October 15, 2016

Warm Days After Flirting With Frost

autumn pot

We’ve escaped the icy grips of Father Frost in our garden, which means an extended season of flowers. Yippee. In the countryside and along the roadways, few nectar sources remain except Asters, White Snakeroots, a few Goldenrods, and the occasional reblooming wildflowers--confused, perhaps, that a restart of warmth means it could be spring.

Of course, we know better.

So the autumn march begins ... stuffing front porch pots with hardy kales and cabbages, decorating the house for Halloween and Thanksgiving, planning for upcoming family gatherings, and preparing our psyches for that season of white and gray and brown.

But not quite yet ...

cut flowers

Since we had a threat of frost recently, I clipped the brightest Zinnias and some Coleus foliage for a floral arrangement.


But after two nights in the mid-30s F (~2C), followed by a warm-up, the Zinnias (Z. elegans) are popping into bloom again.


Of course, Sedum 'Autumn Joy' is in its element.


The Lantanas (L. camara) are budding and blooming as if it's May.


Same with the Pentas (P. lanceolata 'Graffit Violet').


I didn't clip the remaining 'Sensation Mix' Cosmos (C. bipinnatus), thinking they could take a light frost. Turns out, they didn't need to fight for life anyway. I'll have a few more for cuttings next week.


'Cathedral Sky Blue' Salvia (S. farinacea) looks straggly. I could trim it to encourage more blooms, but that would be silly since it's living on borrowed time. Might as well let it bloom for the straggler pollinators.


The Lamiums' (L. maculatum) little hoods also welcome any pollinators still hanging on to the last warm days of the growing season.


'Marinka' Fuchsias in hanging baskets are like ever-bearing shrubs. I overwintered them last year in the sunroom, and I'll do the same this year. Why not save a few bucks? The hummingbirds do seem to enjoy them so!


Blue Mistflower (Conoclinium coelestinum) has been blooming since August, adding clouds of soft blue to the garden.

mistflower critters

I haven't seen as many bees on the Mistflower lately (unlike earlier in the season when they were busy buzzing around it), but I did notice a stink bug and a lady beetle, among other insects.

asters and mistflower

My vision for this part of the garden is starting to take shape: Mistflower makes a pretty backdrop for the 'Vibrant Dome' Asters (Symphyotrichum novae-angliae).

The days are shorter and the light is lower in the sky. Autumn is with us, but it's a mild one this year.

How about you? What's blooming and brightening your garden this October?

Garden Bloggers' Bloom Day
Foliage Follow-Up

October 06, 2016

The Zoro Garden in San Diego's Balboa Park

monarch lantana 1

Butterfly season is winding down here in the north.

This sad fact had me thinking about my first butterfly encounters of the year. They happened during our March trip to San Diego for a family event. On one of the days, I had a couple of hours to explore Balboa Park--obviously, not nearly enough time--but I tried to make the most of it. (My first post about Balboa Park highlighted the Inez Grant Parker Memorial Rose Garden.)

I knew next to nothing about Balboa Park before arriving. So, I basically started walking around--briefly glancing at the map to figure out the general direction and highlights I wanted to see.

Remember, I had recently landed in San Diego from the Midwest, where winter was just breaking its icy grip. Those of you who live in colder climates know the feeling--it's like coming back to life again after sleeping for several months.

african daisy

Anyway, suddenly the world was full of color. Every blooming plant seemed like a gift, including these African Daisies (Osteospermum spp.).

pride of madeira

And these Pride of Madeira (Echium candicans) blooms, covered in bees.

As I meandered my way along the paths, suddenly I noticed butterflies everywhere--Western Tiger Swallowtails, Painted Ladies, Monarchs, and others. Following the butterflies, I descended a stairway into an area surrounded by rock walls, Ficus and Palm trees, and winding, circular paths.


I didn't realize it at the time, but I had entered the Zoro Garden. I wish I'd taken more photos, but it was under reconstruction while I was there. The above public domain photo provides a glimpse of a small portion of the six-acre sunken grotto garden before the reconstruction.

Even during my visit, with construction, butterflies were everywhere.

tropical milkweed

And then I noticed this.

stripped milkweed

And this (see the caterpillar?).

Those familiar with this plant know it's ravaged Tropical Milkweed (Asclepias curassavica). And when it's "ravaged," that's a good thing. It means Monarch caterpillars have had a feast and are nearby. And if you're lucky, you'll also see Monarch adult butterflies.

monarch on fern

I was lucky that day. There were many Monarch butterflies in the Zoro Garden.

monarch lantana 3

monarch lantana 2

I was so pleased to see them sunning on the ferns and nectaring on the blooms--mostly on Lantanas (L. camara), which confirmed my plan to include more Lantanas (annuals north of zone 7) in my own garden.

passion flower

I also noticed some incredible Passion Flower vines and blooms (a host plant for Fritillary caterpillars/butterflies). I believe this is Crimson Passion Flower (Passiflora vitifolia).

lizard rocks

This cute lizard was sunning on the rocks.


I'm thinking it was a Western Fence Lizard?

I lingered in the area taking in the butterflies and the sun and the blooms. I really had no idea about the significance of this garden until later, when I did some research.

Let's just say it has an interesting past. In an effort to keep this blog rated "G" (or at least "PG") I send you to a link about the Zoro Garden's history.

A friend with connections to Balboa Park's gardens says Zoro Garden has a promising future, as well--building on its recent past serving as a butterfly garden with host and nectar plants for the various stages of butterfly life cycles. Here's a brochure about the species you might find in the garden.

To get a sense of the Zoro Garden--where to find it (it's tricky) and what it's like to walk into it--here's a video someone posted to YouTube:

On my way back to the San Diego Zoo to meet family members, I noticed more Tropical Milkweed, more butterflies, and more caterpillars.

cat on milkweed

monarch cat 1

monarch cat 2


It was a good day.

September 27, 2016

Plant of the Month: Zigzag Goldenrod


Goldenrods (Solidago spp.) are among the best nectar sources for supporting late-season native bees and migrating butterflies like the Monarch, according to The Xerces Society for Invertebrate Conservation.


If you have a shady garden as I do, the choices within this genus are somewhat limited. But one of the Goldenrods that performs well in partial shade, and even in heavy shade, is Zigzag Goldenrod (Solidago flexicaulis), also known by the nickname Broadleaf Goldenrod. It also tolerates sunny locations. It's a sweet little bloomer in addition to helping the pollinators.

trellis 2

Just as the Coneflowers, Joe Pyes, and other summer bloomers fade, Zigzag Goldenrod shares its bright, yellow flowers. My patch is blooming against a trellis, filling in an area where Foxglove was the focal point during the early summer.

blooms & foliage

Zigzag Goldenrod is native to most of Eastern North America, according to the Missouri Botanical Garden. It prefers moist, woodland soils, but when established will tolerate some drought. Other plant characteristics include:

  • Height and spread: 1 ft. to 4 ft.;
  • USDA hardiness zones 3 to 8;
  • Propagates by self-seeding and rhizomes;
  • Prefers medium moisture and soil, but tolerates a range of soils and precipitation; and
  • Distinguished by zigzag stems and toothed, broad leaves.


On the day I took most of these photos the wind was strong, so the bees weren't landing much. But I did see quite a few insects on the plants--spiders, ants, and beetles of various types.

cucumber beetle

I think this is a Striped Cucumber Beetle--not a friend of the vegetable gardener. Fortunately, no veggies are located in this part of the garden, and the beetles didn't appear to be damaging the flowers. Maybe that's a good technique--plant the Goldenrod outside the vegetable garden to attract the beetles away from your edibles. Just a thought?


I also like the appearance when the flowers begin to fade--the seedheads are fluffy and attractive.

flower stem

Zigzag Goldenrod has been in my garden for only a few years, but it's earned my admiration and respect for its beauty and functionality in the autumn landscape.

(I'm linking this post to Wildflower Wednesday.)

September 14, 2016

Plant Combinations on the Cusp

coleus pot

There's a definite essence of "transition" in the air this week. It's apparent in the shorter day length, the animal behaviors, the cooler weather here in the Upper Midwest.

Despite unusually plentiful rainfall for this time of year, many plants are senescing--deteriorating, browning, going dormant. It's happening to Common Milkweed (Asclepias syriaca), Ostrich Ferns (Matteuccia struthiopteris), Spotted Jewelweed (Impatiens capensis), and many others.

Most of the area's common deciduous trees--Maples, Oaks, Hickories--are still green, but one senses they're on the cusp of tumbling into their colorful autumn display.

Today is Garden Bloggers' Bloom Day and tomorrow is Foliage Follow-Up: I'm participating in both memes with observations about a few pleasant plant combinations on the cusp of two seasons. Some combos were planned; others were pleasant surprises.

oxalis mix
Purple Shamrock (Oxalis triangularis), 'Wizard Pineapple' Coleus (Solenostemon scutellariodes), Variegated English Ivy (Hedera helix), 'Cathedral Sky Blue' Salvia (S. farinacea

Zigzag Goldenrod (Solidago flexicaulis) framed by Blue Mistflower (Conoclinium coelestinum)

Blue Mistflower (Conoclinium coelestinum) with Zigzag Goldenrod (Solidago flexicaulis) along the trellis

sedum & mistflower
'Autumn Joy' Sedum (S. spectabile) framed by Blue and White 'Alba' Mistflower (Conoclinium coelestinum)

zinnia & cosmos
'Zowie! Yellow Flame' Zinnia (Z. elegans) with 'Sensation Mix' Cosmos (C. bipinnatus) and Lantanas

scarlet runner bean & wisteria
Scarlet Runner Bean (Phaseolus coccineus) meeting American Wisteria (W. frutescens) on the arbor, even though neither is blooming

hosta & epimedium
Unknown Hosta with gold-green margins paired with Epimedium x warleyense

hosta flower & ferns
Hosta of the Equinox (H. aequinoctiiantha) framed by golden, fading ferns

How about you? What's blooming in your garden? What foliage combinations are you liking?

Garden Bloggers Bloom Day
Foliage Follow-Up

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It's not too late to join in the "Garden Lessons Learned" meme. Simply write a post or share one you've already written about lessons you've learned during the past season. Then share your links or observations to the comments at this previous post or through the "Lessons Learned" tab at the top of this blog. I'll share "lessons learned" posts on the PlantPostings Facebook Page closer to the equinox.