Thursday, July 26, 2012

A Blue and White Wildflower Wednesday

July is the perfect time to celebrate native plants in my Midwest garden.  Besides the still-blooming coneflowers, there are rudbeckias, liatris, gaillardia, a native agastache, and Joe-Pye Weed all in bloom.  Asters and goldenrod are also showing the first signs of color, nearly a month earlier than usual.  While all of these would be appropriate candidates for this month's celebration of Wildflower Wednesday,  I wanted to focus instead on what is not in my garden.  For the past few weeks driving along the country roads and even the highways, I've been distracted by the clouds of blue and white blossoms billowing along the roadsides.

It has been too hot and muggy lately to pull off the roadside and tramp among the weeds, not to mention rather dangerous, but that wasn't necessary to take a photo.  All I needed to do was to walk out in my very back yard by the outbuildings and rusty farm implements to find similar images.  Clouds of white above . . .

. . . and blue nearby. My favorite color scheme.

Most people would classify chicory, Cichorium intybus, as a weed, but there are very few flowers in the garden that have the true sky-blue color of this plant.  Too bad it doesn't have prettier foliage, or gardeners would be adding it to their collection.  Chicory has been used as a medicinal herb since the days of the ancient Egyptians and Greeks, but most people think of its use in more recent times as a coffee substitute.

Normally, I wouldn't have this proliferation of chicory, but with the drought, we haven't had to mow the lawn for weeks, and this weedy wildflower has added color to the back yard.  Notice the brown grass around this plant--don't you wish all our garden plants could survive the lack of rain like this?

The vision of white comes from the native Daucus carota, more commonly known as Queen Anne's Lace.   Again, many people think of this as a weed, but it has to be my favorite weed of all and one that I never pull or cut down.  In fact, some gardeners purposely plant this in wildlfower gardens, but I don't need to do that--I always have a plentiful supply.

Wild Carrot, as it is also known, has been used in the past as a medicinal herb, and some people have even eaten the root.  But wildflower sources caution eating the leaves, which can be confused with the very poisonous wild hemlock.  I may not have the wisdom of Socrates, but I don't think I would be tempted to try eating this plant:)  While Queen Anne's Lace may have had some useful purposes, I think its main purpose is simply ornamentation.

It has to be one of the most photogenic weeds wildflowers around, whether silhouetted against a weathered shed or growing through a rusty piece of machinery.

It's even attractive and interesting when not in bloom.

Although I wasn't able to capture a photo of either chicory or Queen Anne's Lace with an insect on it, both are attractive to various insects.  Black Swallowtail caterpillars also feed on Queen Anne's Lace.  Looking closely at the flower head, you can see that it is made up of a compound umbel, which terminates in smaller umbels, called umbellets.  A rather complex structure for such a simple, common plant!  No wonder I think it's so pretty.

I have been battling the weeds all summer long, but I have a soft spot for these two weedy wildflowers--they are welcome to stay--in my back yard!

For other wildflowers in bloom this very hot July, visit our gracious hostess and best friend of the pollinators, Gail at Clay and Limestone.

Sunday, July 22, 2012

Summer Garden Walks

I am not going to complain about the weather today . . . I am not going to complain that despite a few showers the past week, we are still in the middle of a severe drought . . .  I am not going to complain about how miserably, intolerably hot it has been, with temperatures near 100 degrees (that's 37.7 C for those outside the U.S.) for days on end . . . with no end in sight.  And I'm not going to complain that in the midst of this sweat-inducing heat that our central A/C went out, and I'm spending my days in the basement where it's cool, being a couch potato while we wait for a new unit to be installed.

No, I'm not going to complain about all of this, because there's not a darned thing I can do about the weather anyway.

So instead of complaining about the present, let's take a little diversion to something more pleasant and go on a couple of garden tours.

Last month our Master Gardener group held its annual Garden Walk.  Out of the usual eight or nine gardens featured, there is usually one that stands out more than the others.  This year the garden that really had a wow factor for me was this Japanese garden.  Driving down this semi-rural street one would never guess what lay behind the fence. 

Back view of the house
Since I was working as a guide at the walk the next day, I was able to preview the gardens the evening before.  This was nice because there were only three of us visiting this garden when I arrived, and we had a chance to talk in depth with the owner and learn more about how this garden evolved.

Koi pond--sorry, it was that time of day when shadows prevented really good photos.

The owner has visited gardens in Japan and Japanese gardens across this country and has an extensive knowledge of the principles of this type of gardening.  Besides his own garden, which he began over 45 years ago, he also designed and maintains the garden surrounding Japan House on the university campus.

Authentic touches were everywhere, such as this screen made from real bamboo on a porch entry.

A tea house invites visitors to stop and sit and reflect.

 Meandering paths led to all kinds of surprising delights; this large juniper "mushroom" caught everyone's eye, though.  If I remember correctly, James said he prunes this only once, maybe twice, a year.  Regular readers of this blog may remember how much I love Japanese gardens, so finding this lovely place literally in the middle of cornfields was truly a delight.

Two of the gardens on the walk were on adjoining lots, which made it convenient for visitors to leisurely stroll from one garden to another.  This is the back yard of the garden where I was stationed.  Sally's home is very contemporary with handcrafted stone and wood pieces, and her garden reflects that same contemporary style.  Rather than exuberant plantings of colorful blooms, her garden depends more on sculptural shapes and is full of interesting specimens.  Unfortunately, I was too busy trying to answer questions to take many photos!  In the top center of the photo you can barely see a lakeside planting that is part of the next door garden.  This was a terraced area with beautiful hardscaping filled with colorful plants--again no close-up.

The path shown above made for a natural flow into the neighboring garden and down to the lake.  I had to get up close to realize this heron wasn't real!

Even though Sally's garden included some exotic specimens that are way beyond my budget, there still were sources of inspiration.  In a simple planting near the front sidewalk, 'Black and Blue' salvia makes an eye-catching contrast to the green leaves of iris.

Container plantings also always provide some new ideas--and what a colorful way to hide the air conditioning unit!

When I volunteered to help at the Garden Walk, I randomly picked a garden to work in.  Had I seen the gardens first, I probably would have picked the house next door . . . and this spot as my "station."  Fortunately, it was only in the low 80's on this day, but I still saw several people taking advantage of this shady spot for a momentary rest.

Sharon's garden next door featured many more colorful plantings, and the highlight was an elaborate fairy village in a front garden . . . but once again, I was camera-less.  I did manage to capture this smiling Buddha, however, although the real reason I took this photo was to remind myself of the sedum in front of him.  I've forgotten the name, but this is a plant I've wanted to include in my garden for a long time.

Another planter in the narrow side garden also caught my eye.

A third garden in this very upscale neighborhood also featured some interesting sculptures.

And lots of hardscaping, especially curved brick paths around the different areas of the garden.

Many of the flowerbeds in this garden followed the design principle
 of planting in drifts, including these drifts of lilies.

Or drifts of Crotons.  I'm not especially fond of crotons, but I thought this was interesting.

The other private gardens on the tour were not as elaborate, but in some ways less intimidating, because they seemed more "do-able" for the gardener on a more limited budget.  This shaded koi pond was the focal point of one of these gardens.

A rusty pump and other collectibles find new life as garden accents.

Miniature hostas in concrete troughs were just a small part of Bev's large hosta collection.

Colorful window boxes greeted visitors at the final garden.

No room or budget for a large pond?   A small container makes an attractive water feature, too.

Despite all the colorful plantings at this last garden, I think the highlight for many of us was this compost bin built by the gardener's husband.  It prompted quite a few cases of garden envy.

If you're not too tired, how about another garden tour?  Don't worry--this will be an abbreviated one, because as you'll soon see weather kept me from taking many photos.

Two weeks ago our local garden group also held a garden walk.  I always enjoy this one, because the gardens tend to be smaller than those selected for our MG Walk, and I often come away with some practical ideas for my own garden.  I usually know many of the gardeners, so it also becomes a chance to visit and talk gardening with some like-minded people.  Accompanied by friend Beckie and her four granddaughters, we made the rounds of five local gardens.

A simple planting of Rudbeckia becomes even more attractive with the addition of a garden bench.

A mass planting of gray-headed coneflowers really caught my eye--I have yet to have success growing these from seed. Notice the old cream separator holding petunias and other annuals at the front of this berm.

Only two of the gardens were actually in town; the other three were a short drive into the country.  The first of these was on a farm, and it appealed to me because it was much like my own--no one central garden, but rather various garden areas scattered around the  property.  I liked the simplicity of this arrangement.

But what I most enjoyed here was the gardener's sense of humor.  This area was planted with annuals, which, according to the sign, were "rescued" from our local grocery store at the end of spring for $5 a flat. 

By the time we reached the next garden, the light sprinkles that had been following us around all afternoon finally turned into a downpour.  Such a shame, because this garden was so beautiful--full of all kinds of plants, country-style garden art and accents, and different garden rooms to explore.  But those blurs on the photo above were actually raindrops, and I quickly realized  I needed to put my camera away in a dry place before I ruined it.  Umbrellas were quickly opened--by those that carried them; I opted for getting drenched instead--but you never saw so many smiling gardeners tromping through soggy lawn:)

The final garden was a complete surprise to me; little did Beckie and I know what awaited us after a long walk past this entrance garden to the real garden lying behind the house.  The owner of this property is a former student of mine from my first year of teaching, and although I occasionally run into him, I never knew he was a gardener.  And what a gardener he is--he has transformed his seven acres into a beautiful private sanctuary, filled with raised berms for perennials, another sloping area planted with a variety of trees, and a pond filled with catfish with its own sandy beach. 

The piece de resistance is this large pond, complete with five waterfalls.  And did I mention that except for the large fishing pond, Kevin did all the work himself?  In fact, he's working on adding one more waterfall here.  Once again, you'll notice the raindrops blurring my photo.  Sadly, I had to put my camera away, but a little rain didn't stop me from enjoying every moment walking through his garden. This place was truly a jewel hidden in the cornfields. 

If you've made it this far, I thank you for hanging in with me for this overly long post.  I'll leave you with this image of a huge lotus blossom floating in Kevin's pool.   Now just repeat this mantra with me:

Stay calm.  Stay cool.  Think rain.

Sunday, July 15, 2012

GBBD: Survival of the Fittest

On this July Garden Bloggers' Bloom Day, I am praying for rain.  A break in the heat would be nice, too, although we've cooled down a bit from last week's unbearable temperatures to more "typical" highs in the 90's (32 C).  But I'll put up with the heat if only some rain would fall.  Our area is now classified as being in a severe drought; by contrast, northern Illinois is only in a moderate drought.  However, the southern part of the state and parts of Indiana (Carol and Lisa, I'm praying for rain for you, too) is under an extreme drought and approaching the worst level, exceptional drought.  Isolated thunderstorms are in the forecast for today--translation: I'll be lucky if we get a few sprinkles.  According to meteorologists, though, a brief shower may bring temporary relief, but what is needed are several concurrent days of steady rainfall.

The garden has gone into survival mode.  The stressful conditions are showing what's tough, and what isn't.  If nothing else, this awful summer is giving a lesson on planting a low-maintenance garden--plants that don't require constant coddling to keep them alive.

At the top of this Darwinian survival scale are the natives, of course.  The purple coneflowers, Echinacea purpurea, are looking a bit ratty, and some even are wilting.

But another native, the bumblebees, don't seem to mind their appearance.

Rudbeckias are also unfazed by the lack of rain and have even bloomed earlier than usual.  This is a volunteer in the lily garden, and I have no idea what type it is--it's taller with a more pronounced central cone than the other Rudbeckias growing in the butterfly garden.  Other natives in bloom include the asters, which are blooming way ahead of schedule, and Joe Pye Weed, which is just opening up.

There are other tough plants besides the natives, of course.  Russian Sage looked terrible after the April freeze, but has come back from its injuries to full strength.  I'm not sure I could kill this plant, if I tried:)

I can always count on Cleome, too, to come back every year in unexpected places, usually somewhere where it will block the view of shorter plants behind it.

Daylilies have also surprised me with their resiliency, though some of the foliage has yellowed already.  This NOID Hemeorcallis--in front of a NOID phlox--is also a DIPT (Did I Plant This??).

Another NOID is no longer blooming, but at least it's no longer a DIPT--friend Beckie reminded me when she saw it that she had given me a few different lily divisions, including this one.  It's one thing to forget from year to year what I planted, but forgetting something planted just two months ago is a bit worrisome.

No forgetting this one--'Dragonfly Corner,' another division from Beckie, has produced numerous blooms.

Planted the same year, 'Prairie Sunrise' hasn't been as prolific this year, though it's still one of my favorite colors.

'Little Grapette' is nearing the end of its bloom time, but has produced numerous blooms for nearly a month. For once, I planned well--this lily is in the front of the lily bed, perfect for its shorter stature.

'Tangerine Orange Ruffle' is another favorite.  This bloom was actually from last week, but I thought it deserved a little recognition, too.

'Nettie's Rubies,' named after my aunt who gave them to me, have done well as always.  They're much darker than this full-sun photo shows, however.

'Romeo Lies Bleeding' has also done well this year, adding several inches in height, perhaps to catch up to his companion . . .

. . . 'Juliet.'

While some daylilies have already finished blooming, the Orientals are just beginning.  The 'Stargazer' has several blooms, but I'm most happy about this 'Casablanca.'  You can't see the brown foliage below it, but it was hit especially hard by the late freeze, and I didn't expect it to bloom at all this year.

Finally, another lily that I'm so excited about--my very first Blackberry Lily, Belamcanda Chinensis! Its blooms may be tiny compared to the other showier lilies, but considering I have tried unsuccessfully for several years to grow these from seed, I am thrilled that a couple have finally made an appearance this year.

The shade garden, which normally is pretty low-maintenance, has required constant watering this season.  Even though many of the hostas are blooming right now, like my 'Sum and Substance,' some of them have yellowed leaves, despite the frequent waterings.

Definitely not in the category of tough survivors, the Hydrangea macrophyllas like 'Let's Dance in the Moonlight' above and the 'Endless Summers' have been covered in blooms, only because I have been careful to water them at the first sign of wilting leaves.

The paniculatas, I've decided, however, are a much stronger species and can tough it out through hard times. I noticed today the first blooms beginning on the 'Limelight' and the younger 'Vanilla Strawberry' (above).

Although I spend a lot of time watering containers and annuals every summer, this year I've really had to watch perennials and some of the newer shrubs as well.  A few shrubs, like the viburnum and the fothergilla, went from looking fine one day to crispy leaves the next, it seemed.  I can only hope that I caught them in time and that they will recover.  One shrub, though, that has shown it's a survivor is this Purple Smokebush.  It had just started to bloom in April when the freeze hit, and it looked absolutely pathetic for about a month.  As you can see, though, it has recovered fully; I think it has even doubled in size since last year.  This is definitely a keeper!

Over the last few months I've lost more annuals than I care to count, and some of my containers look pretty pitiful already.  But again, there are some annuals that can withstand the heat better than others.  Lantana is one, and zinnias are another.  The zinnias are just beginning to bloom in the arbor bed, where many perennials are beginning to fade.

A new zinnia is just beginning to bloom--we grew this 'Zowie! Yellow Flame'  zinnia in the MG Idea Garden last year, and I knew I had to add it to my own garden this year.  I think its hot, hot colors are perfect for this summer.

Despite all my complaining about the weather, there is quite a lot blooming in my garden this July besides what is pictured here.  But it has definitely been a trying summer, and I am thankful for these tough survivors who have soldiered on without a lot of attention from me.  To see what else is blooming all over, be sure to visit our hostess who is also doing a rain dance, Carol of May Dreams Gardens.

UPDATE:  I wrote this yesterday morning but waited to post it till today.  I'm happy to report that yesterday afternoon rain finally fell in our area. Wonderful, glorious rain that the ground greedily soaked up--nearly 2 inches!  I hate to sound greedy, but we sure could use a couple more days of these showers.