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!

One word…. Dichelostemma

I inherited my mother’s habit of randomly picking up and trying out just about any odd, looks-like-it-might-be-nice bulb that shows up in the garden center’s bins.  Together we’ve failed at freesia, ranunculus, ixia… but every now and then something gives a surprise, and lately it’s been Dichelostemma.

dichelostemma pink diamond

Dichelostemma ‘Pink Diamond’ out in the meadow garden

The first one which made its way into the garden was a selected form of the naturally occurring hybrid ‘Pink Diamond’.  I love the totally tubular pink flowers and the waxy thickness of the blooms and was surprised it actually grew since the bulbs came via a November closeout sale, and late planting into a cold, wet clayish soil is typically not a recipe for success for drought tolerant bulbs from the western reaches of North America.  But they came up fine the next spring and when the wiry flower stalks matured to bright pink clusters of bloom in June I was hooked.

dichelostemma pink diamond

Daisies and Dichelostemma in front of a worse for wear Queen of the Prairie.  The Queen still presides over the back forty, but between acidic rainfall and wayward groundhog nibbling her reign may soon be coming to an end.

‘Pink Diamond’ may or may not become a permanent resident in the meadow.  The first planting returned to bloom the second year but has not put up flowers in the third.  I blame rabbits for nibbling too much of the spring foliage, but we will see what happens next year, as this spring with all the new crocus flowers to chose from the rabbits didn’t quite get to the Dichelostemma foliage before moving on to freshly planted lettuce and broccoli in the vegetable garden.

The ‘other’ Dichelostemma (D. congestum) has been going strong though, putting up its beautiful lilac-purple flower clusters for three years now… in spite of also being nibbled.

dichelostemma congestum

Dichelostemma congestum has the common name of fork toothed Ookow.  When you get tired of introducing guests to your dichelostemma I’m sure switching to the common name will clear things up. 

I love how these plants look among the weeds and grass of the meadow.  I can imagine this isn’t entirely unlike their native habitat in the Western edges of the continent and from a gardeners point of view the yellowing foliage is completely disguised by the surrounding greenery.  Not to get distracted, but I wonder how alliums would work out back here since many of those also share the trick of letting their foliage go to pot just as the blooms reach their peak.

Dichelostemma ida-maia is my last of the D’s and I suppose ‘firecracker plant’ is a decent common name for this one…. although it’s no Ookow.

dichelostemma ida-maia

Dichelostemma ida-maia.  The shape and color of this flower has ‘hummingbird plant’ written all over it.

Besides adding more ‘Pink Diamond’ last fall, I also put in a few D. ida-maia… in spite of my thoughts that I wouldn’t like them.  I was completely wrong in my lack of enthusiasm.  The sad anemic version I saw a few years ago is nothing like the group I now have swaying in the dappled light amongst the grass.  I’m far too greedy a collector to commit large spaces to a single plant but I would have no problem adding another hundred or two (versus the 10 I started with) to this end of the meadow, which is entirely do-able since these small bulb are relatively cheap even when not on clearance.

dichelostemma ida-maia

I trimmed up the lower limbs of the aspen and love the Rocky Mountain glade effect it has given.  Add a Western NA native Dichelostemma ida-maia and we may be on to something here 😉

I’m not sure what the hardiness on these plants (both species and their hybrid daughter) is.  To be honest I didn’t think they would make it through their first careless planting (really careless… cold November fingers so one shovel swipe into the turf, dump bag contents into hole and stomp sod clod down again on top), but they did survive, and it was a winter where our lows reached -6F (-21C) with a solidly frozen soil for months.  So they’re at least that hardy, and I think the extreme summer dryness of the meadow also helps them return in spite of any issues with poorly drained, wet winter soils.

Dichelostemma.  Think about it.  I think they’re pretty cool.

At odds in the meadow

For as much enjoyment as the meadow garden brings one gardener here, there is another who despises the long grass and messy arrangement of color.  She’s also one who has no interest in snowdrops and can’t tell a zinnia from a marigold, but before the name calling starts lets just say the meadow garden is not as popular as one might expect.

seating in the meadow garden

The meadow garden in June with appropriate summer seating.

This “garden” amounts to little more than an area of the yard which has been left to fill in with whatever flowers and grasses can make it in the thin, poor soil.  In a normal year this 20×60 ft area is a sea of waving grass gone to seed, but coming off last summer’s drought and this spring’s dry spell the grass is a little threadbare and the rudbeckia and butterfly weed (Asclepias tuberosa) stand out more.  On a whim I allowed a few quaking aspen(?) and staghorn sumac (Rhus typhina) to grow up and screen the fence but now these sun hogs are under the protection of the non-gardener and I worry they will further suck the life out of the meadow.

Rhus typhina staghorn sumac

Pennsylvania is not a meadow state and the trees and shrubs are always making advances.  We’ll see how much longer the aspen and   staghorn sumac (Rhus Typina) are allowed to stay. 

I guess easy come easy go is the theme for this area and there will never be any regret for the time not wasted in mowing yet more lawn so we’ll see what happens.  It always gets a haircut by the end of summer but I suspect a few trees will need to go sometime soon.

rudbeckia hirta meadow

The far end of the meadow.  The ‘Annabelle’ hydrangea is not your typical meadow shrub, but I’m sure it is one plant which does enjoy the growing afternoon shade…. as well as all the rain we’ve had recently.

My apologies for a post which deals mainly in weeds.  As you know the garden needs more attention at this time of year than there are hours in the schedule so I’d like to leave you with the illusion that the rest of the garden is well under control.  That may or may not be the case, but hopefully with our upcoming holiday weekend a few things will get done.  Happy Independence Day and enjoy the weekend!

April, May and June, all in one week

I’ve been hiding.  Our temperatures spiked up to 92F (33C) last week and watching the wilted daffodils and tulips being thrashed by the dry wind was just too depressing.  In a few hot days three weeks of bloom flew by and it’s now mostly over.  The temperatures finally dropped today but I still wish we would get some rain before the grass completely yellows.  I don’t like a dry spring.

Fortunately May is still May, and regardless of the weather there’s still plenty to be happy about!

growing perennials from seed

At least my winter seed sowing is paying off. This year I have my first frittilarias and tulips from seed, and it’s endlessly entertaining to search the pots for the latest sprouts.

Between NARGS, HPS, and American Primrose Society seed exchanges I have plenty of pots of little goodies to experiment with, and as long as nobody mentions the fact I have no room for most of these, I think we’ll all just enjoy the enthusiasm of the newest little sprouts in my garden 🙂

lilium martagon seedlings

Martagon lily seedlings going on to their third year.  At this rate there’s not much rush to find more room.

In addition to bringing on the seedlings the heat brought the wisteria from buds to blooms in barely four days.  Last spring was a total loss due to a harsh winter and late freeze, but this year about half the buds survived.  I don’t even miss the lost buds, it’s still full of flowers.

standard wisteria tree

Japanese wisteria planted out in the meadow.  Without anything nearby to grab onto and climb I think it’s invasive tendencies can be kept under wraps.

Maybe you noticed my sad little fritillaria imperialis blooming behind the wisteria.  The hot wind wilted the flowers quickly but I managed to get a photo of the interesting inside of the hanging blooms.

fritillaria imperalis nectaries

The nectar drops at the inner base of the fritillaria imperalis blooms.  A cool thing to look at, but it’s just a bit too “glandular” in appearance for my tastes!

The fritillaria will be something to keep my fingers crossed for in order for it to survive, but the japanese wisteria cannot be mentioned without a warning about it’s invasiveness.  Killing it would be far more work than the neglect which keeps it alive, and to turn your back on this plant runs the risk of having it take over.  I keep it in the middle of a lawn area were it cannot grab onto anything, to grow it as a vine and keep it on anything less than a massive arbor would be more work than I want to consider.

wisteria that doesn't refuse to bloom

Some seed grown wisteria may take decades before they finally decide to bloom, mine is a cutting off my parent’s plant which has always put on a heavy show of flowers.  Even this sucker which came up last year after I moved the mother plant already has a few blooms on it.  A smart person only needs one wisteria, I’m not sure why I’m going to keep this second one 🙂

Speaking of plants which wouldn’t mind taking over the world, I think I’ve finally decided against keeping this darker purple vinca minor.  I like it well enough but without a border or wall to hold it back it’s spreading out just a little to enthusiastically.  This plant (and my wayward campanula glomerata) are officially on the elimination list.  I might put some of it next door in one of the boring mulch beds around my mother in law’s house.  It’s not that hard to rip out, improves the look of an empty mulch bed immensely, and between the house and lawn it shouldn’t get into too much trouble.

vinca minor atropurpurea

Vinca minor ‘atropurpurea’.  A good groundcover in the right place, but a little to aggressive for my beds, and I wouldn’t want to let it escape into the wild. 

Before the heat struck I did manage to finish up a little hard labor.  The front house bed has had a once over, been expanded and topped with new mulch.  I forgot who gave me the idea, but I divided up the blue fescue clumps and spread them far and wide across the front of the border.  I like it, which isn’t something I could say the last time I redid this foundation planting.

mixed border foundation planting

The front foundation planting looking all springy.  Any opinions on the pink rhododendron in front of the brick?  I have mine, and it involves a shovel 🙂

The bed along the front of the house has been one of my favorites this spring.  The shelter of the house gives a little protection from the drying wind and my mulching has kept down many of the most annoying weeds.  Some would say my thistles are weeds but I think they’re fantastic.  You’re not going to want to touch them though….

Ptilostemon diacantha

Ptilostemon diacantha.  I can’t wait to see this one bloom (even though the blooms may be slightly anti-climactic) and will surely collect seeds if I get that far… using gloves of course 🙂

Something a little more suburbia-friendly are the tulips and camassia.  It looks nice enough here but I may remove a bunch of the camassia.  In the heat I don’t think they’ll last more than six days, a little too short of a bloom period for my tastes although I can’t complain about how carefree they are.  Maybe I’ll try them somewhere less prominent.

tulips and camassia

Tulips and camassia highlighting the front foundation planting.  The blue fescue has been divided up and spread all along the front now and I think it looks better than the gappy line which was there before.  Funny to think these are all the descendants of a single moth-eaten clump which I rescued from a neighbor’s yard. 

Close up the camassia are an airy, beautiful flower, and I think to see it growing en-mass in its native Western North American haunts would be great.  Maybe someday.

camassia leichtlinii caerulea or 'blue danube'

Camassia leichtlinii caerulea or ‘blue danube’, I’m not sure which since I planted both but they all look identical to me.

Iris season is next.  The stalks are shooting up all over and it makes the rapid passing of the daffodils feel a little less painful.  I’m sure it will be a fantastic year for iris…. unless that’s the exact point when the rain decides to come.

iris pallida 'variegata' in a mixed border

I always forget to divide the awesome iris pallida ‘variegata’.  It’s one of my favorites but seems to like more frequent division and better soil than some of the others.

So that’s it from here.  I have to apologize for not responding to comments or leaving any on the blogs I visit,  I’ve been keeping up with the reading but for the most part have been just too grumpy and unmotivated to add any productive comments.  But there’s hope.  The first irises are opening today and I’m already feeling better.  This sounds good, but unfortunately the weekend is already filled to capacity with field trips, birthday parties, dance recitals, sports banquets and baseball games and I’ll be lucky to even step foot in the garden for a few days.

But it’s almost Friday, and I hope a great weekend is had by all!

Midsummer night’s dream

There’s a “pink spires” summersweet (Clethra alnifolia) growing just below the covered porch, and since we’re using the porch much more this year it’s blooming has not gone unnoticed.  In the warm summer afternoons and evenings the heavy, sweet scent drifts up and around the garden and brings in dozens of bumblebees and honeybees to the pink bottlebrush flowers.

Clethra alnifolia "pink spires"

Clethra alnifolia “pink spires” is a pink version of the normally white summersweet.

Summersweet is a good name for this fragrant native shrub, but having it planted so close to the porch might be a little too strong and sweet a scent for my taste.  Coming across a patch in bloom while hiking the woodst is a pleasant surprise, but drowsy afternoons spent out on the porch border on naps, and who knows what kind of dreams will be experienced with this perfume wafting through the air?  Or in the words of a less fragrance-friendly member of this household, “one of your flowers really smells out there, it’s giving me a headache”.

Clethra alnifolia

Very popular with the bees, Clethra alnifolia likes a nice moist spot. The only reason it’s surviving in my dried up garden is that it’s planted right at the downspout from the roof.

I may have to move it, but where to?  Right now it’s exactly where water from the roof comes down and it would likely die out in the drier parts of the garden, so my options are limited.  We’ll see what happens.  I’d like to redo this area within the next two years so I have time to think about it.

Am I the only person who thinks some fragrances are just too much?

The meadow in June

Last summer ended up being awfully dry in my neck of Pennsylvania, and as a result the grass in the meadow (or orchard if the apple tree ever takes off) took quite a beating.  Parts are so stunted this year you can barely tell it’s been uncut since spring.  This kind of defeats my dream of amber waves of grass rising and falling in the breeze, but it works out great for the new summer bulbs I dibbled around into the turf last fall.  I experimented with a few triteleia and dichelostemma, and although I didn’t expect much out of them after the cold and wet winter, they survived and are now showing off nicely amongst the sparse grass.

triteleia ixioides starlight

The thin grass leaves plenty of room for short bulbs such as triteleia ixioides “starlight”.  It’s not a great picture since it doesn’t show any of the soft yellow of this flower, but it’s the best I could manage!

I needed some bulbs which the rabbits wouldn’t decimate (unlike the crocus) and these have worked out well so far.  I have my fingers crossed they’ll return next year, but for now I’m happy with them.  I think my favorite is this dichelostemma ‘pink diamond’ a natural hybrid from somewhere out of the western end of North America, and hopefully a good match for my dry-as-a-bone-in-summer meadow.

dichelostemma pink diamond

Dichelostemma “pink diamond”, the tubular pink blooms look almost waxy and rise up above the grass while the grass covers up its yellowing leaves.

Sumac and aspen are constantly making a bid to take over the meadow, so I need to get in there and snap them off.  Too bad the lazy little bunnies can’t do me a favor and chew these plants down.  It would finally give the blueberries a break.

dichelostemma pink diamond

The bright color of the “pink diamond” blooms really stand out in the meadow.  Good thing too since last year’s drought was also rough on rudbeckia and daisy seedlings.

Dichelostemma congestum was another treat.  It’s got a clear, bright blue color and also stands out well in the grass.  Hopefully this is another bulb that will settle in and call the meadow home.

dichelostemma congestum

Dichelostemma congestum looking nice up against the only patch of decent grass.

If I trust my seed skills I could try collecting a few and nursing them along for more of these little bulbs, but honestly I think they’re better off falling to the ground and fending for themselves.

dichelostemma congestum

If the butterfly weed was just a little quicker I could have a nice mix of bright orange to go with the daisies and dichelostemma. Summer’s the time for bright combos, right?

So that’s it for the meadow in June.  The butterfly weed is coming along and should make for a colorful intro into July and I’m glad to have a few interesting things back there.  Sure beats the half dead lawn I used to waste my time cutting each week!