Friday, April 27, 2012

Wildflower Wednesday: I've Got the Blues

Although pink and purple predominate in my garden, my favorite color is blue.  But as any gardener will tell you, a true blue bloom is hard to find.  Most plants advertised in catalogs as having blue blooms are actually more of a purple.  One of the first perennials I bought several years ago was the Hydrangea Macrophylla 'Endless Summer,' which can have gorgeous light blue flowers.  In my naivete as a beginning gardener, I didn't realize that without amending my soil to make it more acidic, those mounds of blue would be replaced by pink ones the next year.  There is one plant, however, that has flowers the perfect color of the sky year after year without any work by the gardener--Amsonia.

I first saw Amsonia when I visited the Lurie Gardens during the Chicago Spring Fling in '09.  While everyone's eyes were drawn to the river of salvia running through Piet Oudolf's creation,  I was smitten by two plants--the lighter-purple Baptisia sprinkled through the planting and the Amsonia to the center and back right of this photo. I vowed to plant them in my own garden, and within a year I had one of each.

Amsonia tabernaemontana is a 1-3 foot tall perennial that forms large, multi-stemmed clumps topped with  star-like flowers that one source calls "a heavenly shade of blue."

Other important info about this plant:
  • Blooms from mid-spring to early summer, lasting about a month
  • Full sun to light shade; moist conditions (I rarely give it extra water)
  • Tolerates most types of soil, including clay, rocky, and sandy
  • Zones 3-9
  • Nectar of the flowers attracts hummingbirds, butterflies, and various long-tongued insects.
  • Foliage contains a white latex that is toxic, thus it is usually avoided by deer and rabbits.

One source recommends cutting Amsonia back after flowering, probably to avoid its reseeding itself, but why wouldn't you want even more of these plants??  Besides, in the fall the foliage turns a lovely golden color, and later its paler yellow foliage stands out in the snow, waving in the cold winds of winter.

There is one characteristic I left out, however, and one which I wish I had known sooner--Amsonia has a large taproot.   Last year my plant had grown to a nice size, and its foliage made a nice addition to the garden.  But I decided it was too big where I had it in the lily bed and would look better with more open space in the arbor bed.  Finally, a few weeks ago I set about digging it out.  The dry soil didn't help, but after some time digging, tugging, and saying a few choice words, that Amsonia wouldn't budge from the ground.  I admitted defeat and replaced all the loose dirt, hoping I hadn't damaged any smaller roots in the process.  However, my husband had apparently been watching part of this process--or maybe he had heard me muttering in frustration--and came over to help.  I said, "No, this thing is staying put!  I give up!"  But there is some primeval instinct in the male, I believe, that compels him to prove his physical superiority whenever possible, and my husband insisted he could dig out this tough plant.

After even more vigorous digging and tugging--and one broken spade later--the amsonia was finally pried from its resting place.  The darned thing was so heavy I could barely lift it!  But that's when my husband got another bright idea--why not divide it since it was so big?  Chopping with various tools barely made a dent in the plant until my husband brought out the axe.  Several swings later, the original plant was now two, which were planted on opposite ends of the arbor bed. 

My original plant was a division from the Idea Garden, but I didn't participate in digging that one out and dividing it; had I seen the process, I probably would never have attempted to move my own.  Still, I'm glad I finally was able to move the amsonia, but there is a downside--the two divisions are still recovering from the move, and the show of blooms in my favorite shade of blue I had anticipated this spring will probably be pretty paltry. But I'm hoping the plants are happy in their new homes and will do better next year--they'd better, because they are not going to be moved again!

Amsonia tabernaemontana is the only native amsonia in Illinois.  However, there are a few other species, including the 2011 Perennial Plant of the Year, Amsonia Hubrichtii H. has similar characteristics and growing conditions to its cousin, though it is hardy only to zone 5.  The most noticeable difference is its more delicate foliage with leaves that are more narrow and thread-like and which turn a stunning golden color in the fall.  I added one hubrichtii to the arbor bed last year; it hasn't been too impressive so far, but sources on these natives say to be patient.  Maybe next year I'll finally have those masses of blue blooms I've been waiting for.

Before this Wildflower Wednesday that's really Friday post turns into a Wildflower Sunday post, I have to show off the other plant I was enthralled with during that long-ago visit to the Lurie Gardens--my Baptisia australis is just beginning to bloom!  Like Amsonia, this native also has a large taproot and doesn't like to be moved, but both of these plants well deserve a place in any garden, especially in a Prairie Garden.

Wildflower Wednesday is hosted the fourth Wednesday of every month by Gail of Clay and Limestone.  Not only is Gail the promoter of pollinator-friendly gardens, but she is also a generous gardener.  One of her favorite native perennials, Phlox pilosa, better known as the Practically Perfect Pink Phlox, is gracing my garden this spring as well as many others across the country.  Visit her for a look at other native and wildflower favorites.

Friday, April 20, 2012

UNLESS . . . A Lesson From the Lorax for Earth Day

If movie theatres depended on people like me, they would go out of business in short order.  In the last year I have gone to a theatre to see a movie exactly three times--and two of those times were within one week to see the same movie!   Ever since the trailers for The Lorax started running on TV, I had promised my younger grandkids I would take them to see it, and I did one Saturday afternoon.  The next week my other grandkids were on spring break, and I asked them if they would also like to see a movie.  To my surprise, both the 7-year-old and 12-year-old grandsons also chose The Lorax.  The same movie twice in one week??  Well, why not?

Dr. Seuss's books were always favorites of my children, and I loved reading his tongue-twisting stories to them.  After seeing the movie the second time, I checked out The Lorax to refresh my memory of the book. 

In the original story, a young boy seeks out the story of the Lorax and goes to the Street of the Lifted Lorax where "the wind smells slow-and-sour when it blows."  There he finds the Once-ler who tells his sad story. Long ago, the Once-ler set out to make his way in the world and found an idyllic place filled with Truffula Trees.

But those trees!  Those trees!
Those Truffula Trees!
All my life I'd been searching
For trees such as these.
The touch of their tufts
Was much softer than silk.
And they had the sweet smell
Of fresh butterfly milk.

But the Once-ler's appreciation of the trees is not that of a nature-lover; instead he sees opportunity and begins chopping them down one by one to make Thneeds, "which everyone needs."   Soon the Lorax, "who speaks for the trees," appears and warns the Once-ler that the trees are there for everyone and not to cut them down.  The Once-ler, now a  successful entrepreneur, of course doesn't listen and continues to ravage the forest.  The charming inhabitants of this paradise slowly are forced to leave, and it isn't until the last tree falls that the Once-ler realizes how short-sighted he has been.  The Lorax, too, leaves--with some parting words--and the once-beautiful Truffula forest becomes a deserted wasteland.

The original story is quite short, and the movie's creators had to add additional story lines to make the movie long enough to be worth the price of admission.  The story of the Lorax is framed by another story featuring a young boy living in a futuristic society where everything is "plastic and safe."  Ted has a crush on a young girl who is a dreamer and wants to plant a real tree.  In order to impress Audrey, Ted seeks out the Once-ler (hearing the legend from his grandmother) in order to find a seed for a tree.  After hearing the story of the Lorax from the Once-ler who eventually gives him a precious Truffula seed, Ted returns home but faces many obstacles before that seed can be planted.

The residents of the movie's Thneedville have artificial "trees" that can change to a seasonal color--with the flip of a switch.  That hardly compares to Nature's transformation from this . . .

. . . to this in just a few short months.
Children of all ages will enjoy this movie. My eight-year-old granddaughter was thrilled that Ted and Audrey's voices were none other than Taylor Swift's and tween heartthrob Zac Efron's.  The older grandsons enjoyed the high-speed chase at the end featuring Ted's motorized unicycle and strange flying machines.  I enjoyed the extra storyline about the greedy mayor and CEO of Thneedville who sells bottled air(!) to gullible residents. All of us, though, most enjoyed the scenes from the original story.  The colors of the Truffula forest were even more vivid on the big screen.  And we were charmed by the antics of the cuddly Brown Bar-ba-loots, the Humming Fish, and the Swomee-Swans. 

Brown Bar-ba-lots cannot survive without Truffula fruits.
"The Lorax" is a great movie for all ages.  If it is still playing near you, I suggest you take your children or grandchildren to see it at once.  And if you don't have either, grab a couple of the neighbor's kids to enjoy the movie with you . . . although you probably ought to ask their parents' permission first:)

Without trees, little boys and dogs wouldn't have sticks to play with!
Last year when Michelle at The Sage Butterfly asked her readers to post about a book related to Earth Day that had made a lasting impression on them, I couldn't think of any.  I'm an avid reader, but I don't read much non-fiction.  But this year, I thought immediately of The Lorax.  The book's message of stewardship for this earth is clear for even the youngest reader/listener.  The movie, through its additional plot lines, adds an additional and timely warning about corporate greed that older viewers can appreciate. 

Most of all, though, it is the one word left behind by the Lorax on a small pile of rocks that sums up what Earth Day is all about :  "UNLESS" . . .

UNLESS someone like you
Cares a whole awful lot,
Nothing is going to get better.
It's not.

Visit The Sage Butterfly for additional reflections on Earth Day, April 22.  Also, next Friday April 27 is Arbor Day.  Why not celebrate both by planting your own "Truffula" tree?

Sunday, April 15, 2012

Garden Bloggers' Bloom Day: April

April 15 is a date dreaded by most Americans, but for garden bloggers it's a time to celebrate another Garden Bloggers' Bloom Day. Normally, this date is truly a cause for celebration because in the Midwest and other zone 5 gardens, it's usually the first month when we have real blooms in our gardens.  But this year most of us saw our usual April blooms in March instead.  Even more than taxes, the weather this spring has been the main topic of conversation for gardeners and non-gardeners alike.

We've been spoiled by the unseasonably warm temperatures for the past month, but veterans of Midwest seasons knew it couldn't last.  A few nights hovering around freezing last week left the garden pretty much unscathed, but two nights in the upper 20's this past week left some not-so-pretty visible marks.

The 'Sunlovers,' as well as most of the other tulips, didn't look too happy after the freeze.

Neither did the purple smoketree.  I'm afraid I may not see any blooms on this newer shrub this year after all.

Just to show you the difference, this is what 'Sunlover' looked like the day before.

Another view . . . remember the teaching game for children "Which one isn't like the others?"  Either this deep orange double tulip is a mutant 'Sunlover' or someone made a packaging mistake:)

Another new double tulip blooming before the freeze is 'Akebona.'  I fell in love with this delicate beauty when I saw it in the catalog last fall, but it looks even more beautiful in reality.

Old blankets and sheets were dug out of storage to protect a few of the more tender plants on those cold nights, however.  The old lilac was nearly done blooming and is too big anyway to cover, but I had to save the 'Bloomerang' lilac.  In its third season in the garden, it has really taken a "leap" this year and has been covered with fragrant blooms the past few weeks.  It does rebloom in the fall, as advertised, but it remains to be seen whether it will put out the same magnificent show then. 

I didn't want to lose the bleeding heart either, so it was covered along with some hydrangeas.  Unfortunately, I got lazy and didn't cover one macrophylla, and it now looks like a sickly mess.  I'm going to cut off the frozen foliage and hope that it will still bloom later.  Note the raindrops on the Heucheras--we received some very welcome rainshowers yesterday.

While the height of tulip season is already past, there are still some later tulips in the garden.  'Angelique,' usually one of the last to bloom, is as beautiful as ever.

In the sidewalk garden, another planting of what I thought were 'Angeliques' appear to be something else, because they're all white.

Another planting in the sidewalk garden . . . I seem to have more and more NOID's each year, as earlier names are forgotten.

These really are NOID's, however, as they were all from a bargain bag mix of unnamed tulip bulbs.  They may have been a bargain, but I've been really pleased with how long this planting in front of the large spruce tree has bloomed.

Despite the riot of different colors of tulips around my garden, I do try for some color coordination in some areas.  The dark, dark 'Queen of the Night' are paired with pure white 'Marguerite,'  both later bloomers.

But sometimes all that planning just doesn't pan out.  I don't usually plant "plain" red tulips, but this year I planted some 'Red Impressions' paired with these 'Sorbet,' thinking they would make a nice combination.  The only problem is that by the time the 'Sorbet' fully bloomed, the 'Red Impressions' had already lost all their petals. Ah well, I guess I can enjoy them separately, if not together.

Although I'm always a bit sad when tulip time winds down, there are signs of coming attractions in the garden.  The unnamed perennial geranium may not be as showy, but it is pretty in its own right, covered with delicate pink blooms.

And yesterday I noticed the first 'Purple Sensation' allium budding.

Further proof that the garden is way ahead of schedule this year is this first blossom on the clematis 'Nelly Moser.'  I didn't even think to cover this plant on those cold nights, but as Mr. McGregor's Daughter recently observed, clematis are more hardy  than I thought. The buds were apparently unaffected by the freeze, which makes me happy because it, too, is nearly a month ahead of schedule.

Thanks to our hostess Carol for sponsoring another Garden Bloggers' Bloom Day.  Be sure to check out her post for a list of other participants all over the world showing off their blooming gardens this April.

Monday, April 2, 2012

Farewell to a Memorable March

April showers bring May flowers . . .
But what do March flowers bring??

It's official--March 2012 was the warmest March on record in my part of Illinois, a March unlike any in recent memory and a March we may never see again.  All the warm sunny days produced a kaleidoscope of blooms all racing to join the show and seemingly trying to outdo each other in splendor.  I couldn't let the month end without sharing some of these blooms with you, and looking back at what was a most unusual but magnificent month.

If you had visited my garden last week, the first thing that would have caught your eye were the flowering crabapples lining the drive.  Some years a hard freeze nips their buds, and they barely bloom, while other years strong winds or storms will blow off the pink petals before we've had time to enjoy them.  But not this year--every tree was covered with a mass of blooms that lasted well over a week.  Each year I try to capture this magic moment on camera:  this photo was taken last Wednesday, a few days past their prime, but they're still looking good.

 Appleblossom time usually arrives at the end of April or the first week of May; their early appearance this year was just one of many early arrivals in March. The white crabapple is always the last to bloom, but it lasts the longest and in many ways is my favorite of all.  If you look closely, you'll see the bees are out and about already as well.

The lilac provided the first butterfly sighting--the Red Admirals have arrived. I don't remember the crabapples and lilacs ever blooming simultaneously before.  But the old lilac appreciated the warmth, too, and produced more blooms than ever.  Its delicious fragrance was carried on the breeze all the way to the front door.

The crocuses and early daffodils have faded away, but nearly every other spring bloomer was determined to make an early appearance this year.  I find it hard to get a decent long shot of any of the garden areas, but many such photos were taken anyway, mostly for my own records to determine suitable planting spots this fall.  By fall the shade garden above will be a mass of green, making it hard to find some bare soil for digging.  But as you can see, there are plenty of empty spots for adding more bulbs.  In the upper center of the photo, you'll notice a large grouping of tulips and daffodils.  These were planted in front of the tall spruce tree on the left, where nothing--not even grass--grows.  I envisioned a sweep of colorful blooms in front of this tree that could be seen as you drive up the lane, and I planted two bargain bags of mixed tulips and daffodils.  I realized when they bloomed, though, that more than 100 bulbs are needed for that vision:)  The fall to-do list has already been started . . .

I realized trying to include all the different blooms the past few weeks would have meant a ridiculously long post, so I've grouped some of them in collages.  Top Row: Fothergilla 'Blue Shadow'; hellebores peeking from behind narcissus in shade garden; reliable 'Pink Impression' tulips with purple hyacinths. Bottom Row: old-fashioned lilac covered in blooms; petite 'Tazettas' in arbor bed; Brunnera 'Jack Frost' in shade garden.

Top Row: Only one of last year's new 'Professor Roentgen' returned; unknown orange tulip in lily bed; new 'Akebona' tulip; one of bargain mix daffodils in front of evergreen.  Bottom Row: varieties of muscari edge part of lily bed; either 'Apricot Beauty' or 'Apricot Delight' in sidewalk bed; NOID yellow tulip; more narcissus.

But there are a few blooms, especially some of the new tulips planted in the arbor bed that deserve individual portraits.  Purplish-pink 'Double Maureen' is a true beauty queen.

Edged in red, 'Akebona' opens to a delicate pale yellow. 

With streaks of pink, 'Montreux' is a pristine white beauty.  You may have noticed I have a fondness for double flowering tulips.  Last year's stunner, the orange 'Professor Roentgen', had a disappointing return this year, and I wonder if these new more exotic double tulips will be short-lived as well.  I try to plant more of the hardier Darwin tulips, but there will always be a few new double beauties for me to admire each spring.

With all the tulips blooming a month early, I am beginning to wonder if there will be anything blooming in April.  Still, there are a few varieties of tulips yet to bloom, including the later 'Angeliques' which are just beginning to open up.  My favorite of all tulips, the 'Angeliques' have returned reliably for several years,

But spring isn't just about tulips--my granddaughter's favorite bloom of all, the old-fashioned bleeding heart, always draws attention in the shade garden.

I'm not sure what April will bring--much-needed showers, a return to frosty nights, or the early arrival of summer flowers.  But whatever happens, I shouldn't complain--March, you have been magnificent!