September 06, 2020

Reflecting on Gardening Mentors


Dear gardening friends: I've been holding off on blogging and visiting my favorite blogs for some time now. My mom passed in July. I won't go into the details because there's just too much. Plus, we all face death at some time or another, so you all know how difficult it is to lose someone you love. She didn't die from COVID-19, although that certainly complicated things.

Anyway, my emotions are a little ragged, life has been a little crazy, and we're still busy with this and that. I'm just now getting back to thinking about blogging. I love it, and I love your blogs, too. I do plan for many plant conversations in the months ahead!

My mom, my paternal grandmother, and my dad were my first gardening and nature influencers and mentors. Mom was a gardener (she always had beautiful borders and interesting plants) and Dad was a Boy Scout executive (he helped me appreciate nature at a very early age). (Dad is still with us, and he certainly is facing adjustments of his own.) Grandma was a gardener, plant-lover, and painter. The vase with flowers shown here was one Grandma painted, Dad framed, and Mom appreciated enough to hang on her bedroom wall. I am honored and blessed to be able to display it in my own home now to remember them all.

Thank you for being patient with me. Garden bloggers and writers are truly special. I appreciate you all!

July 10, 2020

On the Bright Side: Pots of Plenty


Several personal and professional activities have kept me away from gardening and blogging lately, and the garden and my lack of blogging activity show it.

Fortunately, the potted plants are doing pretty well with heat, sunshine, and plenty of watering. The old standbys—potted English Ivy (Hedera helix), Purple Shamrocks (Oxalis triangularis), and 'Red Threads' Alternanthera (A. ficoidea)—are happy to be outside after overwintering in the sunroom.


They're part of a grouping around the fish pond on the patio that creates a happy little outdoor "room" during the growing season.


It's always pleasant when the groupings work better than expected—this one includes New Guinea Impatiens (I. hawkeri) 'Magnum Magenta,' a pot of 'Supercal Premium Bordeaux' Petunias (Petchoa cross), and 'Splish Splash' Coleus (C. scutellarioides). Surrounding foliage of Gerbera jamesonii, Chasmanthium latifoliumLamium maculatum, and ferns frame the flowers. (Also, blooming Spigelia marilandica in the background—although it clashes a bit).

The big pot also includes Marigolds (Tagetes spp.) and scallions (I need to trim them back!) around the edges to discourage squirrels and chipmunks.


For some reason, I had trouble getting Coleus going this spring/summer, which has never happened to me before. I'm not sure why, but this pot worked out, with a variety of Coleus and some bright pink Impatiens (I. walleriana). 'Splish Splash' Coleus, by far, has performed the best for me this year, and I'm adding cuttings of it to other locations.


Not the best stage for the 'Super Cascade Pink' Petunias, but there will be more in this pot as they bloom until the first frost. I like them surrounded by the Impatiens, which also have many months of flowers and foliage to share. Calla Lily (Zantedeschia aethiopica) foliage in the background.


This pot is mostly Coleus, including 'Vino,' which struggled at first but came back, and more 'Splish Splash.'


This is probably my favorite pot, although rain damage has it looking a little ragged. I like the idea of combining native plants and annuals in planters. In this case, I added a native sedge (I think it's Calex lurida) that I found in the yard and a tiny sprig of Whorled Milkweed (Asclepias verticillata) that I found in the sunny garden. This pot gets dappled sunlight all day, since it faces south and has the benefit of bright sun for a portion of the day. Hopefully, the milkweed will survive the winter in the pot and expand next year. Again, more 'Splish Splash' and Impatiens.


Next to the sunny garden, I have a pot that's hard to photograph as it's surrounded by fencing and the air conditioning unit. But it certainly brightens its spot, filled with Marigolds, 'Bandana Rose' Lantanas (L. camara), and 'Angelface Blue' Angelonia hybrid.


I couldn't capture it in the above photo, but a volunteer of Borage (Borago officinalis), from last year, seeded itself in the pot. I'll cut it back after it's finished blooming, but I like it here. That blue!

I hope you're all doing well in spite of the strange times. Gardens are always good therapy—even when we wish we had more time (or more quality time) to spend in them.

June 14, 2020

Transitions, Edges, and Challenges

red-spotted purple

A few days ago, I headed to the Edna Taylor Conservation Park in Monona, just east of Madison. Embarrassingly, I hadn't discovered this property until last summer, even though I lived just a few blocks away when I first moved to the area many years ago, and I currently live only a few miles south.

It's really an incredible park, combining wetland, savanna, and prairie habitats. Most of the park is semi-open woodland, similar to my garden, so I find much inspiration in the plants that thrive there.

red-spotted purples

In addition to noting plants currently taking center stage at the park, I also visited the park to survey butterflies for master naturalist citizen science reporting. I didn't see as many as I expected, but one, and then two, red-spotted purples delighted me as they nectared and floated around a patch of Cow Parsnip (Heracleum lanatum). I'm not sure I'd encourage this plant in my garden, but the bees, butterflies, and other pollinators were certainly enjoying it.

canada anemone

I sure would like to get Canada Anemone (A. canadensis) going in my garden. I tried broadcasting seed without success, so maybe I should try plants. But then rabbits would probably eat them. (As I'm writing this, I just watched a rabbit take down a Wild Bergamot (Monarda fistulosa)--a plant they're not supposed to I planted last summer and one of several the rabbits have eaten recently. Before you suggest rabbit repellents, frankly, I've tried them all, and the only thing that works here is caging, but I can't cage my entire garden.)

bee on potentilla

Anyway...on to this beautiful bee on Potentilla (I'm not sure which species). The pollen on the bee's legs matches the pollen on the flower's anthers.

new jersey tea

Ah, yes, New Jersey Tea (Ceanothus americanus). I tried this, and of course it was caged, but it never took off. Maybe I should try it again, in a different spot.

fly on grass

A cute little hoverfly on tall grass (I think this is a Bromus species).

shasta daisy

A large Shasta Daisy (Leucanthemum spp.) near the stream. Yes, I could find a place for these in my garden.

blue flag iris

The highlight of my hike, in addition to the butterflies, was seeing a large number of native Blue Flag Irises (Iris virginica var. shrevei) in bloom. They truly are graceful and lovely.

As I battle the rabbits, and struggle with my "edge" garden, I'm trying to appreciate the biodiversity that happens in transition habitats--where prairies meet woodlands, wetlands meet dry woods, sun meets shade. These are tough conditions. Plants that thrive here must adapt to wet years and dry years, dappled and unpredictable light, and competition from a wide range of plants. We can learn a lot from these adaptable plants.

May 31, 2020

Think on These Things

swallowtail 4

Every year about this time, the Dwarf Korean Lilacs (Syringa meyeri) perfume the neighborhood, and the butterflies really start to congregate in the garden. I've seen a couple of monarchs and several tiger swallowtails. This female swallowtail had my heart aflutter because it was right outside the kitchen window and I was able to grab my camera fast and get a few shots (though through a screen). Something didn't seem quite right, though.

swallowtail 1

It wasn't until I downloaded the photos from my camera memory card that I realized she had two severely damaged wings. Her tails were completely gone. Wow, something must have tried to take a bite?

swallowtail 3

Yesterday was a very sad day for so many reasons. The country and the world are sick and hurting and grieving. It's been hard to move forward.

swallowtail 2

This persistent, beautiful survivor provided a sign of hope.

swallowtail 5

On a difficult day, it was helpful to think on this simple thing.

"Whatsoever things are true, whatsoever things are honest, whatsoever things are just, whatsoever things are pure, whatsoever things are lovely, whatsoever things are of good report, if there be any virtue, and if there be any praise, think on these things."    ~Philippians 4:8 KJV

May 05, 2020

Bluebells, Bumble Bees, and Bunnies

bluebells 2

Last week, during a hike at a favorite local state park, I noticed a beautiful patch of Virginia Bluebells (Mertensia virginica). This plant is native to most of Eastern North America and is beloved by many ... gardeners and nature-lovers, alike. This little patch I discovered was noteworthy, both because of its beauty and because it was the only patch I saw that day after hiking in a large area.

bluebells 1

Based on my own experience with Virginia Bluebells, I immediately formed a hypothesis. This patch was near the parking lot. Could it be that Mertensia has trouble establishing elsewhere in the park because of rabbits? Perhaps the rabbits tend to shy away from the busy parking lot area.

bluebells destroyed

My theory was based on many years of trying to get Virginia Bluebells established in my own garden. I do have several patches still growing at home--plants I started from seed several years ago. But the one year they did bloom, the rabbits chewed them to bits just as they were blooming. This year, I don't see any buds, for some reason, although I've caged the plants from the bunnies.

bluebells 3

In any case, if you DON'T have a rabbit problem or you have a protected area in your garden, Mertensia virginica is an excellent plant to support native bumble bees. The plant blooms just as the queens are getting active in the spring and looking for early pollen and nectar sources. On this beautiful patch at the state park, I observed a resting queen.

bumble 1

I've noticed many lethargic queens lately, during walks around the block and resting in unusual locations.

bumble 2

Like this one in a dangerous spot on the front porch. I don't usually interfere with nature, but I very carefully lifted her with a piece of light cardboard and placed her near some blooming flowers. I'm a little worried about the bumble bee queens this spring, because of how cool our weather has been lately, with at least one frost/freeze in the forecast this week. Blooming plants are still rather scarce.

bluebells 4

The Xerces Society for Invertebrate Conservation recently published this excellent article on Five Ways to Support Queen Bumble Bees. Native plants like Virginia Bluebells definitely play an important role--one of many reasons these beautiful blooms are worth protecting from hungry bunnies.

April 22, 2020

White Trout Lilies for Wildflower Wednesday

trout lily 1

Last spring, while hiking in a favorite county park, I happened upon a colony of White Trout Lilies (Erythronium albidum). I'd been to that park dozens (100s?) of times over the years, but I hadn't visited that sweet little section during the early spring, until last year. What a beautiful sight to see--the forest floor was literally carpeted with the dainty white blooms.

trout lily 2

That section of the park has become a favorite destination, and I was thrilled to see the speckled foliage of these exquisite ephemerals emerging a couple of weeks ago; then flowering this week. This species of Erythronium is commonly found in low, deciduous woods; thickets; floodplains; and prairies in the early spring. Native to many areas of Eastern North America, it prefers part shade or shade, but in deciduous forests with plenty of spring sunshine.

I've noticed this plant is plentiful in the wooded section of the park very near a low spot next to the lake, while absent in the wooded hilly sections further from the shore, so it appears to need plentiful moisture.

trout lily 3

The one-inch, nodding flowers remind me of little caps, with curled petals and shy yellow stamens that extend down from the center. The blooms hang low off short, slender stalks. One of the first native ephemerals to bloom in the spring, the flowers close up at night and open in the morning.

trout lily 4

One thing I did notice, comparing last year's photos to this year's, is that the flowers seem to have more color when they first bloom, and fade to a stunning translucent, linen-like white with time. I don't really have favorite flowers, but...what can I say...this one is exquisite.

I'm joining in Gail's Wildflower Wednesday. Head on over to her blog, Clay and Limestone to read about other amazing wildflowers. And Happy Earth Day!

April 15, 2020

A Bit of a Nip on This Garden Bloggers Bloom Day


My USDA zone 5a garden is in a strange state of flux. We had a rather mild winter and March, so many plants were taking off. Now it's bitter cold for several days, with nighttime lows around 24F/-4C.

These photos were taken before the winds, pounding rains, and bitter cold hit. The Daffodils (Narcissus spp.) are doing OK--they've been blooming for a couple of weeks now. In fact, the cold weather is holding their blooms longer.

Glory of the Snow

Little patches of Glory of the Snow (Scilla forbesii) here and there have been so cheery and affirming.

Blue Squill

The Blue Squill (Scilla siberica), barely had a chance to break bud. But that blue color!

Helleborus 1

Hellebores, including this unknown Helleborus orientalis hybrid can take the tough weather conditions. They're a bit battered around, but they'll be OK.

Helleborus 2

Another Hellebore hybrid.

Sandy Shores Bud

This Hellebore 'Sandy Shores' is a new one for me, and the buds are almost as pretty as the blooming flowers.

Sandy Shores

Here's 'Sandy Shores' just about to bloom. The flower has a slightly warmer color tone than some of my other Hellebores.

Blushing Bridesmaid

Yet another Hellebore, 'Blushing Bridesmaid', seems to be appropriately taking her time to bloom. I'm really looking forward to seeing this one, too, because it's a double-petaled bloomer.


I was shocked to see that the Bloodroot (Sanguinaria canadensis) was blooming in the woods. Poor little buddies--I'm sure they're pummeled and depetaled by now.  The Wild Ginger (Asarum canadense) is up, too, but I didn't get photos of the flowers yet.

I'm sure my May Bloom Day will be much more optimistic and floriferous. Until then, make sure to check out other posts for Garden Bloggers Bloom Day, hosted by Carol at May Dreams Gardens.

April 04, 2020

Shared Grace and Savored Grace

Pollinator on Crocus vernus 'Pickwick'

It's that time of year when blog posts are out of date by the time I get them up and published. These photos are from two days ago, and some of these blooms are fading now. It's also the time of year, in my climate, when plants that bloom in a more staggered timeline in a warmer climate bloom all at once here in the north (USDA zone 5a).

galanthus 'flore pleno'
Galanthus nivalis  'Flore Pleno'

Galanthus nivalis

Eranthus hyemalis

Blooms considered winter flowers in the south (Snowdrops and Winter Aconites) must wait until March or April to bloom here.

Crocus tommasinianus

Because of our cool temperatures but plenty of sun, the 'Tommie' Crocuses have been blooming for about a week now.

crocus vernus 1
Crocus vernus

crocus vernus 2
C. vernus

The larger Dutch Crocuses are blooming at the same time as the "earlier" flowers. (I find it fascinating how the same flower can look very different when photographed at different times of day, in different light, and from different angles.)

crocus vernus 'pickwick'
C. vernus 'Pickwick'

These striped beauties are in a very sunny spot. They appear to be multiplying and they seem to be favorites of the pollinators. I keep lava rocks and foil around them to discourage squirrels and chipmunks from digging, and rabbits from eating.

narcissus 'tete-a-tete'
Narcissus 'Tete-a-Tete'

The tiny Daffodils are at their peak.

Trumpet Narcissus

Larger Narcissus are just beginning.

Hyacinthus orientalis

It won't be long for the Hyacinths.

helleborus 'sandy shores'
Helleborus 'Sandy Shores'

Finally, the Hellebores definitely will be blooming today. This one, from two days ago, is a first bloom on a new plant for me: I'll look forward to its open face within hours. The other Hellebores, in a different spot, started opening yesterday.

During these difficult times, sharing our plant-love and gardening joys is more important than ever. That is our shared grace. On the day that I photographed these first flowers, I saw my first butterfly of the season. My heart jumped and I smiled, even though no one was looking. I didn't have my camera handy, and I wasn't able to follow it, so I don't know if it was a Mourning Cloak or an Eastern Comma, because it fluttered up and away too fast. But it was a sign of hope. It was a savored grace.