Posts Tagged NC Botanical Garden Fall Plant Sale
Most of our native North American orchids produce much subtler flowers than the ones people keep in pots in their houses, or see dangling among trees in exotic tropical jungles, or nervous teenage boys pin on their prom dates as corsages, but I think their subtlety makes them that much more special.
I have long admired the Nodding Ladies’-tresses orchids (Spiranthes cernua) that bloom abundantly among pitcher plants and Venus fly-traps this time every year in the carnivorous plant display at the NC Botanical Garden. That’s why last fall, when I spotted some healthy blooming specimens at their plant sale, I couldn’t resist buying a pot, even though I had promised myself I was only buying milkweeds. I picked out a pot with two plants in it that was in active, gorgeous bloom, as you can see if your scroll through the post I wrote about my acquisitions last year.
I planted my orchids in a pot with some moisture-loving milkweeds and a cardinal flower, keeping the pot evenly moist in my greenhouse through the winter, and partially immersing it in my front water feature after the last frost. On September 7, I suddenly realized I was seeing multiple orchid bloom stalks — twelve in all!
My research tells me that this is the most common species of Spiranthes in North America. You can find it in sandy, moist soil from eastern Canada all the way south to Texas and Florida, and as far west as southern North Dakota.
I was congratulating myself on my orchids’ productivity, until my research revealed that enthusiastic vegetative reproduction is a key trait of this species, and probably one of the reasons for its wide range. But you must provide the right growing conditions to see this kind of productivity, so I can pat myself on the back for giving these beauties what they needed to bloom so well.
As soon as I realized my orchids had sent up bloom stalks, I began taking photos, so that I could document the unfurling of the small-but-exquisite ivory flowers as they began to open. The buds spiral around the bloom stalk, looking a bit like a spiral staircase, with the first flowers opening at the bottom, then more and more in succession, winding their way to the top.
It took longer than I thought it would for most of the flowers to open. I blame the prolonged bout of cloudy weather my region has recently seen. But as soon as we got several sunny days in a row, the flowers took off.
I wish I could show you a super-close-up of one flower, but I think I need a macro lens for that. This is as close as I could manage on September 24:
If you grow pitcher plants or Venus fly-traps successfully, you can grow this orchid too. The blooming flower stalks look lovely mixed in with the reds and purples of mature pitcher plants (Saracenia spp.) I mixed a combination of half well-rotted compost and half sand to create the soil for my orchid pot. During the winter, it sat in a saucer of water in my cool (45 degrees Fahrenheit) greenhouse. It summered in my front water feature, nearly invisible as the drama queen milkweeds dazzled the pollinators with their multitudes of flowers.
But now that the milkweed flowers have morphed into expanding seed pods, my orchids have taken center stage. Given how much they have multiplied, and now knowing that vegetative reproduction is most definitely their thing, I’m thinking I’ll be dividing the orchids in this pot so that I can move some into yet another pot when I’m ready to relocate them back to the greenhouse for the winter. By this time next year, I should have a front water feature in early fall full of winding spires of delicate native orchids. How lovely will that be?
Want some Nodding Ladies-tresses for your garden?
A very reliable little bird tells me these orchids will be available at the NC Botanical Garden’s upcoming Fall Plant Sale. To be sure you get some, I recommend you come on Friday, Oct. 2 between 5:00 p.m. and 7:30 p.m. That sale is open only to members of the Garden, who use their 10% discounts to acquire all the green goodies they want. Plus there’s free food and drink and live music. I’ll be volunteering behind one of the many tables loaded with plants for sale. I hope I’ll see you there!
Finally, my favorite season of the year has arrived! In honor of this momentous moment, I offer you a few photos I took yesterday afternoon when the sun appeared after days of clouds. This is the season of fruits and nuts (I refer to botany, not humanity), so that’s mostly what you’ll see here.
If this gorgeous native is not yet part of your landscape, consider planting one this fall. And I know just the place you can pick one up the weekend-after-next.
I won this pink-berried form in a raffle when I was going through Green Gardener training at the NC Botanical Garden — yet another benefit of volunteering there.
This delicate nest woven of bark strips and pine needles fell from my evergreen Kousa dogwood. Very autumnal, don’t you think?
This is another lovely native shrub that will be available at the NC Botanical Garden’s upcoming Fall Plant Sale, but only plant it if you have a spot where deer can’t reach it. The evergreen stems of this beauty make it irresistible to them during food-scarce winter months.
The Asian Kousa dogwoods are not native, but I’ve seen no signs they are invasive, and their wow factor in the landscape is undeniable. The berries of my native dogwoods are already nearly gone, thanks to the Pileated Woodpeckers, which have been partying in those trees for several weeks now. The red globes produced by the Kousas don’t seem to appeal to as many birds, although I’ve seen Northern Cardinals enjoying them. Squirrels seem to like them quite a bit.
Most interesting to me are the subtle differences in the fruits of my deciduous Kousa dogwood and the evergreen Kousa. See for yourselves.
The fruits of the evergreen form never look as “spiky” as those of the deciduous Kousa. And they are never as deeply red.
My Red Buckeye is loaded down, as usual.
The pecan trees had a rough summer. It was just too dry, and there’s no way I can water them. Still, they managed to produce a few, rather unappetizing-looking nuts. The squirrels will no doubt try them before long.
The native Swamp Milkweed and Butterfly Weed seed pods continue to develop. You can pick these up at the NC Botanical Garden Fall Plant Sale too.
Not autumnal, but too pretty to ignore, my giant non-native Loropetalums are pushing out quite a number of flowers, even though they’re supposed to bloom in the spring. They do this almost every year, and it doesn’t seem to prevent them from doing it again when they’re supposed to bloom. I love the contrast with their lovely purple leaves — the reasons these non-natives made it into my garden.
This species of orb weaver moves in multitudes to my windows — on the outside — every fall. This one is pretending it’s not a spider, because I disturbed it. They grow fat off the moths attracted to the lights in our windows every night.
Of course, I can’t end a post welcoming fall without showing a few colorful fallen leaves. These are off one of my native Black Gums, which always color up early and spectacularly. This magnificent native tree will also be available at the NC Botanical Garden Fall Plant Sale.
I hope this post helps all my readers celebrate autumn’s arrival, and gets your fingers itching to plant some new native beauties in the cooling, moist soils of the season. So gather ye pumpkins while ye may — and add some new natives while you’re at it.
Happy fall, ya’ll!
Readers of my blog may remember that about this time last year, I acquired one or two plants of every species of milkweed being offered at the NC Botanical Garden’s Fall Plant Sale. I thought it would be useful to write up an evaluation of how those plants performed in my garden during this year’s growing season. Recall that I divided my new acquisitions into two groups – those native to drier, well-drained habitats, and those preferring moist, even swampy conditions.
Boulder Garden Milkweeds
As I described in my original milkweed-related post, my boulder garden is a sunny, hot spot full of diabase boulders of varying sizes that are slowly eroding into smaller chunks, leaving a sandy, relatively thin soil surrounding them. Any plants that love heat and good drainage get a trial here, so this is where I planted
- Clasping Milkweed (Asclepias amplexicaulis)
- Whorled Milkweed (A. verticillata)
- Common Milkweed (A. syriaca)
- Poke Milkweed (A. exaltata)
- Butterfly Weed (A. tuberosa)
All of these plants are still alive and apparently healthy, but two of the species never bloomed.
Clasping Milkweed – This plant is still alive and green, but it never grew. At all. Usually, when a plant is unhappy, it eventually fades away, and the drought-plauged, hot summer certainly gave it plenty of excuses. But it persists, looking almost exactly as it did when first planted nearly a year ago. I know that some plants – usually woody ones – spend their first year after transplanting maximizing root growth while producing minimal top growth. But I’ve never seen this in a perennial. As long as it remains green, I will think positive thoughts about it. Perhaps next spring, new growth will appear.
Whorled Milkweed – This is the most un-milkweed-looking milkweed I’ve ever met. Its needle-like leaves give it a softer appearance than the other milkweeds. It never grew more than about 12 inches high, but it seems healthy.
About mid-July, it produced many tiny flower buds in the leaf axles. Eventually, these grew into the typical milkweed bud clusters I knew from other species.
In early August, they opened to produce waxy greenish-white flowers in a typical milkweed-looking inflorescence. The flowers were small, proportionate to the size of the plant, but they managed to draw a wide range of pollinators while they bloomed.
Despite all those pollinator visits, I have not seen a single seed pod on this species. But the plant itself still looks healthy, so I’m hoping it will survive the winter again, perhaps producing a more robust plant next year, since it will be starting from a larger size.
Common Milkweed – This was my other non-blooming milkweed in this bed. But unlike Clasping Milkweed, my Common Milkweed plant grew robustly, and still looks very vigorous. Interestingly, while the orange oleander aphids that notoriously plague milkweeds are all over my other milkweeds, they’ve barely bothered this one.
It grew to a height of about 2.5 feet, but has never shown any signs of flowering.
Poke Milkweed —This taller milkweed grew early and quickly in the spring. I was befuddled by its first blooming attempt in late May, which yielded one single flower. Not an inflorescence – just one pinkish-white flower.
My research confirmed that it should have produced a typical milkweed inflorescence. I decided to be grateful it managed at least one flower during its first year in my garden.
But then in early July, I noticed more flower buds! These produced typical milkweed inflorescences by mid-July.
As with my Whorled Milkweed, many pollinators visited, but no seed pods were produced.
Butterfly Weed – There is a reason that this milkweed species is sold often in plant nurseries. Its showy, bright orange flowers laugh at heat and drought.
One of my plants produced one round of blooms, but the other one is currently on its third round of blooms, and is simultaneously sporting a number of growing seed pods. Score!
It began blooming in early June, produced another round in July, and started up with a third blooming cycle in early September. Pollinators cannot get enough of this plant, and neither can I!
Water Feature Milkweeds
Three of the milkweed species I acquired last year are native to swampy habitats, so as I explained in my original post, I planted them in pots, which I inserted into my front water feature after danger of frost this spring. They were:
- Swamp Milkweed (Asclepias incarnata)
- Few-flowered Milkweed (A. lanceolata)
- Purple Savanna Milkweed (A. rubra var. laurifolia)
Two of these did beautifully, and one was a failure.
Swamp Milkweed – This is the other native milkweed you will find commonly in plant nurseries, because like its cousin, Butterfly Weed, it reliably produces beautiful clusters of blossoms that persist well in our summer heat while attracting myriad pollinators.
My two plants both grew to heights of about 3 feet, and produced two rounds of blossoms, first in early June, then again in late July. Now they are full of many expanding seed pods.
There’s a white-flowering form of this species, but I prefer the more common pink-blooming variety.
If you can provide an evenly moist garden bed, you can add this beauty to your garden. It doesn’t require as much water as I gave it. But in my yard, water almost always becomes a scarce commodity as summer progresses, so I stacked the deck in my favor by growing my Swamp Milkweeds in pots immersed in my water feature.
Few-flowered Milkweed – This is my only full-out failure. It stayed green and grew a bit through May, but then it began dying back, leaving nothing but a brown stem. Oh well, nothing ventured, as the saying goes.
Purple Savanna Milkweed – This native milkweed grew to about the same height as the Swamp Milkweeds. It also produced two rounds of blooms for me – one in early June, and again in early August. I would not characterize the flower color as purple.
To my eye, the flowers on my plant were more of a deep pink or mauve – very lovely – and very attractive to pollinators. This species did not set seed either, alas.
Where have all the Monarchs gone?
The only great disappointment I’ve had with my milkweed garden is the complete absence of Monarch butterflies. They’ve been reported nearby, and one even had the audacity to fly in front of me as I drove down my road about a mile from my house. But I have not seen a single Monarch in my garden and yard anywhere, and no caterpillars either. It was a rough year for butterflies in my area anyway, apparently due to an unusually cold and wet spell late last winter. I’m hoping that my milkweeds will return next spring even more vigorously, perhaps finally serving the visiting Monarchs for which they were planted. But even without the Monarchs I’d hoped for, I consider my milkweed garden to be a success. The pollinator diversity they attracted was exciting, and I’m hoping that the seed pods the Swamp Milkweeds and Butterfly Weeds are developing will yield new plants for my gardens.
But wait, there’s more!
You may recall that one of the flower varieties from Renee’s Garden I tried last year was an annual tropical milkweed variety called Butterfly Bright Wings. Last year, many of these plants produced seeds that floated everywhere. A number of those seeds produced plants that germinated in the boulder bed this year, where their mother plants had grown. It took them until last week – probably because of the drought – but these volunteers have finally begun to bloom. All appear to be the red form, which is the one I liked best anyway. I’m hoping they will again produce seed pods and perpetuate themselves next year.
For ornamental reliability, I recommend piedmont gardeners stick with Butterfly Weed and Swamp Milkweed. I have a feeling the other species that bloomed for me may be a bit more temperamental, and except for Purple Savanna Milkweed, they don’t produce very showy flowers.
I think perhaps the Greenhouse and Nursery Manager at the NC Botanical Garden may have reached the same conclusion, because he’s only offering Butterfly Weed and Swamp Milkweed at the upcoming Fall Plant Sale.
If you’re looking for vigorous, re-blooming flowering milkweeds that can handle our hot summers and might attract Monarch butterflies, you should stop by the sale and pick up some of these beauties. For the best selection, come on Members’ Night on Friday, October 2. Members can use their 10% discounts and get the best selection of plants. Plus there’s free food, beverages, and live music – and you can join at the door that night. I hope to see you there!
When we southeastern US homeowners release ourselves from the notion of a rigidly controlled landscape, magic happens. Instead of spending time shearing defenseless evergreen azaleas and boxwoods into cubes and spheres, or pouring chemicals onto a non-native lawn that you must then mow and fuss over, you can devote your energy to enriching your home landscape with native plants adapted to our region.
Not only will your blood pressure drop as diverse native shrubs, trees, wildflowers, ferns, and vines adorn areas once reserved for sterile sod carpets, our native wildlife — birds, insects, mammals, amphibians, and reptiles — will gratefully seek shelter and food in the havens you create. Suddenly, your home landscape not only contains beautiful and relaxing plants, it is also animated by native wildlife — a win-win for all.
After you’ve adjusted your thinking about your home landscape to embrace native species, myriad options unfold before you. The purists can plant unhybridized specimens of a plant. These species will be identical to the native vegetation that naturally occurs (where it hasn’t been obliterated) in our region.
For a little more wow factor in your home landscape, many, many wonderful varieties of our native species — called cultivars — have been developed by horticulturalists and are sold at most nurseries. For example, my spectacular specimens of Magnolia — ‘Elizabeth‘ and ‘Butterflies‘ — are both cultivars of our native Magnolia acuminata.
As all gardeners know, creating a landscape is a long-term endeavor. Unlike redecorating the interior of your house, when you implement a landscape design of any kind, you must factor time into the equation. Plants are alive; they start small and grow larger. Weather, disease, and animal predation affect how they grow and whether they flourish. But in my 45+ years of gardening experience in this region, I have learned that if I plant a landscape dominated by a diverse array of well-sited natives, year-round, breath-taking beauty is my reward.
Autumn is almost upon us, which means now is the time to review your landscape plans, so that you will be ready for the fall plant sales that abound in our region this time of year. Perennials, shrubs, and trees are all best planted during the fall and early winter in our region, because the cooler temperatures encourage root growth, thereby better preparing your new additions for summer heat waves next year.
In central North Carolina where I live, the plant sale I get excited about is the North Carolina Botanical Garden’s Fall Plant Sale. The sale is an annual tradition at this Chapel Hill, NC public garden, and the array of healthy native plants available increases every year.
This year, among their many offerings, are two species of Pipevines — Wooly Dutchman’s-pipe (Aristolochia tomentosa) and Pipevine (Aristolochia macrophylla). These shade-loving vines with heart-shaped leaves add vertical interest to a naturalistic landscape, and they produce interesting little flowers that really do resemble tiny pipes. My fanciful brain imagines elves smoking them beneath the abundant fairy rings of toadstools populating my yard.
But I plant this vine mostly because it is the only larval food source for Pipevine Swallowtail butterflies. This is one of our more spectacular large native butterflies, but we don’t see it much in the Piedmont region, because its larval food sources (what the caterpillars eat) are not widely available.
Yes, this means that if you succeed in persuading Pipevine Swallowtails to lay eggs on your Pipevines, the caterpillars will eat holes in the leaves. But these vines are vigorous and perennial. New vines will sprout from the roots the next spring. For my money, a few ragged Pipevine leaves are a small price to pay for seeing Pipevine Swallowtails visiting the nectar-rich flowers I grow nearby.
Creating a rich, diverse native landscape is like choreographing a ballet. Shapes, colors, and forms interweave in a complex dance that differs daily, promising always to entertain and engage observers while feeding and sheltering the dancers.
So, my fellow green-thumbed choreographers, now is the time to patronize your favorite plant sales, preferably first at your local public gardens that use sales proceeds to keep their garden gates open to the public. And if you live within driving distance of Chapel Hill, NC, pencil in a visit to the NC Botanical Garden’s Fall Plant Sale on September 26 (members-only night) or September 27. Options will be numerous; truly there will be plants to suit any growing condition your home landscape may possess. I’ll hope to see some of you there!
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.
Those of us living in the southeastern United States hear the refrain every year: fall is for planting. Truer words were never uttered. In our hot, humid, often droughty summers, plants do well to survive at all. Spring planting of new trees, shrubs, and perennials is a huge gamble, even if you water during droughts. Spring-planted plants just don’t have big enough root systems to withstand all that our summers often throw at them.
However, as the cooler, usually wetter weather of autumn arrives, new plants can focus on root growth while soils are still warm but not desert dry. Native deciduous trees, shrubs, and perennials do especially well at establishing themselves when fall-planted, because they can devote all their energy to root growth after leaf fall.
You’d be hard-pressed to find a better selection of native trees, shrubs, and perennials than you will find at the NC Botanical Garden’s annual Fall Plant Sale. Members get first crack at the goodies on Friday, Sept. 14 from 5:00-7:00 p.m. — and a 10% discount! If you’re not a member, you can join that evening and use your discount immediately. The public gets their chance at the plants the next day, Saturday, Sept. 15, from 9:00 a.m. to noon. Bring your own flats or boxes to use to carry your purchases home.
Why go native? If you’re a reader of this blog, you’ve read my reasons more than once. To summarize:
- Native plants are adapted to our region, so they are better able to withstand our droughts, wet spells, heat waves, and occasional ice storms.
- Native plants are food sources for native wildlife. As urbanization continues to eradicate our region’s native forests and fields, planted natives in home landscapes, parks, etc. help to keep our native wildlife alive.
- Native wildflowers especially are key to maintaining our native pollinators. Now that honeybees (not native) are under attack by diseases and other issues, native pollinators are becoming increasingly critical to farmers who need their crops pollinated. Nobody eats if the food crops don’t get pollinated.
- Native plants in our landscapes remind us of where we are, affirming our sense of place. Certain trees, shrubs, wildflowers, and ferns evolved here; they belong here, as do the insects, reptiles, mammals, and birds that evolved along with their native food sources.
We are all in this together, whether we realize it or not. Going native is your easiest gardening choice, and it’s your wisest. This fall, please consider adding some native plants to your landscape.
And if you live anywhere near Chapel Hill, North Carolina, plan to visit the NC Botanical Garden’s Fall Plant Sale. All proceeds support this wonderful public garden, so every purchase is a win for all who love the natives of this region.