Thursday, August 27, 2015

Wildflower Wednesday: Invited Guests and the Party Crashers

It has been a long time since I have participated in Gail's Wildflower Wednesday.  It's been a busy summer with little time for blogging, but it also seems that most of the native plants I have don't start blooming until late summer.  I've learned so much about native plants over the years from Gail and the WW posts and added more of them to my garden as I've learned about their benefits to pollinators.  So I'm very happy to join in once again with some of the late bloomers from my garden.

If you've read my last few posts, you know that the current star of my garden is Rudbeckia triloba, also known as Brown-eyed Susan.  In fact, it's pretty hard to miss as it's taken over the front of the Lily Bed as well as parts of the Butterfly Garden.  A volunteer that mysteriously appeared in my garden a few years ago, it has made itself quite at home here.  But you can never have too many Susans, right?

Joe-Pye weed is still hanging on at the back of the butterfly garden.  As I've mentioned before, this is definitely the native species of Eutrochium purpureum because the stems are green, not purplish, and the flowerheads not as showy a pink as many of the other types.

'Little Joe,' however, has much prettier flowers and the dark purple stems that I love.  I'd like to plant more of the taller Joes with this coloring at the back of the butterfly garden, but first I have to contend with the semi-thugs that have taken up residence there . . .

 . . . the Obedient Plants.  I have a love-hate relationship with this plant:  I hate its aggressiveness and pull out numerous seedlings in the spring, but in the fall I love these white, pink, and purple blooms.

I noticed today that the pinkish blossoms actually have freckles and remind me of foxglove blooms.  Since I have never had much luck with foxgloves in my garden, perhaps I should change my attitude and think of these as the poor-man's foxglove.  The bees like them, no matter their name.

Although I have planted more natives over the past few years, the most prominent and prolific ones seem to be the ones I didn't plant.  Common Evening Primrose Oenothera biennis is one of those mystery plants that suddenly appear in my garden and I allow to let grow because I'm not sure if it's a weed or something I actually planted and forgot about.

At 6-7 feet tall, it's hard to ignore.  The flowers remain open from evening till morning, but might also stay open on a cloudy day.

Despite its classification as a "Prairie Wildflower" by the Illinois Wildflowers website, I'd classify it as a weedy wildflower.  It has a long taproot, which explains why my efforts to eradicate it have been unsuccessful.  Still, these pretty little yellow flowers are rather attractive, and they do attract moths and the occasional hummingbird and bees, so I guess they're not all bad.

Bees also like thistle as do various birds, including the goldfinches.  However, there are more than enough plants here for the bees and plenty of coneflowers for the finches, so this lone thistle--definitely a weed in my opinion--is going to have to go.

Another volunteer that appears every year is the Pokeweed.  It's another one of those with a long taproot, which is why my simply cutting it off after it blooms never quite gets rid of it.

Because it has been well-mannered so far, I usually leave it alone for awhile so the birds can enjoy the berries.  The berries, as you can see, aren't ripe yet, but when they are, they'll be a deep dark purple.  They are toxic to humans, though, and can stain your hands, so I will definitely let the birds pick them!

Goldenrod is also just beginning to bloom. I'm not sure what type this is, because all the plants are volunteers.  And talk about volunteers--it would take over my garden if I let it!   I pull some of the excess seedlings every year, but I leave the rest because, besides its value to insects, it really does make a pretty backdrop for other flowers, like these seedheads of the gray-headed coneflowers.  It also makes a nice filler for flower arrangements.

As you can see, many of the natives in my garden are actually volunteers, probably gifts from the birds.  Too often it seems the natives I actually plant in my garden don't germinate or disappear, probably overcome by the thugs already there.  But sometimes I am pleasantly surprised, as I was by the plant I wanted to focus on this month.

A few weeks ago I noticed a few tall plants amidst the emerging goldenrod and asters.  I was pretty sure they were weeds until I noticed small flowerbuds on them.  I was intrigued and decided to leave them alone.  Thank goodness I did!  When they bloomed, I was finally able to identify them as Common Sneezeweed, Helenium Autumnale.

A few facts about this Sneezeweed:
  • Zone 3-8, blooms August --October
  • 3-5 feet tall with not much branching but an abundance of flowers
  • likes wet to moist conditions--we had the perfect spring/early summer for it this year
  • the foliage is bitter and toxic, with some reports of livestock poisoning from it
  • despite the name, it does not cause sneezing.  In the past, the leaves and flowers were dried and used as snuff, hence the name

Common visitors to the Sneezeweed include all kinds of bees, some wasps, Syrphid flies, butterflies, and beetles.  Most suck the nectar, but some also collect the pollen.

So how did these pretty bee-magnets find their way into my garden?? I doubted they were volunteers, so I searched through my garden journals, and sure enough, I discovered that I had purchased a seedling at our local Prairie Plant Society sale two years ago.  Because I had seen no sign of it the past two years, I had forgotten all about it--thank goodness I didn't pull it out!  Sometimes there are benefits to being forgetful--it makes for some happy surprises every year in the garden:)  Aside from that, seeing the Sneezeweed in full bloom gives me hope that some of the other natives I've planted in the past two years and haven't seen a sign of may just be biding their time and will surprise me next year.

I am enjoying all these late additions to the garden, whether they were invited or not.  For more information on wildflowers and natives, be sure to visit our gracious hostess Gail at Clay and Limestone.

Sunday, August 16, 2015

August GBBD: Summer Doldrums

It's mid-August, and I've lost my garden motivation.    It's hot and humid, and frankly, I have no desire to work up a sweat,tending to all weeding and pruning I should be doing right now.  About the only thing I have any energy to do is to water the pots and new perennials, and that's only because I know they will die if I don't keep it up.  The garden marches on, though, regardless of my neglect with a few standout plants for this Bloom Day and lots of other smaller blooms to enjoy.

The kaleidoscope of colors provided by the daylilies for July Bloom Day are pretty well gone, and the swaths of coneflowers that bloomed a month ago are looking pretty worn and sad.   But there are a few plants that have taken their place and really stand out in the garden right now.  One is the Susans, especially the brown-eyed ones, Rudbeckia triloba, which started out as a single volunteer and have now practically taken over the lily bed.

I keep telling myself I should cut these back so the few other blooming plants in the area have a chance to be seen.  But it's hard to be ruthless with such a cheerful and enthusiastic bloomer.  Besides, that sounds like work:)

A few volunteer cleome don't seem to mind and fight their way through the maze of yellow.

Besides the Susans, you can't miss this tall lily.  While most of the lilies are finished, there are a few late bloomers, including this 'Challenger' lily.  I received a division from a friend two years ago, but this is the first time it has ever bloomed.  I knew nothing about this lily at the time, so what a surprise when it rose up to a full six feet in height!

I've since done a little research on this lily and discovered it's an heirloom lily, introduced the year I was born.  Standing alone as it does, it's certainly been a conversation piece for anyone who's visited, but it does look a little lonely by itself.  I have my eye on a source for 'Autumn Minaret,' another tall, late lily to keep it company next year.

The other plant that really stands out in the garden right now is the 'Limelight' hydrangea, which can be seen the moment you drive up our lane. More pruning is needed here, too, but at least that can wait till spring when the enthusiastic gardener returns.

I love these huge blooms, and I've found an easy way to dry them at the end of the season to enjoy them all winter long.

The best time to view the garden on these hot days is very early in the morning or late evening--if you've put on mosquito repellent, that is.  I'm looking forward to cooler days ahead; this corner of the Arbor Bed is already starting to look a bit like fall. 

Surprise lilies still blooming on a hazy morning.

Oftentimes the smaller blooms get overlooked for my Bloom Day posts, so I wanted to focus on a few of them this month.  These zinnias aren't small, but they sure are few in number compared to most years.  I don't know what happened to all the seeds I planted, unless my garden helpers earlier in the summer accidentally smothered them with mulch.  The same thing with my cosmos--I see only one plant that might bloom yet.

Thankfully, the 'Zowie Yellow Flame' zinnias were planted in the front, and I made sure to mark them carefully.  Mixed with 'Becky' daisies here, they usually attract lots of late summer butterflies including Monarchs.

I've become really attracted to low-growing sedums and am planting more in the front of the sidewalk garden.  This is a new one, 'Dazzleberry,' which according to the local nursery owner fared better than others during the torrential rains of June.

Nearby is my first successful attempt at growing dahlias, 'Mystic Illusion.'

Yellow begonias brighten a spot on the front porch.

I had so much success with starting Rudbeckia hirta seedlings this year that they're planted everywhere. My favorite 'Prairie Sun' seeds were all sold out, but these 'Irish Eyes' look almost identical to me.

Gomphrena carries on in spite of the heat.

This is the time of year when some of the petunias in my planters start to look pretty sad, so it's a good time to evaluate what varieties stand up in the heat of summer.  'Royal Velvet'  and 'Bordeaux' Supertunias' are two that look as good today as they did in June.

It's easy to overlook the small blooms of this 'Kent Beauty' oregano in one of my herb pots, but I love them.  I had long admired these blooms on Joy's blog, so I'm so happy I found some to plant this year.

The hostas known as Plantain Lilies are pretty plain most of the year, but boy, do they make up for their ordinary green leaves when they bloom!  One or two plants in my garden have been divided and divided in recent years, so I will have a mass of these lovely white blooms for the next few weeks.

While I have been too lazy unmotivated to work in the garden much the last few weeks, I have taken the time to just sit and enjoy it, especially to enjoy all the little visitors to the garden. This cabbage white butterfly (I think) loves the 'Victoria Blue' salvia.

The hummingbirds are loving all the late blooms, too, though so far I've only managed to photograph them while at the feeder.  There's nothing better than watching hummingbird dances in late summer!

The most numerous visitors to my garden--besides the bees, of course-- are the goldfiinches.  This one looks like a juvenile, I think.  I just want to reach out and pet him:)

To some, the coneflowers might look tattered and ugly, but the goldfinches like them this way.  It's been a nonstop finch party at my house the last two weeks, and I'm not about to end it!  The coneflowers will stay as they are so I can enjoy watching my little feathered friends.

Perhaps instead of saying how unmotivated I've been about gardening lately, I should say I am taking a much-needed garden staycation, just enjoying the results of my work.  There will be time enough during the cooler days of autumn to get back to work.

Thanks to our faithful hostess Carol for hosting another Garden Bloggers' Bloom Day.  Check out May Dreams Gardens to see what else is blooming during these dog days of August.

Saturday, August 8, 2015

Big Ideas in Small Spaces: Garden Walk 2015

In June, our local Master Gardeners group held their annual Garden Walk.  This is the only fundraiser held each year to support the the group, and planning begins a year in advance to make sure it continues to be the popular and successful event it always is.  This year's theme was "Scents and Sensibility," with a focus on gardens that use sustainable practices.  But what I also noticed this year was that the committee had chosen more smaller gardens than usual, and that turned out to be a wise decision based on all the positive comments I heard from those attending.

The Garden Walk requires hundreds of volunteers in order to be successful, and I volunteered for my usual morning shift--to avoid standing during the heat of the day.  The garden I was assigned to was in an older neighborhood with standard 1/4 acre lots.  But this relatively small space was a showcase for using found objects as garden art.

The owner half-jokingly told me that when her neighbors want to throw something out, they just toss it over her fence, and she paints or re-purposes it in some other way and finds a place for it in her garden.  When her neighbors see how she cleverly uses their "junk," they sometimes ask for it back--but she said she has refused to return anything so far:)

Now this is a real "window" box!

Probably the piece that attracted the most attention in her garden was this new potting shed she built.  Located at the back of her house, it is built completely out of old doors with a piece of corrugated tin she salvaged as extra protection on the roof.

Not far away, in an even older neighborhood with modest homes, was the next stop on the Walk, a delight for any no-lawn enthusiasts.  I wish I had taken a better photo, but the front "yard" was completely devoid of grass and filled with hostas and other shade-loving plants.  Gravel paths meandering through the beds invited visitors to slow down and explore.

The back yard was another oasis of greenery with nary a blade of grass to be found. More gravel paths allowed visitors to roam and see every part of the garden.

A small pond surrounded by a variety of plants provided the soothing sound of water.

Fairy gardens are the ultimate in small gardens.  I loved the use of the two old wagons here to create a virtual fairy paradise.

This garden was such a shady retreat, I could see myself sitting in these red chairs every evening.  Who needs acres of woodland when this small backyard provided such a peaceful and beautiful place to relax and enjoy nature?

Our next stop was in the heart of town, not exactly a place where you would expect to hear the sound of chickens. In fact, only recently has the town of Champaign allowed residents to keep chickens, so I imagine this was an educational experience for many visitors on the Walk.

This little lady seemed quite eager to pose for the camera, or maybe she was just curious about all the strangers passing through her garden.

Besides the chickens, the big draw of this home was its vegetable garden.  Normally, I am prefer touring flower gardens, but the carefully maintained raised beds and trellises provided so many great ideas about how to improve my own tiny vegetable garden.  This garden fit the Walk's theme of sustainability so well as the owners incorporate environmentally-friendly practices and enjoy feeding their family what they have grown.  I think many "city-dwellers" went away inspired, seeing what can be done on an ordinary city lot.

The most interesting part of this garden for me was the hugelkultur bed by the street corner.  I wasn't familiar with this term, but very simply, a hugelkultur bed is one that is built using rotting wood as its base.

It is situated at the street corner for a reason, as you can see by this sign.  The owners are not only educating visitors, but they are sharing their bounty with their neighbors as well.

And in case a curious passerby isn't quite sure if that tomato or pepper is quite ready for picking, they provide instructions as well.  I just loved this idea!

Not all of the homes on the Garden Walk were in older neighborhoods with smaller homes, however.  In one wooded subdivision, the owners learned how to work with nature to develop their garden when they purchased the house.  The front yard, where grass struggled to survive under dense shade, has been gradually replaced by groundcovers and woodland plants.  Here, by the front walk, a small shade garden demonstrates a great example of mixing colors, textures, and shapes.

A large sunny border in the back yard is filled with hardy perennials that can withstand harsh Midwest winters and the strong winds that often sweep across the open fields nearby.  "No tender babies allowed!" says the homeowner.

Another home in one of the "ritziest" subdivisions in C-U featured an absolutely beautiful garden!  Why I didn't take more photos of this garden, I don't know.  Partly it was because it was the last one we visited and it was getting late.  As much as I enjoyed the diverse plantings, the dry streams, and all the different water features, I couldn't help turning to my friend and smugly whispering, "They don't maintain this garden themselves."  Indeed, they do have a regular landscaping maintenance service, but I later met the homeowners and discovered that they are in fact knowledgeable gardeners and do work in the gardens themselves.  My apologies for being so quick to judge, but still...I'd like to have a crew of strong backs to come in and help me, too:)

A garden in another upscale subdivision was a different story, however.  The front garden was lovely, with pots and striking art pieces echoing the colors of this contemporary home.

A repurposed cart in my favorite shade of turquoise added a pop of color in another front area, but still well within any homeowners' association guidelines.

In back, a small pond and more shady plantings created a pleasant backyard retreat.

But beyond these conventional garden areas, we found quite a surprise--a large butterfly garden filled with pollinator-friendly plants.

Nearby was another area filled with even more natives and areas created to attract all kinds of bees.  Notice the sign which explains the significant role of native solitary bees and the importance of creating habitats for them.

A nesting house illustrated one way of providing for these important pollinators.

On the other side of the house (no photos) I was also surprised to find a large vegetable garden contained within several raised beds with some of the biggest tomato plants I'd ever seen in June.

This had to be one of my favorite gardens on the walk just because I wasn't expecting to find this in such a setting.  I thought it was ironic to look across the lake and see golfers at the country club putting away on their carefully manicured and heavily fertilized grass, totally unaware of the beautiful, natural setting just beyond.

During my morning shift as a garden guide, several visitors remarked to me how much they enjoyed this year's gardens, especially the smaller ones because they seemed more "do-able."  Like them, I enjoy visiting public gardens and large private gardens.  But such big gardens can seem a bit intimidating, and often any ideas I come away with are plants I'd like to have or small vignettes that I might be able to copy.  Small gardens like those on this year's garden walk, however, inspire anyone that no matter how small the space or how limited the time or energy one has, anyone can have a beautiful garden!