September 29, 2014

Midwest Meet-Up at Rotary Botanical Gardens

One of Rose's favorite Zinnias: 'Zowie! Yellow Flame',
which I'd like to add to my potager garden next year.

In mid-September, I had the pleasure of meeting Rose from Prairie Rose's Garden and her friend, Beckie, at Rotary Botanical Gardens in Janesville, Wis.

beckie and rosalie
Beckie (l) and Rose (r), gearing up for our garden tour.

It seemed like old times (for me, at least) even though we'd never met in person before. Some friends are like that--you feel like you've known them forever and that you can pick up where you left off when you meet again.

Anyway, it was a cool day and slightly overcast, but we didn't let that deter us from enjoying the gardens. The Rotary Botanical Gardens are celebrating their 25th anniversary this year, and you can read about their fascinating history by clicking on this link. I haven't been to these gardens much, which is embarrasing because Janesville is only about 36 miles from my home.

Beckie suggested stepping up to the terrace overlook to photograph
this long shot of the European-style gardens, which was a great idea. Thanks, Beckie!

The 20-acre, nonprofit botanic garden has numerous themed gardens, and the first one you see as you exit the visitor center is the English Cottage Garden. As you look across from above, you also can see the Italian Garden, the French Rose Garden, and beyond.


The obelisks, arbors, and other hardscapes are great frames for the whimsical mixes of annuals, perennials, and ornamental shrubs.


One of the seasonal displays incorporates the use of doors and windows with a fabulous mix of tall plants.


The Japanese Garden--one of the first Rotary gardens built after the founding--has been recognized as one of the top 25 Japanese gardens in North America, by the Roth Journal of Japanese Gardening.

japanese garden

I remarked to Rose and Beckie that I felt calmer when I stepped into this section of the botanical garden, which of course is intentional. The use of foliage, form, and hardscapes is artfully done.


Hakone grass (Hakonechloa macra) flowing out of the crevices of a rock wall. Wow! This is fabulous. It's a big wall and the effect is dramatic.


Looking across the pond at the Japanese Arched Bridge.




Scattered throughout the property are these convenient benches with great quotes aboout gardening.


Other seating areas invite visitors to sit, relax, and contemplate the beauty.


Another highlight is the Thomas Jefferson Collection. One of my favorite gardening friends (you know who you are) is a big fan of Balsam (Impatiens balsamina), which surrounds the sign in a rainbow of colors.


The Thomas Jefferson collection includes a great sampling of vegetables, flowers, and herbs that our third president favored at Monticello, his Virginia home--including this heirloom Tomato.

sweet pea

Various vining plants, like this Sweet Pea (Lathyrus odoratus 'Painted Lady'), are trained on trellises made of wooden branches, for a lovely effect.


Thomas Jefferson's vegetables, including this Eggplant, are also favored by the bumblebees.


Also scattered throughout the gardens are beautiful mixed plantings of annuals and perennials, with stunning combinations of foliage and blooms of various colors, forms, and heights.



More benches for enjoying the displays.



It's encouraging to see Milkweeds of various species forming their seedheads for next year's plants, including Butterfly Weed (Asclepias tuberosa) and Swamp Milkweed (A. incarnata).

Other plants that caught my eye included:

feather grass

Korean Feather Reed Grass (Calamagrostis brachytricha);


Variegated Obedient Plant (Physostegia virginiana 'Variegata');


And this sweet potted Celosia (C. plumosa 'Fresh Look Gold'), surrounded by various perennials and annuals.

Those are just a few of the highlights. We had a great time, and the Rotary Botanical Gardens were in prime early autumn condition. I'm hoping we can organize more Midwest gardener and blogger meet-ups in the months ahead. Thanks, Rose and Beckie!

September 24, 2014

Plant of the Month: White Snakeroot


I doubt I'd ever plant White Snakeroot (Ageratina altissima) on purpose. Never say never, of course, but this one is deadly poisonous for most mammals, including humans. White Snakeroot--also known as Richweed, Tall Boneset, and White Sanicle--is blamed for the death of Abraham Lincoln's mother, after she drank the milk from a cow that had consumed a toxic amount of this plant. The poisonous compound it contains is tremetol, according to the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign.


I've noticed plenty of White Snakeroot this growing season--on hikes, on roadsides, and in the open edges of woods on our property. Just as I wouldn't plant it intentionally, I wouldn't pull it either, because it's a valuable source of nectar for many bees and other pollinators--in late fall, when most other flowers have faded.


Every photo I've taken of White Snakeroot includes pollinators--big, small, and everything in between. The Xerces Society labels it a plant that supports biological control, which means it attracts predatory or parasitoid insects that help keep pest insects in check. The round heads of the plant's white flowers are arranged in clusters--giving pollinators easy access.


White Snakeroot is native to most of the eastern U.S. and Canada, according to the Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center. It grows in moist or dry soil, and has a high tolerance for drought. It prefers sun or part shade, at the edges of woods or thickets. A perennial, it grows 1-3 ft. tall.


I'll be curious to hear your thoughts about this plant. It seemed like a natural to highlight for Wildflower Wednesday because it's a native wildflower and is beneficial to pollinators. I know other garden bloggers have posted about it in the past, and the reviews have been mixed.


Here in Southern Wisconsin, White Snakeroot is keeping good company with other late-blooming native wildflowers, including the Goldenrods and Asters. I have to admit the flowers are pretty. I still wouldn't plant it intentionally ... but I wouldn't remove it either.

Thanks to Gail at Clay and Limestone for hosting Wildflower Wednesday!


September 21, 2014

Garden lessons learned and shared


We've had a lovely transition from summer to fall so far here in the Midwest, aside from a couple of sudden chilly days. The apples are ripe, the leaves are changing colors, and it's time to share your garden lessons learned.


Every quarter, gardeners around the world share things they've learned during the past season. Here are your highlights:

Diana at Elephant's Eye, Western Cape, South Africa, is entering the spring season now, with beautiful garden plants and wildflowers blooming aplenty. She learned to combine compost, sand, and garden soil, to give her potted herbs a healthy start.

Jason at Garden in a City, Illinois, U.S., plans to be a little more strategic with his potted plants next growing season. He says he was a "slave to convention" this season, with many pots having the same plants. He'll plan a "big picture" display for next year, taking into account each plant's bloom time.


Kimberley at Cosmos and Cleome, Pennsylvania, U.S., learned to use the technology in her purse to research plants before purchasing them. She purchased three plants this season that aren't hardy in her zone. We hope these three lovely plants will make it through the winter ahead.

Hannah at Weeding on the Wild Side, in the Pacific Northwest, U.S., has a ramp on an earth berm, and she learned this season which plants thrive in this very xeric and sunny environment. Some of the winners: Oregano, Marjoram, Rosemary, Thyme, Heathers, and Saxifrage.


Rose at Prairie Rose's Garden, Illinois, U.S., is not alone in her desire to improve her identification of young seedling plants, but her humorous stories about it are entertaining. She also describes how creating a garden doesn't have to be expensive. And she wisely advises us to enjoy every moment in the garden.

Donna at Gardens Eye View, in New York State, U.S., learned to stick with garden centers and growers she knows don't use insecticides, herbicides, or chemical fertilizers. If there aren't pollinators hanging around the flowers before she purchases them, she'll be suspicious.


Others who shared lessons in their comments included: Tammy at Casa Mariposa, learned that Flagstones are better for stepping stones than concrete because they don't leach lime. She also learned to go with her gut in the fall and make changes instead of second-guessing herself all winter. Endah at Endah Murniyati's Journey, learned that Tomatoes broken off at the base can regrow roots and produce plentiful fruits with a little extra care.

Paula at Blooms 'n' Spades learned it's OK to re-work your garden to match your vision. Janet at Plantaliscious learned that everything in her new garden home grows taller than advertised. Helene at Graphicality-UK learned that even when Tomato seedlings look small in July, they can still yield an incredible harvest by September.

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That's the wrap-up! Thanks to all who shared lessons and wisdom. If I forgot anyone with lessons to share, or you'd like to participate, please let me know and I'll add your lessons here. Happy autumn to those in the Northern Hemisphere, and happy spring to everyone in the Southern Hemisphere!


September 15, 2014

The foliage that frames the flowers

hyacinth bean foliage 2

I was thinking today ... there's a reason foliage and flowers are paired (many reasons, actually, but that's another post).

For this month's Garden Bloggers' Bloom Day and Foliage Follow-Up, I decided to focus on six plants blooming in my USDA zone 5 garden that are especially complimented by their foliage.

For example:

hyacinth bean

What would the pretty little purple flowers of the Hyacinth Bean vine (Lalab purpureus) be ...

hyacinth bean foliage 1

... without their magenta-veined, twining leaves (not to mention the vines and the beans). The leaves change to a fascinating chartreuse/sage color under some conditions and with time, as shown in the first photo in this post.


Fuchsia 'Marinka' flowers would still be fabulous ...

fuchsia foliage

... but not nearly as impressive as they are framed by this multicolored foliage.


Lesser Periwinkle (Vinca minor) blooms for a short time in the spring, and occasionally in late summer and fall ...

vinca foliage

... but its evergreen foliage is shiny and bright during four seasons.


The cheery Cosmos (C. bipinnatus 'Versailles Mix') would be nearly perfect on its own ...

cosmos foliage

... but then add the funky, hairy foliage and the plant is even nearer perfection.


Blue Mistflower (Conoclinium coelestinum) is certainly a lovely bloomer, yet ...

mistflower foliage

... its sweet, understated leaves give it grace and heart.


Finally, Lantana (L. camara 'Lucky Flame') is certainly a bright, impressive bloomer ...

lantana foliage

... but its shiny, bright leaves give the plant power and really make the flowers pop!

Those are a few of the plants still blooming in my garden. What's blooming in your part of the world? Do you have fascinating foliage to share?

Be sure to visit May Dreams Gardens for Garden Bloggers' Bloom Day, and Digging for Foliage Follow-Up.

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Coming soon: The Garden Lessons Learned and Seasonal Celebrations wrap-ups. Donna and I would be pleased to have you join us! Please share a post, or your thoughts, about lessons from the past season and how you enjoy celebrating the next season. Many people cover both in the same post. To join in, click here to leave a comment with a link to your post. We'll share the wrap-ups at the equinox. Cheers!