Thursday, July 19, 2018

Turtle Time

So happy to see this turtle enjoying a walk in the rain on my back patio a couple of days ago:

I'm no herpetologist, but it looks like an eastern box turtle to me.

Do you have turtles in your garden?

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Friday, June 15, 2018

Another Wonderful Groundcover - Golden Groundsel, Packera species

In April of last year, I profiled one of my favorite groundcovers - Robin's plantain (Erigeron pulchellus).

Well, here's another beauty - golden groundsel.

There's just one problem, I've ordered and planted two species of golden groundsel (they have the same common name) - Packera aurea and Packera obovata.

And I can't tell them apart in my garden. Or perhaps only one species survived? Don't know. But whichever I've got, it's doing lovely, especially on the shady northern foundation next to an arrowwood viburnum, but also in the far back bed where it gets full sun pretty much all day.

Versatile? You bet.

Beautiful? Yep.

I missed taking a pic of the yellow blooms for this post, but I still got the fluffy seedheads and the lovely foliage.

It's more or less evergreen here, though it can get tattered in a harsh winter like the one we just hand. So far) the old foliage seems to decay naturally and unobtrusively, never building up into an unwieldy mush (as with lamb's ears) or hanging on in a frazzled way (as with say cranesbill geraniums).

The yellow flowers attract little pollinators, and the white seedheads that follow are fluffy and charming. It mostly spreads by underground rhizomes, though occasionally I think I've found a seedling or two nearby to the parent plant. It does tolerate transplantation, although it tends to sulk for a while as it gets established.

In my heavy soil, it has spread by a measured pace so far. You can take a look back at this April 2017 post to see just how much ground it has covered in the last 16 months or so.

I do worry that it will be harder to control in the long run. Where it's relatively easy to uproot Robin's plantain, I tried digging up Packera in a couple places where I thought it was not growing so well only to find that I missed root particles that came back stronger than ever. So consider that a bit of a warning.

On the other hand, I don't think I'd mind having a lot of Packera in my landscape. It's certainly low growing enough that I don't think it would compete with bushes, shrubs or even taller, sturdier, deep-rooted perennials like Baptisia or Solidago. But I'm not sure. It will be interesting to see what happens as it starts to bump up against lawn grasses and/or other groundcovers like Erigeron.

For now, it would be one of my top groundcover suggestions to anyone gardening within the native range of the lovely golden groundsels.


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Tuesday, June 12, 2018

A Bevy of June Blooms and Pollinators -- Anise Hyssop, Milkweed, Monarda and More!

It's been a HOT start to summer in Tennessee.

In fact, since mid-May we've been running 5 to 15 degrees above normal every day -- that means lots of days in the high 80s and low 90s with high humidity. At the same time, we've had less rain than usual, so plants are being asked to cope with the double whammy of higher than normal temperatures and less water than usual.

Nonetheless, as you can see from the following photos, most plants are growing and blooming like gangbusters.

(And lest you think I'm stacking the deck, I've watered these plants a grand total of once this year so far.)

What's the secret? It's not amending the soil (although I'm sure the plants would do even better if I had the time, patience, energy and/or money to do that). I think it comes down to picking the right plants for the right place - real tough guys and gals, giving them a good start with proper planting techniques, offering them a little help to get settled and then standing back to let them flourish.

Without further ado, I give you...

The Carefree Beauty rose, lightly reblooming.

Anise hyssop, Agastache foeniulum, beloved of bees and goldfinches

Agastache foeniculum reseeds just the right amount in my garden. It produces plenty of volunteers, but I'd never call it weedy.

I'm digging this fortuitous combo of yellow mustard green (Brassica juncea) flowers with the purple flower spikes of Agastache foeniculum.

Common milkweed (Asclepias syriaca) flowers have a lovely, sweet fragrance. This is a volunteer plant that sprouted near my mailbox. It hasn't spread much over the past few years, but it sure is tenacious. I did try digging it up once it came right back. If stems or leaves are broken, the plant exudes its trademark sticky, latex sap.  Some years, the plant attracts monarch butterflies and provides food for their caterpillars, but I have not seen any monarchs yet this year. The flower umbels are highly attractive to pollinators.

Here's another milkweed that blooms and flowers earlier than its brethren - Asclepias viridis, spider milkweed. For a low-growing plant it produces relatively enormous seedpods that attract startlingly red milkweed bugs.

Southern bush honeysuckle (Diervilla sessilifolia) flowers. It's my first year with this plant and I'm testing it in a difficult spot on a steep hill. It seems to be doing great so far!

It's also my first year with the native annual Monarda citriodora, a.k.a. lemon bee balm.

Monarda citriodora seems to be a big hit with the pollinators. And so far it seems much tougher - more drought tolerant and mildew resistant - than its perennial cousins. Unlike some other monardas (e.g., Monarda didyma) it does not spread by underground stems, but I have heard that lemon bee balm can be a prolific reseeder. The seeds certainly do germinate easily -- I simply scattered them in the garden beds over the winter and let nature handle the scarification / stratification process. 

This is a slowly expanding clump of thin-leaved mountain mint (Pycnanthemum tenuifolium). But wait... Do you see something different in its midst? Or should I say mist

Yep, it's a love-in-the-mist (Nigella damascena) seedling. Years after I started trying to remove this rampant self-seeder from my garden, it keeps popping up here and there. 

My carrot crop was a flop, but I left a few carrots in the ground and they have produced these pretty white umbels of flowers that attract small pollinators.

Masses of partridge pea (Chamaecrista fasciculata) seedlings form an effective groundcover. 

Here is the first partridge pea flower that I've seen this year. Soon there will be countless yellow blooms and busy buzzing bees.
The oakleaf hydrangea florets are fading from white to pink.

This is an intermediate stage. Eventually they will change from pink to tan. But for now, they are adorned with a pretty rosy blush.


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Tuesday, May 29, 2018

The Redbud is the King of Hearts

Redbuds mostly (and deservedly) get love and appreciation for their eponymous buds and the springtime flowers that festoon their branches.

But check out the leaves on this Cercis canadensis! Here's a tree with a lotta heart...

PS - You know the other great thing about redbuds? Free seedlings! We started with four redbud trees. Now we have eight, plus a number of new babies that sprouted this year. Any unwanted seedlings are pretty easy to pull if you catch them young. And the seedlings you do keep? Man, they grow like gangbusters.


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Wednesday, May 23, 2018

In the Merry Month of May...

...there are arrowwood (Viburnum dentatum) buds...

Flower buds on arrowwood viburnum (Viburnum dentatum)

...and blooms.

Flower clusters on arrowwood (Viburnum dentatum)

An arrowwood viburnum volunteered next to the oakleaf hydrangea (Hydrangea quercifolia) in the front foundation, which is fortuitous since they both have complementary white flowers and bloom around the same time...

Flower panicles blooming on oakleaf hydrangea (Hydrangea quercifolia)

I planted that oakleaf hydrangea way too close to the house. (I was young and foolish in those days. Unlike now, when I'm a bit older and still foolish.) As a result, I had to trim back some of the stems to the ground over the winter, and I can see where I'll probably need to do more trimming next winter. But for now, I end up with lovely vignettes of the white flowers blooming against the white porch railing...

White flowers of oakleaf hydrangea (Hydrangea quercifolia) blooming against white porch railing

There are no flowers yet on the new oakleaf hydrangea that I planted last autumn, but it seems to be settling in nicely. I sited this one in the understory shade of a crape myrtle, where I'm hoping it will thrive with filtered sunlight all day...

Nearby Clematis 'Crystal Fountain' has been putting a great show for weeks and weeks. I completely failed in my attempt to get this to climb into the crape myrtle, but it sprawls charmingly and forms an attractive groundcover. I cut this back near the ground over the winter, so this is pretty much all new growth. I grumble a little about Crystal Fountain since I don't believe it provides any benefits to wildlife, but even wildlife gardeners need a few purely aesthetic marvels in their gardens, right? (Just a reminder - Crystal Fountain clematis flowers can look lovely for at least a week floating in a bowl of water on the breakfast table...

The 'Carefree Beauty' rose really does live up to its name. It's the only rose I grow and all I've needed to do so far is prune it back to keep it from swallowing up the sidewalk. I don't fertilize, I don't spray, I rarely water it, and I still get two powerful flushes of blooms in spring and autumn. I'm really just winging it when it comes to rose pruning. I cut it back fairly hard this winter and got a wonderful spring bloom, but all the soft lush foliage got a bit floppy. I think some gardeners try for the floppy look, but (grass always being greener and all that) I sort of wish the bush was a bit more upright and structured. So I may prune it back again when this bloom finishes. I'll let you know whether that works or can go into my bulging file of Not So Great Ideas.

I totally gave up on rose verbena (Glandularia canadensis). It's got a reputation for being floriferous, but finicky. And it's certainly lived up to that reputation in my garden, flowering its heart out and then vanishing. But a couple of rose verbena plants have either come back from the roots or volunteered, and this one has put on a fantastic show this year.

Finally, I don't remember planting this penstemon and have no idea what type or species it may be, but it sure is pretty!

What are some of the shining stars in your May garden? 


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Tuesday, April 24, 2018

Life Could Be a Dream

Cue The Crew Cuts...

My wife chooses the tulips for our garden. I've gotta admit, she knows how to pick some beauties...

Tulipa 'Dream Touch' from Brent and Becky's Bulbs


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Tuesday, April 17, 2018

One of the Best Groundcovers - Erigeron puchellus, Robin's plantain

I've sung the praises of groundcovers for years.

But it's hard to find the right groundcover - one that is assertive enough to spread and block weeds, but not so aggressive that it rampages over the landscape.

I tend to prefer and seek out native plants -- because I think they contribute to a 'sense of place', because I think they tend to fit into an intricate web of ecosystem services that I only dimly understand, and because I don't worry about messing up any wild spaces if the plants spread outside the garden.

Of course, I also want the plant to look good! Gardens should have aesthetic beauty too!

For a groundcover, I'd love to have an evergreen - something that's capable of tolerating Tennessee winters - multiple nights in the 20s, teens, even single digits. (It rarely gets below zero degrees Fahrenheit here, but it does happen occasionally.) And then something that can take hot, humid, droughty Tennessee summers without wimping out.

Surely if a plant filled all these criteria, it would be famous! People would be shouting its (slightly unwieldy) name from the rooftops, draping it with garlands and crowning it with honors.

Or not.

In this case, hardly any seems to have heard of Robin's plantain (Erigeron pulchellus), despite the fact that it's native throughout much of the Eastern and Central U.S. and thus is probably growing (literally) right under our noses. Or our feet.

It's a lovely plant - splendidly fuzzy and touchable. Unlike that other fuzzy, touchable groundcover - lamb's ears (Stachys byzantina) it doesn't turn to mush in the winter. (It does get tattered, but I say tatters are better than mush.)

And the old foliage tends to decompose quickly on its own, again unlike lamb's ears, where the detritus just builds from year to year.

So far, I've only trialed Robin's plantain in partial to heavy shade. It seems to tolerate heavy clay soil just fine. It can even grow on a slope beneath an eastern red cedar in what must be pretty dry conditions (to put it mildly).

So yeah, it's Tough with a capital "T".

But I've found it easy to pull (unlike say exotic Ajuga) and relatively easy to transplant. It does seem to do best when transplanted in early-to-mid autumn -- past the heat of summer but with some time to settle in and put down roots before the real winter chill sets in.

Without further ado, here are some glamour shots of this lovely creature:

Here she is in February. A little tattered, but not bad, considering evergreen plants here in Tennessee have to endure harsh sub-freezing temperatures without the insulating snowy blanket that protects plants in white winter areas.

Here's Robin's plantain doing its best Venus flytrap impersonation.

Here you can get a good sense of the plant's capacity to cover ground and block weeds.  In my experience, Robin's plantain is not aggressive at all. I don't think gardeners would have much trouble keeping it from invading lawns. (Although how much better to replace parts of a lawn with Robin's plantain... That's my plan, to dig out strips of the lawn as Robin's plantain approaches. And it grows so low to the ground that I can't imagine it would be a threat to any shrubs or taller perennials.

The flower stems can be a bit droopy and wavy at first, but they tend to rise upright and erect as they come into bloom.

I believe the flowers bloom for about 3-4 weeks. They do attract small pollinators, so that's another major bonus if you're trying to grow a garden that is welcoming and supportive for wildlife!

If you garden in the Eastern or Central U.S., you may be able to find Robin's plantain at a nearby nursery that specializes in native plants.

Otherwise, you could try ordering it from a mail order supplier. If you live in the South, I'd recommend Mail Order Natives. If you garden in the North, I'd suggest trying to find a supplier that would probably carry a more local ecotype.


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