Creating a wildlife haven one plant at a time

Sunday, September 15, 2019

What's Blooming in September

Eventually it will cool down. Eventually it will rain. This is what I have been telling myself for the past month as we set record breaking temperatures, almost daily. Our temperatures have been in the high 90s for more than a month and not a drop of rain. It is so sad to see the plants turning brown prematurely and shriveling up due to our dry conditions. Then yesterday evening a storm rolled in bringing two inches of rain. What a relief!

I thought I would be hard pressed to find flowers to share for bloom day but the garden is surprisingly resilient and colorful. Symphyotrichum novae-angliae (New England Aster) is the earliest aster to bloom in our garden. This lovely tolerates our clay soil and also does well in moist conditions, which our winter months often bring.

The buzz of our native bumble bees are constant. They seek nectar from the yellow flowers while collecting pollen on their hind legs. Asters are an important source of food for insects late in the season and I'll have more to share in the months to come.

bumble bee on New England aster
Nearby is Salvia Amistead from High Country Gardens. It's a tall growing sage with gorgeous violet-purple flowers that attract hummingbirds and butterflies. We can view this plant from our back deck and enjoy watching the ruby throat hummers frequently visiting.

Ruby Throat Hummingbird visiting Salvia Amistead
It is also loaded with cloudless sulphur butterflies. A cloud of yellow periodically bursts into the sky whenever a hummer arrives and tells them to bugger off. At this time of year there are so many hummers that their visits to blooms are fleeting. Males are patrolling their food sources and racing around the garden. At least this allows the butterflies to hastily settle in again.  

cloudless Sulphur butterfly
Several skipper butterflies frequent the blooms too, reaching their proboscis to the back of the tube to reach the nectar.

skipper butterfly on sage
September is also time for solidago to bloom. From a distance the bright yellow blooms cheer up the otherwise crispy garden conditions. A closer look reveals lots of activity.

pollinating fly on goldenrod flowers

paper wasp visiting goldenrod
Not only are pollinators frequent visitors but there are other insects lurking in the blooms, like this green lynx spider who has a big egg sac to protect. Mama spider will hug the egg sac for two weeks until the baby spiders hatch. This is all the love they'll get because they hatch as fully functioning spiders and have to fend for themselves.

green lynx spider with 
Helianthus porteri (Stone Mountain Daisy), a reseeding annual, is abundant in September. Every year it finds more space in our garden to spread.

native bumble bee on Stone Mountain Daisy

skipper butterfly with Helianthus porteri flower
It think it is lovely paired with little blue stem grass.

Stone Mountain daisy with little blue stem grass
It's amazing what a little rain can do for a parched garden. As long as there are still flowers for the pollinators to take them through the end of the season, we're all good. 

Garden Bloggers' Bloom Day is hosted by May Dreams Gardens

Monday, August 26, 2019

August in our Front Garden

We are in the midst of our typical summer sauna. The heat and humidity are thick and the sweat flows freely. No garden work is required to be drowning in perspiration. This doesn't stop me from wandering out of the comfortable air conditioning and into the steam bath. Pollinators are everywhere and I so enjoy watching this community of insects work so hard in my garden.

I only have to walk a few steps out our front door to see the liatris microcephala (dwarf blazingstar) covered in a huge number of butterflies. Everyone from skippers to swallowtails. These late summer blooming perennials are great for pollinators and bold color in the landscape. Liatris blooms from the top down on the flower stalk and has a long bloom time.

silver spotted skippers
silvery spotted skipper and black swallowtail 
cloudless sulphur
Eastern Tiger Swallowtail
Dwarf liatris was planted along the stairs that connect the front path to the side garden, keeping low plants in the front of the bed. Somehow liatris aspera (rough blazingstar) appeared here and is bobbing over the stairs hosting a variety of bees. Big bumble bees to small leafcutter bees are fans of the frilly blooms; crawling around the flowers collecting pollen while they slurp up the sweet nectar.

native bumble bee

leafcutter bees
Another amazing perennial that spreads happily in our garden is the rudbeckia. It makes a strong statement at our front entrance come late summer. These big and bold flowers hang over the walkway making the walk to the front door a bit like traipsing through a jungle.

Looking closer at the rudbeckia, there are more native bees and butterflies.

leafcutter bee

pearl crescent butterfly

common buckeye butterfly
Once the flowers set seed, we often see goldfinches feeding on the rudbeckia, coreopsis and gaillardia flowers. The pollinator garden takes on another life supporting the birds.

Another bombshell is Kosteletzkya virginica (seashore mallow). As the common name indicates, this native plant grows naturally along the coast in tidal waters, making it a great plant for areas that tend to have standing water. We have just an area in our front garden that we have made into a rain garden.

Seashore mallow blooms open in the morning. Come late afternoon the flowers close for business. One of the great things about this plant is that sawflies don't attack it, like they do its hibiscus relative. This native mallow begins blooming in July and will continue well into October, supporting lots of swallowtails and a diversity of native bees.

Check out the pollen on this Tiger Swallowtail! As she hits the stamen she collects pollen on her hairy body and wings and transfers it to the pistil pollenating the flowers. 

Eastern Tiger Swallowtail
An exciting discovery this month was finding black swallowtail caterpillars on the Zizia aurea (golden alexander), its native host plant. Most years we find them on the bronze fennel or parsley in the kitchen garden but this is the first year to see them munching on golden alexander. Thrilling!

black swallowtail caterpillar
We counted 12 caterpillars in various instars on just one golden alexander. 

Coreopsis are still going strong. Blooms abound. While participating in the Great Georgia Pollinator Census this weekend I observed this katydid feasting on the flowers alongside loads of tiny, native bees.

Nearby the coreopsis is the reseeding annual, Monarda punctata (spotted beebalm, dotted horsemint). I love this plant! Wasps often visit the blooms. They pollinate the plant while feeding themselves. Usually wasps aren't the most effective pollinators; however, because they have to stick their heads into the flower to get nectar, the pollen falls on their thorax. Look at all the pollen just below its head.

Sphex pensylvanicus on Monarda punctata
This great black wasp (Sphex pensylvanicus) is a pollen and nectar eater visiting plants in the hottest part of the summer. These beneficial wasps are members of the digger family which burrow in the soil and lay eggs. They feed their larva insects such as katydids, crickets and grasshoppers. 

Another visitor, I believe to be golden-reined wasp (Sphex habenus). 

Sphex habenus
And of course this time of year the spiders are skulking in the flowers stalking prey. This green lynx spider (Peucetia viridans) just caught a bumblebee, still covered in pollen. 

Peucetia viridan
August is a hard month in the garden. After a summer of blazing sunshine and very little rain the garden can look worn and crispy. To make conditions even more challenging, temperatures tend to sore into the 90's. Our plants don't receive supplemental water, so why does our garden look happy? We plant perennials that thrive in the soil and light conditions where they are planted and mulch really, really well. We choose perennials that are tough and include plants that provide color and interest while supporting wildlife through the seasons. The garden is continuously evolving through the year. Soon the fall flowers will begin to bloom.

Sunday, June 23, 2019

A Look At Colorado's Wide Open Spaces

I recently returned from the Mile High City (Denver, Colorado), where fellow garden bloggers gathered for our annual Garden Blogger Fling. Three days of touring high altitude, alpine-like gardens left me breathless. I have much to share with you but let me start by providing the backdrop for the gardens with a big picture look at the Colorado countryside.

Our base was downtown Denver with day visits to Fort Collins, Boulder and surrounding Denver suburbs. The views on the bus ride to our host gardens was a treat. Snow topped mountains in the distance with dramatic skies and scenic roads provided a picturesque backdrop.

The weather was auspiciously cooperative. More than a few times the sky began to rumble and look tumultuous. A few rain drops fell while we were commuting but blue skies and fluffy clouds greeted us when we got off the bus.

A rural girl at heart, I was pleasantly surprised how quickly the landscape changed from urban to pastoral.

Our garden tours took place in the Colorado Piedmont area of the Great Plains region of Colorado. This area is sandwiched between the Front Range and the Southern Rocky Mountains.

Although the Denver area only gets an average 14 inches of rain a year we saw surprisingly lush landscapes and gardens in full bloom.

Cattle ranches and farms enjoy dreamy unobstructed views of the rugged landscape. This cultivated area is Colorado living at its best. Can you imagine waking up everyday to these views? The mountain range as your backyard providing an ever changing view and adventure.

These airplane shots of the Denver area provide examples of just how wide open this part of the country is.

In the coming months I will be sharing more on the public and private gardens we toured. Water wise concepts, crevice gardens and native plants were persistent themes in these remarkable gardens. A huge thank you to the organizers and sponsors of our Denver Fling. It was an amazing event and you can see glimpses of our trip on Instagram #gbfling2019 

Sunday, March 10, 2019

Virginia Bluebells in the Woodland Garden

Deep in the woodland garden the Virginia bluebells (Mertensia virginica) are blooming. I look forward to these spring ephemerals that bring color to the carpet of leaf litter that blankets our woods.

©Southern Meadows

Two years ago, I planted a few of these and am looking forward to the time when we have large swaths of these beauties throughout our woods. They should thrive in the rich soil provided by decaying leaf matter and slightly moist conditions offered by the drainage of the terrain in this part of the woods. Growing here are groves of elderberry, devil's walking stick and spicebush that like similar conditions.

©Southern Meadows

©Southern Meadows

The nodding clusters begin pink and transition to their celebrated light blue blooms. My favorite is when the pink, purple and blue colors appear together in their various stages of transformation.

©Southern Meadows

©Southern Meadows

The flowers stick around through April, where they benefit from the spring sunshine before the large trees leaf out and provide shadier conditions. 

©Southern Meadows

Spring ephemerals have a short period of time to grow-flower-get pollinated-produce seeds before they disappear in the heat of the summer yet they are critical for early emerging pollinators. Female bumblebees are often found visiting the tubular blooms of Virginia bluebells but butterflies and moths are the key pollinators of these flowers. 

©Southern Meadows

Wednesday, February 27, 2019

Wildflower Wednesday: Dirca palustris

This native shrub, sits at the bottom of a significant slope between the back of our house and the wildlife pond. Water tends to pool here during periods of heavy rain making it the perfect plant for this site.

Known as [eastern] leatherwood, it is found in the forest understory from the eastern coast of Maine to Florida and into the Midwest of the United States (see map). It is a shrub that indicates an old growth forest, of which there are few remaining, making it an uncommon find in its natural habitat.

The botanical genus comes from the Greek word dirke, meaning fountain. This is a reference to the boggy habitat this shrub prefers to grow in.

I picked this shrub up about 8 years ago from a native plant vendor at a symposium. It is the earliest blooming native shrub in our garden and has performed very reliably, flowering each February/March. The quaint tubular flowers appear first followed by leaf out. You can see in the photo below that youngest leaves are hairy.

At maturity it reached about 3-6 feet but is extremely slow growing.

When the bloom period is over it becomes a nice anchor for other plants in this area. I have a variety of native ferns that develop fronds just when the leatherwood finishes blooming.

The bark has a gorgeous golden hue which is attractive during the months when it stands bare. Interestingly, the bark is extremely flexible. One can bend a branch easily without breaking it. The twigs and bark were used for making baskets, bow strings and fishing line by Native Americans. Some people can have a reaction to the bark. The roots, fruit and bark are all toxic so be warned.

This is not a common plant in the nursery trade but you may find it at a native plant nursery or native plant sale. If you can get your hands on one of these shrubs, plant it along a creek bed, pond margin or area that retains moisture. Preferably somewhere you will frequent in spring so you can enjoy its early blooms.

I'm joining Clay and Limestone, our illustrious host, for Wildflower Wednesday. Be sure to check out what other fabulous wildflowers bloggers are sharing.