June 30, 2013

Favorite plants and childhood memories

Do you have a favorite plant? I really don't.

I guess I have several favorite   "fill in the blank"   plants, though.


For example, my favorite ephemeral plant is the Great White Trillium (Trillium grandiflorum). Then again, Bloodroot (Sanguinaria canadensis) is a close, if not equal, standout.

My favorite non-native plant is probably the Lenten Rose (Helleborus x. hybridus), although I have to also consider the tropical Bleeding Heart (Fuchsia spp.), an annual here that blooms all summer, and the Resurrection Lily (Lycoris squamigera), which brightens the late-summer garden.

Favorite cut flower? Where do I start? Every bouquet is unique, and most arrangements benefit from a combination of shapes and forms. A simple handful of Lily-of-the-Valley (Convallaria majalis) in a small vase, however, is unequaled in its graceful simplicity.

Sometimes traveling introduces me to a new favorite--like the Lantana (L. camara) I fell for during a trip south.

And the list goes on.

Earlier this year, when I decided to write a blog post each month about John Muir, I thought I'd be writing now about his beloved California, after traveling there for the Garden Bloggers' Fling. (I hope everyone had a great time, and safe travels!) Alas, finances and timing once again prevented me from attending.

But it had me thinking: What were John Muir's favorite plants? The man traveled the world over. How could he possibly pick a favorite plant?

Calypso bulbosa; public domain photo courtesy the U.S. National Park Service

He spoke highly of many plants--including White Mountain Heather (Cassiope mertensiana), native to California's Sierra Nevada; the Fairy Slipper Orchid (Calypso borealis or C. bulbosa), which he encountered in a Canadian swamp; and the Live Oak (Quercus virginiana), which found its way onto his sketch pad as he traveled south to Florida. Wherever he traveled, he found favorites.

But some of his most endearing favorites--as happens with many of us--hearkened back to his childhood. In particular, he fondly recalled the Water Lilies (Nymphaea odorata) that graced the edges of his boyhood Fountain Lake.

Describing the lake, he said, in part, "First there is a zone of green, shining rushes, and just beyond the rushes a zone of white and orange Water Lilies, 50 or 60 feet wide, forming a magnificent border. On bright days, when the lake was rippled by a breeze, the Lilies and sun-spangles danced together in radiant beauty, and it became difficult to discriminate between them.

"...even if I should never see it again," he said of the lake, "the beauty of its Lilies and Orchids is so pressed into my mind that I shall always enjoy looking back at them in imagination, even across seas and continents, and perhaps after I am dead."

water lily

As I recalled my own childhood favorites--fragrant Roses and Lilacs, and bright Hollyhocks and Snapdragons--I noticed that the Water Lilies in our pond are about to open. It seems a fitting end to this post and an appropriate transition to the next one--about the pond survivors.

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Happy Independence Day to my American gardening friends! And happy seasonal celebrations to everyone else! As you enjoy the great outdoors during the next few days, remember to protect yourselves from ticks and mosquitoes. Click here or on the "products" tab for my review of a pleasant, natural repellent product.

June 26, 2013

Wildflower Wednesday:
Chance encounters, revisited


Last autumn--on a clear, crisp September day--my family was forced to stop on a very rural highway because of a flat tire. No big deal, of course, and it happens to most of us at some point.

I wrote a post about that experience, and about the fact that the inconvenience provided an opportunity. (To read about it, you can click on the link in the previous sentence.)

Long story short, while the more talented tire-changers were dealing with the tire, I took the gift of time to investigate the surrounding wildflowers. As it was September, most plants were on the decline and setting seed.

Fast forward to June 2013. I thought it might be fun to try to find that same spot and see if any of the wildflowers were blooming. The fishman--being the excellent tire-changer and good sport that he is--agreed to hunt for it.

One disclaimer: On both occasions, the only camera I had along was my smartphone. It performs better with plenty of light, but suffices under the right conditions.

It took us a while to find the exact same spot, but here's what we found this time:


An ordinary swath dominated by tall Grasses and escaped flowering Alfalfa by the side of the road.


The expanse of the combined Grass border and the Alfalfa crop was quite pleasant and pastoral from a distance. But upon closer examination, we also found:

Hoary Puccoon (Lithospermum canescens)

Spiderwort (Tradescantia occidentalis)

Common Yarrow (Achillea millefolium)

White Campion (Silene alba) (non-native)

Common Milkweed (Asclepias syriaca)

We also found a delightful surprise:


Did you see the hidden dots of pink among the various Milkweeds and Grasses?


Wild Roses were blooming--buried in the Grasses! And to think you could only see them if you stopped to look closely. I believe this variety is Rosa carolina, based on various descriptions and the pigment in the petals. It is native throughout most of the Eastern U.S. and Canada.

I was very excited about all of these wildflower finds. The fishman reminded me that it could have been any other roadside, and of course he was right. But it's nice to get to know a particular spot and revisit it during different seasons and times.

We own a modest "cottage" near the "flat-tire/wildflower hangout." I have to admit several non-native plants need attention on the lot. But they are beautiful. These include:

Orange Hawkweed (Hieracium aurantiacum)

Goat's Beard seedhead (Tragopogon dubius)

...and of course plenty of common Dandelions. Lots of upkeep, inside and out, but I look forward to returning soon. The next time we visit, we'll have fruit for foraging:

Mulberries (Morus rubra)

Blackcap Raspberries (Rubus occidentalis)

Oh, and the mystery plant that I couldn't identify last fall?

Four-O'Clocks (Mirabilis nyctaginea)

It was Four-O'Clocks--the same plant as shown at the beginning of this post!

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I'm linking in with Gail's Wildflower Wednesday at Clay and Limestone. Head on over to her blog to see wildflowers on display in many other locales.

June 21, 2013

My biggest lesson: gratitude


"If you build it, he (they) will come." That famous line from the movie, "Field of Dreams"--while cliche--is true. I'm imagining the scene out in the empty Iowa farm field, at night, with the crickets chirping ... with the promise of what could be, but is not yet ... with the Corn starting to bolt in the warm, fertile soil.

That scene--its images, sounds, and hints of warmth, scents, and tastes--says summer to me. It's replaying itself outside my window right now, and it is truly heaven. (Not Iowa, but close!)


The movie also reminds me that sometimes all it takes to get something new going--something of value for sharing with others--is taking action and following your instincts.

Two years ago, this month, I wrote a post about lessons I had learned that spring. And when I invited others to join in three months later, the lessons they shared astounded me. Some were practical, others artistic, and still others were actually spiritual life lessons.


It's true that if you build it, they will come. The goal of this meme is to share any lessons you've learned in your garden. And I am deeply grateful and honored to be a part of this dialogue.

Here are lessons from gardeners who linked in their blog posts:

1. Karin at Southern Meadows, in Georgia, shared new things she learned about plant mutations and posted a photo of a fasciated Foxglove. It's an informative post that also includes facts about lady beetles and black swallowtails. Check out Karin's exquisite photo of a raindrop on a Plum blossom.

2. Donna at Gardens Eye View, in New York, offered the wisdom of simple things--Milkweed plants that offer childhood memories and nourishment for Monarch butterflies, and graceful planters with simple statement flowers in a single color. You'll want to see how she did it. (A special thank-you to Donna for collaborating on the Lessons Learned/Seasonal Celebrations tie-in!)

3. Holly at Roses and Other Gardening Joys, in Texas, had jury duty this spring. While it was a rewarding experience, it reminded her of how she is the judge and jury in her own garden--which can be both rewarding and unpleasant. A plant that was a thug in her garden--Indigofera decora--just had to go.

4. Jason at Garden in a City, in Illinois, shared a delightfully humorous story of his history with Morning Glories and spending too much money on a plant that's better started from seeds. This is an all-too-familiar story for me, for various reasons. You will chuckle when you read Jason's post!

5. Michelle at The Sage Butterfly, near Washington, DC, made the journey from spring into summer with grace and beauty. Because her spring unfolded slowly, "blooms seemed to last forever, delicately opening to reveal a magical place deep within that remained for longer than usual." Michelle shared her lessons of appreciation and patience.

6. Rose at Prairie Rose's Garden, in Illinois, reminded us to capture garden moments while we can. One day her Baptisia plant was beginning to bloom, and the next time she checked it, the blooms were gone. Rose's post is full of garden and life lessons. And coming from a veteran gardener who's still learning, her wisdom offers hope and joy to all of us.


Others who participated through their comments, include Lynne at Irish Garden House, who "noticed more than learned"--which is a wise comment in itself. Angie at Angie's Garden Diaries learned not to waste time and effort on plants that simply don't want to grow in her garden. Christy at Christy's Cottage Wildlife Garden relearned that sometimes baby birds don't survive, and that it's best not to be overzealous at weed-pulling in the early spring.

Aaron at Garden of Aaron thought some of his plants were dead, only to find them thriving a short time later. Kathleen at Kasey's Korner reminded us that the more we learn, the more there is to know. Donna at Garden Walk, Garden Talk mentioned there's too much knowledge to gain in life, and too little time. Deb at Deb's Garden relearned that native plants tend to thrive more than non-natives in her garden.

Janet at Plantaliscious discovered the scorching effects of salt-laden winds on new plants, having recently moved to the coast of Wales. Helene at Graphicality-UK learned from last year's unusually wet growing season to use slow-release fertilizers to keep the nutrients in the soil as much as possible.


I've noticed other "lessons" posts around the garden blogosphere. I didn't link them in here because the blog owners didn't request it, and asking everyone if they were interested seemed a comprehensive task. But if you've written a post during the past few months that fits here, feel free to add the link in your comments. And likewise, if I've forgotten anyone please let me know and I'll update the post.

Thanks, again, everyone! All I can say is that my biggest lesson is gratitude ... for your friendships, sharing, and participation.


June 19, 2013

A pocket-sized wildflower checklist

Wildflowers of ...
[insert your state or region here]
Author: Stan Tekiela
Paperback: 425 pages
Published: 2000

This compact book is the most helpful print wildflower guide I've used. The publisher doesn't appear to have one for every U.S. state, but a good many are offered.

This resource comes in handy, for example, when you need to distinguish the difference between Queen Anne's Lace (Daucus carota) and Water Hemlock (Cicuta maculata). They look similar and grow in the same conditions, but the latter is a deadly native perennial.

What I like:
  • The photos are high-quality, and each one covers a full page, making plant identification easier.
  • Plants are organized by most common color, with color tabs for each entry.
  • Icons at the bottom of the page help identify flower cluster, flower type, leaf type, leaf attachment, and fruit.
  • Plants typically found in unique habitats (prairies, boundary waters) are identified.
  • An index at the back arranges all plants by common name, in alphabetical order.
  • A brief glossary defines basic plant terminology.
  • The book is palm-sized, and takes up very little space in a bag or backpack, making it easy to take along when hiking, camping, or traveling.
  • Each entry includes descriptions of plant family, height, flower, leaf, bloom time, cycle/origin, habitat, range, and history.

What needs improvement:
  • It would be nice to have an additional index with Latin names, since common names often vary. (Latin names, however, are listed along with the common names at the tops of the pages.)
  • While the book lists most Wisconsin wildflowers, it obviously can't include all, and in all colors. A quick reference to online resources would be handy, since most of us also carry smartphones.
  • The binding is a little flimsy, as mentioned by several bookseller reviews. It's easily fixed, though, with super glue.

The book is available on Amazon or direct through the publisher. If you enjoy identifying, reading about, and studying wildflowers, this is a great little resource.

I'm linking this post to Holley's "Garden Book Review" meme at Roses and Other Gardening Joys. Thanks, Holley!

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Next up: The Garden Lessons Learned wrap-up. Please share a post or your thoughts about lessons you've learned during the past few months. To join in, click here to leave a comment with a link to your post. Cheers!

June 16, 2013

Perfect June blooms and foliage


With the Peonies blooming (two weeks later than last year), it's a perfect day in my USDA zone 5 garden as I write this post for Garden Bloggers' Bloom Day (a day late!) and Foliage Follow-Up.

This is the time of year when I can't imagine a better place to be than right in my backyard. Of course, there are gardens 'round the world just as lovely (in fact, most are better maintained and much more impressive), but I'm perfectly contented in my little space during late spring/early summer. There's a light scent of Mock Orange in the air, it's warm enough for summer water sports but not too hot to sit outside comfortably, and the days are sunny (with occasional thunderstorms in the evening).

In addition to the Peonies, here are a few additional bloomers that captured my camera lens:


Bleeding Hearts of various types (Lamprocapnos spectabilis, Dicentra formosa) are still blooming and quite lush and healthy this year.


Cushion Spurge (Euphorbia polychroma), though past its peak, is adding its chartreuse and yellow glow to the landscape.


Purple Sage (Salvia nemerosa) is dominating the potager garden on the west side of the house, and attracting plentiful pollinators.


The Lantanas (L. camara) are beginning to "leap" after a slow, cold, wet start to the growing season.


Drumstick Alliums (A. sphaerocephalon) are about to burst into bright purple puff balls.


The sight and scent of the Mock Orange (Philadelphus) shrubs fill their own perfect corner of the garden.


The fuchsia Roses of unknown classification (shown in this blog's top banner with their second, later season stage of blooms) are bright and healthy.


Transitioning to foliage, here we see the scale and contrast of the fuchsia Roses with their neighbor Hostas and Bishop's Weed.



My first Barrenworts (Epimedium 'Creeping Yellow' and E. warleyense) seem happy in their new home. I love the way their leaves sparkle and flutter when watered.


The Golden Hops (Humulus lupulus 'Aureus') are filling in nicely on the obelisk.


Planters with my favorite Coleus mixes have a healthy start.


Our new Dwarf Dogwood (Cornus pumila) shrubs are growing nicely and have unexpectedly lovely, veined chartreuse foliage.


And finally, my first succulent planters are holding their own, though they have some issues, which I plan to describe in a future post.

All in all, it's a great time to be in my garden. I plan to spend as much time out there as possible in the days ahead. Happy Bloom Day and Foliage Follow-Up, and thanks to Carol and Pam for hosting! (And Happy Father's Day!)


Coming soon: The Garden Lessons Learned wrap-up. Please share a post or your thoughts about lessons you've learned during the past few months. To join in, click here to leave a comment with a link to your post. Thanks!

June 12, 2013

Do you ever throw caution to the wind?

Have you ever weighed the risks and benefits of doing something, and decided to go for it? Ever plunged headlong into an activity because you didn't want to miss out? If so, how did it turn out for you?


Last weekend, our master naturalist class took a field trip to the Kettle Moraine State Forest, about halfway between Madison and Milwaukee, Wis. While a good portion of the property is forest, the Scuppernong River Habitat Area is also within its boundaries. The Scuppernong Prairie is owned by the Department of Natural Resources, and was designated a State Natural Area in 1952.

Natural prairies are hard to find these days. Most here in the Midwest were snatched up by our European ancestors for agricultural land, because the soil is deep, rich, mesic silt loam—perfect for growing crops. The Scuppernong River Habitat Area, through partnerships with numerous state and federal agencies, has the potential of becoming the largest low prairie east of the Mississippi River.

This unique habitat is home to many plants that need very specific growing requirements. Our group had an opportunity to hunt for these unique plants ... but there were risks:


1. Tall grasses harboring wood ticks and deer ticks, which sometimes carry Lyme disease; and


2. Uneven ground, presenting the risk of twisting an ankle.

Most of us decided the rewards outweighed the risks. Happily, the rewards were great. Here are some of the treasures we found:

Blue-Eyed Grass (Sisyrinchium montanum)

Wood Betony (Pedicularis canadensis)

Prairie Phlox (Phlox pilosa)

Prairie Dock (Silphium terebinthinaceum)

Wild Indigo (Baptisia bracteata)

Blue Flag Iris (Iris versicolor)

White Lady's Slipper (Cypripedium candidum)

Yellow Lady's Slipper (Cypripedium parviflorum)

Prairie Smoke (Geum triflorum)

Was it worth the risks? Yes, but then again I didn't turn my ankle and I didn't find any ticks. If I had, would it still be worth it? Probably.

In any case, prairies are full of little treasures that you can't see unless you go into them. Walk gingerly, though ...


I'm linking this post with Donna's Seasonal Celebrations meme. One of my favorite summer activities is hiking.

To join the Lessons Learned meme before it wraps up on June 21, click here to leave a comment with a link to your post. Thanks!