Sunday, September 27, 2015

Summer lessons learned: It's A Mystery To Me

I love a good mystery.  Give me a book by Martha Grimes or Sara Paretsky or Debra Crombie, and you won't hear a peep out of me all evening.  In fact, you probably won't see me very early in the morning either, because I invariably stay up way too late as I turn page after page, caught up in what is going to happen next.  But novels aren't the only forms of mystery; there are mysteries in the garden as well.  This summer I often was bewildered about what was happening in my garden.  Some of those mysteries were eventually solved, like the tidy conclusions with no loose ends I prefer in novels, but other situations still have me puzzled.

Salvia Azurea, also known as Pitcher Sage

Every year I have some mystery plants, plants that I can't identify and wonder if they're a weed or something I will welcome in my garden .This year was no exception.  I've already mentioned the sneezeweed that I initially had no memory of planting and the Salvia azurea that I almost pulled, thinking it was a weed.

One mystery daylily identified as a passalong

Then there were the daylily mysteries.  I always try to record any new daylily purchases I make and  place a marker next to each one when I plant them.  But two of my tags disappeared over the winter or were buried deeply under the compost, and when lily season began, I found I had not the five new daylilies I remembered buying, but six!  And then, to make me feel even more like I'd lost my mind, there was another new daylily that appeared in the butterfly garden!  The latter was solved when a fellow gardening volunteer reminded me that she had given me a division of one of her daylilies last year.  I probably planted it in the butterfly garden because I had simply run out of room everywhere else.

The six-not-five new hybrids were still a mystery until a week ago when I discovered my receipt from last summer while doing some cleaning.  (Amazing what things you can find when you do a little cleaning.)  It turns out I did buy six lilies--besides the five names I remembered, I also bought an unnamed hybrid--an experimental plant that the growers have decided not to continue growing.  But there is still a little mystery--is the daylily above 'Susan Weber' or L09-021?

Or is this one L09-021 or 'Susan Weber'??

Another thing that has had me scratching my head this year is what happened to my clematis?  I had only one clematis until last year, 'Nelly Moser,' which bloomed faithfully and profusely every May/June.  But this year not a single bloom!  Last year I planted a new clematis, 'Roguchi,' which I was very excited about because I love these bell-shaped purple blooms and it did very well in its first year.  But again, not a sign of it this year!

Clematis 'Roguchi' growing in the nursing home garden

I haven't quite come up with a satisfactory resolution to either of these mysteries, but my hunch is that my poor little 'Roguchi' may have fallen victim to some over-zealous weeding on my part this spring. Or perhaps it was strangled by the Cardinal vine that grew up the same side of the trellis and into the coneflowers and the lilies and just about any place it could sneak in.  And my 'Nelly Moser'--well, I'm not sure, but I may have pruned it too early and too vigorously in the spring.  It's growing up its trellis (minus blooms), so I'm hoping it will recover and bloom again next year.  As for poor 'Roguchi,' I'll be on the lookout for a replacement next spring.

A few blooms earlier on the yellow Knockouts; the red ones are too puny to even photograph.

I'm not taking any blame for two other puzzles, though.  My 'Knockout' roses were an absolute failure this year, producing only a few measly blooms.  I gave them a moderate pruning in the spring, but nothing different from previous years.  Last year everyone's 'Knockouts' in the area looked terrible, which everyone attributed to the bad winter.  But this past winter wasn't quite so bad--although we didn't have much snow cover--so I don't know why mine especially look so awful this year.  I didn't think you could kill 'Knockouts,' but I'm beginning to think I'm a homicidal rose killer.

Another no-show this year were the Macrophylla Hydrangeas.  Oh, they grew and grew with very healthy green foliage, but only one blossom appeared on three plants--only one all summer!  After a couple of people told me their Macrophyllas were doing the same thing and asked for my advice, I did a little sleuthing.  Improper pruning or lack of water or fertilizer could cause problems with blooming, but none of those were the problems here.  A late winter cold snap that occurred just as the hydrangeas were setting blooms seems the most likely cause.  If that is the case, then I don't have to feel guilty about doing something wrong, and I can only hope that blooms will return again next year.

If the weather was the culprit in my flower-less Macrophyllas, it had no effect on the Hydrangea Paniculatas, fortunately.  'Vanilla Strawberry' bloomed up a storm, and the 'Limelight' is becoming a flowering autumn tree.

Ascelpias curassavica, Tropical milkweed, is still blooming in the garden.  But it's not the best choice of milkweeds for Monarchs.

One of just a small patch of zinnias that grew this year.

Do you remember the old folk song "Where Have All the Flowers Gone?"  My last mystery concerns all the plants that never appeared this year.  From the Turkish lilies to all the milkweed seed I planted last fall or late winter, I am confused and disappointed at many no-shows. Besides the milkweed seeds, which really disappointed me because I was hoping to attract more Monarchs to my garden, there were other seeds that didn't germinate.  I always have good luck with zinnia and cosmos seeds, which are so easy to grow.  But very few of them appeared this year.  I suspect some of the seeds in my arbor bed were covered up with too much mulch when I had some helpers early in the season and forgot to mention where the seeds were planted.

But that doesn't explain the lack of flowers in my roadside garden, where I also planted some zinnias and cosmos.  Only one little cosmos plant survived to bloom. Correct that--I notice yesterday I have a second plant blooming!  I could blame Mr. P and his lawnmower, but I don't think he's a suspect.  In fact, there were several mysterious goings-on in this roadside garden all season, starting with some of the new tulips that never appeared.

Pot with hot pink annuals peeking out to the left of photo.

 Probably the most puzzling incident was the case of the empty pot.  In May I planted some petunias and 'Diamond Frost' euphorbia in a pot lying on its side at the front of the garden.  A few weeks later, the pot was empty!  Not a dried-up stem was in sight--everything had disappeared.  When summer annuals went on clearance in mid-June, I tried again and filled the pot with other petunias and bright annuals.  A week or two later, when I went to water the pot again, the same thing--not a plant in sight!

A fall mum now planted in the pot next to the sedum--I dare a thief to make off with this one!

Could it be fairies who stole my plants to decorate their fairy homes?  Or is there some marauding varmint that likes tasty annuals and is digging them out for dinner?  There are no clues and thus no suspects, so the mystery of the disappearing roadside plants will remain unsolved for now.  I could assign the investigation to Capt. Sophie, but with this garden's proximity to the busy road, it's out of her jurisdiction.

From both the mysteries that were solved and from the ones that remain open investigations, I have learned a few lessons this summer:
  • I need to be more diligent about recording all new plantings in my garden journal.
  • I need to find a better, more permanent type of plant label, one whose printing won't disappear over the winter and one that can't be pulled out by dogs looking for toys.
  • I need to follow proper pruning instructions--when in doubt, do some research first!

But most of all, I've learned once again that gardening can be unpredictable, and that a little mystery just adds some spice to it--gardening is never boring!

I am very late, but I'm joining in with Beth's quarterly Lessons Learned in the Garden posted at the end of each season.

Wednesday, September 16, 2015

September GBBD: Almost Autumn

I haven't had much time to work in the garden lately, and it shows.  Summer is winding down, but not without some blasts of hot air and humidity before it leaves.  Faded and dried up blooms hang on plants waiting for someone to start tidying up for fall. Weedy wildflowers that I intended to pull are still blooming, probably setting seed for hundreds of progeny next spring.

The coneflowers look especially bad, unless you're into shades of brown, but the goldfinches are still enjoying them, so that's my excuse for not cutting them back.

Flowers aren't the only plants turning brown; we're surrounded on three sides by fields of corn which have been slowly turning to a shade of tan.  Soon it will be harvest season.

The vegetable garden is also pretty well done, except for a few tomatoes and eggplants.  The tomatoes didn't do very well this year--perhaps all the rain we had in early spring--but we've had enough to eat fresh.  The one plant that is still doing well are the 'Golden Guardian' marigolds, added to help deter pests.  And speaking of pests, there must be a few left in the ground, because Sophie always finds something to dig out here.  She refused to get out of this photo:)

The Sneezeweed that captivated me a few weeks ago is slowly losing its petals.  But I like the look of these seedheads, don't you?  They will definitely be left for winter interest.

But even as the summer blooms fade away, there are new additions to take their place and keep the garden interesting--and tasty for the pollinators and other visitors.  Native asters in shades of pink and purple are just beginning to open up.

And there is goldenrod everywhere.  I am amazed by the comments I see on Facebook and other places by the number of people who still confuse goldenrod with ragweed.  Besides being the allergy culprit, ragweed is ugly!  Goldenrod, on the other hand, is innocent and lovely, even if the native species like this can be a bit of a thug.

'October Skies' asters are just beginning to bloom, but the butterflies have already found them.

Agastache, aka Hummingbird Mint, shows no sign of letting up any time soon.  I only wish this plant would survive the winter here.

Another sign of fall--the Viburnum 'Cardinal Candy' is covered in small berries.  This is the first year I've ever seen berries on this plant, which was its main selling point when I purchased it several years ago.

There was a time when there wasn't much blooming in my garden in the fall.  Thankfully, over the last few years I've remedied that.  A new addition this year, Salvia azurea has turned out to be one of those late bloomers.  Actually, I am just happy to see these pretty blue blooms, no matter the time of year because I had thought I had lost this plant.  The tag marking it somehow was moved, and until it bloomed, I thought it was something else.  Glad I didn't pull it, thinking it was a weed!

Late-blooming phlox in the shade garden is a volunteer,
 one I'm happy to have however it came to be here.

Turtleheads also add some color to the shade garden expansion.

One of the stalwarts of the late summer garden are the ornamental grasses.  'Morning Light' Miscanthus rises above another grass, a Panicum.

I always have trouble capturing the Panicums on camera, but I thought this was pretty cool.  I'm not sure if this is 'Shenandoah' or 'Northwinds,' but the reddish tints of the seedheads make me think it's 'Shenandoah.'

And, of course, there are many annuals that keep going up until frost.  I don't know why I haven't planted Gomphrena very often, but I like these tall stems that sway in the breeze, especially in front of the Amsonia Hubrichtii, which is already beginning to change to its fall color.

Nicotania is another late-bloomer, but only because I pulled most of the volunteer seedlings early this spring.  A few escaped my weeding and provide some welcome blooms among the fading perennials.

In the containers, 'Silverberry' Supertunia has been one of the best performers out of all my petunias this year.

And finally, I can't end this Bloom Day post without showing off one of the best late summer annuals, the zinnias.  Monarchs have been passing through the garden for the past few weeks, and they always stop to enjoy the zinnias.

One of my favorite zinnias is the 'Zowie Yellow Flame.'  I brag about these every year, but they really are a pollinator favorite besides being simply stunning.  This bumblebee sure was busy gathering every bit of pollen he could!

Bees and butterflies--what more could you ask for?  

Although I haven't been very busy working in the garden, I have spent a lot of time enjoying it, especially all the visitors this time of year.  Butterflies, bees, and the antics of hummingbirds make this one of my favorite times of the year.

To see what else is blooming this September, check out other Bloom Day posts at Carol's of May Dreams Gardens.

Wednesday, September 9, 2015

Book Review Club: Go Set A Watchman

Anyone who is a fan of To Kill A Mockingbird has by now either read Go Set a Watchman or, after reading reviews of it, has refused to read it.  The early draft of Harper Lee’s classic was supposedly discovered a year ago and has generated all kinds of publicity and hundreds of reviews, mostly negative. In spite of the fact that more has been written about this book than it probably deserves, I can’t help myself—I just have to add my own two cents’ worth.

GSAW is set twenty years after Mockingbird, as an adult Scout, now known as Jean Louise, returns to her hometown of Maycomb, Alabama.  Maycomb will always be home to Jean Louise, and she is drawn to it despite the fact that she still doesn’t quite fit in.  She meets her old friend, Henry Clinton, who finally confesses his love for her and asks her to marry him.  While Jean Louise considers his proposal, she discovers a shocking revelation about her father Atticus, one that forces her to decide whether she wants to ever live in Maycomb again, but more importantly, whether she can be a part of her own family again.

That shocking revelation, as most readers already know, is that Atticus apparently supports the traditional views of segregation prevalent throughout the South in the 1950’s.  The landmark Supreme Court ruling of Brown vs. Board of Education worried those entrenched in the old belief in separate but equal, and groups were organized to mount a resistance to this ruling.  Maycomb was no exception, and to the horror of Jean Louise, Atticus is a member of that group.

Atticus Finch a racist?? Tell me it isn’t so!  The noble man whose integrity shines through To Kill a Mockingbird is one of the most beloved heroes in literary fiction, and Gregory Peck’s portrayal of him in the 1962 award-winning film cemented that opinion.  To find out that Watchman shatters that image is one of the main reasons many readers have opted not to read the new book.

'Vanilla Strawberry' Hydrangeas putting out a few new blooms, but most have faded as the season winds down.

I knew as I began reading the book what I was getting into.  Still, as I finished the novel, I felt as if I needed to erase everything I had just read and remember only the Atticus Finch I have known and loved for years.  The theme of discovering your childhood heroes are humans after all could have worked—but with a completely new set of characters.

Hummingbirds are fueling up for their long journey south very soon.
Aside from this major problem, there are other flaws in the book as well.  When Jean Louise confronts her father, he tries to explain his stance, but the conversations between them are so rambling that they don’t resolve anything.  It is as if Harper Lee was trying to come to terms with her own feelings about her father (if it was indeed autobiographical) and simply couldn’t.  Her decision about her father at the end is unsatisfying and unbelievable.  Uncle Jack’s attempts to explain Atticus's position are also rambling.  A lovable character in Mockingbird, Uncle Jack comes across as eccentric, if not downright crazy, in Watchman.  Speaking of characters, the other beloved characters in Mockingbird—Dill, Jem, and Boo Radley (oh, how I missed him!)—don’t even appear in the new novel.  Calpurnia does appear, but her transformation in Watchman is as disturbing as Atticus’s.  Only Aunt Alexandra, of all people, remains somewhat the same character.

The bees are still busy gathering pollen.
So why did I read this book, knowing full well I was going to be disappointed?  Purely out of curiosity--I wanted to see where Lee began her story and how it evolved into my favorite book of all time, To Kill a Mockingbird.  There are parts worth reading--all of them flashbacks as Jean Louise remembers some of the exploits of her youth.  These humorous anecdotes are different from the ones in Mockingbird, but remind the reader of some of those touches of humor, like the scenes when Jem and Scout try to draw out Boo Radley.  But their placement in the book often distracts from the main story.

What Go Set a Watchman really needed was a good editor--oh wait, Lee already had a good editor, and the result was To Kill a Mockingbird!

Enjoying the visiting Monarchs as they begin their fall migration.
There are those who have refused to read Watchman out of principle, thinking that the publishers were motivated by greed.  If so, I am sorry I purchased my own hardback copy.  On the other hand, it is possible that the publicist/agent felt the world deserved to see how Lee's famous story began. Whatever the motivation, I seriously doubt that Harper Lee willingly granted permission to have this very rough rough draft published.

Harper Lee once told a close friend why she never wrote another book after Mockingbird: "I have said what I wanted to say and I will not say it again."  It's too bad her publishers didn't respect those wishes.

(Photos are random photos of my late summer garden and have nothing whatsoever to do with this book.  Perhaps I could have tied them in with Miss Maudie and her garden, but alas, Miss Maudie isn't in Watchman either.)

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@Barrie Summy

Disclaimer:  As with all the books I review here, I received no compensation of any kind for this review.  I purchased my own copy of Go Set A Watchman, but I'm not sure it will rest in my bookshelf next to To Kill A Mockingbird.

Thursday, August 27, 2015

Wildflower Wednesday: Invited Guests and the Party Crashers

It has been a long time since I have participated in Gail's Wildflower Wednesday.  It's been a busy summer with little time for blogging, but it also seems that most of the native plants I have don't start blooming until late summer.  I've learned so much about native plants over the years from Gail and the WW posts and added more of them to my garden as I've learned about their benefits to pollinators.  So I'm very happy to join in once again with some of the late bloomers from my garden.

If you've read my last few posts, you know that the current star of my garden is Rudbeckia triloba, also known as Brown-eyed Susan.  In fact, it's pretty hard to miss as it's taken over the front of the Lily Bed as well as parts of the Butterfly Garden.  A volunteer that mysteriously appeared in my garden a few years ago, it has made itself quite at home here.  But you can never have too many Susans, right?

Joe-Pye weed is still hanging on at the back of the butterfly garden.  As I've mentioned before, this is definitely the native species of Eutrochium purpureum because the stems are green, not purplish, and the flowerheads not as showy a pink as many of the other types.

'Little Joe,' however, has much prettier flowers and the dark purple stems that I love.  I'd like to plant more of the taller Joes with this coloring at the back of the butterfly garden, but first I have to contend with the semi-thugs that have taken up residence there . . .

 . . . the Obedient Plants.  I have a love-hate relationship with this plant:  I hate its aggressiveness and pull out numerous seedlings in the spring, but in the fall I love these white, pink, and purple blooms.

I noticed today that the pinkish blossoms actually have freckles and remind me of foxglove blooms.  Since I have never had much luck with foxgloves in my garden, perhaps I should change my attitude and think of these as the poor-man's foxglove.  The bees like them, no matter their name.

Although I have planted more natives over the past few years, the most prominent and prolific ones seem to be the ones I didn't plant.  Common Evening Primrose Oenothera biennis is one of those mystery plants that suddenly appear in my garden and I allow to let grow because I'm not sure if it's a weed or something I actually planted and forgot about.

At 6-7 feet tall, it's hard to ignore.  The flowers remain open from evening till morning, but might also stay open on a cloudy day.

Despite its classification as a "Prairie Wildflower" by the Illinois Wildflowers website, I'd classify it as a weedy wildflower.  It has a long taproot, which explains why my efforts to eradicate it have been unsuccessful.  Still, these pretty little yellow flowers are rather attractive, and they do attract moths and the occasional hummingbird and bees, so I guess they're not all bad.

Bees also like thistle as do various birds, including the goldfinches.  However, there are more than enough plants here for the bees and plenty of coneflowers for the finches, so this lone thistle--definitely a weed in my opinion--is going to have to go.

Another volunteer that appears every year is the Pokeweed.  It's another one of those with a long taproot, which is why my simply cutting it off after it blooms never quite gets rid of it.

Because it has been well-mannered so far, I usually leave it alone for awhile so the birds can enjoy the berries.  The berries, as you can see, aren't ripe yet, but when they are, they'll be a deep dark purple.  They are toxic to humans, though, and can stain your hands, so I will definitely let the birds pick them!

Goldenrod is also just beginning to bloom. I'm not sure what type this is, because all the plants are volunteers.  And talk about volunteers--it would take over my garden if I let it!   I pull some of the excess seedlings every year, but I leave the rest because, besides its value to insects, it really does make a pretty backdrop for other flowers, like these seedheads of the gray-headed coneflowers.  It also makes a nice filler for flower arrangements.

As you can see, many of the natives in my garden are actually volunteers, probably gifts from the birds.  Too often it seems the natives I actually plant in my garden don't germinate or disappear, probably overcome by the thugs already there.  But sometimes I am pleasantly surprised, as I was by the plant I wanted to focus on this month.

A few weeks ago I noticed a few tall plants amidst the emerging goldenrod and asters.  I was pretty sure they were weeds until I noticed small flowerbuds on them.  I was intrigued and decided to leave them alone.  Thank goodness I did!  When they bloomed, I was finally able to identify them as Common Sneezeweed, Helenium Autumnale.

A few facts about this Sneezeweed:
  • Zone 3-8, blooms August --October
  • 3-5 feet tall with not much branching but an abundance of flowers
  • likes wet to moist conditions--we had the perfect spring/early summer for it this year
  • the foliage is bitter and toxic, with some reports of livestock poisoning from it
  • despite the name, it does not cause sneezing.  In the past, the leaves and flowers were dried and used as snuff, hence the name

Common visitors to the Sneezeweed include all kinds of bees, some wasps, Syrphid flies, butterflies, and beetles.  Most suck the nectar, but some also collect the pollen.

So how did these pretty bee-magnets find their way into my garden?? I doubted they were volunteers, so I searched through my garden journals, and sure enough, I discovered that I had purchased a seedling at our local Prairie Plant Society sale two years ago.  Because I had seen no sign of it the past two years, I had forgotten all about it--thank goodness I didn't pull it out!  Sometimes there are benefits to being forgetful--it makes for some happy surprises every year in the garden:)  Aside from that, seeing the Sneezeweed in full bloom gives me hope that some of the other natives I've planted in the past two years and haven't seen a sign of may just be biding their time and will surprise me next year.

I am enjoying all these late additions to the garden, whether they were invited or not.  For more information on wildflowers and natives, be sure to visit our gracious hostess Gail at Clay and Limestone.