Wednesday, September 28, 2011

Wildflower Wednesday: It's Party Time!

There's a party going on in my butterfly garden!

Apparently, the natives heard it was time for Wildflower Wednesday and decided to celebrate. I've been preoccupied with non-gardening related activities the past two weeks, and so, like some unsupervised teenagers, they decided to call up their friends in my absence and have been partying with wild abandon.

Once upon a time--well, two years ago, to be exact--I planted one Obedient Plant Physotegia virginiana and one native aster, probably a New England Aster whose botanical name I don't know, purchased from the local prairie plant society.  Since then, they've multiplied and spread throughout the butterfly garden.  The goldenrod was never invited, but since it lived nearby,  it decided to crash the party.

The purple asters decided this year to invite their pink cousins to join in the fun.  I was certainly surprised to see them in attendance, but I really don't mind.

The natives called up other friends to enjoy the refreshments, too, though the past few rainy days have kept many of them away.

 Obedient plant is not to everyone's taste, especially with its tendency to spread rapidly.  But it's hard not to admire these perky pink blooms.    Gail, the enthusiastic hostess of Wildflower Wednesday, calls all these robust plants "rough and tumble" or aggressive self-seeders, but definitely not invasive. I agree.  All three of these are located in my butterfly garden along with other strong survivors like purple coneflower, false sunflower, Joe Pye weed, Phlox pilosa,  rudbeckia, and others.  The garden is located at the back of the property, hiding some unsightly fuel tanks, so the more they spread, the better.  This area is also far enough away from other garden areas, so that they haven't encroached into areas where they wouldn't be so welcome--at least not yet.

I admit to being rather lazy lax this year in supervising this garden area, so things have gotten a little out of control.  But a little chaos in one's life can be a good thing sometimes so that one doesn't get in a rut or become too complacent.  And surprises like this volunteer pokeberry seedling that appeared out of nowhere this fall can be an unexpected delight.

 But if you don't have the room for prolific natives like these, there are always tamer hybrid choices.    Though this NOID aster in the sidewalk garden is a bit windswept and disheveled from the rain here, it has been very well-behaved.

A new addition in the new arbor bed this year, 'October Skies' aster is living up to its name. They are just coming into bloom, providing some much-needed color for the coming month.  The three plants have a nice mounding habit, perfect in front of taller blooms and visible behind a border of annuals.

I purchased these this spring after admiring them last year on several blogs.  I was hoping the blooms would be a true blue, but their lavender color is still appealing.

My native goldenrod is often considered a weed by many.  But again, there are better-behaved hybrids to choose from.  I forgot to check the tag on this one,  which is planted in the county nursing home garden where I volunteer occasionally.

But as you can see, it plays nicely with others. There wasn't much work to be done in this garden on Monday, so the few of us there had time to enjoy the dazzling fall display.

Whether you prefer your parties to be wild and spontaneous or more subdued and organized, fall is a great time to celebrate.  Why not hop over to Gail's to join in the fun of Wildflower Wednesday.

Friday, September 23, 2011

Welcome, Autumn!

You don't need a calendar to know that fall has begun.  All you need to do is look around . . .

Some of the leaves on the ash tree are beginning their transformation to purple hues.

The flowering crabapples have dropped many of their leaves already,
and tiny red fruits are ripe for the picking by the birds.

The yews have already started decorating for Halloween!

Tired-looking annuals--ok, let's be honest: DEAD annuals--in a few of the containers have been replaced with cool-weather combos.  Buying annuals may seem like a waste of money when the first frost may occur any day, but the ruffled kale and pansies will last quite awhile.  The new rudbeckia 'Prairie Sun' was just too pretty to pass up, and it is hoped it will re-seed if transplanted into the garden in time.

Another small pot on the back porch has been re-planted with my favorite fall colors--
Orange and (almost) Blue. 

Saturday afternoons are spent with thousands of friends with a similar color preference:)

Although the cooler weather makes gardening much more pleasant, I can't seem to find the time to get much done outside these days, especially the lower-priority chore of deadheading.  The garden is filled with many blooms past their prime, but the bumbles and friends don't seem to mind.

Shades of gold have replaced the sea of green that stretches for miles. If you stop to listen, you can hear the cornstalks rustling in the breeze. Harvest season has begun. 

After a hot and dry summer, I am savoring all the joys of Autumn.

Thursday, September 15, 2011

September Bloom Day

September has been a month of extreme mood swings so far, with temperatures fluctuating all over the place, including a few days in the high '90's to a forecast for the low 30's the next few nights.  Instead of worrying about watering, I may need to dig out the blankets and cover up my tomatoes and annuals instead!  But fall is definitely in the air, and there are visible signs in the garden.

Sedum is putting on its fall wardrobe, and the asters are beginning to bloom.  As I was going through my photos for today's post, I was surprised to see from a similar picture I took last week how much the sedum has changed in such a short time.  Last week this 'Autumn Joy' was just a pale pink, while today it sports a much rosier hue.

In the Arbor Bed another sedum looks even more like fall.  This new sedum was a passalong from my aunt who said it was also an 'Autumn Joy.'  But it must be some other cultivar because its stems are burgundy, and its florets are also more of a burgundy, much darker than they appear here.  Whatever cultivar it is, I do like it, especially since it has a sturdy upright habit, unlike some of my 'Autumn Joys.'

Most of the true fall bloomers are in the butterfly garden where self-seeders goldenrod and native asters have really taken hold.  And to think, just two years ago there was only one aster here and no goldenrod.  These two are almost as prolific as rabbits!

Two years ago there was also only one Obedient Plant, and that one never bloomed.  Anyone wanting to establish a native garden in a hurry could plant these three species and cover a lot of garden in no time.

A new favorite in the Arbor Bed this year is the Beautyberry.  I planted several new shrubs this year, and of all of them, the Beautyberry has done the best.  I've admired this plant on other blogs for several years, and I'm happy to finally have my own purple berries this fall.

'Limelight' is still going strong in the shade garden; its flowers are now taking on a subtle pink tinge.

Coreopsis 'Moonbeam' is putting on a new flush of blooms after taking a rest for the past month.

Nearby, the volunteer cleome have been blooming for over a month 
and show no signs of giving up anytime soon.

  In fact, if it weren't for the annuals, I wouldn't have had many blooms the past few weeks. From Angelonia to Zinnias, the many different annuals have provided lots of color during the transitional time from the summer garden to the fall garden.  I'm beginning to think my procrastination in planting seeds this summer actually turned out to be a good idea.  These are 'Cool Crayon Colors' zinnias from Renee's Garden.

'Snow Sonata' cosmos are a shorter variety than most cosmos, and not as prone to flop over.  Also from seeds from Renee's Garden, they have just started to bloom. 

'Victoria Blue' salvia has always been a favorite of mine for late color in the garden.  This year I added some 'Victoria White' in the Arbor Bed as well, and it's performed just as well.  Bumblebees and other pollinators seem to find it just as appealing as the native plants in the garden.

But the annual that has out-performed all the others this year, at least when it comes to size, has been the Hyacinth Bean vine.  I'll have to talk about this plant in more detail in a later post, but let's just say that a few seeds are more than enough to cover a trellis:)

The hummingbirds have loved this plant, though, and now besides the pretty purple blossoms, we have these cool purple bean pods. 

What is blooming in your garden today?  Join garden bloggers from all over the world in celebrating Garden Bloggers' Bloom Day, hosted each month by gardening guru Carol at May Dreams Gardens.

Wednesday, September 7, 2011

Lessons from the Garden

Researchers say that continuing to learn new things helps to keep one young and may even help to prevent Alzheimers and dementia.  That's good news to me because I have always had a love of learning. I often take a class to learn a new skill, attend workshops and presentations on various topics, and read a lot.  But there's no better place to continually learn new things than in the garden.

I've come a long way since my early days of gardening--not so long ago--when I couldn't figure out why those pretty blue hydrangeas I bought had pink blooms the next year.  But the more I learn, the more I realize how much I don't know.  Every year there are new lessons to be learned in the garden.  Here are just a few of the new things I learned this season:

1.Pay attention to the recommended spacing on plant tags. It's easy to ignore those guidelines when the plants are small, and you want the immediate gratification of a lush, full garden.  But after a couple of years of growth, the result can be a very crowded garden, especially when the plant-addicted gardener adds even more new acquisitions in every bare spot of soil.  I like the look of a sea of green, like this scene from my shade garden, but things have gotten out of hand.  The poor hydrangea had to fight for air amongst the hostas, ferns, and hellebores.  I tried to resist the urge to plant too closely together in my new arbor bed, but the rest of the gardens need some major division and moving of plants next year.

2. Spending a little more on sturdier tomato cages is worth the investment.  Those flimsy metal cages I'd used for several years were beginning to rust, and the ends were bent every which way.  Since I cut back on the number of tomatoes I planted this year, it didn't cost that much to buy some new cages for them.  This year the tomatoes were taller than ever before and stayed upright, not falling over in the first strong summer wind.  This also meant fewer tomatoes lying on the ground where they would be more likely to rot.  As my Dad always said, "You get what you pay for."

3. If you don't want your garden taken over by aggressive self-seeders, then deadhead when the blooms are spent or pull the seedlings in the spring.  Volunteers are nice, but you can have too much of a good thing.  The Susans that filled so much of the butterfly garden last season didn't have a chance this year, and the few that appeared had to fight for space with taller bullies like goldenrod and asters.

As if that weren't bad enough, the Obedient Plant has their backs.  All these vigorous self-seeders make for a nice fall showing, but I'd like a little more diversity year-round in this garden; too many of the other more delicate plants cowered in fear at these tall gang members and just gave up.  A big part of the problem here is that I don't recognize all the seedlings that come up in my garden.  I nearly pulled some seedlings in the lily bed until friend Beckie pointed out they were poppies.  I've nurtured an unusual plant only to discover when it was full grown and blooming that it was a noxious weed.  I do want some goldenrod, asters, and Obedient plant next year, but I'm going to deadhead them this fall before they spread any more.  And next spring I intend to learn more about the appearance of different seedlings so I can have more control over what is growing in my garden.

I have no excuse, though, when it comes to the cleome in the lily bed.  I had one large cleome at the back of this garden area last year and pulled it in September to make room for a new hydrangea 'Vanilla Strawberry.'  Apparently, though, it had already dropped its seeds, because I had dozens of cleome seedlings appear in late spring.  I do know what cleome seedlings look like, and I pulled quite a few, but thought I'd leave a few for late summer blooms.  But egads, I forgot how tall they can get!  Now instead of noticing the fading hydrangea blooms at the back of this garden or the yellow Knockout roses that are re-blooming, the first thing anyone notices here are these tall, gangly spider flowers. They're pretty, but they're out of place.  Next year their offspring are headed to the butterfly garden where they will fit in better.

4. Don't buy any new plants in the heat of summer unless you're going to give them some extra TLC.  You would have thought I had learned this lesson last year when I nearly killed a much-desired new hydrangea.  I planted it during the middle of a prolonged hot and dry spell and then forgot to water it for a few days.  I managed to revive it, and it did come back this year, but it's rather spindly and never did bloom.  This year I lost a new heuchera planted in the heat of July, again forgetting it needed some extra water.  A new Japanese Anemone also looks like a goner, even though I did give it frequent waterings.  I didn't want to show either of these pathetic mistakes, so the photo is of my lantana which loves heat. 

5. Keep your eyes open for possibilities.  This was not a lesson I learned in the garden, but I had to include it as my final point anyway because it is garden-related.  I was taking in some aluminum cans for recycling and had to wait my turn in line, when I noticed this old wrought iron chair sitting next to a dumpster. I asked about it, and after some checking, the recycling attendant said, sure, I could have it.  Another worker then said there was a second chair already in the dumpster and went to dig it out.  It was a missing an arm, but I didn't care.  They were destined for the metal crusher, but I picked up both of them for a few dollars each.  I can see them sitting under a tree with a colorful pot of annuals next year, can't you?

Over the years the garden has taught me patience, a respect for all the living creatures that inhabit the garden, and an appreciation for the simple pleasures that nature provides.  But every year the garden also gives me some specific valuable lessons to help me improve my gardening skills as well.

What about you?  What lessons have you learned from the garden this year?  If you like, you can join Plant Postings in sharing your experiences.  There is always something new to learn in the garden!