Posts Tagged NC Botanical Garden Fall Plant Sale

Writing about my favorite subjects

What lies within the fold of this spicebush leaf?

What lies within the fold of this spicebush leaf?

After writing this blog for over 5.5 years, my obsession should be apparent to everyone: I am endlessly fascinated by the natural world, especially the inhabitants of my five acres of green chaos in the piedmont region of North Carolina. Case in point? I’ve been unfolding folded leaves like the one above for years and years. Until a week or so ago, every time I unfolded the leaf, it was empty inside. But I persevered, stopping at every spicebush growing in my yard (a dozen or so), searching for curled leaves, and uncoiling them in the hopes of finding treasure within. Finally, last week, I scored.

Rear end of a Spicebush Swallowtail caterpillar

Rear end of a Spicebush Swallowtail caterpillar

Isn’t it amazing? I think it’s so clever of Mother Nature to have had this caterpillar evolve large spots on its hind end. Most entomologists believe the coloration is supposed to make hungry birds think “Snake!” when they find it, and fly away. The caterpillars hide within coiled leaves by day and emerge to feed at night. I knew the caterpillars were there, because I’ve seen many Spicebush Swallowtail butterflies in my yard this year — and many eaten spicebush leaves. But the caterpillars eluded me until now.

When I wasn’t hunting elusive caterpillars or admiring and photographing the numerous pollinators in my garden this summer, I’ve been writing a couple of articles for publication. The editor of the NC Native Plant Society Newsletter asked me to write a piece on native deciduous azaleas for the fall edition. I was happy to oblige.

First page of my article in the NCNPS fall newsletter

First page of my article in the NCNPS fall newsletter

And the editor of the NC Botanical Garden’s magazine, Conservation Gardener, invited me to write an article for its second edition.  The magazine is a benefit of membership, and I think the second edition is even better than the first one.

Cover of the second edition of Conservation Gardener

Cover of the second edition of Conservation Gardener

This time, I was asked to write about winterizing our yards and gardens sustainably. I really enjoyed putting this one together, especially because I was able to interview several staff members at the NC Botanical Garden so I could share their ideas.

First two pages of my article in Conservation Gardener

First two pages of my article in Conservation Gardener

If you click on the photos in this entry, you’ll get a larger version that will show a few more details. But I hope this may encourage gardeners in the southeastern US who are not yet members of the NC Botanical Garden to join. The new magazine is relevant to gardeners in the Southeast, even if you aren’t close enough to visit often. And membership rates include discounts for seniors, students, and volunteers.

If you are close enough to visit, I hope I’ll see you this Friday, September 23, for Members’ Night of the NC Botanical Garden’s Fall Plant Sale. If you click on this link, you’ll see a link to a printable list of all the plants that will be for sale that evening. I’ll be stationed at a table handing out lists of suggested natives for various situations/growing conditions. All the plants on these lists will be for sale that evening. And don’t forget that as a member, you get a 10% discount on all your purchases.

If you come to the sale, please stop by and say hello.

I hope I'll see you there!

I hope I’ll see you there!

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Contextualizing Our Native Environment

What is it? Will it grow in your yard?

What is it? Will it grow in your yard?

I know that many of my readers are, like me, dedicated long-time gardeners. We speak fair botanical Latin. We know what we mean when we say “part sun,” or “drought-resistant.”

But we also see plenty of neighborhoods full of houses landscaped with lots of fescue lawns, perhaps a sad little tree or two stuck in the middle of the green expanse, and some evergreen shrubs planted along house foundations, often pruned into geometric shapes not found in nature. Many of you old-pro gardeners may not realize it, but living in many of those regimented-looking, nearly biologically sterile neighborhoods are folks who would like to do more with their yards. They want butterflies and birds, but they haven’t got any idea how to attract them. And they don’t know where to start.

Evergreen leaves, not a favorite of deer, beautiful, long-lasting flowers. Do you know this one?

Evergreen leaves, not a favorite of deer, beautiful, long-lasting flowers. Do you know this one?

That’s actually why I started writing this blog back in January 2011. And it’s why I volunteer at the plant help desk at the NC Botanical Garden. I enjoy sharing what I know, trying to make that information accessible to folks new to the southeast (They are legion.), or just new to gardening.

This native pollinator magnet is new to my garden this year.

This native pollinator magnet is new to my garden this year.

I’ve been telling my readers about the NC Botanical Garden’s upcoming Fall Plant Sale for several weeks now. It’s the weekend after this coming one, by the way. That sale can be a bit overwhelming to some folks, because an enormous array of native species is offered for sale — table after table of pots of various sizes, all organized alphabetically by their Latin names. There are signs for every species with photos of mature plants and their flowers, information on how big they will grow, what growing conditions they need. But, still, it can be hard to know where to begin.

Another native new addition to my garden this year.

Another native new addition to my garden this year.

Thus, I am delighted to share with you that, this year, the folks at the NC Botanical Garden will be making it a bit easier for less experienced gardeners to pick out plants suitable for their yards with two new features. First, I am working with the staff to develop lists of suggested plants for certain situations. For example, at a table on Members’ Night, you’ll be able to pick up a list of suggested natives — all for sale that evening — suited for a sunny pollinator garden to provide blooms throughout the growing season. This list won’t contain all the possible options; we intend these lists to be starting points. With the pollinator garden list in hand, you can find a plant on the list, read more about it on the sign on the table, and decide if it is something you want to add to your garden. There will be lists of plants that like moisture (as for rain gardens or pond or stream banks) and ones for dry areas too. Again, these lists won’t be exhaustive, but they will give you a place to start.

This native pollinator magnet can handle sun and shade, as long as it doesn't go too long between rains.

This native pollinator magnet can handle sun and shade, as long as it doesn’t go too long between rains.

The staff at the NC Botanical Garden has come up with one other new feature that any gardener trying to add native food sources for our pollinator and other insects will appreciate. As Douglas Tallamy wrote in his now-classic Bringing Nature Home, without the native trees, shrubs, wildflowers, and grasses that insects eat during their larval stages, their adult stages will not be available to pollinate our crops, and birds and other animals will die if they don’t have these immature and/or adult insects to eat. An entomologist by profession, Dr. Tallamy compiled lists of which native insects rely on which native plant species. Many insects only eat one species of plant. If it disappears, so do they.

A new feature for this year's NCBG plant sale

A new feature for this year’s NCBG plant sale

That’s why I think it’s wonderful that the staff of the NC Botanical Garden has created the sign above to inform customers about how many insect species rely on particular plant species. These numbers come from Dr. Tallamy’s research, so you won’t see these signs for every plant at the sale. But when you do see one, you’ll know that the plant in question plays a key role in our local native food chain.  When you buy a native blueberry plant, you’ll get a beautiful addition to your landscape that will produce berries and lovely fall color; but you’ll also be increasing available food sources for native insects, birds, and other wildlife — a win-win all around!

Feed a caterpillar; feed our native world.

Feed a caterpillar; feed our native world.

I hope I’ll see many of you at the plant sale on Sept. 23-24. The staff at the NC Botanical Garden has worked hard to contextualize their offerings to make it easy for you to figure out what will work best for your landscape. Please come out and pick up some plants to feed your local natives — and to support the only public garden in piedmont North Carolina with the central mission of educating folks about the beauty and importance of native plants.

The future of our pollinators will depend on the choices you make about your landscape.

The future of our pollinators depends on the choices you make about your landscape.

 

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Planting Family Trees

Southern Red Oak (Quercus falcata)

Top of Southern Red Oak (Quercus falcata)

I love trees. All sizes, colors, species — as long as they’re natives or well-behaved non-natives. No invasive exotic species, please!

Loblolly pine

Loblolly pine

We’ve all appreciated the welcome shade of a wide-reaching oak, or the Christmasy scent of pines in a cozy grove. Trees symbolize stability; their roots anchor deeply into earth; their branches reach forever skyward.

Tulip Poplar flowers humming with pollinators adorn this towering canopy specimen every spring.

Tulip Poplar flowers humming with pollinators adorn this towering canopy specimen every spring.

In the southeastern US, the best time to plant trees is mid-to-late fall through late winter. I usually try to get all my planting done before the end of February, but if March holds on to winter’s chill, I’ll pop in a few more new trees and shrubs during that month too. As long as the ground isn’t frozen, the roots of new dormant trees can grow, allowing them to develop strong anchor and feeding roots before summer’s heat stresses them.

Mature Sweet Gum -- top two-thirds

Mature Sweet Gum — top two-thirds

Planting trees — especially our native canopy species — requires vision — time-traveling vision, actually. You must visualize the magnificent specimen your tree will become long after you are gone. You plant these trees for your children, and their children. These are family trees.

A "young" White Oak

A “young” White Oak

Not only human families will appreciate your visionary plantings. Myriad species of native wildlife rely on mature/maturing canopy trees for shelter and food. In Douglas Tallamy’s book, Bringing Nature Home, he provides a table that lists these tree species and the number of lepidopteran (moths and butterflies) species that rely on these trees to feed their caterpillar stages.

Woodpecker hole in a blooming mature Red Maple.

Woodpecker hole in a blooming mature Red Maple.

Given the time-scale required for an oak or hickory, a tulip poplar or a sweet gum to reach maturity, we all need to find room in our home landscapes for at least one of these essential family trees. Here are a few examples of native canopy trees with the time it takes them to reach maturity, and the number of moth and butterfly species that Tallamy says rely on them for larval food:

  • White Oak (Quercus alba) — 300-600 years to maturity — 534 species of moths and butterflies
  • Loblolly Pine (Pinus taeda) — 100-300 years to maturity — 203 species of moths and butterflies
  • Red Maple (Acer rubrum) — 130-300 years to maturity — 285 species of moths and butterflies
  • Pignut Hickory (Carya glabra) — 200-300 years to maturity — 200 species of moths and butterflies
  • American Beech (Fagus grandifolia) — 300-400 years to maturity — 126 species of moths and butterflies

Now think about all the insect-eating birds, mammals, reptiles, and amphibians that eat the insects that rely on these great trees. Of course, many of these creatures also live in these trees. Truly, these are family trees, and we are all members of this family.

This tree is part of a group of River Birches, all 80 feet or taller.

This tree is part of a group of River Birches, all 80 feet or taller.

I hope you’ll consider planting some new native family trees this fall.   If you can, plant them with a child to remind both of you that family trees link us through generations, reaffirming our ties to all species, reminding us that we are all lost without trees.

 

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A Nod to Nodding Ladies’-tresses Orchids

Center pot with Nodding Ladies'tresses orchids on 9-25

Center pot with Nodding Ladies’tresses orchids on 9-25

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.

My pot of Nodding Ladies-tresses orchids on 9-7-2015

My pot of Nodding Ladies-tresses orchids on 9-7-2015

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.

A close-up of a bloom stalk on 9-7-2015

A close-up of a bloom stalk on 9-7-2015

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.

My pot of orchids on 9-18-2015

My pot of orchids on 9-18-2015

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.

A close view of a bloom stalk on 9-18-2015

A close view of a bloom stalk on 9-18-2015

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.

Blooming Nodding Ladies-tresses orchids on 9-24-2015

Blooming Nodding Ladies-tresses orchids on 9-24-2015

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:

spiranthes close 9-24

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!

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Happy Fall, Ya’ll!

Aster 'October Skies'

Aster ‘October Skies’

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.

A pink-berried form of American Beautyberry

A pink-berried form of American Beautyberry

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.

Empty nest syndrome?

Empty nest syndrome?

This delicate nest woven of bark strips and pine needles fell from my evergreen Kousa dogwood. Very autumnal, don’t you think?

The hearts are a'busting all over my Euonymus americanus.

The hearts are a’busting all over my Euonymus americanus.

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.

Fruits of deciduous Kousa dogwood

Fruits of deciduous Kousa dogwood

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.

Fruits of my deciduous Kousa dogwood

Fruits of my deciduous Kousa dogwood

Fruit of my evergreen Kousa dogwood

Fruit of my evergreen Kousa dogwood

The fruits of the evergreen form never look as “spiky” as those of the deciduous Kousa. And they are never as deeply red.

Red Buckeye fruits

Red Buckeye fruits

My Red Buckeye is loaded down, as usual.

Gnarly pecans

Gnarly pecans

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.

Swamp Milkweed seed pods

Swamp Milkweed seed pods

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.

Out-of-season bloom of Loropetalum

Out-of-season bloom of Loropetalum

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.

A window weaver

A window weaver

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.

Early color

Early color

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!

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My Milkweed Garden a Year Later

Great Spangled Fritillary enjoying flowers of Swamp Milkweed

Great Spangled Fritillary enjoying flowers of Swamp Milkweed

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 on Sept. 13, 2015

Clasping Milkweed on Sept. 13, 2015

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 growing well in late May 2015

Whorled Milkweed growing well in late May 2015

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.

Flower buds on Whorled Milkweed

Flower buds on Whorled Milkweed

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.

Whorled Milkweed flowers

Whorled Milkweed flowers

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.

I don't know if the wasp was after nectar or the aphids and ants crawling on the Whorled Milkweed blossoms.

I don’t know if the wasp was after nectar or the aphids and ants crawling on the Whorled Milkweed blossoms.

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 in late May 2015

Common Milkweed in late May 2015

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.

Common Milkweed in early September 2015

Common Milkweed in early September 2015

It grew to a height of about 2.5 feet, but has never shown any signs of flowering.

Poke Milkweed's single flower in late May 2015

Poke Milkweed’s single flower in late May 2015

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.

I didn't see the ants on the single Poke Milkweed flower until I looked at this shot on the computer.

I didn’t see the ants on the single Poke Milkweed flower until I looked at this shot on the computer.

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.

July buds of Poke Milkweed

July buds of Poke Milkweed

But then in early July, I noticed more flower buds! These produced typical milkweed inflorescences by mid-July.

Late July Poke Milkweed flowers

Late July Poke Milkweed flowers

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.

Round one of blooms from Butterfly Weed

Round one of blooms from Butterfly Weed

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!

Third round of blooms with seed pods from the second round.

Third round of blooms with seed pods from the second round.

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!

Round 2 of blooms from this beauty.

Round 2 of blooms from this beauty.

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.

Swamp Milkweed blooming enthusiastically in a partially submerged pot in my front water feature.

Swamp Milkweed blooming enthusiastically in a partially submerged pot in my front water feature.

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.

The Swamp Milkweeds produced a multitude of seed pods.

The Swamp Milkweeds produced a multitude of seed pods.

There’s a white-flowering form of this species, but I prefer the more common pink-blooming variety.

Pollinators were perpetual visitors on these pretty pink blossoms.

Pollinators were perpetual visitors on these pretty pink blossoms.

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 in May 2015

Few-flowered milkweed in May 2015

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 buds

Purple Savanna Milkweed buds

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.

Flowers of Purple Savanna Milkweed

Flowers of Purple Savanna Milkweed

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!

A seedling volunteer from last year's planting of tropical milkweed Butterfly Bright Wings

A seedling volunteer from last year’s planting of tropical milkweed Butterfly Bright Wings

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.

Final Thoughts

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.

The milkweed bugs, oleander aphids, and myriad ants on my milkweeds never seemed to adversely affect their vigor.

The milkweed bugs, oleander aphids, and myriad ants on my milkweeds never seemed to adversely affect their vigor.

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!

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Enriching your Native Landscape

Pots of pipevines awaiting adoption

Pots of Pipevines awaiting adoption at the NC Botanical Garden

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.

A Northern Cardinal surveys my active floodplain this past March.

A Northern Cardinal surveys my active floodplain this past March.

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.

Magnolia 'Elizabeth' flowers

Magnolia ‘Elizabeth’ flowers

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.

Spring wildflowers like this Trillium start the prolonged display of beautiful natives in my landscape.

Spring wildflowers like this Trillium start the procession of beautiful natives in my landscape.

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.

Consider buying some Milkweeds (Asclepias spp.), the only food their  caterpillars eat.

Consider buying some Milkweeds (Asclepias spp.), the only food Monarch caterpillars eat.

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!

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