Thursday, July 28, 2016

Suggestions for Shade?

Gardens are always changing and evolving.

Originally, my garden was almost all full sun.

Now, as I've let the 'Natchez' crape myrtles grow unfettered, I have some shady spots along the patio from spring to autumn once the crapes have leafed out.

So... dear readers, any suggestions from your own personal experiences as to which shade-loving plants I should try?

I have a few ideas already in mind...

Anemone virginiana, thimbleweed (photo via Lindley Ashline)

Aralia racemosa, American spikenard (photo via Distant Hill Gardens)
I have one of these plants growing along the front of the house in that east-facing, full-morning-sunshine bed, but I'm going to try to transplant it to a shadier spot where I think it would be happier.

Aruncus dioicus, goat's beard (photo via Megan Hansen)

Asarum canadense, American ginger (photo via Kevin Faccenda)

Blephilia ciliata, downy wood mint (photo via Ali Eminov)

Clematis versicolor, pale leatherflower (photo via Sonnia Hill)

Cunila origanoides, dittany (photo via Fritz Flohr Reynolds)

Erigeron pulchellus, Robin's plantain
I already have this plant in my garden in a variety of settings, including some pretty shady spots, so I think it should grow fine beneath the crape myrtles.

Iris cristata, dwarf crested iris (photo via Andrew Hoffman)

Any thoughts on these plants?

I have some other plants already in the garden - Agastache foeniculum, for example - that already grow here and probably will spread further. They seem quite at home in the shade.

And I've found that other perennials - Amsonia tabernaemontana 'Blue Ice' and Echinacea purpurea, for instance - may be marketed as full sun plants, but are surprisingly tolerant of a good deal of shade.

But I know that some other plants have declined as the shade has increased. Coreopsis verticillata is dying out in spots (although I've heard that this can be a short-lived plant). Baptisia australis (blue false indigo) is hanging tough, but I suspect it would be more upright, floriferous and generally happier in a full sun spot. (I scattered some of its seeds in a full sun bed, and the seedlings seem more robust and vigorous than the lax, louche plant that lolls about in shade alongside the patio.)

I welcome your advice and suggestions! ~

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Saturday, July 23, 2016

Shots in the July Garden - A Bevy of Blooms for Bees and Butterflies!

It's been a bit of a challenging year to garden so far.

We had a really dry spring (a 7 inch rainfall deficit at one point).

Then we made that up with torrential rains in July, but we've settled (like much of the country) into an uncomfortably hot and humid weather pattern.

So even though I don't want to toot my horn, I must say I'm rather pleased that the garden has been looking pretty good - - and with very little supplemental water (I think I've only watered with a hose about 4 times this year, plus other occasional spot waterings with a can.)

Without further ado, here are some scenes that caught my eye when I was in the garden on July 20th.

Lantana camara

Gaillardia x grandiflora and bumblebee

Gaillardia x grandiflora and a teeny-tiny bee (not its real name)

Hibiscus moscheutos, this is the straight species version of our native hibiscus. (I also have the 'Luna Pink Swirl' hybrid or cultivar of H. moscheutos.) This is my first year growing the straight species. It's in full sun on an unamended clay hillside and seems to be thriving, despite the fact that it would probably prefer wet-to-moist conditions.

Perovskia atriplificolia, Russian sage. I moved three Russian sages to more of a full sun location and generally they seem much happier and more floriferous in their new spot. That said, I've still seen some of the yellowing foliage and even wilting of entire branches that I've noticed when they were in partial shade. It's my opinion that they do not like our humidity (which has been especially high this summer) or the heavy clay soil. The Russian sage flowers seem highly attractive to pollinators, especially honeybees.

Coreopsis verticillata 'Zagreb', attracts lots of little pollinators

French marigold, Tagetes patula 

Hibiscus syriacus, rose of Sharon, 'Diana' cultivar

Cosmos bipinnatus and bee.

Agastache foeniculum (anise hyssop) and bee

'Red Rocks' penstemon and bee. I have three of these Red Rocks penstemons. I cut back two of them after the main bloom and left the third one (this one) uncut. They're all starting to rebloom a little now, which makes me think that it may not make any difference (at least in terms of stimulating more flowers) whether or not you cut them back. That said, I'll keep an eye on the plants over the next month or two to see whether there's any difference in terms of flower quantity or overall form between the penstemons that were pruned and those that were left au naturel.

Lagerstroeima indica 'Natchez' (crape myrtle). In bloom for about two months now. The flowers attract lots of pollinators. (Not every crape myrtle seems equally attractive to pollinators. I rarely see any pollinators on my pink-flowered crape, but these white-flowered Natchez crapes are often buzzing with bees all day.)

Cosmos bipinnatus with skipper butterfly. White-flowered 'Diana' rose of Sharon (Hibiscus syriacus) in the background.

Glandularia canadensis (rose verbena)

Large milkweed bug (Oncopeltus fasciatus) on rose milkweed (Asclepias incarnata)

More Cosmos bipinnatus with bumblebee

If you look very closely, you can see lots of pollinators crawling through the flower cluster on this Asclepias incarnata (rose milkweed). Oh and there's a large milkweed bug hanging out beneath a leaf in the lower part of the picture! 

Coreopsis lanceolata (lanceleaf coreopsis)

Coreopsis tinctoria (plains coreopsis) with pollinator

Heliopsis helianthoides (false sunflower) with bumblebee

Polanisia dodecandra (redwhisker clammyweed)

Helianthus annuus (sunflower) with bees

Ailanthus webworm moth on Agastache foeniculum (anise hyssop)

Aralia racemosa (American spikenard), those are the tiny greenish-white flowers -- not very showy, but they do seem to attract a lot of little pollinators. The plant itself is in morning sun and afternoon shade. It's hanging tough, but it doesn't seem all that happy. I plan to try to transplant it to a shadier spot this autumn.
Just a pretty, colorful tableau - sweet alyssum (Lobularia maritima) in the front, 'Rozanne' cranesbill geranium behind it and a few blue balloon flowers (Platycodon grandiflorus) peeking into the upper left corner.

Hope you enjoyed this quick tour through the July garden.

What are some of your favorite summer flowers blooming in your garden right now? 


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Wednesday, July 6, 2016

Scarab on the Milkweed

If I'm not mistaken, the photo below shows a delta flower scarab beetle (Trigonopeltastes delta) browsing through the flowers of swamp milkweed (Asclepias incarnata).

Incidentally, the milkweed is more versatile than its common name suggests. My plants are not growing in a swamp at all, but on a clay hilltop that gets sodden in winter rains, but bakes dry in the summertime.

Just another example of how planting native flowers and avoiding pesticides can attract all sorts of cool wildlife to your garden...  :)


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Monday, July 4, 2016

Hibiscus Time!

The top photos show 'Luna Pink Swirl', a cultivar of our native Hibiscus moscheutos.

The bottom photos are two different cultivars of  rose of Sharon (Hibiscus syriacus), 'Blue Bird' on the left (looks bluer in person) and 'Diana' on the right.

Both species seem to be totally hardy in my garden - H. moscheutos behaves as an herbaceous perennial, while H. syriacus grows as a deciduous shrub.

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Wednesday, June 15, 2016

Here's another great plant for attracting bees - Biokovo cranesbill geranium!

Almost three years ago, I published a blog post extolling the virtues of perennial cranesbill geraniums as groundcovers.

At that time, I did a little kvetching about the fact that the cranesbill geraniums didn't seem to do a great job of attracting pollinators (which is always a high priority for me).

Well, I've added more cranesbills and they've expanded their territory and this year, for the first time, I noticed the 'Biokovo' variety of Geranium x cantabrigiense attracting a lot of bees - both bumblebees and honeybees!

The other cranesbills that I have - 'Rozanne' and a couple cultivars of Geranium sanguineum - don't seem as attractive to the bumbles or the honeybees, but they do seem to generate some interest from teeny-tiny pollinators (probably some sort of hoverfly or tiny wasp).

Anyway, there's no way that my camera is good enough to capture a video of the hoverflies, but I was able to shoot this short film of a bumblebee buzzing his way among 'Biokovo' flowers.


PS - Over time, I've changed my mind on a lot of groundcovers (and other plants). but I still think cranesbill geraniums -- especially the 'Biokovo' cultivar -- make excellent groundcovers, at least in my Tennessee garden!


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Monday, June 13, 2016

Class of 2016 -- Pycnanthemum muticum, short-toothed mountain mint

Honey bee on Pycnanthem muticum flower cluster (photo by John Baker)

Why I'm growing Pycnanthemum muticum in my garden...

1) It's native to Tennessee, as well as scattered sites across the Southeast, Mid-Atlantic and New England from Texas all the way to New Hampshire

2) Richard Hawke, Plant Evaluation Manager at the Chicago Botanic Garden, told me that he has seen P. muticum flowers attract at least a dozen types of bees, wasps, flies, moths and butterflies!

3) Hawke also mentioned that short-toothed mountain mint is considered to be deer-resistant.

4) Holly Scoggins, PhD, Assistant Professor of Horticulture at Virginia Tech, told me that P. muticum grows tallest (up to 4 feet) in moist soil, but that it also seems to be drought-tolerant.

5) The foliage has a nice minty scent.

Note: Despite their common name, mountain mints are not true mints (which are in the Mentha genus). In fact, according to the sources I consulted at the Nebraska Regional Poison Center (NRPC), Pycanthemums contain a chemical called pulegone that can be toxic to the liver. Pulegone does double-duty as an insect repellent, and NRPC does say that it is safe to apply small amounts of the plant externally to skin or clothing to ward off insect pests.

Also, some sources I consulted say that mountain mints can spread aggressively, others say they are much less rampant spreaders than 'true' mints. Either way, if mountain mint is happy where you plant it, you should probably expect that it will try to expand. That may not be an issue (especially in its native range) if it's planted with trees, shrubs or other robust perennials, but you may want to think twice about planting it next to any demure or delicate prized perennials.

Do you grow short-toothed mountain mint? If so, what has been your experience with this plant?


Friday, June 10, 2016

Anybody Know Who's Bugging Me?

Found these two interesting bugs in the garden the other day. Anyone know what they might be?

Looks a little like a milkweed bug or a boxelder bug, but the coloration, patterns and overall shape don't seem quite right to be one of those...
Maybe an emerald ash borer? (Let's hope not.)

Have you seen any new or unusual bugs in your garden this year? In addition to the ones shown here, I did spot a leaf-footed bug on my window a couple of weeks ago. That was pretty cool!


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