Wednesday, June 23, 2010

Wildflower (and other Wild Things) Wednesday

For the first time ever, I am joining in on Wildflower Wednesday, hosted the fourth Wednesday of every month by Gail at Clay and Limestone.  I haven't participated before because I don't have many wildflowers in my garden, but in the summer there is an abundance of weeds wildflowers on our farm.  One of my favorites is chicory with its daisy-like blue blooms.

Cichorium intybus, a member of the Aster family, grows up to 3' tall and blooms from June to October.  Flower heads are up to 1 1/2" across and emerge all along the stem.  

Chicory was used as a medicinal herb, vegetable, and salad plant in ancient Egyptian, Greek, and Roman times. Since the 17th century, dried, roasted, ground roots have been used as a coffee substitute.  Chicory is a gentle, but effective bitter tonic, which increases the flow of bile and is used to treat gallstones.  (Kurz, Illinois Wildflowers)

Chicory grows freely here and makes a nice companion plant to another favorite of mine, the wild carrot.

Daucus carota, or Wild Carrot, is more popularly known by the name Queen Anne's Lace, which refers to "Anne of Denmark, wife of James I, who loved fine clothes and lace" (Kurz). Although it is the ancestor of the cultivated carrot of today, its root is white, not orange, due to a lack of beta carotene.  Tea made from the root of Wild Carrot was once used as a diuretic.

Some might question whether Thistle could be classified as a wildflower, since it is usually labelled as a noxious weed.  But since it is included in my wildflower book, I'll feature it here.  There are several kinds of thistle which all look similar to me. This one looks like Tall Thistle, which can grow as tall as 8 feet.  The pink flowers are attractive to bees and goldfinches and are often seen in prairie plantings.

 Constant rain the past two weeks has made everything grow, well, weeds.  The purple coneflowers are early this year, and while Echinacea purpurea is not a wildflower, its ancestor Echinacea pallida, prairie coneflower, is.  Prairie coneflowers can still be seen in virgin prairies or in prairie restorations.

Soggy conditions here at the Prairie have brought out many other wild things as well.  Can you guess what has caught Sophie's attention?

Why, it's Mr. Toad!  Judging from the size of this guy, he has found plenty of insects to dine on in my garden. I wonder if he likes earwigs . . .

Prettier wild things are also making their appearance in the garden.  I've been so happy to see the increase in the number of butterflies this year.  The Red Admirals are especially prolific, but other species have been flying about as well, including the first Monarchs of the season.  Parsley, fennel, dill, and butterfly weed were planted once again this year for their dining pleasure.

Dragonflies are not as common here, but they like the damp, and between the muddy garden and the ponds in the fields, they have found much to their liking right now.  Not a very good picture, but they refused to land very long for me to snap a photo.

Again, several species have been about, including this larger one with black and clear wings.  He looks a little like a big jumbo jet about to take off, doesn't he?

Much more willing to pose for a photo session was this lovely damselfly.   In fact, while I stopped to adjust the settings on my camera, she flew up and landed on the edge of my camera!  I think she wanted to offer some photographic suggestions, because after I moved on, she followed me for awhile, flying inches from my shoulder.  I just wish she would have taken my advice and posed on some flowers rather than on the weeds and wild violets she seems to prefer.

It's another hot, muggy day here in Illinois with a heat index predicted over 100 degrees. While it's not raining--for once!--the heat may keep me indoors rather than out where the wild things are

For other postings on wildflowers, do stop by to visit native enthusiast Gail.

Tuesday, June 15, 2010

June Bloom Day--Rain Delay

In spring and summer a gardener's fancy turns to flowers . . . and to baseball.   It's Garden Bloggers' Bloom Day today, and also time to start voting for your favorite players for the All-Star game in July.

A consistent performer every season who usually goes on a hitting streak in June is Stella D'Oro.  Like the faithful Cubs' fans who fill Wrigley Field for every game no matter how dismal the season, Stella keeps coming back and coming back each year despite being dividing and pushed off onto relatives and friends.  She may not be around in October . . . but then neither are the Cubs:)  Usually she gets along well with everyone, though I think she clashes with that pink pot--must be a White Sox or a Cardinal fan.

A new star on the roster this year is the Asiatic lily, "Brindisi."   Despite her rookie status, she has already commanded a lot of attention from the fans.

Another new rookie on the team is 'Moonlight Madness.' Much shorter in stature than her Asiatic teammate, 'Moonlight' shows promise and gets some points for being one of the earliest to arrive on game day.

We're sorry, but we have to go to a rain delay for awhile.  Field conditions have become too wet for further play, and as you can see, outlying areas (the soybean fields) are filled with puddles.  (Actually, this was yesterday morning; by last night the puddles had become full-fledged ponds.  I'm not sure how much rain we had, but it came down so hard and so fast that there was nowhere for it to go, other than into my basement. Sigh.)

While we're waiting for the fields (and my basement) to dry out, let's go back to our roster. The perennial slugger Echinacea Purpurea is just beginning to emerge, with this the first bloom.  Looking back to two years ago, Echinacea was the star of the July Bloom Day, not June's.  Like everything else this year, it seems to be peaking early.

The old veteran, the hollyhock, is also coming into its own.  Plagued by possible injuries or disease, it's not as physically imposing this year as in the past.  The ants seem to be big fans of it this year.

On professional sports teams, there are no such things as walk-ons, yet the Prairie team boasts several that deserve consideration.  Nigella are occupying a large section of the bench in the butterfly garden, re-seeding themselves freely with no coaching.

Likewise, the Bachelor's Buttons surprised the team by returning voluntarily this year.  Can anyone i.d. the fan sitting in the upper deck?  There seem to be quite a few of these in the garden right now; I hope they aren't potential troublemakers.

A welcome returnee to the team this year is the slugger known only as Rudbeckia.  While two perennial 'Goldsturm'  were planted last year, this appears to be one of the many offspring of the annual varieties. Rudbeckia is also a contender for the humanitarian award, for its contributions to supporting wildlife. (Click to enlarge the picture if you can't see the little hoverfly in the center.)

Other contenders for the All-Star team in June include this petite Monarda.  More disciplined than its boisterous counterparts in the butterfly garden,  this one stays in bounds.

Free-spirited 'Moonbeam' coreopsis, however, is a candidate for the Golden Glove award, covering more and more of the outfield.

Every team needs a leader, and in the shade garden, 'Let's Dance in the Moonlight' commands everyone's attention.  Even with a name like that, no one dares snicker, but rather gives her the respect she deserves.

Often overlooked,  the hostas are dependable team members all season long.  While others often go into a slump, these garden athletes consistently produce, even dazzling us at times with blooms like these.  Not to influence you by portraying this star with a bigger photo here, but I am rather starstruck by this physique.

Forgive me for the pitiful attempt at baseball analogies . . . it seemed a lot more clever when I started.  But. it's late, and I've just spent a couple hours with a shop vac trying to dry out my basement  I'm tired, and I'm very tired of rain!

For other blooms around the world without such contrived formats, please visit our always entertaining hostess, Carol of May Dreams Gardens.

Friday, June 11, 2010

Pretty in Pink

My favorite color is sky blue . . . just in case you were wondering.  Gardeners know, though, that finding plants with a true blue flower is extremely difficult.  One of my first ventures into gardening several years ago was to create a small shade garden at our previous home.  'Endless Summer' hydrangeas were relatively new on the market at that time, and when I saw them in a magazine, I knew they were just what I wanted.  I was going to have flowers of blue amidst the green hostas and ferns!

There's just one problem with this picture--other than the season I first purchased them, my 'Endless Summers' have been . . . pink!  I was amused when I read Racquel's post about her hydrangeas and how happy she was to finally have a pink one.  Obviously, I have the opposite problem.  Our area has very neutral soil, which is good for growing most things, but hydrangeas like acid soil.  My half-hearted efforts this spring to amend the soil to a more acidic ph weren't enough to produce the blue blooms I wanted.  But that's okay, because my favorite color in the garden is actually pink.

I've become a little more daring in recent years, adding some yellows, reds, and (gasp!) even a few oranges to various parts of the garden, but pink is still the predominant color you'll find here.  On the numerous shopping excursions I make each spring, you'll usually find me with a cart full of many pink annuals.  The old standby geraniums--okay, pelargoniums; old habits die hard--are still favorites of mine for several containers.  This 'Americana Light Pink Splash' is my very favorite.

Pink isn't a one-trick pony, either, with various hues available from this delicate pale pink of some double impatiens . . .

. . . to the hot pink shades of these variegated double impatiens.

Hot pink single impatiens paired with a pinkish (or is it red??) caladium.

'Royal Magenta' Supertunias are really more hot pink/fuschia than magenta.

Pink geraniums again paired with hot pink verbena.

There is the dusty pink of a rather tattered-looking Gerbera daisy . . .

. . . or the pale pink almost obscured by the red veins of this caladium.

But even if I didn't buy so many annuals, there would still be pink in my garden.  'Appleblossom' yarrow keeps spreading and spreading each year.

Salvia 'Eveline' is a pretty alternative to the usual purple perennial salvias, even though its blooms don't last as long as its purple cousins.  Too bad . . . I could see myself creating a miniature Prairie Lurie with more of these plants (copyright credits to Frances, the proprietor of Faire Lurie).

 The original flowers here at the Prairie, the hollyhocks, are not doing so well this year for some reason.  Only one--pink, of course!--is blooming so far. Perhaps some overzealous weeding or the attempts to eradicate encroaching poison ivy have done in some of these heirloom plants.

The Butterfly Garden, on the other hand is thriving . . . and looking quite chaotic, to be truthful.  Volunteers have re-seeded themselves all over this newest garden, including this bee balm from Beckie.  She told me it was a red cultivar . . . hmmm, this looks hot pink to me.

And, of course, I couldn't have a post about pink flowers without including the famous Practically Perfect Plox Pilosa, better known throughout Blogland as Gail's PPPP.

Or the almost as famous pink Penstemon X.  Both it and the PPPP are doing well in the Butterfly Garden despite having to duke it out with nigella, cosmos, and other volunteers.

But the piece d' resistance right now, the pinnacle of pink perfection, is this new Asiatic lily.  The old memory cells just aren't what they used to be (just ask Tena), and I could have sworn I purchased a yellow or orange lily last fall.  But I'm so glad I didn't!   You'll be seeing more of this example of pink pulchritude in a later post when the rest of the lilies are in bloom. 

And once it's fully in bloom, this new hot pink salvia 'Wendy's Wish' will also get more exposure. Reminiscent in form to the popular 'Black and Blue' salvia, this new cultivar somersaulted into my cart the moment I spotted it on my last plant shopping trip.

There are other pink blooms in my garden that for one reason or another didn't make it into this post, and of course, there will be later pink blooms, most notably the purple coneflowers, which naturally are not purple at all but rather pink.  But I think you get the idea . . . So, what color predominates in your garden?

Gee, I don't know about you, but all this pink is suddenly making me feel all "girlie" . . . I think I'll go curl my hair and put on some lipstick before I head out into the garden.

Monday, June 7, 2010

Ideas Galore in the Idea Garden

I am happy to report that I am no longer as cranky as I was in my last post.  We have had a beautiful day today with cooler temperatures, so I have been able to get most of my plants into the ground finally and all the containers are finished.  Of course, there is still weeding and trimming to do as well as numerous other chores to attend to, but the mad rush of planting is virtually over.  Despite the harried feelings of last week, when best friend Beckie called that her cousin Tena was coming for the weekend and would I like to give them a "tour" of the Idea Garden on Saturday, I didn't hesitate for a second.  Some of you Chicago Spring Flingers may remember the genial Tena who accompanied her sister Lisa to join our gardening exploits last May.

Thunder rumbled in the distance, and the skies threatened to let loose with another downpour at any time, but we three intrepid gardeners were prepared and enjoyed a thorough inspection of the whole garden.  I had to show off the Sensory Garden area first, as this is where I have spent much of my volunteer time.

The Sensory Garden is meant to be just what its name implies.   But it also serves another purpose: it is specifically directed at people with disabilities. Those who have lost their sight can stop to smell the Bourbon rose in the first photo, the Meyer lilac which bloomed in May, or the heliotrope in the island planting above.  A visitor can rub the fuzzy Lamb's Ears or the silken grasses throughout this area. Plant tags in this area also feature names in Braille. The raised bed above provides easy access for those who are physically handicapped, and the new pavers which will soon be put down on the path will make it even easier for handicapped accessibility.  And of course, there are plenty of visual delights like the giant allium blooming in the second photo for everyone to enjoy.

The threat of rain meant we had the Garden almost to ourselves and time to enjoy it at our own pace.  Beckie and Tena check out the tag on a plant they liked.


The other area I have helped with is the Annual Color Garden, which is assigned to all the new interns.  This is just the west end of the Color Garden, which goes all around the potting shed, but this was the area where I spent most of my time on two hot Saturdays.  I was so pleased to see how much it had filled out in such a short time.  We were told during classes that the Color Garden got the leftover plants, but we must have been given 50 flats of "leftovers"!  In fact, on the second Saturday we worked, three of us filled in the original planting with even more annuals just to use them all up.

The annuals are trial plants from Proven Winners, so one of our duties is to see how well these new varieties do in central Illinois.  I wasn't able to volunteer in the greenhouse when these were planted, but I believe  that seed plugs are sent from Proven Winners which are then grown in one of the greenhouses on the U of  I campus. 

Many of the cultivars are new ones that you won't be able to find in most nurseries this year, but I was happy to find this starflower, 'Beth's Blue,' at one of our local nurseries.

The Idea Garden is divided into twelve sections, with co-chairs and additional MG volunteers for each part.  This is the North Border, which forms part of the perimeter planting around the fence.


Each year new annuals and some perennials are added, while some non-performers are relegated to the give-away pile.  This oakleaf hydrangea no doubt will be a permanent fixture.

The West Border faces the main street and is the first impression that visitors and passersby see of the Garden.

Although I've spent quite a few hours working here this spring, most days I stick to one little area and the task at hand, whether pruning, dividing, or weeding.  This was the first time this spring I was able to leisurely stroll around the Garden and see it all.

The Children's Garden is always a popular spot to visit with different whimsical touches, including this display of  "The Old Woman Who Lived in a Shoe."  Many of her "children" pop up in the most unexpected places in this area:)


The Idea Garden is not an especially large garden as public gardens go, but it is jam-packed with a wide variety of plants and so many clever ideas that a gardener can adapt to her own garden.  I always come away with a note for a new plant to add to my garden or a new combination of plantings to try.  As lovely as this milkweed looks here and although I know it will attract so many butterflies, this is one plant that won't find its way into my garden, however . . . unless I hide it from my husband.


The three of us lingered the longest in the Rose Garden, where the roses were all in full bloom.  A favorite of all of us was this multi-hued rose, "Love and Peace."  Isn't she beautiful?

After our tour of the Idea Garden, Beckie treated us to lunch, and then we showed off our favorite garden center to Tena.  She and I discovered some more plants that neither of us had realized how much we needed.  It's a good thing we both showed restraint, because we filled Beckie's trunk to the brim.  

Thanks to Beckie for giving me this early birthday present of a day out.  And thanks to Tena for the beautiful Echinacea I've wanted for so long,'Big Sky Sundown,' as well as being such a good sport--I guess I had some kind of brain fog because I must have called her "Lisa" twenty times during the day:)  Thanks, ladies, for a special day!