Wednesday, August 28, 2013

Wildflower Wednesday: No Ordinary Joe

Fall is just around the corner, but you would never know it this week--it's been hot, hot, hot!  Temperatures have soared into the 90's with a heat index of 104 forecast for today.  I hope this is summer's last hurrah; cooler temps and some rain--please!--would be so welcome.

The garden, though, is beginning to shift into fall mode regardless of the heat.  Obedient Plant has burst into bloom in the butterfly garden just in time for Wildflower Wednesday.  I've cautioned every time I've shown a photo of Obedient Plant, Phystostegia virginiana, that it is an aggressive spreader and may not be suitable for everyone's garden.  This spring I was determined not to let it take over this area, so I ruthlessly pulled out seedling after seedling, leaving only a few.  Unfortunately, no pink bloomers returned, only white ones--darn, I wish they'd come with color tags!

It looks like I'm also going to have a bumper crop of goldenrod this fall.  No fancy-schmansy hybrids here, just the ordinary goldenrod that grows wild anywhere it can.  Many would call it a weed, but I like its bright appearance, and the bees and other critters like it even without a pedigree.  Besides, it makes a nice contrast to all the asters that will be blooming in this area soon.

But what I really wanted to feature for this month's WW post is a plant that everyone seems to have been bragging about this year--Joe Pye Weed, once in the Eupatorium genus, now Eutrochium purpureum. But let's just forget about those fancy Latin names that taxonomists seem to want to change every few years--I prefer to call him by his common name "Joe."

Photo (and previous one) taken at Nicholas Conservatory and Gardens in Rockford, Illinois.

Joe Pye Weed is a native to much of the Eastern and Northern US; growing to 5-7 feet tall, it's a perfect accent at the back of a border.  Its fluffy pinkish-purple blooms won't shade out shorter plants in front.  It blooms in mid-summer to early fall.

My Joes are planted in full sun, but they also do well in part shade.  One thing Joe likes, though, is moist soil, which is probably the reason mine is doing so much better this year than in the past.  I don't give the butterfly garden much additional water, so the plentiful rain--until this month!--has made him very happy.

Until this year I had only one Joe-Pye Weed, and I was always rather disappointed in its appearance.  The blooms were a lighter pink than others I saw, and the stems were green, not the purple I associated with most Joes.  However, I have since learned that there are several types of this plant, and mine might be a Hollow-stemmed Joe Pye.

This spring I added another Joe Pye, purchased from the annual sale of our local Prairie Plant Society, as well as a 'Little Joe,' purchased from a local gardener and fellow native enthusiast.  I was happy to see that these Joes have the purple stems and darker blooms I was hoping for.  The new Joe is much shorter than my original, and 'Little Joe's' blooms were rather small this year, but I'm sure they will both grow with time.

Joe attracts a multitude of bees and butterflies.  Alas, our shortage of butterflies this years means I have no photos to prove the latter, but I can certainly prove the bee attraction.  This stand at the Nicholas Conservatory in Rockford, which I recently visited, was just swarming with bumblebees.

The origin of this plant's name is rather a mystery.  According to some sources, it was named after an early doctor or herbalist, possibly a Native American, possibly a colonist, who cured fevers with a concoction made from this plant. Whether that is fact or fiction, one thing is true about Joe Pye Weed--it is certainly not a weed!

Wildflower Wednesday is hosted the fourth Wednesday of every month by native enthusiast and protector of the bees, Gail at Clay and Limestone.  Why not join us?  You're sure to learn something new!

Thursday, August 15, 2013

August Bloom Day

Every year at this time I say the same thing:  "Where has the summer gone??"  Of course, we still have another month of official summer, but it's only a matter of time before the days become shorter and cooler, and garden projects turn to thoughts of next spring rather than the present.  Time to enjoy the garden while we still can!

But unlike most Augusts, I'm not complaining about the heat.  It's been a beautiful summer with only one or two days above 90 degrees.  We could use some rain, but again, it's nothing like the last two summers when I was watering the garden every week.  The Knockout roses are putting on a new flush of blooms and are towering over the Russian Sage behind them.

The daylilies are done for the most part, but a latecomer is 'Andrea's Dragonfly,' a gift I bought for friend Beckie in memory of her daughter and my goddaughter, and now shared with me.

This is the time of year when the Hydrangea Paniculatas shine.  
'Vanilla Strawberry' is covered in blooms this year.

The blooms are supposed to turn pink as they age.  This is the first time they have noticeably performed this way, but the pink quickly turns to a crispy brown.  I suspect the all-day sun is more than they need.

My favorite hydrangea, though, is perfectly happy where it is.  I've tried various camera angles to get a true picture of just how big and beautiful 'Limelight' is, to no avail.

You'll just have to take my word for it that this plant gets bigger and better every year.

I wish I could say the same for the little 'Ruby Spice' Clethra.  I thought by this year, its third in the garden, it would be "leaping."  At least there are a few blooms this summer to give me hope.

August is also the time of year for some old-fashioned favorites grown from seed.  Here, cheery nasturtiums in an old cast iron pot.

Seeds are ordered every year from Renee's Garden for another must-have--cosmos.  I don't remember the variety, though.

Sometimes a few of these will self-seed and return the following year.  You can't tell from this photo, but these cosmos are growing in the middle of the tomato patch!  I just didn't have the heart to pull them.

Late summer also means it's zinnia time!  The smaller Profusion and Zaharas, like this Zahara 'Starlite' (I think) have been blooming in pots or along the edge of flowerbeds all summer, of course.

But the taller varieties just started to bloom a couple of weeks ago.  I've forgotten the name of this mix from Renee's Garden--'Cool Crayon Colors,' maybe.  I don't seem to have the number of zinnias I've had the past two years for some reason.  Note to self--order more seeds next year!

One zinnia whose name I haven't forgotten is this one--'Zowie Yellow Flame.'  It's about 2 feet tall, compared to the others that reach 3 feet and sometimes beyond, but the blooms are such eye-catchers, you are bound to notice them.  I planted some in the roadside garden as well this year, where they are also doing great.  Another note to self:  plant even more of these next year!

Surprise lilies are visible all over town and popped up in my garden last week.  They're fading quickly, but there are other surprises and volunteers to take their place.

The mysterious NOID phlox that appeared in the shade garden last year now has a progeny.

No surprise in this volunteer--I always have a couple of cleome that re-appear each year.  What was surprising, though, was the hummingbird.  I've been trying  and trying to get a good photo of her on her favorite plant, the 'Black and Blue' salvia, when out of nowhere she appeared to check out the cleome. Still not a sharp photo, but I'll keep trying.

The only thing missing this August are the butterflies.  Usually by the time the zinnias begin to bloom, my garden is swarming with butterflies, but not this year.  They're few and far between.  But as you can see, there are plenty of other cute critters keeping me company in the garden this summer.

What's blooming in your garden?  You're welcome to join in--just visit Carol at May Dreams Gardens.  She's probably out picking more raspberries to eat, but you can sign in any time with Mr. Linky.

Sunday, August 4, 2013

Welcome to My Japanese Garden!

I don't remember when I first fell in love with Japanese gardens.  What I do remember is wherever and whenever that first experience occurred, something mystical stirred within me, and I felt a sense of peace overcoming me.  Thoughts of the outside world left my mind as I sat under lush greenery and listened to the calming sound of water.

I've visited several Japanese gardens, both large and small, since that first experience, and of all of them, the most beautiful one has to be the Portland Japanese Garden in Oregon, which I've written about here and here.  Both visits to this enchanted place filled me with serenity and inspiration.

I've longed for some time to create such a tranquil oasis near my own home, but besides the fact that the simple, clean lines of this style wouldn't quite fit my cottage style (a generous use of that term) garden, Japanese gardens require years to establish fully.  I would be 90 or 100 years old before I could truly enjoy my own!  And so, I've resigned myself to enjoying these gardens on the occasional visit.

 That is until now . . .

Voila!  Yes, indeed, I finally have my very own Zen garden for quiet contemplation!  You must be wondering, "Rose, however did you achieve this in such a short time?"  And, "However did you keep this a secret while you planted trees and shrubs and moved boulders into place for a retaining wall??" Before you marvel too much, however, let me say that I always try to be honest with my readers.  So let's step back and take a longer look at this garden, shall we?

A different perspective reveals the truth--my Zen retreat is actually a miniature garden!  Last summer I decided I really wanted to create a fairy garden this year and finally found what I thought would be the perfect place--under the 'Limelight' hydrangea whose leaves would provide a shady spot for the fairies.  I did a little planning and thinking and in the fall purchased a few pieces for the garden after a workshop on fairy gardens at our local garden center.  With my granddaughter, I did a "trial run" and used the pieces in a little indoor fairy garden over the winter, which unfortunately had rather disastrous results.

Undaunted by the indoor failure, this spring my friend Beckie and I headed to the garden center for their annual spring workshops, hoping, too, to snag another coupon for more accessories for the fairy garden. However, what we thought was going to be a workshop specifically on fairy gardens turned out to be one on miniature gardens in general.  The garden center had just received a new shipment of various items, and the presenter decided to choose a pagoda and a small Buddha to create her demonstration mini-garden. Suddenly, that proverbial lightbulb went off over my head--if I couldn't have a "real" Japanese garden at home, why not a miniature one?

I snapped up the last remaining pagoda and small Buddha after the workshop; the few pieces I had purchased the previous fall, I realized, would easily fit into an Asian theme just as well as in a fairy home.  All that was left to do now was prepare the site and arrange the elements.  A few plants had to be moved, including the diminutive 'Minnow' daffodils, which were carefully re-planted to form the northern border next spring.  A few large tulips were marked for moving later this fall. At last, I could begin designing the new garden.

A true Japanese garden has three main elements--stone, water, and plants--all natural materials to emphasize the connection between existing nature and this type of garden.  The "stone" pagoda and walkway, the "boulders" in the retaining wall, and the curved bridge, another common sight in these gardens, all fit the first element.  The Fu dogs, a gift from friend Beckie, are actually more typical of Chinese architecture, but this is a non-denominational sanctuary, where all beliefs are welcome!  They look a little intimidating guarding the curved bridge, but I didn't place them there, as you'll see later.

I remembered the poetry stone I saw in the Portland garden and wanted to add this, too.  Nothing suitable could be found in garden centers, so I created my own "monolith."  The Portland stone had haiku carved into it, but I didn't think my hand was steady enough to write a whole poem in tiny characters.  Instead, the stone simply says "Peace"--or at least I hope that's what it says:)

The second element of a Japanese garden is noticeably missing here for a very practical reason.  A miniature water feature would need constant replenishing, but most importantly, Sophie thinks any element of water--fountains, birdbaths, etc.-- in the garden is her personal drinking dish.  This garden may be open to all creeds, but it doesn't need a Golden Retriever trampling through it:)

Instead of water, I created a dry stream flowing under the bridge made from aquarium gravel--a cheap alternative to anything labeled "miniature gardening."  The traditional dry garden, which many of us lay people refer to as a Zen garden, mimics the sea as well.  I puzzled over how to keep the sand intact for some time until I found a castoff ramekin once used as a food dish for a long since departed pet turtle.  Clearly, the Zen garden needs some raking, which it will as soon as I remember where I put the miniature rake:)

Finally, the third main element of a Japanese garden--the plants. A traditional garden has a primarily monochromatic color scheme, using lots of evergreens.  Several of our local garden centers now carry a small selection of dwarf conifers, but they're pretty pricey.  Not knowing how they might fare through our winters, I've only purchased one--a false cypress, one of my favorites, seen next to the monolith in an earlier photo.   After the first one died and I had to replace it, the purse strings got even tighter, and I opted for a cheaper alternative to a tall conifer.  The Lemon Cypress above is not a winter-hardy perennial, so I left it in its pot and will bring it in for the winter.  If it doesn't survive, it can easily be replaced next spring without spending much money.

The miniature hosta 'Pooh Bear' was already in the garden, so it only needed to be moved to this more appropriate spot.  Other plants in the garden include another miniature hosta, a small trailing veronica, Sedum 'Angelina,' and some annuals including a thyme and the polka-dot plant seen in earlier photos.  I'd really like to cover the whole area with moss, but I suspect it won't do well here unless I make a commitment to watering this area every single day.

In fact, I'm not sure how any of these plants will do over the winter, another reason for the economical plant selection this first year.  It will be a true learning experience to see if the pricier perennials survive; if they don't, there are plenty of annuals that will do just fine--I've found herbs like thyme are great choices for a tiny garden.  I'm not worried, though, about the miniature iris I dug up from my mother's garden and planted in the south border.  They'll be a perfect addition when they bloom next spring.

I'd like to say I created this garden all by myself, but I did have a couple of helpers one evening--my granddaughter and her friend came over to do the heavy lifting of some "boulders" for the retaining wall and building the dry stream.  There was some friendly debating as they moved pieces around and decided on just the right spot for the Fu dogs. It always helps to have some extra landscape design advice!

A few days later, I went out to water one morning and was totally surprised to find two new inhabitants in the garden.  Perhaps garden fairies aren't always the mischievous, frivolous creatures we think they are; maybe they need a place for quiet contemplation once in awhile, too.  How and why they arrived I'm not sure, but they're certainly welcome here--as long as they observe proper decorum.  It is a little suspicious, though, that their arrival coincided with a visit from blogging friend Lisa:)

There is still more tweaking of this garden to be done:  I'd like to find a miniature stone lantern and a crane, the Japanese symbol of longevity, and I realized another missing part--a bench big enough for me to sit on!  But that's the beauty of a miniature garden compared to the traditional Japanese garden--all elements can easily be changed and will no doubt change from year to year.