September 01, 2014

Garden Lessons Learned: Summer 2014


As one season transitions to another, it's time to share "lessons learned" during the past season with gardeners around the world. There's something encouraging in knowing that, as those of us in the Northern Hemisphere head toward the colder months, those in the Southern Hemisphere face the renewal of spring and summer.

No matter where you garden, I hope this past season was good for you! Please join in the "Lessons Learned" meme, if you're so inclined, by writing a post or sharing a previously written post about things you've learned during the past three months.


As always, I learned many things this summer in my USDA zone 5 garden in Southern Wisconsin. Some are facts that were totally new to me. Others were things I'd heard about but never experienced firsthand. Here are a few of my lessons:

Didn't know:

oriole feeder

Oriole feeders aren't just for orioles. They also attract finches, woodpeckers, hummingbirds, and butterflies. I saw all of them at the oranges this summer. I didn't capture photos of every one, but that gives me another goal for the months ahead. I never expected that diversity of life at a simple, but beautiful, wooden feeder with oranges!


Giant Swallowtail butterflies are attracted to Swamp Milkweed (Asclepias incarnata). I saw my first Giant Swallowtail, ever, this summer. At least I don't recall ever seeing one before. They're huge--with a wingspan of five to seven inches! We had Giant Swallowtail visitors several times this summer. And when the Swamp Milkweed was in bloom, they went directly to it, spending several minutes nectaring on its flowers. (By the way, hummingbirds, bees, moths--and of course Monarch butterflies, for which it's a larval host--among other pollinators, also love this plant.)


Some Asters grow well in dappled shade. I planted 'Vibrant Dome' Asters in my garden last fall in two spots--both of which are quite shady. The Asters performed well this summer and are about to bloom. That part of the garden must receive just enough sun to keep them healthy and coax a few blooms.

Wasn't sure:


If rabbits chew off your Hyacinth Bean vine at the base, quickly stick the hanging stem back in the soil and water it liberally. Add some hot pepper flakes and rattling toys around the base (or whatever rabbit-deterrent works for you). If you're lucky, the vine will regrow roots and live to thrive for the rest of the season. (Of course, you can avoid all of this by only planting Hyacinth Bean in a protected area with plenty of chicken wire fencing. I temporarily forgot about my rabbit problem. Duh. Oh well .. it worked out OK.)


Our Hostas that usually bloom near the equinox are blooming earlier this year. In my post about them three years ago, they were blooming in late September. This year, they started blooming in late August. I tried to identify them in that previous post, but I'm not sure I have the species (H. aequinoctiiantha?) correct. In any case, the bumbles love them no matter when they bloom.

Heard about, but hadn't experienced firsthand until this summer:


Pollinators of all types do a much better job of pollinating a Meyer Lemon than I'll ever do with a tiny brush or a cotton swab. They crawl in and out and all around the blooms. Because of their excellent work, it looks promising that we'll have Lemons into the winter months.

monarch cat

Fifth instar Monarch caterpillars eat loads of Milkweed! I'd heard it said that feeding them live plants at this stage is like feeding a cow to a pond of piranhas! While that might be a slight exaggeration, they really do chow down fast on the last few days before they crawl off to form a chrysalis. I hadn't actively fed a caterpillar since I was a kid, but this year one found a home in a safe spot near the house. Long story, which I hope to share in a later post.

Those are just a few of the things I learned this season. How about you?

Feel free to add a link to your blog in your comment on this post. Please also join Donna at Gardens Eye View for the Seasonal Celebrations meme. Posts that cover both memes offer a chance to reflect on the past season and look ahead to the next, at the same time. Both memes will be active until the equinox, when we'll post the wrap-ups. Happy autumn (or spring to those in the Southern Hemisphere)!

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Also, for the first time, I'm linking in with Cathy's fabulous "In a Vase on Monday" meme, over at Rambling in the Garden. I've been meaning to join in for some time now, but the past several weeks have been hectic. It's a wonderful meme, and I hope to post more arrangements in the weeks ahead. For my first entry, in the spirit of the American Labor Day holiday, I selected two types of flowers that require very little labor. All you have to do is plop them in a vase:

Cosmos (C. bipinnatus 'Versailles Mix')

Snapdragons (Antirrhinum majus 'Rocket Mix')

August 27, 2014

Celebrating Spotted Jewelweed on
Wildflower Wednesday


It's Wildflower Wednesday--the fourth Wednesday of the month--when gardeners around the world share information about some of their favorite wildflowers.

This month, my pick is Spotted Jewelweed (Impatiens capensis), also nicknamed Spotted Touch-Me-Not.

It's a tall (four feet), watery plant with delicate, one-inch flowers dressed in orange with red spots. Jewelweed is native to most of the Canadian provinces and the United States, except in the Southwest and some of the mountain states.

with snakeroot

It's naturalized in several areas up at our cottage, including a section facing north near the road, alongside Snakeroot (Ageratina altissima).

by dock

And an area facing south but blocked by tall Cattails (Typha spp.). In the past, the fishman knocked the plants back by the shore, but this year we decided to let them have their way (obviously, we need to trim the Cattails growing through the dock boards).

My last post was about a plant that prefers dry, sunny conditions, while this one prefers wet, shady conditions. But honestly, they've both naturalized in sandy soil and dappled sun, so the only real difference is the moisture level.


The flower of Spotted Jewelweed has a trumpet shape, with a curly tail at the base. A sack within the flower contains a fungicide that is said to soothe Poison Ivy (I've never had it after numerous encounters, so I've never tried this).

This wildflower, though native to our area, can be aggressive under the right conditions, so we'll keep it in check. This link includes some fun stories about Jewelweeds at The Eloise Butler Wildflower Garden in Minneapolis.


Here you see the reason for the name Jewelweed.


While I was watching, several bumbles crawled deeply into the flowers for pollen and nectar. They fit perfectly in the trumpet. Apparently, Hummingbirds often visit Spotted Jewelweed, too, and they prefer it over the Yellow Jewelweed (Impatiens pallida). I didn't see any hummingbirds on the Jewelweed during our last visit, but I can see why they would like it.


This photo shows the various stages of the flower and seeds--from small pale buds to bright orange flowers to developing seedpods.

The behavior of the seedpods is the source of the plants' other nickname: Touch-Me-Not. If you brush against them or touch them, when fully ripe, they explode--spewing their seeds an impressive distance (several feet).


This seedpod isn't ripe, but pinching it will show how the pod curls back, releasing the seeds.

curled pod

Here's the curled seedpod after the experiment.

I tried to load a video showing this explosive action, so we shall see if it works:


There you have it: Spotted Touch-Me-Not, aka Spotted Jewelweed. I'm linking in with Gail's Wildflower Wednesday over at Clay and Limestone. Head on over to her blog to learn about wildflowers from around the world.

Next up: my "Garden Lessons Learned" for the summer of 2014. What have you learned this season (summer, for those in the Northern Hemisphere; winter for those in the Southern Hemisphere)? I hope you'll join in!

August 24, 2014

Plant of the Month: Purple Love Grass


I'm starting to appreciate grasses more. I think this new appreciation started at Kew Gardens in London (you can click the link to read a previous post about it). Scott Weber's blog at Rhone Street Gardens also provides continuous inspiration regarding the beauty and creative uses of grasses in a garden setting.

Lovely view we happened upon during a hike earlier this summer.

One of my favorite native, local grasses is Purple Love Grass (Erogrostis spectabilis). (Isn't that a great Latin name?)


When oblique late-summer light hits it just right, Purple Love Grass is a stunning sight to behold.

Bright pink cloud.

Depending on its stage during the growing season and the way the light hits it, tufts of this grass appear bright green, purple, pink, or bright pink.

Our meadow: E. spectabilis starting to brown, but still lovely.

Interestingly, we have a naturally occurring patch of it up at the cottage. It stretches through our property, between the properties of the neighbors on both sides. They were friends--two couples who've since moved away and/or moved on. But the Purple Love Grass remains. Isn't that sweet?

The neighbors had asked if we minded if they walked through our property to visit each other, and we said "No problem, feel free!" I'm glad, because this beautiful grass, along with a collection of mostly native perennials has created a lovely meadow where their path once traveled.

Purple Love Grass is native to much of the Eastern U.S.--from the Dakotas and points east, south to Arizona, Texas, and Florida. It's also native in parts of Mexico, according to the Missouri Botanical Garden. It prefers sandy or well-drained soil, with dry to medium precipitation. It grows best in sunny locations. It tolerates drought and Black Walnut trees (which we have in abundance at the cottage).

The foliage reaches a height of about 10 inches. Then, in late summer pinkish/purple flowers appear, and form a cloud of beauty up to a height of about two feet.

Another attribute--Purple Love Grass is photogenic:










pink cloud

August 15, 2014

August GBBD: Blooms From A to Z

The Latin names for today's plants progress from A to Z: from Agastache to Zinnia (although a few letters are missing).

I'm squeaking by with a Garden Blogger's Bloom Day post. On the 15th day of each month, gardeners around the world share what's blooming in their gardens.

Here in Southern Wisconsin, USA, it's been an incredible summer! A little challenging for the plants, with record rainfall in June, and nearly no precipitation in July. But the temperatures have remained around 80F/27C nearly all summer. Some plants don't mind the fluctuations in precipitation, especially with those mild temps.

Here are some highlights in my garden this month, from A to Z:


Anise Hyssop (Agastache foeniculum 'Golden Jubilee') is new to my garden. I thought it might be too shady here, but it's getting just enough dappled sun and seems quite happy. I'm thinking I should deadhead these to encourage more blooms through the fall.


I missed these guys last year--'Rocket Mix' Snapdragons (Antirrhinum majus). This cultivar creates various colored blooms that get quite tall and are fabulous cut flowers. I pinch them off early in the growing season for larger late-summer blooms. These flowers are just getting going and will bloom until frost in October.


We had a bit of an accident earlier in the summer when an unnamed family member knocked over the tops of some of these Swamp Milkweed (Asclepias incarnata) stems. But that's OK: This created more stems that will bloom in progression during the coming weeks. This plant is a bee, butterflly, hummingbird, and White-Lined Sphynx moth magnet. Of course, as a Milkweed, it's a larval host for the Monarch, and I seem to be seeing at least one Monarch butterfly on it each day lately. It has a beautiful vanilla scent.


The Meyer Lemon (Citrus x meyeri) seemed a little shocked when we moved it outside in May. A few Lemons remain and are getting larger. Meanwhile, it's adjusting well now and has quite a few new blooms.


I could fawn over this flower for hours, but I won't. Suffice it to say, I can't imagine a summer garden without Cosmos bipinnatus. It never fails, and it's one of the best cut flowers around--just plop some in a vase for several days of beauty.


The Purple Coneflowers (Echinacea purpurea) are fading a bit but still attracting many pollinators, like this Goldenrod Soldier Beetle. It's fun to watch them landing on and traversing the cones.


One of my top performers every summer is Fuchsias in hanging baskets. This year, I selected 'Marinka,' which has been blooming nonstop since mid-May. I might even try bringing a couple of the baskets indoors (in the sunroom) this winter to keep the Meyer Lemon company.


Last year, I took a break with Impatiens because of the downy mildew plaguing them across the country. But I missed them, so I planted 'Fiesta Pink Ruffle' amongst several other potted plants this year. It reminds me of a delicate Rose, and seems quite hearty.


The Hyacinth Bean (Lablab purpureus) blooms are reaching for the sun at the top of my obelisk. They attract hummingbirds, bees, and butterflies. These plants got a bit of a late start, but I hope they'll continue to bloom and produce their pretty purple beans into the fall until the frost.


The Lantanas (L. camara 'Lucky Flame') are performing surprisingly well this summer, and are attracting butterflies and bees. I only discovered this annual plant a few years ago, but now it's one of my favorites.


'Blazing Star' Liatris (L. spicata) is winding down, but still attracting pollinators. Soon I'll deadhead the faded blooming stalks, because I'm not crazy about how they look when they're brown and dry. Plus, the garden has plenty of "winter interest" blooms that will remain standing.


The Resurrection Lilies (Lycoris squamigera) seem to be blooming early this year. These flowers seemingly appear out of nowhere in late summer--from foliage that goes dormant after the spring. Also called "Naked Ladies" and "Magic Lilies," among other nicknames, they're lovely in dappled sunlight. They weren't even visible in my garden earlier this week.


Black-Eyed Susans (Rudbeckia hirta) are another favorite of the Goldenrod Soldier Beetles. They're a cheery focal point in my garden during the late summer.


This variegated Sweet Potato vine (Solanum jasminoides) is a great companion to the Fuchsias in my hanging baskets. The delicate white and yellow flowers come and go, while the foliage is visually appealing throughout the growing season.


And finally, the Zinnias (Z. elegans 'State Fair Mix')! I missed them last year, and I'm so glad I included them this year. It's been a challenging year for them with the fluctuating precipitation, but they're coming on strong now--just in time for some fabulous late-summer, early fall floral bouquets.

Thanks for visiting! Head on over to May Dreams Gardens to find out what's blooming in other gardens around the world. Thanks to Carol for hosting!