few weeks, which means the only garden maintenance that gets done is before 8 AM or after 7 PM, and evening hours are often cut short by the mosquitoes.  Flowers are struggling to survive not only the heat but also the lack of rainfall.  Fortunately, this garden tour is a virtual one, so sit back and enjoy from the cool comfort of your office or kitchen.  I know you have many places to visit, so I'll try to keep my usual chatter to a minimum.

This is coneflower season--my favorite bloom time of the year.  Just beginning to bloom for the June bloom day, they have now been in full force for the past few weeks.  There are coneflowers in the front garden (above) where butterflies get drunk on nectar and dance the day away, while the bees busily go about their work of pollination.

There are coneflowers in the butterfly garden where they must stretch to new heights to be seen.

And there are coneflowers in the roadside garden, waving to passersby.

Since this is a virtual garden walk, that 1/8 mile jog down the lane to this area wasn't too strenuous, was it? Notice the passalong lilies behind the coneflowers--'Nettie's Coral' have been blooming for nearly four weeks.  I think these have to be the star performers of all the lilies I have.

Growing to gigantic proportions in the same garden area this year is the butterfly weed, Asclepias tuberosa.  Still no sign of Monarch activity on it, however.

Walking back up the lane to the new lily garden, we find that a few new additions have been made besides the lilies because I can't resist a bargain.  This balloon flower 'Scentimental Blue' was purchased on the clearance rack at Lowe's.

Another bargain plant, a cherry pink phlox, whose tag I've already lost, is struggling to stay alive in this weather.

The three new lilies mentioned in my last post have been planted, and 'Spider Miracle' accommodated me by blooming again for this Bloom Day.  'Juliet' has also settled into her new home and is blooming, but 'Romeo' apparently is going to sulk until next year.

Walk a few steps to your right of the lily garden, and we'll find Roco's memory garden, where the daisy 'Becky' is putting out numerous blooms.

Now let's continue to the very back of the yard to the Buttefly Garden, where chaos rules.  Cleomes came from seedlings started by Beckie, but some also appeared voluntarily.

Besides coneflowers, this is the season of the Susans.  Two perennial 'Goldsturm'  and just a few--maybe 2 or 3?--annual rudbeckias were planted last year.  This year, I have no idea which is which or how many there are, because they just keep on popping up everywhere.

The Susans are determined to steal the spotlight away from the bright blue Bachelor's Buttons, which also reseeded themselves.

There was also no need to replant these orange cosmos.  'Cosmic Orange,' originally from seeds from Tina, are just as prolific this year as they were last year.

A plant I hope will reseed itself next year is this Verbena bonariensis.  I'm so excited to finally have this plant in my garden after several unsuccessful attempts in the past.

This is not a volunteer, however.  As if I didn't have enough Rudbeckias already, I couldn't resist picking up two of these 'Cherry Brandy' Rudbeckias.  I'm hoping they will reproduce next year as well as their cousins have.

Since there are so many volunteers in the Butterfly Garden, it is hard to weed--many a plant has been left alone, only to discover later it was really a weed after all.  Fortunately, this Joe Pye weed--which I swear I planted in a different place--survived the hoe.

Joe has really grown this year to 4-6 feet tall, which is a good thing, or I wouldn't have even seen it behind all the coneflowers and cosmos.

Summer annuals are everywhere, too.  Just a quick look at a few of them--here is my old standby Salvia 'Victoria Blue.'

Overwintered geraniums are doing very well.

Yellow 'Zahara' zinnias in the lily garden.

Bordering the lily garden, this lantana 'Lucky Lemon Creme' is one plant that loves the heat.

And finally, before you leave, just a quick glance into the cooler regions of the Shade Garden.  Hydrangea 'Limelight' is just beginning to show some blooms.

 Besides the hydrangeas, the only other real blooms in the shade right now are the hostas.  Most of them are almost finished, but 'Sum and Substance' saved its stately blooms for last.  And in case you are wondering, no I wasn't sipping a little wine when I took this photo.  I think the heat has affected my brain--my view of the world these days seems slightly skewed.

I hope you enjoyed the tour, and I hope you stayed cool enough.  Now, why not enjoy the rest of the day touring gardens across the world from the comfort of your own home by visiting Carol's list of Bloom Day posts?