Sunday, September 21, 2014

Lessons From the Garden: Summer 2014

Summer is drawing to an end, and there is a definite hint of fall in the air.  As the autumnal equinox approaches, it is time to join in with Beth of Plant Postings for her seasonal reflections of lessons learned in the garden. I still consider myself an adolescent in gardening years, but I've learned that even much more experienced gardeners find that there is always something new to learn every year.

Here is a round-up of just a few of the important lessons I've learned this past summer:

1. I need to learn to identify seedlings.  I think I've used this idea before, and I am getting better at identifying many seedlings, but I still have a long way to go.  My friend Beckie and I are notorious for swapping misidentified plants.  The funniest example, and one I've often mentioned before, is the time I gave her some seedlings I had started indoors, telling her they were yellow coneflowers.  As the seedlings grew and the leaves developed more, I quickly realized my mistake--they were kohlrabis, not yellow coneflowers! 

This spring I dug out some of the masses of coneflowers in my garden and shared them with her.  One day while visiting her garden, Beckie pointed them out and asked if it was normal for them to have what appeared to be the beginnings of yellow blooms.  Sure enough, they weren't coneflowers at all, but some of the volunteer Rudbeckia triloba that have popped up throughout my garden.

These Rudbeckia leaves look very similar to those of purple coneflowers, but the stems have a reddish cast.

At the same time, I also gave her some volunteer Amsonia, or what I thought were Amsonia.  I left a few in the bed where I pulled these, and I noticed this week that they have buds on top.  Amsonia doesn't bloom in the fall--I'm now pretty sure these are goldenrod, or maybe even a weed.  Shh, don't tell Beckie or she may never accept a free plant from me again:)

Zinnias are so easy to start from seed.

2. Creating a garden doesn't have to be expensive.  I am a self-confessed plant-aholic who was once accused by my daughter of spending her inheritance on plants, yet it really doesn't take a lot of money to turn a patch of dirt into something beautiful.  Seeds are inexpensive (or even free, if you collect them yourself), and some of my favorite annuals like cosmos and zinnias are so easy to direct sow into the soil. 

Cosmos from seed bloom all summer.

Then there are the many plants that will multiply year after year, either through re-seeding or through divisions. For example, as long as you don't get addicted to collecting daylilies as I have, a few plants will easily double or triple in just a few years by dividing them.

Many of these 'Victoria Blue' and all of the 'Victoria White' salvias re-seeded from last year.

Best of all, gardening friends are more than willing to share the bounty of their garden.  This year, other than the usual annuals I purchased in the spring, I have probably spent less on plants than any other year since I started gardening.  Part of that is due to running out of empty space to plant them in (without some strenuous digging, that is), but much of it is also due to the many free plants I've received from gardening friends. 

'Immortality' Iris, a free division, was planted just last fall and is now full of its second flush of blooms.

Turtleheads were thinned out at the Nursing Home Garden, and some extras found a new home here.

Working at the nursing home garden, I've often brought home divisions of plants after we've thinned them out.  Many of the volunteers also bring in divisions from their own gardens as well.  One of the best freebies I've gotten this year are two bare-root peonies.  We'll see if they survive here, but I'm certainly excited about the prospect of adding more peonies to my garden.  And just last week, I was so happy to meet our hostess Beth at a Botanic Garden in southern Wisconsin--more on that in a post one of these days.  Beth, such a sweetie, remembered that I had commented on one of her posts how much I loved her purple and white irises, and she brought some divisions along for me!  They are now planted in my garden, and I'll think of her whenever they bloom.

As long as you can be patient, you can easily create a garden without ever whipping out a credit card.

And finally, I'm also going to tie in with Donna's Seasonal Celebrations for a lesson I remind myself to learn over and over every season.

3. Enjoy every moment.  It has been a beautiful summer--there have been very few days that I complained about the heat, and plentiful rainfall kept the garden looking lush and green.  I almost hate to see this season end, but I am enjoying the last vestiges of summer just as I am enjoying the changes I see around me.

'Vanilla Strawberry' Hydrangea
Hydrangeas are one of my favorites in the summertime, but they also age beautifully.

Volunteer Goldenrod is a favorite of bees and other insects every fall.

The Purple Coneflowers are way past their prime, but I enjoy watching the goldfinches feast on the seedheads this time of year.

The garden is swarming with more butterflies than I've seen all season.

The first Painted Ladies didn't appear until a few weeks ago; they are loving the late-blooming zinnias and salvias.

Monarch sightings have been few this year, so I was happy to see this visitor on the lantana yesterday.  According to local experts, this is their week to migrate through our area, so I might not see them again until next year.

One of my favorite activities this summer has been watching the hummingbirds.  This little lady has found a shepherd's hook the perfect perch for watching me as well.  Their days in my garden are numbered, I know, so I'm going to enjoy their antics every moment I can until they head for their winter homes.

I have a long to-do list for fall, planting more bulbs and making some changes to the garden. But as the seasons change, I am going to remember especially this last lesson and take some time each day to enjoy the beauty around me.  It's nourishment for the soul.

To see what others have learned this past season or to get ready for the coming fall, visit Beth at Plant Postings and Donna at Garden's Eye View.


  1. I completely agree Rose...great lessons and especially the last...enjoying as much time as we can in the garden. It is indeed nourishment for our souls. Thanks for joining in to Seasonal Celebrations Rose.

  2. Thanks for joining in, Rose, and thanks for your kind comments. :) That cute photo of the hummingbird at the end is so sweet--it would be a great one to frame! I enjoyed your stories about misidentifying seedlings that you gave to Beckie. I have trouble with that, too--most plants are so much easier to ID when the flower. I've never tried to grow Cosmos and Zinnias from seed--I fear our growing season is too short. But you've given me inspiration. You are most welcome for the Irises! They may take a couple of years to bloom, but when they do they are beautiful, large purple and white German Irises, and they smell like grapes. They started with a gift from a friend for me, too. Cheers!

  3. Iding seedlings is difficult. I wondered why for years why I didn't have any hellebore seedlings. Well, I and Gary didn't know what they looked like. Now we have plenty to spare. ha... When out birding today we saw more monarchs floating in the wind than all summer. I will continue to be hopeful.

  4. Identifying plants when small is a challenge, I find. Sometimes when I can do the ID I can't even explain why - it just looks that way. I also love watching the hummingbirds - hope I get more of them next year!

  5. The last image of the pretty hummingbird is beautiful Rose. I remember seeing them in your garden.....that was a joy for me.

    The Monarch, I know, has a long journey ahead. I read that their habitat in Mexico is shrinking.
    It gives me heart to know they have an oasis (your garden) where they can gain strength to carry on their journey.

    So funny!!! The times I have pulled flowers out of the ground thinking it was a weed and visa versa. I think most gardeners do that, don't you??

    A lovely post Rose.............

  6. I'm chuckling at your seedling observations, Rose. I've often thought I need to start an ID section on the blog. I'll start with Centaurea Montana and Knautia - the latter is new in my garden this year and I see the leaves are pretty much the same as the Centaurea. They're next to each other in the flower bed, so I'm going to have a lot of fun next spring ;-)

  7. Oh my goodness - how many seedlings I've misidentified over the years! I'm glad there are others out there as well. LOL.

    Sweet little hummer - that's a good shot. My feeder's been empty for a while. But I'll leave it up for a few weeks yet.

    Haven't seen many monarchs this summer either, but painted ladies and others.

    I love zinnias and remember having a contest at school when I was about 9 or 10. My mother and I planted zinnia seeds in the garden and they grew to such a great height! I won a prize for the biggest zinnia! I had totally forgotten that and will plant some seeds next year. Thanks for the reminder about how easily they are sown from seed.

    I do like your last lesson - it's the best. Enjoy!

  8. I have seen so few butterflies this year! Last year I transplanted an aster next to our back door, and it's been covered with bees, but not a single butterfly!

    Your photos are beautiful and I really laughed at the mixed-up seedlings you've given to Beckie! Kohlrabi must have been quite a surprise!

  9. Donna, Sometimes I get so caught up in all that I want to get done in the garden that I forget to stop and just Enjoy! That's something I try to work on every season.

    Beth, The irises have been planted, and I can't wait to see them blooming--thanks again! Just when I think I'm getting better at identifying seedlings, something proves me wrong:) I would definitely try planting cosmos--it blooms much earlier than zinnias, so I think it should do well for you.

    Lisa, What do hellebore seedlings look like?? I keep thinking I should have some babies by now. I haven't seen a lot of Monarchs, but one or two each day for the past week.

    Jason, I'm not sure how many hummingbirds I have here, because I usually don't see more than 2 at a time. But today I noticed at least 4 flying around the garden. I will miss them when they are gone; they're such fun to watch.

    Cheryl, Beckie and I went to a talk on Monarchs last week, which was wonderful. These creatures just fascinate me. Yes, I have pulled many a flower, thinking it was a weed, and left a lot of weeds to grow, thinking they were flowers:)

  10. VP, I keep looking for a book or a website with photos of seedlings--that would be a tremendous help! Last year I had something that looked like a phlox and I babied it, until I found out from a local expert it was an invasive weed:)

    Wendy, How neat to have won a prize for your zinnias! I didn't plant any here the first few years I started gardening, but once I did, I loved them so much that I've planted them every year since. So easy to plant from seeds. The hummers are still here, but I wonder for how much longer.

    Cassi Renee, I didn't see nearly as many butterflies this summer as I usually do. But this fall has been making up for it--I haven't seen this many Painted Ladies in years!

  11. My gardening skills just don't seem to improve!

    But I shall try zinnias and cosmos from seed next year in my little plot.

    And I tried to photograph some butterflies - and every one is out of focus!!! How do you do it so well.

    By the way, it's not a hardship to stick with your beautiful blog even though it is specialised!

  12. I admire how you learn from gardening, always trying to improve. It makes good environmental to leave the seeds for the birds instead of cutting down the unsightly stalks after blooming.

  13. One year I nursed what I thought was an apricotia poppy seedling for months -- nope, it was a weed.

    It is amazing how many plants you can get without going to a nursery! Most of my plants are divisions or seedlings or cuttings from something I bought at a nursery once upon a time.

    Adorable picture of the hummingbird!

  14. Rose, your flowers are pretty and I'm glad you could plant cheap plants this year. I have not Rudbeckia in my garden it does not grow well here. The same I can say about zinnias- it's not very easy to grow is from seed, because of often cold June.
    This autumn I purchased many bulbs and they are not cheap:((

  15. Liz, For every good picture of a butterfly, I have 20 out of focus:) I've found if I stand back and use my zoom with a macro setting, it makes the background blurry which really makes the focal point stand out. And it helps when the subject stays still:) Thanks for those kind words--you were one of the first commenters I ever had, and I always love to read your blog!

    Sarah, Gardening has made me much more of an environmentalist. I've become fascinated by insects, which I once hated. As you work in the dirt, you begin to realize how all the elements of this earth are connected and beneficial.

    Sweetbay, I've often nursed along a weed, too:) I need to do a lot of dividing here--my garden could be twice as big if I did!

    Nadezda, I realize the plants I mention as easy here aren't necessarily ones that work that well everywhere. I said gardening "could be" inexpensive--I don't always take my own advice:) I spent a small fortune on bulbs this fall, too,

  16. I had to laugh at the mixed up seedlings saga, Rose. It's so easy to do isn't it, I'm always nursing along plants that turn out to be giant weeds!

    I'm not sure my other half would agree with gardening being an inexpensive hobby, he thinks I spend 90% of our budget on ours ;-). Lovely post and beautiful photos.

  17. Hi Rose,
    I had to laugh about your mishaps with trying to identify seedlings. I am hoping the plants I told people were brow eyed susans really are. Someone who saw them asked me if I was sure that's what they are. I am pretty sure, but I could be wrong.

    Yes, gardening is nourishment for the soul! I enjoyed reading your GBBD post as well. You have some great looking blooms still!

    You asked about planting the milkweed seeds. Yes, if the seeds themselves look fine, then we can go ahead and plant them. I'm thinking it needs to be done in the fall some time shortly before the ground freezes, but I could be making that up.

  18. Too funny on the misidentified seedlings. I too do that. This spring what I thought was coreopsis seedlings in the wildflower field turned out to be ragweed. I will forever be fighting ragweed I suspect.

  19. Rose - you aren't kidding about how gifts from fellow gardeners can help fill up your garden. I have so many things happily growing that I have gotten from one gardener friend or other. Seeing them always makes me think about all those cherished friendships. :) And next weekend it is time for another one of our plant swaps. This time it is hosted by Alison, so we're going to Tacoma! Can't wait!

    Your garden looks wonderful, and I love the photo of the hummingbird. Adorable!

  20. I justify plant purchases with the idea that I am helping small businesses like specialty nurseries survive. And, of course, buying local! You are so right about learning to identify seedlings. I love plants with distinctive leaves that you can recognize no matter how tiny they are. So many good lessons here and your photos are lovely!

  21. I suspect we've all done that misidentification thing Rosie! I do love zinnias, mine were a complete failure this year but i shall try again next year! I do love sharing plants and seeds with other gardeners, I already have so many plants in my garden that came from friends, and it is good to be reminded that an inexpensive selection of seeds can turn a barren patch into a pretty spot while you are saving up for the plants you really want to grow.

  22. My goodness Rose Girl you have such a nice variety of seedlings and volunteers and you have me so interested in how your peony will do .. Mine caught some powdery mildew on their foliage so it has been a bit dicey with them.
    Yes ! I try to burn the memories of gorgeous days spent in the garden so I can savor them during the long winter days and nights.
    We saw more butterflies in our garden than before many years too! and especially the Monarch was such a treat. I have no idea if my Lady Bug House will do anything but I did see two of them this past Spring so I have hopes maybe more for next year!
    Love the picture of the hummingbird .. they are such gorgeous little creatures you wonder how on earth do they survive.
    Yes .. garden chores ... putting the garden to bed involves so much I am overwhelmed .. good thing I have my garden PA! haha
    Take care girl !
    Joy : )

  23. I love when gardeners share their plants and when things re-seed themselves. I've never had the Blue Salvia re-seed here, though. I will try to collect some seeds from what I have and start some indoors next spring, though. I spent an awful lot of money this year getting my new Terrace Garden going, so I think I better economize as much as possible next year!

    Coneflower and Rudbeckia seedlings are easy to confuse with one another. I don't know about the Kohlrabi and coneflower confusion, though! : )

    All good lessons!--Kimberley

  24. Paula, I have definitely babied along a lot of weeds, too:)

    Sue, my friend and I get a lot of laughs out of our mix-ups. Thanks for the tip about the milkweed seeds; I thought, too, I would plant some this fall and see what happens.

    Tina, I'm not sure what your area was like at your former house, but out in the country there are always lots of stray weeds to contend with! Every year I have some new weed I've never seen here before.

    Flutterandhum, I try to remember where and from whom I got some of my plants, but I really need to write these down--so many plants in my garden are pass-alongs, which has been great.

    Linda, I definitely support the local nursery/garden center economy! That's my excuse to my husband for spending so much anyway:)

    Janet, I don't always have success with zinnias in a few spots in my garden--some years we've had so much early rain that I suspect the seeds floated away. But I do love them, especially since mine bloom late when so many other plants are fading.

    Joy, I do hope these peonies do well; I've never planted bare root starts of them before. At the rate I'm going with fall clean-up and projects, I hope fall lasts till December!

    Kimberley, I was amazed these salvias re-seeded after the winter we had. As for the kohlrabi and coneflower mix-up, it was a lack of labeling of the seeds I started indoors. Still, you would think I would have known better:)

  25. Hi Rose! What a nice post! I miss getting around to the blogs of the people I most like to visit... but it seems it takes so much time...

    Thanks for your recent visit to my site. I am hopeful that I can do some raking of these early fallen leaves tomorrow. I'd like to try to keep ahead of them this year, but being already in October, I have a sneaking suspicion they may ALL turn color and fall at once! ;-) Happy Fall!


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