Creating a wildlife haven one plant at a time

Thursday, September 30, 2010

A misunderstood wildflower

Do you ever feel misunderstood? Sometimes I do. And, I think there are many plants in this world that are not as appreciated as they should be. Take for example, Goldenrod (Solidago). It is often blamed as a chief cause of hay fever when in fact its pollen is too heavy to travel very far to be a significant producer of allergies. Seasonal allergies are usually caused by ragweed which blooms at the same time.

Goldenrod is in fact a member of the sunflower family (Asteraceae). It gets its name from two Latin words - solidus- and -agere- which mean to make strong or make healthy. Now, how can you go wrong with 'roots' like that?

Many Americans consider Goldenrod a weed while in Britain it is hard to find a garden without goldenrod. According to the Cambridge Dictionary the definition of a weed is
any wild plant that grows in an unwanted place, especially in a garden or field where it prevents the cultivated plants from growing freely.
In fairness some species are invasive, such as Canada goldenrod (Salidago canadensis); but, there are many goldenrod that are more tame. One person's attractive plant can quite easily be another person's troublesome weed.

Goldenrod (Note: This plant also has the unusual ability to cross breed with other plants so it is very difficult to identify the exact species. There are over 130 species in the world some 90 in the United States alone.)

Driving through the countryside this week one of the brightest colors in and along the ditches right now is the Goldenrod. It starts to blooms just when most of the summer blooms have expired and the pollinators are still around searching for food. Well, Mother Nature provides in abundance. I have a solid color of yellow in the drainage ditch that runs along my backyard and it is a fountain of color and covered with pollinators!

Goldenrod with Common Buckeye

As is the case with many wildflowers, there is a medicinal value to these plants. Goldenrod has been used to treat sores and cuts, aliments such as kidney stones and urinary tract infections, tuberculosis, diabetes, asthma and arthritis.

Another highly beneficial quality of this plant is that it can also be used as a companion plant. It is host to some beneficial insects and repels some pests. How could any organic gardener turn their nose up at that?

With so many strong traits maybe this wildflower needs a second chance to prove itself as an essential plant in the American garden.

Sunday, September 26, 2010

Some new additions to the garden

This weekend the Hall County Master Gardeners held their annual Fall Expo. This is a fabulous event with over 60 quality vendors with a wide range of plants from the exotic to the basics. There is something for everyone. I realize I have a bias since I am a member of this fabulous group of gardeners; however, I even do my share of shopping at this event.

I picked up several trees for the woodland gardens. A gorgeous Blue Shadow dogwood which is a Kousa. Check out the spectacular blue-green foliage on this tree. It blooms late spring through summer.

Blue Shadow Dogwood

I planted it amongst the bleeding heart and hellebore. If nature times it right this part of the garden should now be a winter, spring, summer show of dramatic blooms.

I also picked up two Japanese Maples...a coral bark maple (Acer palmatum 'Sango-kaku') and a red lace-leaf maple (Acer palmatum 'Tamuke yama')


Tamuke yama

I couldn't pass up the swamp sunflowers (Helianthus angustifolia). I know they get crazy tall (5-12 ft.) but they have such showy blooms (2-3" daisies) that will give some much needed color to the fall garden. Not only will they provide color but they will offer food to the birds in the winter (if they are not deadheaded). Even better, they are a native wildflower to Georgia. It does seem a little funny to buy this plant since they grow wild in the ditches around Georgia but they just called to me at the Expo. There are many women in this world that can't pass up a good pair of shoes. I'm a gal that can't pass up a gorgeous plant!

The name swamp sunflower is a bit of a misnomer. They don't have to grow in a swamp at all but they do like to have moist soil and do best in full sun. I planted them along the back corner of the orchard along the fence at the bottom of a small slope where they will get full sun. They can be invasive but frankly in this part of the garden I don't mind. If I have a sea of sunflowers blooming in fall I will be a happy lady!

Swamp Sunflower

Another plant I picked up was a Shrub Bush Clover (Lespedeza sp.). This shrub will provide some late summer flowers which the garden is in dire need of.

Bush Clover

This beauty has arching branches full of clusters of sweet pea shaped flowers. According to the expert at Smithgall Woods it will tolerate hot, dry conditions and infertile soil. What more could a woman ask for!

Sunday, September 19, 2010

High Line Park

Normally I stick to writing about plants, wildlife and the things going on in my own backyard; however, one of my hobbies is visiting public gardens. Last week I visited New York City. One of the places I explored was High Line Park located in the meat packing district in Manhattan's West Side. The High Line is an elevated railroad track between Washington and Gasenvoort streets which was built in the 1930's to raise dangerous freight off the streets of Manhattan. It stopped running trains in the 1980's. When the structure was under threat of demolition a community based group got together with the City of New York to preserve it as an elevated park. The result is quite amazing.

View of the walkway and landscaping structures

railway tracks and grasses

There are rules for the park and they have lovely signs to remind you.

And, they have planted some 210 different plant species along the 1.45 mile long park. The plants that have been chosen are mostly native species to New York.

It was past peak for many of the blooming flowers with the exception of some Black-Eyed Susan. It was still lovely to see all the varieties of ornamental grasses and spent blooms. It looks like each season will bring new interest along the walkways.

One of the alluring aspects of the High Line is that it runs in the middle of the blocks since the track served buildings on both sides. So walking high above the streets of New York are some amazing views of the Hudson River and the city skyline. It is also remarkably quiet being in the heart of NYC just above the hustle and bustle of the streets.

View of city streets from High Line Park

There are various modern benches and lounge chairs that provide a place to relax and enjoy the serenity and calmness the park provides. And there were signs indicating the instillation of a pond in front of a row of lounge chairs.

This is a very innovative public space and a great example of industrial reuse. One of the reasons that I find it of particular interest is that the City of Atlanta is using this model for their BeltLine project. There are several parks world-wide that have used a similar concept. I would be very interested in visiting some in the future. Here is a link to the list of parks: Similar Projects Worldwide:

Saturday, September 18, 2010

Hummingbird Mimic

Is it a bumblebee? Is it a hummingbird? No! This rather bizarre yet interesting species is a hummingbird moth. More accurately known as the Snowberry Clearwing Moth (Hemaris diffinis).

This moth was busily feeding on the Lantana in front of the house when I spotted it the other day. Honestly I wasn't familiar with this creature at all. My husband ran inside to get the camera so we could take some shots. It was very difficult to get any good pictures...this little guy really wasn't particularly interested in posing for the camera.

Like a hummingbird this moth hovers before each flower when it is feeding (unlike a bumblebee which must land) but it has a furry thorax like a bee and the Clearwing has black and yellow bands like a bee too. The Clearwing Moth is in the Sphinx Moth family (Sphingidae) and flies around and feeds during the day.

Feeding on the nectar of lantana

Clearwing Moth and Gulf Fritillary Butterfly on lantana

Like all butterflies and moths they lay eggs on host plants. The Clearwing chooses plants from the honeysuckle family which include snowberry (hence their name) and also cherry, plum and viburnums. The caterpillars spin their cocoons in the leaf litter in the fall and emerge in the spring from the ground.

According to my research the hummingbird moths are common in most gardens. Honestly, this is the first year I have ever seen one in my garden and according to the documented records for Georgia they are not that common in my area.

They are almost as fascinating to watch as my beloved hummingbirds. I will be looking at adding some more host plants to my garden for these wonderful creatures!