Wednesday, July 30, 2008

Visitors Welcome (with a few exceptions)

Last week I realized that I have published over 50 posts and have been blogging for almost 5 months now. Blogging has opened a whole new world to me and introduced me to some wonderful people. One of the benefits of blogging for me has been the way I have changed in looking at some of the smallest things around me. For example, thanks to bloggers like Cheryl, I have a newfound appreciation for insects.

I've never been much of a "bug" person. My main interest in bugs before was in eradicating the pesky ones, although I did have a short-lived interest when my younger daughter was in high school and had to compile an insect collection for an advanced biology class. That year she had just undergone surgery for a torn ACL and was on crutches for a month. That made it rather difficult for her to gather insects, so naturally ever-helpful Mom, as well as other family members, had to help with the project. It wasn't unusual for my mother to drop by with some extra tomatoes from her garden--and a few plastic containers with preserved specimens she'd found for the collection. Even the mother of one of Daughter's volleyball teammates showed up at a ballgame proudly bearing several insects she'd found for her.

Of course, I was the main insect gatherer, though. I scoured trees after dusk with a flashlight looking for cicadas and hopped around the yard with a butterfly net--you think taking photos of a butterfly is difficult, try catching them! The neighbors probably were laughing behind their curtains at me, but I know for sure the volleyball moms thought I was pretty amusing. At one game I attended (even though Daughter had to spend her senior season on the bench) I saw an insect she didn't yet have. Climbing over and under the bleachers, I finally captured it and trapped it in the only container I had--a bag of popcorn. No one asked to share my popcorn after that!

All that is behind me now. There are no more plastic containers in my freezer holding perfectly preserved beetles or moths. Instead I am happy to see them in my garden, pollinating the flowers, eating the insects I don't want, or just providing a little entertainment for me.

My main flowerbed, next to the house, has become quite the bee magnet. Bumblebees are especially attracted to all the purple flowers I have, but they also enjoy the coneflowers. At one time I was frightened of bumblebees, but I've found they ignore me as long as I don't try to pick the flower they're on!

Last week I was trying to take some photos of the few white and cream-colored hollyhocks that have blossomed. I didn't even notice until after I'd taken the photo that this bee had climbed into the bloom. At least I think it was some kind of bee--he was so covered with pollen that I really couldn't tell what kind of insect he was.

I have other kinds of bees as well, but I don't know enough about them to identify them all. The threadleaf coreopsis below attracts swarms of some kind of small bee. This photo was taken in the morning before they come out, but I doubt you would have been able to see the small creatures anyway.

I know a spider is not an insect, but an arachnid, but I often think of it as being in a common category. I know many people, including my son, have phobias about spiders but they're one creature I've never minded, as long as they stay outside my house. I enjoy watching the Daddy-long-legs in particular, and I never disturb them because I know many of them will eat the insects I don't want around.

I have no idea what the insect below is; perhaps someone can identify him. I was trying to photograph a blossom up close when I spotted him--he has the longest anntenae in proportion to his body I've ever seen!

Of course, there are still some insects I don't like and never will. I've yet to see the purpose of flies, mosquitos, or cockroaches. Another species of pests that I've been complaining about the last few weeks is the Japanese beetle. Short of using a pesticide such as Sevin, there is no long-lasting effective measure to eradicate these little monsters. Picking them off by hand in the early morning while they're still drowsy and depositing them into a soapy solution is still the best method. But more will come to replace those you've destroyed.

Here's another unwanted guest I found on my squash plant yesterday morning--the squash beetle. I did buy a bottle of Sevin for these pests and plan to use it before they kill the whole plant, unless someone has a better suggestion instead. A beekeeper friend of my dad told him if you spray it late in the evening, it won't harm bees.

Not quite as annoying is this little guy, the common grasshopper. In large numbers, though, they can be quite destructive, especially for the farmers' crops. As much trouble as I have catching an insect in repose long enough for a photo, this guy seemed curious about my camera and eager to pose.

I am especially fond of any insect or other animal that helps to control the less desirable members of the species. We seem to have an abundance of dragonflies this year, which help to control the mosquito population. I've seen so many beautiful photos of them on other blogs I'm almost ashamed to show this one. Not only is it difficult to catch them standing still, but their transparent wings are difficult to photograph in sunlight.

Here's an insect that will never be considered handsome by any means, but I've always found him to be intriguing. This young praying mantis was climbing the trellis holding my clematis when I spotted him. I haven't seen any full-grown mantises this year, but I have seen several small ones like this one.

One of my favorite animals for insect control, though, is the common toad. I've run into this little baby several times (or perhaps it was his brother or sister) while working in the shade garden. Although I'm not brave enough to pick them up bare-handed, I often scoop them up in some fashion when I find them and put them back in my garden.

For sheer beauty, though, nothing can match a butterfly. I don't think there is anyone who doesn't like a butterfly. I purposely planted flowers that would attract butterflies, and usually in late summer they flock to my garden. So far I've seen only one or two monarchs and a beautiful blue/black butterfly I can't identify floating by, but I'm hoping they will bring the rest of their families here soon.

I won't pretend to have "embraced" the insect world in its entirety, but I have come to find that many of them are truly fascinating creatures. I may not sit and watch the ants work all day, but I do feel a little Thoreau-like in observing them for awhile in the garden.
Just a note: Although I have a short post planned for Friday's Muse day, I won't be around "Blog Land" much for the next several days. My daughter is coming home from Arizona for a long weekend and to help my parents celebrate their 60th wedding anniversary. I can't wait to see her--she hasn't been home since Christmas. I'll try to visit everyone again early next week.

Saturday, July 26, 2008

Veggie Tales and Random Musings

Have you gotten "sticker shock" at the grocery store lately? Yesterday I bought a five-pound bag of red potatoes for $3.99. Even in the winter when produce is usually more expensive, I rarely spend that much on ten pounds of potatoes. But the real shock for me came when I looked in the meatcase at the local Meijer on Monday. A one-pound package of Oscar Mayer bacon was $5.49! I don't eat much bacon, but I was looking forward to BLT's when the tomatoes ripen. Looks like we may be eating LT's instead. And things aren't going to get better any time soon: a news report yesterday predicted that food prices are going to go up another 5% in the next six months.

All this gives me one more reason to be happy I planted a vegetable garden this year (though there isn't any bacon growing there!), and why I probably will expand it next year. I don't grow many different kinds of vegetables, so that I make sure we do eat what I grow. For example, broccoli is too much trouble, in my opinion, because of the pests, so I would rather buy that in the store. But I feel foolish buying a small zucchini when it is so easy to grow. A few weeks ago I wanted a zucchini for a pasta salad I was making and spent $1.00 for a small one. I haven't planted any since the "Zucchini Explosion" of 2006. That year I gave away lots of the vegetables and made zucchini bread, zucchini-apple bread, zucchini-carrot bread, zucchini cake, zucchini brownies, added grated zucchini to spaghetti sauce . . .you get the idea. It got so bad my daughter wouldn't eat anything without asking first whether there was zucchini in it. Now I wish I'd planted some this year--I could have had a veritable zucchini goldmine in my garden!

We have had some spinach, lettuce, and kohlrabi from the garden already, but our real favorites are just beginning to ripen. Yesterday I picked the second bunch of green beans, some summer squash (you can't make this into bread, unfortunately), and the real treat--the first tiny tomatoes.

There is nothing like a tomato fresh from the garden. I feel sorry for anyone who has known only the mushy, tasteless tomatoes sold in the supermarket. I got a little carried away this year planting tomatoes and have several varieties, including grape, cherry, Roma, and standard tomatoes such as Supersonic and Beefsteak. The tag for these tomatoes simply said "Grape."

I even have a variety of cherry tomato from England, courtesy of Cheryl (via Beckie).

By the end of August I hope I will be swamped with tomatoes and will be making tomato juice and tomato sauce to put in the freezer as well as all the fresh ones we will eat. I say I hope because some of the plants are not looking too healthy right now. There are yellow and even brown leaves on most of them. I usually stick with the varieties that are resistant to fungus, so I think the problem is in the watering. Quite frankly, we have had too much rain this year. Everything I have read about tomatoes says that they need regular, consistent watering. Unfortunately, the rain gods haven't paid attention to these recommendations.

Another reason to be thankful for growing my own tomatoes is the scare this year over salmonella and other possible contaminants in produce. Although tomatoes have now been taken off the recall lists, it still is more reassuring to know exactly where your produce came from. There was an article in the newspaper recently about the importing of produce. The article featured a model farm in Mexico where extreme precautions are taken to ensure safe handling of its lettuce all the way to the supermarket. The photo accompanying the article showed workers dressed in protective clothing, hats, and even face masks picking lettuce. I couldn't help feeling sorry for these workers. I pick vegetables only during the cool parts of the day, not for 8-12 hours in extreme heat, let along wearing layers of clothing. But what really struck me was that the writer explained the whole process of getting the lettuce to the supermarket, ending with the proud comment that it arrived safely on the supermarket shelves just a week after being picked. A week! Last Sunday I picked the first green beans and had them on the table within an hour!

Some random thoughts from the last few days . . . . . . Yesterday while I was sitting at the computer reading blogs, I kept hearing a low-flying plane. It took awhile for my fog-clouded brain to register what I was hearing. Finally, I ran outside with the camera and got a picture of this crop duster.

Since I was so slow in getting out, I didn't get a good photo because he was on his last round over this nearby field. He must have had several jobs to do because I could hear him in the area all day but never this close. I found out later he was spraying a fungicide that this particular variety of corn is susceptible to in wet weather.

Rambling along here, I noticed the other day that my clematis is blooming once again. That's not so unusual because it bloomed twice last summer as well. But what struck me as strange was the color of the bloom. You'll notice it is definitely lavendar.

But below is what it looked like this spring.

Is this normal?? Now that I think about it, last year, its first in bloom, the clematis bloomed just once--about this time of the summer-- and had lavender blooms. Earlier this spring I thought I had identified the plant as a "Nelly Moser," but now I am completely befuddled.

Speaking of clematis . . . . I wanted to thank everyone for their helpful comments on my last post about the sense of smell. You gave me some great ideas for plants to add to my garden to make it smell more sweetly. And I would still welcome any other suggestions. The power of the sense of smell to trigger strong memories seems surprising, while memories triggered by sights or sounds seem more logical in a way. Which brings me back to the clematis . . . I have seen the ever-popular Jackmanii clematis pictured on several posts. I know this variety has been around for years and is probably the most common, but I can't bring myself to plant one. Yes, they are beautiful, and they are purple, a favorite color of mine in the garden. But the Jackmanii triggers a very strong visual image for me. My grandmother was quite the gardener, and many of her flowers still live on at my parents' farmstead. My grandparents did not have indoor plumbing until I was about 5 or 6, and it always amazed me how my grandmother managed to get everything done, including tending flowers, when she had to pump water for doing dishes, laundry, and many other household chores. Grandma had a large Jackmanii clematis near--you guessed it--the old outhouse! My apologies to all of you who have these lovely clematises, but perhaps you'll understand when I say I can't see one without thinking of an outhouse.

One last parting comment . . . I have gotten daylily envy from seeing all the lovely daylily posts the last few weeks. So when I found a few on sale this past week at Meijer's I snatched up this "Lavender Dew."

I know it's not the right time of year to plant daylilies, but I have been scouring the local stores and garden centers whenever I have time lately for end of the season bargains. This one wasn't a great steal, but at least it was still healthy. I did find a few real bargains on Friday at the same sale Beckie went to, but I'll save them for another day. Right now I need to get busy and plant them before it rains again. Hope you all are having a great weekend!

Wednesday, July 23, 2008

Scentimental Memories

"A rose by any other name would smell as sweet..."

Did you know that olfaction, or the sense of smell, is controlled by the same part of the brain that controls memories and emotions? According to the Sense of Smell Institute (yes, there is such a thing), “People recall smells with a 65% accuracy after a year, while the visual recall of photos sinks to about 50% after only three months.” This is why a whiff of someone’s perfume might bring back a memory of your grandmother or an antiseptic smell might immediately evoke an unpleasant memory of a trip to the emergency room.

I know that the few times in recent years that I’ve had to don a hospital gown, the soft, powdery scent of the gown always brought back the pleasant memories of my children’s births. On the other hand, for years I could not stand the smell of Johnson and Johnson’s baby lotion—the kind that used to come in a pink bottle. I used it years ago as an all-purpose moisturizer when I was pregnant with my first son. Despite its clean, fresh fragrance, it always reminded me of having morning sickness.

A few other fun facts that I learned from the Sense of Smell Institute’s website are that our sense of smell is most acute in the evening; our sense of smell often diminishes as we age; and a woman’s sense of smell is keener than a man’s. Of course, we all knew that last fact already!

One of my teaching assignments for many years was a creative writing class for juniors and seniors. During the unit on descriptive writing, we discussed the importance of using all the senses. One assignment I gave was to write a description of a scene or place whose smells evoked memories. I gave them some possible prompts, such as going to the dentist, a trip to the emergency room, Thanksgiving dinner, or a day at the county fair. Writing descriptively about smells is not easy, so we brainstormed before writing, coming up with a list of possible adjectives. I started them off with words like spicy, aromatic, and pungent, and then they added to the list. By the end, of course, it often degenerated into words like raunchy, putrid, or foul, but it gave them something to work with.

As with any creative writing assignment, the resulting pieces were often nothing out of the ordinary, but I would always be pleasantly surprised by a few students whose papers were so descriptive you could almost smell the images on the page. But all of them quickly related to this assignment; they began remembering certain scents that brought specific images or events to mind.

What started me thinking about the importance of our sense of smell was a post on Sunday by Amy at High and Dry. She showed a photo of a new honeysuckle vine that she had, and I thought how much I loved honeysuckle. Strangely, the memory that the scent of honeysuckle triggers for me has nothing to do with the flower itself. When I was a young teenager I used to wear a perfumed lotion from Avon that had a honeysuckle scent. Even today that smell brings back memories of a time when I was younger, dreaming of boyfriends and wondering what the future would hold for me. I am going to add a honeysuckle vine to my ever-growing plant wish list!

Many of the rest of you have mentioned in describing a flower what a lovely fragrance it had. I couldn’t think of any flower I have that has a fragrance I am drawn to, so I decided it was time to stick my nose into things, so to speak.

I have two Knockout roses, currently under
daily attack by the Japanese beetles.
They smell like, well . . .roses,
but nothing like the fragrance of tea roses.

One plant I didn't have to stick my nose into to take in its aroma is the Russian sage, which does smell somewhat like its namesake.

Its strong, almost sickenly sweet scent
usually clings to my hands and clothes after
I've been weeding around it. I've been
trimming a few branches from one
plant that has fallen over and covered up
one of the roses. As I was doing this, I
noticed the rose beneath it had no damage
from the Japanese beetles. I thought I'd
hit on a possible deterrent to the beetles--the strong aroma put off by the sage. But if you
look closely in the lower right of this photo,
you'll see my theory doesn't hold up.
Apparently, the beetles don't mind its

I had to "bee" very careful when checking out some of the other flowers. The salvia "May Night" also gives off a sage aroma, but it's not as sweet as the perovskia, nor as noticeable until you get right down to the plant.

Upon the advice of Marnie at Lilacs and Roses, I checked a nearby pot for the the heliotrope which I included in my last post. She mentioned the wonderful vanilla scent of this flower. I did get a faint whiff, but the plant I have doesn't put out much fragrance.

Last week I noticed these tiny little blooms for the first time on a creeping thyme, Thymus serpyllum. This is a plant that's billed as a good groundcover; in fact, I've seen it marketed more this year as a "steppable." But I've pretty much ignored it until I saw these blooms. Since it's in the thyme family, I assumed it would have a scent and bent very low to get a whiff. It does have a faint fragrance, but it's such a small plant and we'd had rain the night before that I wasn't sure if I was smelling thyme or damp grass.

By now I was beginning to wonder if I was losing my sense of smell or sinus congestion was kicking in again. But there was no doubt why the nepeta "Walker's Low" is called catmint. It didn't take much sniffing to get that minty aroma.

Obviously, there are many flowers that are grown for reasons other than their fragrance. When I bought this cleome I was cautioned not to plant it too close to the house because it had an unpleasant odor. For the sake of my research, I sacrificed my nose and took a good strong whiff. It doesn't smell good, that's for sure, but it's not disgusting either. I've planted it far away from the house, but I don't think I'd notice it even if it were closer.

Well, that's it. Despite risking bee stings by sticking my nose into nearly every plant I have, I didn't find any other really fragrant flowers. I think I'm missing out on an important sensory effect in the garden and need to plant more flowers for their scent. I would love to walk out my door and smell gardenias or jasmine, but I don't think that is possible in my zone 5 garden, other than maybe in a potted plant. I'm open to any suggestions for plantings--care to share your thoughts on creating a sweet-smelling garden?

Saturday, July 19, 2008

A Passion for Purple

I have a fondness for alliteration, so originally I was going to title this post simply "Purple Passion" until I realized someone might reach this blog by googling and expect something quite different. Just in case there is still some confusion, this post is about purple flowers.

Last week I did a post about the surprising number of yellow flowers in my garden this year, but as I said then, pink and purple make up the main color scheme here. When I started gardening in earnest, I thought purple would make a nice complement to the coneflowers (which, of course, aren't really purple, but pink) and other pink blooms. Looking through garden catalogs and nursery websites, I was amazed by the number of plants which do have purple blooms. I have just a few purple perennials, but their size makes up for their small numbers.

If you have a little time, let's take a stroll around my garden and yard to look for signs of purple. But we'll make it quick--it's been typical July weather in Illinois this week, which means hot and muggy, and it's threatening rain at the moment. Please ignore any weeds that might peek through; the weather has made me a bit lethargic this week.

I included a photo of this Russian Sage on my bloom day post, but here's a larger view of it. This is at the back of my main flowerbed, which is where it should be, as it's threatening to engulf the Knockout roses in front of it. The sage makes a nice backdrop for purple coneflowers; you can see a few peeking through here, which are actually at the front of the flowerbed.

I read somewhere that bees are attracted to purple; that's certainly the case in my garden. The Russian Sage has been attracting all kind of honeybees, or some type of bee that looks like a honeybee. The bumblebees, however, seem to prefer this Walker's Low Nepeta.

This plant is only a year old and has grown to gigantic proportions this year. I'm not sure what I did right. The May Night salvia below is not in full bloom right now, so I had to struggle to capture this lonely little purple bloom. Unfortunately, in the sun the true color doesn't show up--it's actually a much darker purple. I also have two East Friesland salvia; these three plants are by far the bumblebees' favorite haunts. I haven't deadheaded these plants all summer, which probably accounts for the lack of purple blooms right now.

Even in the shade garden, there a few touches of purple, even though I didn't plan this. The hostas have shot up blooms this past week, including these lavender beauties. Some people have said they don't care for hosta blooms, but I like them. To me, they're an added bonus, a surprise, during the long, hot days of July.

I know everyone plants heuchera for their foliage, but I like their blooms as well. I'm stretching the purple idea a bit with this photo, but the foliage is much darker than it appears here, and the stems of the blooms are definitely purple. Besides, it's called "Plum Pudding," so I think that qualifies as purple.

Purple is such a dramatic color that it is surprising how well it goes with other colors. Besides pink, it also looks good paired with yellow. The sun really washed out this photo below because the verbena next to the yellow coreopsis is actually a much darker hue. This is an annual, "Purple Homestead," but I wonder if it might survive as a perennial in a southern garden.
Purple also pairs well with blue and even red. However, I just realized that I don't have any red in my garden other than the Knockout roses, which prefer not to be photographed at the moment. That's too bad; that's a color combination that appeals to me . . ."I will wear purple with a red hat . . ." Hmm, there's an idea for another flowerbed.

Moving on to my containers, the pink and purple theme continues. I've shown you this accent plant before--the purple-leaved Persian Shield.

And another favorite, heliotrope...

Purple comes in so many shades--try matching an accessory to a new purple sweater--from the delicate pastels of lavender and lilac to bright violets to the richness of dark purple. You can really see this in the different petunias growing in pots around my garden. There is the double dark blue supertunia growing in the porch planter, which is actually a medium shade of purple.

For a true dark purple, though, check out this "Royal Velvet" supertunia. Again, the sun is making it appear lighter than it really is, but it contrasts beautifully against the frothy "Diamond Frost" euphorbia in this planter.

But here is one of my favorites--the supertunia "Priscilla," a variegated double petunia that shows the varying shades of purple.

The best purple accent in my garden, though, is one I've shown you before, but only as a baby. The "Victoria Blue" salvia has just started to bloom. This is truly my favorite annual, and I have it scattered in many places--behind Stella d'Oro daylilies, in front of the coneflowers in my roadside garden, and here tucked in behind the rocks fronted with the coreopsis and verbena pictured above. I even stuck a few leftover Victorias in planters this year. We'll check on these in a couple weeks again so I can show you just why I like them so much.

Oh dear, it's really starting to rain now, and we didn't even see the Roxanne geranium blooming. Well, that will have to wait for another day. But do you mind if we grab an umbrella? I'd really like to show you a few more things other than my purple plants before we leave.

I didn't get to show these pictures of a couple daylilies for Bloom Day because I was too focused on my coneflowers. These are both passalong plants from my aunt who also gave me my irises, so I don't know their names. Like the irises, these lilies did not bloom last year, and I really thought they were goners. But they have been a pleasant surprise this summer.

Now that I know how beautiful they are, I'd really like to move them to a more prominent place to show them off. I'm worried, though, a move might cause them to wait another two years to bloom. What's your advice?

Well, here's another surprise! Where did this caladium come from all of a sudden? Apparently the bulbs I planted in late May weren't all drowned out after all. This is the only one I see, though.

The sun is peeking out again, and here's a little butterfly hiding out in a sweet potato vine.

He won't unfurl his wings so we can identify him. Could it be a monarch? I saw my first Monarch butterfly arrive on my coneflowers yesterday, so maybe if you come back next week we'll be able to see a real butterfly show.
I know it's time for you to go. Thanks for spending some time with me viewing my purple "majesties." I hope you didn't get too wet!

Tuesday, July 15, 2008

GB Bloom Day: The Common Coneflower Takes Center Stage

A convocation
Of coneflowers thrust skyward
Calling bees to feast

With all the rain we have had recently, there are blooms “busting out all over” here in the Heartland. The star of the show this time of year, though, is the purple coneflower, and I wanted to give her center stage today.

When I started my first small perennial flowerbed 6 or 7 years ago, the one flower I knew I wanted to plant was the purple coneflower. I had seen them in gardens all around the area and thought they were “pretty.” In my near-total state of ignorance about flower gardening, I didn’t realize what an excellent choice I had made. I didn’t know that they were native to this area and that they attracted bees and butterflies.

The coneflowers have never failed me, and I’ve grown to love them more each year. They are definitely my favorite perennial.

In the past month Gail at Clay and Limestone has written a few posts about the purple coneflower. In an early one she identified a native species called Echinacea Tennesseensis. This intrigued me; if Tennessee has its own coneflower, then surely Illinois has its own, too! I did a little research and found that, sadly, Illinois does not have a species named after it, so the Tennesseans have their own claim to fame. But I did find some other interesting information about the plant in Illinois.

I found a very informative website about the Illinois prairie written by a botanist with the Illinois Natural History Survey, which is located near me. The Tallgrass Prairie in Illinois,” written by Ken Robertson, is an excellent resource for information about the prairie habitat, including indigenous plants. He identifies two major species of the coneflower native to Illinois: Echinacea purpurea and Echinacea pallida. The purpurea is the common coneflower that most of us grow. According to Robertson, it is not a prairie plant, but rather is “found mostly in savannas and along the edges of woods.” The pallida, or “pale coneflower,” is a native found mainly in southern Illinois. The photos he included of the pallida look somewhat like this one in my garden, although this one is actually just a young Echinacea purpurea. Check out his site for photos of the real thing.

Little of the original prairie still exists in Illinois. Because of the rich soil in our area, the “Grand Prairie,” most of the soil has been converted to agricultural uses. However, there are still a few remnants of original prairie left, and Robertson includes sites where one can see the original landscape of this area. Not surprisingly, many of them are located in cemeteries. He also lists sites that have developed Prairie Restoration projects, including the Chicago Botanic Garden, Morton Arboretum, and Meadowbrook Park, a popular park not far from where I live. I had hoped to visit one of the cemeteries to get a photo for this post, but time and gas prices kept me from going.

My great-great-grandparents settled in this area in the 1870’s, buying land (for $2 an acre!) that had never been tilled. I wonder if they saw any seas of coneflowers when they arrived.

Besides its lovely, long-lasting blooms, the Echinacea is drought-resistant, will grow in many different soil types, and has few disease or insect problems. What is there not to like about this plant?!

The center globes attract butterflies . . .

...and bees are drawn to them as well.

In the winter the seed cones attract birds in search of food. ( This does bring up a question: what do you do when the flower has stopped blooming and the stems begin to dry up? I have left mine to stand all winter, but for aesthetic purposes, I wish I could break them off as soon as they have dried up. I would love to hear your comments on this.) And, of course, they do self-seed sometimes. I showed a photo of all my echinacea seedlings in a post earlier this spring; I must have had a couple dozen little babies. I transplanted some, pulled others, and left a few to fend for themselves. They're pretty tough plants.

There are many new varieties of the coneflower, including those in the “Big Sky” series, and I do hope to plant a few of those soon. But they are definitely pricier than the common Echinacea purpurea, and have not proven to be as hardy.

Anthony Kahtz, author of Perennials for Midwestern Gardens, suggests planting coneflowers with companions like Russian sage, liatris, or daylilies. I have Russian sage near one stand of coneflower; it’s definitely a bee magnet,too.

I do have many other blooms in my garden right now, including some surprise daylilies and my poor knockout roses struggling to survive the Japanese beetle attacks, but I think I’ll save them for another post. I don’t want anything to take attention away from today’s star.

“If you are a new gardener or just want a plant that is reliable, purple coneflower will leave you feeling like an expert.” ( Kahtz ) Ah, no wonder I like them!

Garden Bloggers' Bloom Day is sponsored on the 15th of each month by Carol at May Dreams Gardens. Visit her to see other posts today.