Wednesday, July 27, 2011

Wildflower Wednesday: Perennial Favorites

It's time for another Wildflower Wednesday, the monthly celebration of wildflowers and natives hosted by the gracious and enthusiastic Gail of Clay and Limestone.  It is perfect timing for me, as so many of my favorite natives are in bloom right now. Driving along country roads or even the interstate the past few weeks, one can't help but notice masses of the white umbels of Wild Carrot Daucus carota, or as I prefer to call it, Queen Anne's Lace.  In many places it is bordered by a profusion of blue blooms from Chicory Cichorium intybus.

Most farmers would say that Chicory is a weed, but I've always had a fondness for this weedy wildflower.  Probably it's the color, since blue is my favorite, and not many plants have such a true-blue bloom.  It pops up around our outbuildings each summer, and I'm inclined to let it stay.

I was hoping to get a long shot of the roadsides filled with chicory and Queen Anne's Lace, but pulling off a busy highway or a narrow country road didn't seem smart or safe.  So instead I pulled into a turn-off near my home to get a few close-ups.  Illinois is "The Land of Lincoln," and throughout the state you will find not only museums, but promotions of any ties the area has to the man many of us consider our greatest President. Just a mile from my home is this historical marker, where Kelly's Tavern once stood, a place where Lincoln once stayed during his days of riding the circuit practicing law.

Next to the marker is a small planting of various prairie plants, including tall Rudbeckia, Joe-Pye Weed, common milkweed, rattlesnake master, and other yet unidentified wildflowers.  I'm describing all this to you because when I downloaded my photos yesterday, my computer was acting up and I accidentally deleted all those photos, including what I thought were some great shots of butterflies--grrrrr.

But I did manage to save one of the best, this one of a rattlesnake master Eryngium yuccifolium. The unusual name of this native probably came from its use by some Native American tribes who used the leaves and fruit in their rattlesnake medicine song and dance.  As you can see, the bumbles and other pollinators love it; in fact, this whole area was full of buzzing creatures who didn't exactly appreciate my disturbing them to get a few photos--maybe they hexed my camera:)

I don't have to travel anywhere, though, to find natives this time of year.  The Joe-Pye weed Eupatorium purpureum has been impervious to the thugs in my butterfly garden this year and towers above them, though not to the exaggerated height I claimed in a previous post--it stands about 6 feet, not 10 feet tall.  This specimen does not have the purple tinge to its stem as many of these plants do, and for awhile this spring I wasn't sure if this really was Joe.  I was so glad to see it start blooming a few weeks ago and being reassured that it wasn't a giant ragweed instead!

A newcomer to my garden this year is Liatris spicata, planted from bulbs purchased at the Chicago Flower and Garden Show in March.  Talk about easy to grow!  The plan was to have them interspersed with white coneflowers to add some vertical interest in the arbor bed. The coneflowers didn't get planted, but the liatris filled in this area quite nicely on their own.  I planted eight bulbs, imagining eight spikes of purple, but as you can see, they are much more robust than that.

When the coneflowers start winding down, I get a little sad, but not to worry--the Susans take their place. All of them are re-seeders from previous years, so I won't even  try to identify them, though most, I suspect, are from original Rudbeckia hirta. I was a little disappointed in the turn-out in the butterfly garden, no doubt due to the proliferation of asters and obedient plants, but I was happy to see one specimen of the new 'Cherry Brandy' Rudbeckia return. Many of the returnees this year are taller and more slender, perhaps because of the limited space.  The Rudbeckia pictured above is in the lily bed, where I definitely did not plant it!  It doesn't fit into the planting scheme in this garden area, but with a cheery face like this, who would have the heart to pull it out?  I certainly didn't.

Finally, my favorite of all the natives--my beloved purple coneflowers Echinacea purpurea.  After a month of blooming, they're beginning to fade and look a bit ratty, but I still enjoy them.  Soon the goldfinches will be feasting on their center disks.

I've gone on and on before about the many admirable traits of purple coneflowers, so I won't repeat myself today, but if you would like to know more about these natives you can click on a much earlier post here. Suffice it to say, that they are pollinator magnets of the first order.

Butterflies have been scarce around here this year, but when one does arrive, it's sure to find the coneflowers.  This Monarch doesn't seem to mind that the flower has seen better days.  Attracting birds, bees, and butterflies, and pretty to boot--what more could you ask of a flower?

As a final note, it is still hot here in central Illinois, but we have had a few much-needed rainshowers over the last few days.  During this heat wave and near-drought, though, all the natives pictured above have been real troopers, braving the heat and lack of attention without complaining like their fussier non-native companions.  Another good reason to go native!

If you would like to know more about any of the native plants featured here, you might want to check out my favorite source, Illinois Wildflowers  Or better yet, check out this month's contributors to Wildflower Wednesday at Gail's. 

Wednesday, July 20, 2011

"Lazy, Hazy, Crazy" Days

Anyone close to the same age as I may remember a song by Nat King Cole popular in 1963, "Those Lazy, Hazy, Crazy Days of Summer."   That description certainly fits this week in July, although the connotations of that song seem a little different in reality.

It's crazy hot here! The temperatures are soaring--95 degrees as I type, with a forecast for even higher temps the next two days.  Sure, it's hotter in Phoenix where newly married Daughter lives, but Illinois has something Arizona doesn't--humidity.  The buzzword here these days is "heat index,"  the combination of heat + humidity, which means it actually feels like 110 degrees or even hotter outside.   I took over a dozen photos out in the garden early this morning before I realized the blurry images in my viewfinder weren't from not having my contact lenses in yet, but because the camera lens fogged up from all the moisture in the air!  The windows of my house were equally foggy.  Hazy days indeed.

'Sunrise Rose' lantana loves the heat, but I don't.
All this heat and humidity is making me lazy, too.  There's much to be done in the garden, but I just don't feel like leaving the A/C to do it. 

Early morning or late evening is about the only time I want to venture outside.  Some half-hearted attempts are made at weeding, but for the most part, I don't do anything much more strenuous than deadhead lilies.  The passalong division from best friend Beckie, 'Dragonfly Corner,' is the most prolific bloomer of the daylilies right now.

Although 'Nettie's Ruby,' more passalongs, are still going strong, too.  The heat is even creating a haze in my brain.  It's a good day for staying inside and reading some blogs, but I'm too lazy to even write a coherent paragraph today.  Instead, I'm opting for extra-large photos and random thoughts . . .

I'm still on beetle patrol morning and night, but the Japanese beetle population seems to be going down.  The yellow Knockout Rose 'Radsunny' finally is able to put out new blooms.

Earlier this spring I was regretting that I hadn't planted any cleome.  Not to worry . . . it has re-seeded all over one end of the lily bed.  

I really should deadhead the 'May Night' salvia, but that sounds like too much work right now.  Besides, the bumbles don't seem to mind it as is.

I also need to plant the new hydrangea I bought.  This is not the optimal time for transplanting anything, but I couldn't pass up this bargain at one of my favorite garden centers.  This 'Little Lamb' was only a penny, with a $30 purchase . . . which means, of course, I have a few other plants to plant as well:)  There's Sophie again in the corner of the photo--maybe I could get her to dig a few planting holes for me.

One of the chores I try not to neglect, however, is the watering.  In this heat, containers need to be watered every day, and I have so many new plants in some of the beds that I try to make sure they get a good watering every few days.  The arbor bed has most of the new plants, so it gets special attention.  Maybe it's not as dry as I think if these little mushrooms are popping up.

Today it's the veggie garden's turn for a good watering.   It will be a few weeks before the first tomatoes are ripe, but they're looking promising.

Sugar peas, on the other hand, were a bust.  I planted them much too late, so it's my own fault.  I think I picked enough for one serving of peas.

 It's nearing 8 AM, and I am already "glowing."  Who am I kidding; I'm no Scarlett O'Hara--sweat is pouring down my face, and my shirt is plastered to me.  Time to stop taking photos, turn on the sprinkler, and head into the cool house.  But wait--there are green beans to pick again! Oops, I had forgotten to check these in awhile.  

Twenty minutes later, I'm finally ready to head indoors and call it a day.

Mr. P and I love fresh green beans, but there is no way we'll eat this many right away; besides I still have some in the fridge from last week's picking.  I really should put these up in the freezer, but that means boiling water for blanching them, which would heat up the kitchen.  "Don't be such a wimp, Rose!"  I scold myself.  My mother used to can green beans with a pressure cooker on days like this, for heaven's sake . . . in a kitchen without air-conditioning!  My pioneer spirit kicks in--along with a little guilt, I surmise--and a few hours later, I have several quarts of very fresh beans stored away in the big chest freezer.

Ah, finally time to sit down with a good book and relax.  Unless you're a tropical native like this hibiscus, this heat is stifling and can be dangerous.  Check on elderly neighbors and family to make sure they're all right.  Keep hydrated and stay inside where it's cool if at all possible.

On hot and hazy days like this, it's okay to be lazy.

Friday, July 15, 2011

GBBD: Daylilies and Other Delights

Woohoo! It's time for another Garden Bloggers' Bloom Day, and this July edition is the one I've been waiting for all year.  It's the height of the summer season, and my garden is obliging with a multitude of blooms right now.  I'm always happy to show visitors around this time of year (as long as you don't notice the weeds), but I know you have lots of other places to visit, too, so I'll try to keep the narrative to a minimum and let the flowers speak for themselves.

I know I've been going on and on about purple coneflowers for the past few weeks, but I can't help myself.  They are my favorite flower, and their pretty pink faces always make me smile.  I have them everywhere here, including at the back of the butterfly garden along with fading monarda and a barely visible Joe Pye Weed that must be eight feet tall.

Next to coneflowers, my other love is daylilies. I seem to be drawn to peaches and corals, like this 'Prairie Sunrise,' a one-of-a-kind hybrid that I named myself.

Another one-of-kind is  'Dragonfly Corner,' a division kindly passed along to me by best friend Beckie.

'Tangerine Orange Ruffles' is really the color of orange sherbet.

Not all the daylilies here, though, are in the peach or yellow color spectrum.  Passalongs from my aunt, 'Nettie's Ruby' is at the forefront of the lily bed. Obviously, I don't worry too much about color coordination when it comes to lilies.

Purple is represented, too, by 'Little Grapette,' a shorter cultivar that works well in front of its taller relatives.

While color and shape of bloom entice me to certain varieties, I'm also drawn in by the names of plants. 'Prairie Blue Eyes' was a natural to be added to my garden:)

As was 'Canterbury Tales.'   I've shown this lily several times in the past few weeks, but I had to include it again because it just keeps putting out the blooms.  Chaucer never got the chance to finish all his tales, but this daylily seems determined to add a new "tale" every day.

The yellow edged and throated lily on the right was chosen purely for its name--'Romeo Lies Bleeding'--whereas the delicate beauty on the left was chosen for her appearance and because she was another unnamed hybrid.  My choice for a name? 'Juliet,' of course!  I'm happy to say that these star-crossed lovers are happy and living peacefully in their first full year in my garden

Trying for more diversity, several new Oriental lilies were added to the garden this spring.  This is the first of what I hope will be many blooms to come--'Stargazer.'

My garden isn't just about coneflowers and daylilies, however, although it may seem that way.  An errant Rudbeckia, variety unknown, found its way into the lily bed.  The yellow spider lily on the right still commands attention, but other daylilies behind are somewhat obscured--there's that need for crowd control again.  The Rudbeckia will be allowed to stay . . . for now.

Drumstick alliums bob and sway in the front and center.

My first hybrid coneflower, Echinacea 'Big Sky Sundown,' was a gift last year from Tena, Lisa of Greenbow's sister. I'm happy to see it covered with blooms this year.

No need to adjust your monitor--this is a partial view of the lily bed through the growing switchgrass, Panicum virgatum 'Shenandoah,' ready to take over center stage as the lilies fade.

Nearby, in Roco's garden the geranium 'Rozanne' nestles at the feet of super-performer Leucanthemum 'Becky.'  This photo is for Sissy --our faithful companions are never forgotten.

The Knockout roses are starting to put out new blooms again in spite 
of the recent onslaught of Japanese beetles.

The shade garden is primarily a sea of green at this time in the season, except for Hydrangea macrophylla 'Let's Dance in the Moonlight.'  The 'Endless Summer' mopheads are looking healthy and full, but blooms are very few.  They seem to be in a two-year cycle--one year lots of healthy foliage and the next more blooms. 

Hosta blooms are also providing a contrast to all the green.

Other new blooms can be found in the arbor garden.  I've been waiting until later to do a post on this new area because it's still so young, but we can take a peek at a few of the plants, all of which are first-timers here, including this 'David' phlox.

The last of the delphiniums 'Connecticut Yankee' is the tallest and strongest of the three I planted.  No need to stake this one.

Sweetpeas, though, have outgrown their support.  
Sorry about Sophie in the corner of the photo--she likes touring the garden, too:)
Liatris has been a resounding success.

All together they make a combination in one corner that I've been very happy with.

I've tried to resist the temptation to plant too close together in this area, satisfying my need for dense plantings by using annuals, especially in the front part of the garden.  There is still room for Tarzan to perch comfortably behind the 'Victoria Blue' and 'White' Salvia and next to a dwarf butterfly bush, 'Lo and Behold Blue Chip.'

Thanks for stopping by today, and I do hope I haven't kept you too long. There are many more gardens on the tour today--just drop by our hostess Carol's for directions for your next stop and enjoy!

Monday, July 11, 2011

My Eyes Are Bigger Than My Garden

While growing up, I was a member of the "clean plate club."  I was never a finicky eater--except for liver--so this was not a problem. But just in case I didn't finish everything on my plate, my mother would remind me of the sin of wastefulness and the starving children in some far-off land who would be happy to have a small morsel of what I had eaten, even that disgusting liver.  At family dinners or community potlucks where the array of tempting choices prompted me to fill every inch of my plate, my mother might warn me not to get too carried away, that "my eyes were bigger than my stomach."

These days I don't have to worry about my stomach not being big enough, unfortunately, and I try to limit portion sizes somewhat so that I don't waste food.  But this problem seems to have carried over into another area of my life--my garden, where my plant addiction has caused me to fill every available bare inch of soil with plants, so that my "plates" are overflowing.

Case in point:  the roadside garden, which is a smorgasbord of color right now.  These lilies are one of my favorites; passalong NOID's from my aunt, I named them 'Nettie's Coral' in her honor.  They really are the prettiest shade of coral and might cause drivers passing by to slow down to admire them. 

But when you look at the larger picture, you can see the problem.  Most of them are planted behind the coneflowers, which have gotten taller every year and now hide many of the lilies' blooms.  You know how much I love coneflowers, so removing them is not an option.

Maybe I should dig up the corals and move them to the front of the coneflowers.  Right now there is a row of 'Stellas' in front, which are shorter in stature and work well as a border.  Even this taller "rogue" daylily in the midst of the Stellas doesn't look too bad in front.  But the corals are taller yet and might end up obscuring the coneflowers. I'm not sure what I'm going to do, but I need to do something before the garden police arrest me for lily abuse.

To the left of the center of this bed, the butterfly weed has nearly doubled in size, so that the Profusion zinnias and a few 'Arizona Sun' gaillardias can't be seen unless you get up close.  To the right of the butterfly weed is a container with purple petunias and 'Diamond Frost' euphorbia.  I thought it looked rather appealing sitting on its side as if the flowers were spilling out, but again it's hardly noticeable next to the butterfly weed.

The roadside garden was purposely crammed with plants to create more of an impact in a limited space and also to make it as low-maintenance as possible: I'm too  lazy busy to walk the 1/8 mile down the lane to check it for weeds everyday.  But maybe it's time to do some thinning out.

Back up at the house, things aren't much better.  This zinnia is actually part of a container planting in the
front sidewalk bed, but other than this bloom and a few glimpses of helichrysum and persian shield,  you can't even see this pot because it is hidden by coneflowers once again.  When we moved here in the fall of '04, I decided this area filled with gravel was the perfect place for a small flower garden.  I dug out all the rock by hand and the following spring planted perennials and some annuals.  At the time my knowledge of gardening, other than growing vegetables, might have filled one paragraph--if that.  I ignored the recommended spacing on labels of perennials and packed plants closer together for instant gratification.  It didn't take long for me to realize what a mistake that was!   The next spring I dug up everything--one Knockout rose still hasn't forgiven me for tearing up her roots--and moved them all further apart.

That did help, but the narrow end of this triangular bed needed some oomph, so I decided to plant some coneflowers there, too, to hide part of the overgrown yews behind them.  (My repetroire of plants in those days was pretty limited, too.)  Fast forward five years, and the coneflowers have reseeded and expanded their original territory, flopping over the sidewalk and the aforementioned pot.  This time I do know the solution--pull out most of the new seedlings next spring--but I'm thinking a re-working of this whole area is overdue anyway.

Another area that needs re-working is the shade garden.  This is my favorite garden during the hot days of summer, and I really do like the look of hostas and ferns dancing cheek to cheek.  But I think we may have passed that point some time ago, and it's time for some crowd control.  The macrophylla hydrangeas aren't putting out many blooms this year, much to my disappointment, but those that are appearing have to fight for space between the bleeding heart and the large hostas.  The cause of this problem area is quite obvious--my plant addiction again, always finding another heuchera or other shade-lover that I manage to shoehorn into a tiny space.  It's time to divide and conquer!

Apparently, I'm a slow learner.  When I created this new flower bed last year just for my growing collection of lilies, I wanted to make sure I had blooms or foliage interest when the lilies weren't blooming, so I kept adding more and more plants.

Again, many of these plants have exceeded my expectations of their growth.  The amsonia that looks so lovely in the spring has gotten huge and is crowding out other plants in one corner of the bed.  This poor little balloon flower has to peek out from underneath the branches of the amsonia. 

I've already decided the amsonia needs to be moved to another area with more space, and I need to be more ruthless in getting rid of volunteer re-seeders.  My parents were visiting the other day and my dad asked about a particular daylily and its unusual foliage.  When I looked where he was pointing, I laughed--the daylily had the usual leaves, but it was growing in a stand of volunteer cleome.   It can get confusing:  'Moonlit Masquerade,' above, sometimes likes to play with the switchgrass 'Shenandoah."

As for the butterfly garden, well, we won't even go there--you'd need a machete to get through that jungle of promiscuous natives and self-seeders.

The solution to all of this over-crowding is pretty obvious--time to divide and do some selective weeding out.  My garden is very small compared to most people's I've seen on garden walks and here in Blogland, so I could probably double its size just by dividing and moving some plants.  But that is a project for later this fall and next spring.  It's definitely too hot right now to be moving perennials, and I have more pressing matters to attend to . . .

Unfortunately, it's Japanese Beetle season.  My poor Knockout roses have been decimated, and the blooms on my two hibiscus plants are devoured before they can open.  My father recommended spraying Sevin on the plants, saying that would knock these little villains right off.  Yes, it probably would, but it would also knock a few bees and some other good guys off, too.

Ack!  This means war!  There will be no chemical warfare here, however; my preferred method is to pick them off by hand and dump them into a can of soapy water.  Very early morning or late in the evening are the best times while they are sleeping off their gluttonous escapades.   I've been faithful about doing this for the past two weeks, ever since they first showed up.  In fact, if someone were to make a movie of my life right now (which would be pretty boring, to say the least) it would have to be a documentary entitled "The Making of 'Beetlejuice.' "

Amid the groans after that last comment, I bid you adieu for the day.  It's a hot one here in the Midwest today; I hope you are all staying cool!