A Week of Flowers-Day 5

I’m taking it easy on day five of Cathy’s Week of Flowers celebration.  I guess I don’t party like I used to.  Today with a single photo I’m celebrating the heat of late July and the entire month of August, and the hot red flowers of Lobelia cardinalis.  This moisture loving North American native plant finally settled in just off the back porch in a somewhat shaded and often damp corner of the house.  While the cardinal flowers are in bloom, hummingbirds run a near constant turf war with guards and hit and runs and and the constant chatter of chases and aerial combat.  A gardener who sits nearby to enjoy the shelter and shade is guaranteed a face-to-face barrage of insults from some tiny hovering pint-sized fighter pilot.  Hummingbirds seem so tiny and cute, but in reality they’re little flying honey badgers.

lobelia cardinalis

Cardinal flower filling the end of the shade garden.

Hope you are enjoying your weekend, it’s a beautifully sunny morning here and although it’s also on the cold side, the rest of the week looks tolerable… and by tolerable I mean good shipping weather for a little box of succulents…

Merry Christmas to me!

Thursday’s Feature: Cardinal Flower

It must be the week for scarlet since I see that Kimberley, our host for the Thursday Feature, has also featured something equally bright this week from her garden.  Her choice is bee balm (Monarda), but the cardinal flower (Lobelia cardinalis) also gives a bright punch of red to the late summer garden.

cardinal flower

My own slightly undernourished cardinal flower. 

Cardinal flower is a native North American wildflower and its color and flower shape are tailored to attracting hummingbirds.  Red is a color for bringing in these small winged pollinators, and one can see how its bee pollinated cousin, great lobelia (L. siphilicata),  would have shorter blooms and a more bee-friendly blue coloring.  Both are easy in the garden and thrive in a moist, fertile soil in either a sunny or part shade location.  If your garden is well suited to these beauties, the blue version has even been known to border on weedy with its self-seeding ways, but to be honest I can’t imagine them being any trouble at all to just remove.  Keep in mind though that the summers in my garden can usually fry and dry even some of the hardiest members of the plant kingdom so I might not be the best judge on if a moisture loving plant is weedy!

chanticleer red seat

Color coordinated seating alongside a nice patch of cardinal flower at Chanticleer.

The straight species of L cardinalis is an excellent flower even straight out of the forest, but over the years hybrids and selections have broadened the range of cardinal flower available to gardeners.  Darker foliage is always a popular look, as well as pink and purple hybrids with the great lobelia.  They’re all equally easy to grow when given the moisture they need but in my experience the hybrids are no where near as hardy as the straight species(zone 7 versus zone 3).  Still I showed no hesitation when I saw this maroon leaved plant for sale this spring.  Even as a likely annual it’s worth the money I spent on it… although honestly I expected the flowers to be denser.

cardinal flower

A dark foliaged Lobelia cardinalis in bloom on the deck.  I’m not totally sure I’ve ever seen the hummers on this one, and I wonder if some nectar production was opted out of when they selected for dark leaves.

I’d love to have a bunch of these scattered throughout the garden but there are only a few spots where I can keep an eye on them often enough to keep them from drying out completely.  That’s just me though, if you have a reliably damp spot or even poorly drained spot which kills off many other plants, I would jump on the chance to try out a few cardinal flowers.  They may even self-seed and you can imagine the show if that happens.

Give them a try and also give Kimberley a visit to see what other late bloomers are featured this week.  It’s the downside of the summer, and a fresh and new bloomer at this time of year is always welcome.


Thursday’s Feature: Standing Cypress

It’s Thursday and that means joining up with Kimberley of Cosmos and Cleome to take a closer look at something which caught your eye in the garden this week.  Hopefully you’re ready for color because his week the bright red of standing cypress (Ipomopsis rubra) is our subject.

Ipomopsis Rubra

Ipomopsis rubra close up.  Love the speckles and the intense scarlet color.  Bright red is what you need this time of year to stand up to the strong summer sun.

Standing cypress is a showy wildflower native to southeastern North America and just one of many garden-worthy Ipomopsis which can be found across the Americas (at least they look garden worthy, this is the only one I’ve ever grown).  These members of the phlox family are tough, drought resistant, and easy to grow and I’m surprised they’re not seen more often.  This is one plant which didn’t even blink when the rain stopped and its neighbors curled up into a drought induced fetal position.

Ipomopsis Rubra

Ipomopsis Rubra has a habit which I would call “lax”.  At anywhere from two to five feet tall they don’t typically flop, but they lean and stretch and carry so many blooms and seed pods that understandably it can get heavy for a little plant.

It took me years to finally find seed but admittedly I wasn’t out there every week trying to run down new sources.  I received my seed via the Mid Atlantic Hardy Plant Society seed exchange but now I’ve been seeing them more frequently sold in wildflower mixes or for hummingbird plantings.  The mix I planted was supposed to show a blend of red to oranges to yellows, but the speckled scarlet color is the only one I’ve seen come up.

Ipomopsis Rubra

The tubular flower shape and bright red color of these blooms has ‘hummingbird flower’ written all over it, and sure enough I often see hummers flying by for a meal.

It’s my suspicion that the natural variation across this species makes for different growing habits based on where one gets their seed from.  My plants which have been selfseeding around for several years now seem to be strictly annuals but from what I found they also grow as biennials and short lived perennials in areas across the United States as far up as zone 4.  Since mine have never overwintered I’m thinking it’s an annual form I’m growing.

Other confusing comments on this plant include it having a taproot (mine don’t) and it needing sandy or gravelly, well drained soil (mine tolerate heavier soil) in order to do well.  I suspect some of this is from people who’s knowledge is based less on experience and more on internet searches, but since I’m not a botanist either I’ll let you decide.

Ipomopsis Rubra

The ferny basal rosettes of standing cypress will pop up in any barren, neglected area which grows weeds well.  They do not compete against more perennial plantings, but in disturbed soil they can make a quick show before other opportunists jump in.

The hummingbirds and I will enjoy the blooms of this wildflower for several weeks now and when things slow down I’ll just trim off the upper end of the stalk and the smaller side shoots should carry on for a few more weeks.

Standing cypress.  Consider it.  If your garden can handle a shot of red I think you’ll enjoy it, and I also think you’ll enjoy giving Cosmos and Cleome a visit to see what Kimberley and others bloggers are featuring this week.  Enjoy!

And the clouds opened

For some reason my little valley has been missing all the rains again, and up until last week it’s just been dry, dry, dry…. until Tuesday.  The cold front came through and we enjoyed two days of on and off rain, and the garden just soaked it all up.  It reminded me of one of those nature specials out of the Serengeti.

heucheras in dry shade

You can’t even weed this rock hard “topsoil”. My new heucheras are toughing it out, but this bed sure won’t make it onto a postcard any time soon!

The grass dried up, the trees started dropping leaves, the waterhole pulled in all the wildlife, and animals were on the move.  Anything not within hose range shriveled up, but at least the temperatures were low.  Last year we had a hot baking which killed off the weak, this year I think everyone should recover.

asclepias tuberosa during drought

Asclepias tuberosa is a tough one. I planted these seedlings out last summer and after a few weeks they shriveled up and died due to neglect. Spring resurrected them and they are now trying so hard…. but they’re not cacti!

It looks horrible though.  The front yard had two sprinkler days and just looks dry, the back looks dead!  Here’s the director of cinematography following me around getting the shots that I missed.

lawn dead from drought

I would call this dormant. The weeds even gave up.

But just like in the nature specials, when the rains return the landscape springs back into life.  I took a couple pictures at the end of the two days and although a few things look a bit battered, even the dead back lawn is giving out a sigh of relief.

front border with hydrangea

The front street border starts to put on its best show at this time of year, and although polite people would refer to its plantings as “a riot of color” others would call it a mess. Suits me just fine though!

The front foundation bed is a much calmer mix this year.  No bright oranges or over-bright coleus, but all my good intentions from last year of removing the overgrown evergreen and NOT letting any sunflowers grow up kinda fell to the wayside.

foundation planting

I don’t think I can physically pull and compost a sunflower, it’s just unethical to me…. sunflowers and dogwood seedlings, can’t pull either one.

I spend way too much time admiring the “Limelight” hydrangea.  It’s just about at full bloom now and I love its green going into white phase and the way its heavy flower heads are held up on strong stems.  It’s the only white plant out there, and it does stick out, but each spring I look proudly at its buds and imagine how much bigger the show will be!

limelight hydrangea

“Limelight” hydrangea nearly overwhelming the border….More of a purple-yellow theme going on here, but none of my planting plans are ever set in stone.

For some reason prior to the rain the yard was overrun with birds.  Flocks of starlings, catbirds, sparrows, house finches, hummingbirds, goldfinches, cardinals, doves, robins and mockingbirds would swarm each morning.  A large cherry and staghorn sumac berries brought in the fruit eaters, but the others were just all milling about looking for what-nots.  With all those hungry eyes it’s no wonder I’ve seen so few butterflies.

holes in lawn from birds feeding

The day after the rain the back lawn was riddled with all these bill holes. I don’t know what they found in the freshly wetted grass, but there was a flock of around 50 who kept milling around going from lawn to cherry to sumac to lawn.

Strangely enough since the rains came there seem to be far fewer birds.  I need to get out there and explain why their straying from script is throwing off the documentary.  On TV the return of the rains always brings on the migrating hordes!

sunflowers, dahlias and cannas

The rains were just in time for the former tropical bed. Leaves were starting to wilt and I just didn’t have it in me to add another bed to the water-triage list.

So we are back in business.  I hate drought and I hate watering and between the two of them dry spells always get ugly.  Now if it can only get a little warmer again this could have the makings of a great end of summer rally.

Ipomoea quamoclit

Maybe the birds can stop pecking off the tips of the cypress vine (Ipomoea quamoclit) long enough for it to scale the arbor. It’s heading for the top but the birds are relentless. Good thing it’s not a bunny though, the other side for some reason is abused daily by our single resident baby bunny, and can’t even start climbing.

I should be thinking fall garden but I’m going to hide behind denial for a few more days.  The cool weather is supposed to warm up again and hopefully summer will stay strong for another couple weeks.  It’s hard to deny though as the cyclamen sprout and the corn ripens.  Go away autumn, I’m not a fall person!

The garden formerly known as tropical

There’s a spot in my yard (actually most of it inches over into my Mother in Law’s yard) where I like to indulge in a little of the tropics.  Last year it was full of cannas, sweet potatoes, and other warm weather friends, but this year it seems to have lost some of that bold tropical flair.  As usual it’s my own fault, and as usual it’s a long story, so I’ll try to keep it short.  It all begins in April when mulch was purchased for next door, and a willing volunteer was needed to spread it.  I foolishly agreed, but the deal was to add a couple tons of topsoil (I said I needed it to fill in along a sidewalk).  “I’ll spread all your mulch if you buy me even more stuff which needs spreading”.  Let me just say I run a hard bargain.

new flower bed

Look at that three inch drop from the sidewalk into the tropical bed. Clearly an ankle twisting lawsuit in the making!

So the mulch was spread, perennials divided, shrubs trimmed, weeds pulled…. the deal kept getting better and better it seems, but then it came down to the heap of topsoil sitting in the driveway.  I used a few wheelbarrows to raise the soil along the walk and was still left with plenty.  Finally my plan was coming together hah hah hah.  I’m pretty sure I mentioned I might use the topsoil to expand the bed a bit, so that’s what I went ahead and did 🙂

digging a new perennial bed

Line the edge with a hose, cut in and dig out the edge, smother the grass with about two inches of topsoil… wow did I hate mowing this sloped little patch of sickly grass!

No one said a word about the tripled in size, very empty bed.  I think people around here may be a little wary about asking questions for fear I will plant up a field of dandelions or something.  Some people have said I’m stubborn and criticism may tend to encourage me even more.  I like to think of it as proving a point 😉

fresh soil in flower bed

A huge empty garden bed in May. What could possibly make a gardener happier (other than a few loads of compost mixed in)?

The last bits of mulch made the bed a little more suburban-friendly and a few paver scraps thrown down along the center made an acceptable shortcut for the kids.  Then on to the real fun!  Canna and dahlia roots were lugged out and planted, and that was well enough, but then trouble started brewing.  A box filled with a dozen or so rooted chrysanthemum cuttings showed up at the door.  I can check on them constantly if they’re right along the edge of the new bed, so that’s where they went.  Don’t ask me why I needed a box of chrysanthemums, February is a tough month.

new flower bed

Somehow random perennials invaded the tropical border, that and chrysanthemums….

Then of course I tried to make the front yard more respectable by not having sunflowers all throughout the foundation plantings.  Out they came and into the new bed they went.  I have a serious problem in trying to show any kind of resolve against sunflower seedlings, they’re all summer and sunshine and it seems borderline criminal to pull them as weeds.

peony "do Tell"

Peony “Do Tell” can’t seriously expect to be the only plant using this spot of sun all year. The sunflowers should take over by July and the peony will just hang out in their shade until next year…. that’s the theory at least.

Things still look awfully barren but until the heat of summer hits it’s all kind of just biding its time.  Looking over from my yard you can see the bit of slope which made me hate mowing this spot.  Plus I’m not all that crazy about lawn to begin with *yawn* ….. it’s only really good for walking around on while checking the plants out!

side view

Year two of “I should give the table another coat of pain” -June 10th

My grass just doesn’t have the strength to come up through the soil (southerners may have a different experience), and even without soil improvement the new plants are still doing well as they feed off the decaying lawn underneath.  A month later and things are looking better.  The cannas still give a tropical look, but all the sunflowers are giving more of a neglected-agriculture vibe!

cannas, grasses, and sunflowers

July 13th, about a month later and the cannas are up, the sunflowers are growing, and I still keep looking at the bare dirt wishing for some compost or mulch to cover it up with.

As the sunflowers come into bloom they’re pretty and cheerful… but they’re not the tropics.

sunflower bed

It looks lush and green, so I should be happy. Also it’s not the color disaster I grew here last year, another reason to be pleased!

Besides it being a non-tropical border, a few other problems are coming to light.  The first is that some of the chrysanthemums relentlessly insist on setting buds and blooming for summer instead of fall.  I think I failed to pinch them back enough when planting them out in the spring, but I just don’t have the heart to do it now.

mums blooming too early

Chrysanthemums blooming in July, hopefully they’ll be on the correct schedule next year…. but they’ll need dividing by then, so I have no idea where to put them all!

To me a more insidious problem is the sunflower blooms.  When the first flower opened I cringed.  They’re completely pollen free, and because of that they don’t offer much to pollinators, and even worse they don’t set seed as well as the normal types.  I thought for sure since they were selfsown from last year’s plants that they should be normal functioning sunflowers but that’s not the case.  These all appear to carry the pollen-free gene, a gene which I’m sure came from the birdfeed seed.  I’m not big on all the seed conspiracies, but this looks like a genetic insurance policy that keeps farmers coming back to the seed supplier each year, and keeps them from replanting their own crop.  Good for a seed seller but not so good for me and all my now genetically tainted sunflowers.

pollen free sunflower with bee

Not much here for the bees.

Luckily there’s a small patch of sunflowers out front which still grow normally.  Once these started blooming I noticed a few seeds starting to form in the other patch (I guess a little pollen goes a long way throughout the garden!).  I need to make sure I get my seedlings from this area next year.

wild sunflower

This sunflower looks like it’s full of tasty seeds, not full of empty husks like over in the other patch.

The sunflowers look pretty enough, but all I see are the black soulless eyes of the walking dead…. ok maybe not that bad, but they lack the busy bees and bugs that usually do laps around the big open pollen filled flowers.  The goldfinches have also been very insulting as they touch down to check on the seed supply and come up empty.  Hopefully pollen from the front yard will work it’s way back here to at least make the birds happy.  Just in case, I planted a patch of heirloom sunflowers in the now completely dug up daffodil patch.  They’ll be late, but they’ll have pollen, and I think they’ll still make it before frost.

selfsown sunflowers

Sunflowers coming on strong.

I’m still holding out for a few tropical effects.  One castor bean seed came up and is now taking off, and “tropicanna” canna is looking healthy.  Also if I have nothing better to do this week, a few coleus and sweet potato cuttings can fill in one or two of the still empty spots, and maybe by late August ‘tropicalismo’ will revisit this bed once again.

castor bean with tropicanna canna

Castor bean “carmencita” and a few over-fed “Tropicana” cannas. The cannas seem to get much brighter colors when grown on the lean side, or with just a little 10-10-10 fertilizer. This batch has a lot of green in them due to higher nitrogen, probably from some miracle grow.

I don’t know if they say tropical to everyone, but dahlias never fail to bring brightness.  This peachy pink with yellow cactus flower makes me think of some overdone tropical drink.  Yummy!

pink and yellow cactus dahlia

Unknown dahlia which I keep saving from year to year. This spring I tried to show some restraint with them since last season planting a dozen or so might have been overkill 🙂

One plant I still need to plant out more of is verbena bonariensis.  In almost all my other beds it can be counted on to show up and make a play for taking over any open spot, here in the new soil it hasn’t had a chance to seed in yet.  Any transplants made this time of year will shrug off the shock of moving quickly and should be blooming up a purple storm in no time at all so I better get moving.

arundo donax "gold chain"

The grassy tropicalish leaves of arundo donax “gold chain” make a great mix with the sunflowers and verbena. I might have to plant this combo on purpose next year to make sure it happens again!

The tall old fashioned red leaved cannas always make me happy.  They’re super easy to overwinter, never look ratty, and always grow as fast as the fertilizer and water will take them.  The small reddish blooms which come later in the season aren’t much to talk about, but the hummingbirds love them.

red russian canna

Maybe canna “red Russian”? We call them Polish cannas after the old Polish woman who years ago gave the first ones to a friend of mine.

So that’s the latest from the ex-tropical bed.   It may still heat up as the season progresses, but for now it’s decidedly temperate and might remain so for a while.  No amaranthus or salvia seedlings showed, and this spring was a bust as far as all the seeds I started, so many of the brightest colors from last year are hushed.  For now I’ll have to keep satisfied with my little bit of the tropics in containers.

tropicals in containers

A couple real tropicals planted in containers where I can best keep an eye on them.

Not to go on any longer than I already have, but those weak little pots of tropicalismo surrounded by weeds and dead grass aren’t just a bad planter arrangement.  To me they’re the accent on a new gavel terrace backed by a low stone wall.  Maybe a fire pit.  I think one of the reasons my garden looks the way it does is because I have a bit too much vision, but we’ll see.  I do tend to work backwards and always find the plants first…. who cares if the seating area is still a little “in development”?

Innocent until proven guilty

Last week the usual garden inspection turned up a massacre in the broccoli patch.  My luck had run out and the rabbits had finally found the tender lettuce and cole crops… just when they were finally settling in.  All the tender lush growth from the cool, damp weather has been nipped back, and I’m left with these leafless stalks.

deer damage on broccoli

The day before yesterday would have been the perfect time to fence off the vegetable garden….

What a setback!  Of course it’s my own fault since even with the local stray cats, rabbits are still in and out of the garden, but I like to think the bunnies won’t take advantage of me and a nibble here and there is no big deal….. so I didn’t bother with a fence.  That of course changed, and the fence is up again.

fence for vegetables

A little chicken wire to keep the bunnies out. Rabbits around here tend to be lazy, so a weak fence or even a few brushy twigs will keep them off my delicious ‘Matina Sweet’ lettuce.

Something was different though.  The onslaught of damage was pretty severe for a stray rabbit finding a tender bit of broccoli, and the lettuce and cauliflower were also sampled.  That’s a lot of nibbling for one or two rabbits on one or two nights.  I began to wonder if a groundhog had returned….. a little plant leveling, bulldozing, little garden pig, who eats everything in sight…. but no, the damage wasn’t that bad.

I found my answer the next morning.  Two young bucks were on the other side of the fence plotting their return.  I knew they were around -three weeks ago a doe bounded over the fence while the kids and I were playing back there- but now I know they’re moving in.  Deer are something I don’t want.  Where are all the hunters when you need them?

deer and the vegetable garden

Barbarians at the gate

Figures they would go straight for the broccoli and lettuce, they’re two of the only vegetables I actually eat.  Why couldn’t they start with the chard?

bright lights swiss chard

Rumor has it vegetables make for healthy eating. I like to think of these unpicked and uneaten ‘bright lights’ swiss chard as being good food for the soul.

We’re not exactly country around here, but we do have our share of wildlife drama.  Snakes and toads come and go, bugs abound, and all kinds of birds stop by to eat and drink and sometimes set up house.  I finally found the tiny field sparrow nest (or at least I think that’s what they are) in the small blue spruce by the sandbox.  Two chicks have hatched and it amuses me that they spring to life begging for food the second I tap the nest.

field sparrow nest

I’m not a good nest finder, and the only reason I found this one (after three tries -and the spruce is barely three feet around!) is that I noticed a female cowbird staking out the bush.  Cowbirds will sneak in and remove an egg from an unguarded nest and replace it with one of their own, and this is what they did here.  When I found the nest there were two white speckled eggs alongside the three blue speckled.  I may or may not have removed the cowbird eggs.

cowbird egg

Cowbirds are a native species and as such are protected under the Migratory Bird Act, so tampering with their eggs would be illegal…. but I also may at times roll through stop signs and push the speed limit, so I’m not sure where this puts me on the spectrum of criminal activity.  All I’ll add is that cowbird chicks will usually outgrow their nestmates and end up displacing them, so I’m glad these parents won’t be stuffing food into a chick which grows to be twice their size.

Another thing which borders on illegal is the number of weeds and out of control plantings in this wanna-be iris border.  It’s almost criminal how the campanula took over and the daisies moved in…. not to mention the clover.

iris with campanula and daisies

Still on the to-do list is the iris bed. I think it needs a complete overhaul to get rid of the beautiful purple campanula glomerata which has taken over. The only legitimate planting here is the yellow variegated iris which is still just barely hanging on.

The iris bed is just one of many yet-to-be-done projects.  I’m still getting the last of the seedling out from under the glow lights in the garage, and the overwintered geraniums are still sitting outside the garage, making quite the colorful accent on the driveway 🙂

overwintered geraniums and vegetable seedlings

All in due time they say, but I suspect due time might have passed along with the summer solstice.  Instead of humming along, the garden is still taking form.  Someday I hope to have things together but I suspect I just might not be that kind of gardener.  It would help if a simple planting up of the deck pots didn’t turn into a table refinishing, light fixture replacing, porch chair repainting, trim rebuilding… .kind of project, but such is life!

Enjoy the first days of summer 🙂

A Few Good Weeds

Somewhere way back I remember reading a comment on one of the fancier English gardens,  it went something like this- “Even the compost pile was filled with treasures”.  I took this to mean there were so many good things growing that even the cast-offs thrown onto the heap would have been worth keeping in most other plots.  Too much of a good thing is not a problem in my garden, the compost overflows with crabgrass and thistles, bittercress and prickly lettuce, but I may be turning a corner.  The birdfeeder is a big sunflower seed spreader, and rarely can I bring myself to pull out any of these weeds.sunflower

Maybe right next to the front door wasn’t a good spot (last year) but for the most part they pick pretty good spots to settle down.  Here a few squeezed in between the butterfly bushes and rose of Sharon. blue rose sharon

I’m always surprised by the range that shows up.  This year I’m playing host to dark centers, yellow centers, golden flowers, brownish tones, and even one of the huge 1ft across monters.  The ones here in front of the house have a bit of a rusty ring around the bloom, and give some needed height to the recently renovated foundation bed….. the rudbeckia underneath also crashed the party.  I’ll be the first to admit they look better there than anything I would have thought up!self sown sunflower

The most entertaining part of having sunflowers is still to come.  Goldfinches love the seed and fly by every day now to check out how they’re doing.  Once the seed are ripe we’ll have front row seats to the daily acrobatics of the little yellow parents and their greenish kids.

Rudbeckia are another plant that seeds about enough to end up on the compost pile.  My fancy attempt at a red border was ruined by this invasion of gold.  As usual it looks better with the surprise…. not sure about the pink phlox though… didn’t plant that either, but even if the color clashes it still looks better than crabgrass.rudbeckia goldsturm

The vegetable garden can always use a good weeding.  Persicaria orientale gets pulled each spring by the bucketful but a few always stay.  It’s not a small plant and can easily top seven feet in good soil.  ‘Kiss me over the garden gate’ is another name for it and I can picture this heirloom plant hanging over picket fences back in the day.rudbeckia goldsturm persicariaAnother garden invader is this ‘hopi red’ amaranth.  I’m a sucker for colored leaves and couldn’t bring myself to pull this one from the middle of a row of leeks.amaranthus hopi dye

‘Hopi Dye’ is supposed to be the darkest red amaranth around and even though I grow it for the looks its real claim to fame is as a dye plant.  This patch survived a harsh May weeding and is a little further along.  You can see how it matures and I love the dark foliage and fluffy blooms, and I love the fact it grows like a……. (weed?).amaranthus hopi dyeIn all honesty the tropical bed is really just one big weed patch.  That’s my excuse for the maybe-not-the -best color combos such as scarlet salvia and peachy pink dahlias.  I’m hoping the big green sprout in the front turns out to be a ‘Hot Biscuits” amarathus,  but there’s a strong possibility it and a few others are just well grown examples of pigweed (another amaranthus).  I guess that just goes to show what a fine line there is between weed and wildflower.

Other selfsown weeds in this bed are the red salvias, purple verbena bonariensis, and all the leafy purple amaranthus in the center of the bed.  This one I believe is called summer poinsettia or Joeseph’s Coat.  As the summer goes on it will sprout hot pink center leaves that should really add to this tasteful composition.amaranthus hot biscuits

I have a soft spot for the spiniest of plants, and it’s quite often that my spot gets a painful poke from growing stuff like this purple malevolence.   Solanum atropurpureum is an potato/tomato relative and the dark spines just look cool.  Guess what?  It’s easy to grow, as is the white flowered mirabilis longiflora growing next to it.  Luckily the mirabilis has no spines, it’s just kind of sticky and only blooms in the afternoon….. hence the common name four O’clock.purple malevolence solanum

I’ll end this with one of my favorite (real) weeds.  Bull thistle is all weed and if it wasn’t for my strange obsession with weedy spiny plants it would be a goner…. but…. it’s not that hard to kill, it only spreads by seed (unlike some really noxious thistles) and it’s really popular with wildlife.  I leave the ones that sprout up along the yard edges.bull thistle

Besides loving sunflowers, goldfinches love thistle seed.  They love it enough that the German name for goldfinch is distelfink or thistle-finch.  Around here you’ll often see the distelfink image show up on Pennsylvania Dutch artwork as a symbol of happiness and good fortune, and I’m not going to mess with that.  There will always be room for a thistle or two, just watch your soft spot!bull thistle





New bird sighting

Redpoll at the feeder

These have probably been to the feeder before, but yesterday after a closer look I saw we had a small flock of redpolls sampling the sunflowerseed.  Cool,  I’ve never seen one before.   It’s a bird of the tundra and boreal forest, so not exactly a hopeful sign for spring, but a new bird is always something.  They were followed later in the day by a swarm of starlings searching out grubs and worms in the lawn and then a flock of grackles eating the cracked corn.  Even though grackles are listed as year round residents here I only notice them in the spring.  With that in mind I’ll count them as a sign of warmer weather.

Indoors I planted the next bunch of seed.  These were the 4-6 weeks before frost bunch and although I’m on the late side once things go outside they will hopefully catch up.