Archive for category Favorite Plants
It was a mixed-results year for my Renee’s Garden flower seed trials. Top winners included the two nasturtium varieties I tried last year — Spitfire and Cup of Sun. They were so gorgeous last year that I just had to have them back again, and they did not disappoint. In fact, they exceeded all the expectations I had based on last year’s results. More on that in a moment.
The other big winner this year was a zinnia: Raggedy Anne. These are old-fashioned zinnias that produce long stems, making them ideal for cutting to use in indoor arrangements. I’ve had trouble with such zinnias in the past. Usually the heat and humidity of typical North Carolina Piedmont summers are too much for them. They bloom for a bit in early June, then succumb to fungal diseases and drought. Not this year.
Two factors likely played pivotal roles. First, the weather this past summer in my region was atypical. We never hit 100 degrees, nor the high 90s, even during the dog days of the season, and we never went into drought. I haven’t had a summer growing season without drought in over 15 years. I had truly forgotten what adequate rainfall can do for a garden — and, alas, the weeds — but that’s another story.
The other likely contributor to the success of the zinnias was the compost mix Wonder Spouse and I added to the vegetable/flower beds in the spring. This stuff was truly black gold; all the plants reveled in the nutritional bounty of this supplement.
How happy were the zinnias? I started one batch early in my greenhouse, transplanting them out in late April. They were blooming by mid-May, and they didn’t stop until our first freeze killed them in mid-October. And they eventually grew as tall as the sunflowers I tried this year — well over 7 feet high. These were sturdy-stemmed plants that lifted abundant, constantly produced large zinnia flowers to the sky without any support from me. I actually had to stand on a stool to cut the final flowers before the cold got them. They were amazing.
So pleased was I with the transplanted bunch of Raggedy Annes that I direct-sowed the remaining seeds in the package. This is usually highly risky, but the abundant rainfall ensured nearly 100% germination. Then I had two tall patches of rainbow-colored flowers, most 3-4 inches across, in shades of cream, orange, yellow, and pink. Forms varied from more cactus-type flowers to what I think of as traditional zinnia shapes.
They made wonderful cut flowers too, lasting at least a week indoors. I was able to create several lovely zinnia-based arrangements that I presented as hostess gifts at various events over the season. I’ll probably try this variety again, just to see what kind of results I get during a more typical growing season. Although, maybe, if I’m very lucky, adequate rainfall will become typical of my summer weather again. How great would that be?
As for the nasturtiums, the rain and compost gave Spitfire the enthusiasm of that notorious southern invader, kudzu. Seriously, after the tomatoes and beans surrendered to fungal diseases in August, Spitfire vines took over those trellises. Paths were swallowed, orange, subtly fragrant blossoms dangled in abundance from rounded leaves the size of saucers. I was actually relieved when the freeze turned them into mush, fearing I had unleashed a monster.
Last year, the beautiful nasturtium, ‘Cup of Sun’, surrendered to the drought by early August. This year, it continued to flourish until the freeze. Cup of Sun isn’t a climber, so it remained a much more polite plant, confining itself to the beds where it was planted. I love the subtle variations in color in this variety.
Having proved their worthiness across two vastly different growing seasons, I suspect these nasturtiums will remain a part of my vegetable garden for the indefinite future. I may not even need to plant them next year. I noticed seed pods all over the garden. I direct-sowed both nasturtium varieties when my soil had warmed enough to plant the bean seeds. They took it from there without any further aid from me.
Because I like variety, I decided to try a sunflower seed mix from Renee’s Garden this year. I chose Sunflower ‘Royal Flush Bi-Color.’ Direct-sowed seeds yielded 100% germination in my moist compost-enriched garden. Plants shot up straight and tall, topping out at about 6 feet.
Flower size was moderate — large enough to make an impact, but not so large as to be too heavy to stand upright without support. Most, but not all, of the flowers were bi-colors, producing two-tone blossoms in a range of yellows, oranges, and reds.
As always, the sunflowers were reliable pollinator magnets. Several bees always lingered on them, and during the height of the swallowtail butterfly population explosion, those beauties competed with the bees for spots on the sunflowers.
These blossoms are supposed to be good for cutting too, but I never do it. I never seem to have that many, and unlike the zinnias, these plants die after the first flush of flowers. Still, I love their lofty enthusiasm, and most summers, they are the tallest flowers in the garden.
I might try this variety again, but Renee’s Garden always offers so many tempting sunflower varieties that I might feel obliged to try yet another one.
The other Renee’s Garden flower varieties I tried were not as successful. Because they were so resiliently lovely despite the drought and heat of last year, I tried Cosmos ‘Little Ladybirds’ again. They did not like the abundant rains of this past season, remaining small, blooming unenthusiastically, and eventually expiring from a fungal disease.
I tried sowing Salvia ‘Coral Nymph’ and Monarda ‘Butterfly Bergamot’ in the greenhouse. I do this successfully with many flower varieties, herbs, etc. However, despite quick germination, I could not persuade the salvia to thrive. All the seedlings eventually died of fungus problems. I had a few seeds left, and decided to direct-sow them in the garden. One germinated and managed to bloom. The flowers were lovely, the plant didn’t seem to be strong enough to stand up without support. I never managed to get a good photo of it before it expired.
The monarda variety struggled in the greenhouse, but I managed to raise about six plants to transplanting size. Monardas are notoriously susceptible to fungal diseases in my region, so I was not surprised with the problems I had with these seedlings. However, once they settled into the compost-rich garden, the plants grew tall, flowering beautifully.
As readers of this blog know, I love purple flowers, so I was thrilled with these beauties. Alas, after three days of blooming, we got another rain. The plants almost melted before my eyes, becoming piles of green mush, victims of the rampant fungal diseases that flourished during the rain-soaked summer.
Finally, I’ve always been an admirer of Cornflowers. I think my appreciation began with the crayon named for this flower’s color in the big boxes of crayons that I loved during childhood. When I saw Renee’s Garden was offering Cornflower ‘Blue Boy,’ I had to try it. I was disappointed. In their defense, I suspect the rain and compost were at least partly responsible for the rampant growth of this variety. Plants grew three feet tall before they began to produce flowers.
Flower size was small, relative to the size of the giant green plants, nearly disappearing. The plants all flopped over, reducing the impact of the flowers further. Perhaps a drier year would produce different results, but I am disinclined to find out.
This concludes my two-part review of the Renee’s Garden seeds I tried this year. I want to thank this fine establishment for offering members of the Garden Writers Association like me the opportunity to try their products for free. Without this chance, I would never have discovered the subtle beauty of a planting of Nasturtium ‘Cup of Sun,’ or the relentless productivity of Zinnia ‘Raggedy Anne.’ Thanks, Renee’s Garden. I hope you’ll give me the chance to try a few new varieties next growing season.
Pardon my silence, loyal readers. It’s that time of year, when freeze warnings pop up for my region, and Wonder Spouse and I must scramble to prepare our yard and gardens for their winter sleep.
First up last weekend was the water feature in our front garden. It was full of murky greenish water. We knew we’d need to catch and relocate the two Green Frogs who lived there most of the summer, but we were surprised to find that about 50 or so tadpoles were still alive and well and not yet ready for metamorphosis. Some had sprouted back legs, but most were still fully tadpole in form. We spent over an hour painstakingly scooping up tadpoles as the pond drained to reveal their hiding spots. I have no idea what species of tadpoles we moved, but they seemed to be at least two different sizes, colors, and shapes.
Frogs and tadpoles were relocated temporarily to a bucket filled with pond water. When we were sure we had all of them, Wonder Spouse carried them down to a small pond on our floodplain, where he gently poured them out. We know it’s tricky for them to make their way into territory already claimed by other amphibians, but we figured at least this way they have some chance to survive.
They can’t stay in the water feature all winter. If we happen to have one of our colder winters, the water would freeze throughout, cracking the pond, and killing anything trying to overwinter in it. When Spring warms the air, we are always surprised at how quickly frogs and toads find the newly re-filled water feature. It is a favored courting and egg-laying spot in our yard, probably because it is more protected from predators than the pond or creek on the floodplain. Nothing says spring like a raucous nighttime serenade by amorous amphibians.
Reptiles in our yard move themselves to their winter homes. Many seem to prepare for winter hibernation by shedding their skins. We found several two-foot-plus-long recently shed skins from our resident Black Racers. One lives in the rock wall holding up the beds around my greenhouse. Another lives somewhere beneath our front deck, and I know several others nest somewhere on or near the floodplain. I encounter them on patrols every few weeks during the warm months.
Suddenly visible in great numbers again are the Green Anoles. About a dozen of these color-changing lizards spent last winter living around the west-facing front of our house and the south-facing wall of our garage. They dispersed when the weather warmed. I’d occasionally meet one hunting among my flowers or vegetables, but otherwise, they seemed to have disappeared. But now, my goodness, they are not only back, they have multiplied.
A number of them seem to also be shedding summer skins, as you can see here on this one I spotted on the corner of the garage:
At least a dozen anoles have reappeared along the west-facing entry to our house. We now must check our screen doors before opening inner doors, lest a dozing anole drop into the house. A recently acquired pot of chrysanthemums by the front entry has been adopted as a favorite resting spot.
Every warm sunny afternoon, they emerge from their hiding spots to catch a few rays.
This year, I’ve spotted a least three anoles enjoying our back deck, which faces south and is protected from west winds. They even seem to be enjoying our deck chairs.
Sometimes, they join the squirrels in watching the humans indoors:
Of course, freeze warnings mean it’s time to relocate all summering potted plants to their winter quarters in the greenhouse. The pitcher plants and sedges that live in pots inside the water feature all summer get moved into individual trays that hold water. I refill them regularly, so that their favored moisture levels are maintained.
All the potted plants that spend their summer beneath the shelter of the Southern Magnolia also move into the greenhouse, along with pots of still-flowering annuals on the back deck. By the time we move in the deck plants later today, the greenhouse will be very full.
A packed greenhouse is actually better for the plants. Humidity levels are easier to maintain, and any insects or other critters who succeeded in hitching rides on the plants don’t usually cause much trouble. One year, a Cope’s Gray Treefrog snuck in for the winter. He just dozed quietly through the cold months until I moved him and his pot back outside the following spring. I keep my greenhouse cool all winter, so that plants mostly sleep but don’t freeze.
The plants growing on our five acres don’t need any help from me to prepare for winter. The Tulip Poplars have already dropped most of their leaves. Berries on the native dogwoods are almost gone, thanks to flocks of marauding American Robins and hungry Pileated Woodpeckers. They have moved on to the Southern Magnolia. Most of its seed cones are open now, revealing tasty red fruits coveted by wildlife of all kinds. I can lose an hour quickly this time of year just watching birds and other critters argue over magnolia fruits.
Fall color grows more glorious daily, of course. I’ll show you some examples soon. Right now, I’ve got to get the potted plants on the back deck tucked into the greenhouse. The weather seers are calling for a freeze tomorrow night. At my house, that likely means lows in the mid-twenties. Time to break out the extra blanket for the bed, find my cozy winter slippers, and wait for next season’s seed catalogs to start filling my mailbox.
You’re in luck, loyal blog readers. Wonder Spouse found himself with some time this weekend, and he spent much of it post-processing the backlog of yard and garden photos that he had accumulated. All of the shots in this entry were taken in one morning in early September, as summer plants were fading, and autumn fruits and flowers were starting to appear. Remember that you can click on any photo to see a larger version.
Late summer through early fall is the peak bloom period for one of my favorite moisture-loving wildflowers: Jewelweed. Here’s a clump blooming on our floodplain:
You really need a close view to appreciate the delicate beauty of the flowers:
Late summer is always adorned with lobelias in my yard. Some are planted deliberately, but many randomly pop up without any input from me. I do take the ripe seed pods each fall and walk about the yard sprinkling tiny cinnamon-colored seeds as I go.
Equally breath-taking are the Great Blue Lobelias — same genus as the Cardinals, but a different species.
Seed production was getting serious in early September when Wonder Spouse took these photos. Check out his gorgeous close-up of a Bigleaf Magnolia Seed Cone:
The Jack-in-the-Pulpits in the wetland still held on to their ragged-looking leaves, but they were being pulled down by the weight of their bright red fruits.
One Joe Pye Weed cluster was still blooming just a bit:
While a large one in the front yard was all feathery seed head:
The seeds of these River Oats made a nice resting spot for this little butterfly.
I don’t think I’ve ever written about my Garlic Chives. This easy-to-grow herb sends up lovely flowers every late summer. The leaves have a more assertive onion flavor than Chives.
Pollinators always swarm the Garlic Chive flowers when they open.
As is always the case, we encountered a few animal residents as we wandered our five acres that morning.
And, finally, to close this impressive display of Wonder Spouse’s photographic skills, one of our many dragonflies. This large one was briefly resting on our TV cable line high above us, making for a positively artistic shot.
Well, Monkeyflowers, anyway. To be precise, Winged Monkeyflowers (Mimulus alatus). This native perennial wildflower has been showing up here and there on my active floodplain ever since we started tending this yard in 1989. But this year’s uncharacteristically wet summer resulted in a veritable explosion of violet blossoms. The yellow and white throat patch gives the flowers an orchid-like appearance. Very showy, in my opinion, for a wildflower.
The winged aspect refers to the small wings on the petioles (leaf stems), bits of tissue that flare out on either side of the stems, a bit like wings — at least to the eyes of the botanist who named this flower.
The common name apparently arose because someone decided the flower shape and coloring resembled the face of a monkey. Personally, I don’t see it. What I see is a lovely 1-3-foot bright green opposite-leaved plant covered in showy pale violet flowers.
You’ll find this relatively common wildflower in consistently wet areas throughout most of the eastern United States. It has a relatively lengthy bloom period, from mid-summer to early fall. My monkeys finished blooming by mid-September.
I didn’t plant them. I assume floodwaters deposited seeds some years ago. They can spread a bit by rhizomes as well, and certainly in my yard, I have distinct patches of these beauties, as well as odd singles popping up here and there, often near Cardinal Flowers. The two species look fabulous together, especially when backed by early-blooming goldenrods.
To be happy, Winged Monkeyflowers require wet to consistently moist conditions and rich soil with abundant organic matter. They will thrive in full sun and light shade. If they look small and yellowish, they probably are getting too dry and hot. Mine were greenly lush this year, and astonishingly floriferous.
Winged Monkeyflowers prefer undisturbed wetlands, but mine are doing just fine despite significant disturbance from several floods this year. I suspect they would do very well as rain garden plants, and you can find commercial sources for this species, though it takes a bit of research.
If you’ve got a consistently moist spot in a bit of light shade, I would encourage you to try these long-blooming, showy wildflowers. They don’t have any fragrance, but bumblebees and other pollinators adore them anyway. They must not taste good, because mine are wholly unprotected and often surrounded by fresh deer tracks, yet remain uneaten.
And who can resist being able to brag about growing Winged Monkeys? At least that’s always where my admittedly strange mind goes — to Oz — when I spot one of these lovelies.
The grand finale bloomer of my native deciduous azalea collection is Hammocksweet Azalea. Some folks call it Sweet Azalea, some call it Swamp Azalea, and depending on whether your taxonomic bent leans toward lumping or splitting, some consider it a separate species named as in the photo (Rhododendron serrulatum), while others either lump it entirely under R. viscosum (Swamp Azalea) or call it a variety (R. viscosum, var. serrulatum).
Personally, I think the good folks at one of my favorite nurseries, Woodlanders, make an excellent case for keeping this beauty as a separate species. They note, for example, that this azalea blooms later and looks different in form and other characteristics from R. viscosum. I agree. I grow R. viscosum too. In my yard, it bloomed before R. prunifolium, which finished its glorious display of red flowers in July.
Hammocksweet Azalea, on the other hand, had barely started blooming by the middle of August, and it’s still opening clusters of sugar-sweet tubular white flowers as I type this. This is the first year my specimen has bloomed enthusiastically, and I suspect our wonderfully wet summer is responsible. Hammocksweet Azalea is native to swampy areas of Georgia, Florida, and Louisiana. A hammock (a variation on the word hummock), for those unfamiliar with southern swamps, is a little hill in a swamp — a speck of slightly drier land surrounded by mucky water. Alligators like to doze on hammocks.
I sited my Hammocksweet Azalea at the bottom of my north slope near my creek in the hopes that the ground would stay moist enough there to keep this shrub happy. It has survived but not flourished over our recent hot, dry summers. Growth was also slowed, I suspect, by its incarceration within a wire cage — necessary to prevent deer predation, since this azalea lives outside my deer-fenced area.
Thanks to the wet summer, this shrub is now about 3.5 feet tall and about as wide (it needs a bigger wire cage). In its ideal environment, the shrub can grow 10-15-feet tall and 4-6-feet wide. Woodlanders warns that it prefers moist, but not saturated, soil.
This year’s wet summer pushed my specimen into a growth spurt that included many healthy sets of flower buds. To be sure, the flowers are not as showy as those of some of my other deciduous azaleas. In fact, they look a lot like the flowers of the evil invasive vine, Japanese Honeysuckle. Even the scent is somewhat similar. The flower buds on my specimen are tinged with a faint pink, but when the flowers open, they are a very pure white, narrowly tubular, and quite fragrant. On a humid afternoon with a bit of breeze, I can smell my blooming shrub from a fair distance away.
If you have a moist, bare spot in your yard, even in a shady area, and you’d like to add sweet fragrance and hummingbird-beloved blooms to your landscape, consider planting a Hammocksweet Azalea.
We’re approaching the ideal time for planting such an addition, and I know of at least one local source in my area, so I don’t think it will be hard to find, wherever you live in the southeastern US.
Deciduous azaleas are one of the reasons I love being a southeastern Piedmont gardener. The array of sizes, colors, habitat requirements, and bloom times, means there is at least one type suitable for every Piedmont garden. And if you’re an avidly obsessive gardener with more yard space than sense like me, you may find yourself accumulating your own special collection of native beauties, guaranteeing you a succession of color and fragrance from spring’s warming temperatures to autumn’s cooling breezes.
Yes, that’s right, folks. Wonder Spouse celebrates another trip around the sun today, and like fine wine, he just keeps improving with age. I took this shot of the Ace-Photographer-in-Action last weekend, when he shot all those pictures I told you about in my previous post. You’ll see more of those as he finishes post-processing them.
Wonder Spouse believes his birthday should be ignored, but I could not be prouder of my spouse and his achievements, so today, I want to share just a few more of his amazing photographs. These were taken over the course of the last 4 years, and I think you’ll agree they are spectacular.
Lest you think Wonder Spouse only shoots botanical subjects, I thought I’d include a couple of his photos from our trips to the NC Zoological Park in Asheboro, NC. We try to get there at least once a year, usually in the late fall when there are fewer visitors, but the animals are still active. This shot speaks for itself, I think.
I love this one. It proves that wrinkles can be beautiful!
Long-time readers may remember this photo. Our now 50-foot-tall Magnolia ‘Elizabeth’ glows magnificently in our landscape when she’s in full bloom. But you really need to view her flowers closely to fully appreciate this tree.
I love the details visible in this close-up of a Luna Moth — the feathery antennae, the almost fur-like look of the wing scales — exquisite, yes?
This Wonder Spouse photo really highlights the subtle beauty of this daylily. If you click on it to enlarge it, you’ll see the petals almost shimmer. Daylily blooms only last one day. I’m so glad Wonder Spouse preserved this blossom for eternity.
This photo really shows off Wonder Spouse’s artistry. He wanted to play with light, so he brought a bloom into the house and experimented with lighting until he got the effect he wanted. I think he got it right. What do you think?
I think this shot really shows off the beauty of our native Common Buckeye Butterfly. Although, I don’t think its looks are “common” at all. Wonder Spouse makes it look easy to photograph butterflies and other creatures, but, trust me, those little critters never stay in one place for very long. It takes considerable skill to frame a shot like this one. Even plants are trickier than non-photographers might think. The slightest breeze can turn a perfect shot to blurred fuzz.
We haven’t had a photo-worthy snow in a few years now. I love the way a good snow obscures all the imperfections in a landscape while highlighting structural elements like trees and garden benches. The Birthday Boy’s skill in framing a landscape shot is fully evident here. I think you’ll agree with me that he is a true artist with the camera.
He has many other praise-worthy attributes as well, but he’s likely going to be unhappy with me as it is for making him the subject of a blog post.
Too bad, Wonder Spouse. Today is your day. It deserves to be celebrated. And I count my blessings daily that I get to share your journey with you.
This past weekend, I was able to persuade Wonder Spouse, Ace Photographer, to join me in a walk around the yard. He took just over 200 pictures, and he’s still post-processing most of them. But he released a few finished shots to me now, so that I could show them off.
As the leaves begin to color up and tumble from the trees, the insects and spiders in our yard seem to accelerate their activities. Flowers buzz audibly as the diversity of busy pollinators gather as much pollen as they can before winter stops them cold.
As I mentioned in my previous post, the spiders seem to get especially busy now. Orb weavers in particular erect massive webs between trees big enough, I imagine, to snag small birds. Not that I’ve ever seen a bird trapped in a web, but I do wonder sometimes.
The Writing Spider I showed you before now has a name — Big Girl — BG to her friends. She has grown enormous feasting on butterflies. Their discarded wings litter the ground beneath her sizable web. Last week, I watched the tiny male move his mini-web ever closer to the object of his fancy. I think he must have succeeded in his quest, because now he’s gone, and BG is distinctly fatter — full of fertilized eggs, I imagine.
Wonder Spouse took such amazing photos of BG that I must show you all three views:
We are fortunate in the southeastern Piedmont to have a wealth of autumn-blooming wildflowers. And this year’s uncharacteristically generous rainfall is making for especially widespread and colorful displays. Our floodplain is full of the red spires of Cardinal Flowers, numerous yellow composites, goldenrods, Monkey Flowers, and Blue Mistflowers. Wonder Spouse’s shots of the Monkey Flowers are still being processed, but here are a few photos to give you an idea.
My Green-headed Coneflowers have gone nuts this year. If you’ve got room for a 4-5-foot tall wildflower in your landscape, I highly recommend this one.
And those Blue Mistflowers I mentioned are just getting gorgeous.
As the humidity levels begin to drop and the mornings grow cool and filled with cricket song, my mind turns to fall planting season. In my region, fall is the best time to plant most perennials and all woody trees and shrubs. Our usually prolonged falls give new plants plenty of time to focus on root growth before the ground freezes — if it ever freezes at all.
Most years, our Septembers are still hot and very dry, so I’ve tended to wait until October to plant new additions. However, this year, the ground has remained blessedly moist all season, and the heat has remained astonishingly bearable — no 100-degree temperatures at all (knock wood).
Thus, I feel comfortable encouraging my Piedmont readers to go ahead and start getting serious about fall planting. Local plant nurseries will all be advertising sales soon, but there’s one sale North Carolina Piedmont gardeners should be sure to put on their calendars now: The NC Botanical Garden’s Annual Fall Plant Sale. Members get first pick from 5:00-7:00 p.m. on Friday, September 27. The general public is welcome the next day, Saturday, September 28 from 9:00 a.m. to noon.
Bring your own trays or boxes to carry home your purchases, and if you’re like me, only bring as much money as you can afford to spend. The wide array of vigorous native flowers, trees, and shrubs is more than most avid gardeners can resist.
I am a firm believer that there’s always room for more special plants in a landscape. Now is the time to survey your yard for spots crying out for color or shade or scent — or all three! Go forth, survey your yard. Then acquire the new plants that will help you realize your dream landscape.
Signs multiply daily. Reddening leaves:
I first heard about it from the flock of American Robins that blew in about three weeks ago. As they stripped purple Pokeweed berries from magenta stems and gobbled elderberries, branches bent from their weight, they muttered among themselves: “Autumn’s on its way.”
Raucous cries of Pileated Woodpeckers echo through the forest as they argue with greedy robins and complain about magnolia cones ripening too slowly. A few mornings ago just after sunrise, three of these crow-sized woodpeckers called and flew in circles over my head for a minute or so. Two were chasing a third, making it clear that the interloper was not welcome.
And today, as Wonder Spouse and I walked beside the creek, we startled Wild Turkeys on the other side. They squawked once, then ran silently to the blackberry thicket, where they disappeared amid its prickly greenness.
We were down by the creek so that Wonder Spouse could photograph this beauty for me:
Our wonderfully wet, mild summer made our two Franklin Trees very happy. Both grew several feet higher, and the mature specimen produced more flower buds than I have ever seen before. Spent snowy blossoms littered the ground beneath it, still faintly emitting their gentle rose-like scent. I held down the branch, so that Wonder Spouse could take the shot. You can see its close kinship to camellias by the form of its breath-taking bloom. The leaves of our smaller tree are already sporting garnet hues. But the flower-producing tree remains green-leaved.
Every time I think the record numbers of swallowtail butterflies are waning, another wave of fresh-winged beauties descends on every bloom in the yard. The Chinese Abelia still plays host to dozens, even though its sweet white flower clusters are beginning to diminish, but that’s OK, because the Seven-Son Flower Tree is in full, fragrant bloom, attracting every pollinator in the neighborhood, from butterflies to bumblebees, mason bees, and hawk moths. I cannot use my front walk without getting bumped into by a floating winged beauty.
The abundance of butterflies has been a bonanza for predators as well. Myriad dragonflies pick off the lazy flutterers in mid-air, scattering severed wings of gold and black along the walk.
And the most certain early sign of autumn abounds: spider webs. As fast as I knock one down walking anywhere in my yard, the industrious weavers rebuild. A particularly clever female Writing Spider has declared her domain over the water feature in our front garden. The abundant blooming spires of Cardinal Flowers are irresistible to butterflies, and this fattening weaver is taking full advantage of that fact, even bending the top of one spire to anchor her web.
Yesterday, I saw her trap and devour at least two large butterflies. Today, she seems to have doubled in size.
Perhaps in response to her rapid growth, today a male Writing Spider has built a modest web adjacent to this queen, even using a corner of her web as an anchor. Much smaller than the female he lusts for, he will wait for just the right moment to woo her. It won’t be long, I predict. Usually the females deposit their egg sacs in thick, winter-proof webs well before the leaves begin to fall in earnest.
Cricket songs now rule nights and mornings, replacing the steady thrum of summer cicadas. Occasional cold fronts rush in behind lines of thunderstorms, freshening our air for a day or two before summer reasserts itself, cloaked in humidity.
Autumn will dominate soon enough, that we know for sure. For now, we can revel in the transitions, as plants and animals shift from growth to fruit to sleep.
It’s a transitional time of year for many people too. Schools start, and birthdays occur in bunches, as those born under the sign of Virgo celebrate another dance around the sun. I send best birthday wishes to all my Virgo kin and friends, and most especially to my favorite nephew, AJR, who celebrates what many consider a milestone moment tomorrow. Happy Birthday, sir. May your journey lead you everywhere you want to go.
As gardening seasons go, this one has been more full of surprises than usual. My eyes have been opened to just how much water vegetables really need to be happy — and how much more than that they can handle.
Thanks to a string of growing seasons filled with long streaks of 100+-degree days and prolonged droughts, I’ve become pretty good at gauging a vegetable’s minimum water requirements. A shallow well for the garden that routinely dried up by August necessitated strict water rationing.
Not this year. I don’t think we’ve gone more than 10 days without at least an inch of rain. Fungus flourishes, it’s true, but so does everything else. Canopy-sized trees are still putting on bright new green growth — in early August! Plants are re-blooming at unprecedented rates. As I wander around my yard, I sometimes feel as if I’ve stepped into an alternate universe, so different is this year’s August landscape from previous years.
More about that another time. Today I want to offer an overdue update on the vegetable garden. The pole beans in the harvest basket photo above are Fortex. I’ve always had good success with them, but I never realized before this year that they were dying out by July in past years because I just wasn’t giving them enough water. This year, they topped their trellis by the beginning of May, reached the bottom of the other side by the end of June, and now they are heading back up again — at least, mostly. Some seem to be heading horizontally for the next county, despite my attempts to encourage the vines to remain on the trellis.
I’m picking a good mess of beans every other day now. It was every day until about three weeks ago, so I guess they are slowing productivity a bit. As I did last year, I interplanted the beans with a climbing nasturtium. Last year, the two species played well together, but this year’s abundant water has produced quite the tangled mess of vegetation.
The deep orange-red flowers near the bottom are the nasturtiums. Some have climbed higher, just not in this shot. The lighter orange flowers on the far right are Queen Sophia marigolds.
As you can see by the harvest basket, I’m also still picking tomatoes, but not nearly as many as in previous years by this time. This wet year has taught me that my organically grown tomatoes stay healthier and more productive during drought years, because the fungal diseases that are plaguing them this year just can’t flourish without abundant rainfall. Limiting their water supply also intensifies the flavor of the tomato fruits. This year’s ‘maters, while tasty, are just not as vibrantly flavorful as in past years. And, yes, I’m mostly growing the same varieties as I had in previous years.
You’ll also see in the basket a couple of sweet Italian peppers — Carmen is the variety name. These beauties are the best-looking veggies in the garden right now. We’re about to be buried in an avalanche of sweet, juicy peppers with just a hint of zing. They are so vibrantly flavorful that I think perhaps I can taste their Vitamin C. So good!
I’m also growing a few plants from a seed packet of mixed Italian heirloom peppers. So far, one plant has produced a lovely ripe yellow fruit. Another one appears to be turning its fruit orange. Stay tuned for further developments.
Additionally, I got a free seed packet for a purple cayenne pepper. Of course, I had to try it, but I did limit myself to growing just one plant. Cayennes are notoriously prolific pepper producers, and my purple-fruited specimen is living up to my past experiences.
The basils are having a great year. Because my vegetable garden is a fair hike from the kitchen, I cut stems of fresh basil and put them in a water-filled vase on the kitchen counter. That way, Wonder Spouse remembers to add leaves to his many wonderful culinary creations. Plus the sweet-spicy scent wafting from the leaves freshens the air.
I was worried that the rampant fungal fiesta ongoing in my vegetable garden might hurt the heirloom zinnias or sunflowers that I got from Renee’s Garden Seeds this year. But they are thriving, and have bloomed nonstop since May.
Other parts of the yard are still blooming too, and I’ll share more in another post. For now, I’ll close with a favorite perennial that I associate with summer’s waning — Cardinal Flower (Lobelia cardinalis). I don’t think one can ever have enough of these in one’s garden — and I’m fairly certain that the hummingbirds and butterflies agree with me.