Home of the Practically Perfect Pink Phlox and other native plants for pollinators

Wednesday, February 22, 2017

Wildflower Wednesday: A Fine Native Hydrangea

It's hard for me to believe that I've never written about Hydrangea arborescens, it's my favorite hydrangea and the first shrub I planted in this garden 30 years ago. I first saw wild hydrangea while hiking a ridge not too far from my house and thought it was charming and just what was needed in my garden. It was clinging to the side of a slope and towering above it were hardwood trees like the ones at Clay and Limestone.
the sterile flowers stay attached after flowering has finished
Hydrangea arborescens, commonly known as smooth hydrangea or wild hydrangea is a gangly limbed deciduous shrub with large, opposite, toothed leaves and grayish stems. It is native to woodland slopes, hillsides and streambanks in the Eastern US from New York to Florida, west to Iowa, Missouri, Kansas, Oklahoma and Louisiana and as I shared earlier in middle Tennessee woodlands. Some maps show it growing as far west as New Mexico and Arizona, but, I can't corroborate that information. In warmer climates it's happiest in dappled shade with moist soil, but, it is tolerant of damp soil, dry soil and even rocky soil. The fact that it grows so well on slopes indicates to this gardener that drainage is important! So keep that in mind when you plant it. Adequate moisture is an ongoing issue in a middle Tennessee garden all summer long, be prepared to give this plant a big gulp of water every now and then, it can tolerate some dry spells, but don't expect it to flourish if it's dry all the time.
planted with Hypericum

Hydrangea arborescens is planted in three different beds. My favorite is the one planted with witch hazels, Hamamelis vernalis and a non native H x intermedia 'Diane'. Also in that section of the bed is a Fothergilla, Oakleaf hydreangea 'Ruby Slippers' and a cultivar H arborescens 'White Dome' they're underplanted with Seersucker sedges, camassias, ex-asters, Trilliums and Green and Gold.
Flat-topped clusters of white flowers (corymbs to 2-6”across) are produced in early summer.
What do I like about this hydrangea and why would I recommend it for your garden?

For lots of little reasons and for two big ones.
Dehiscent seed capsules ripen in October-November
First, I am wild about its "lacecap flowers". They're not as lacy as non native Hydrangea, but there's enough sterile flowers to make me smile. The flat topped clusters of creamy-white fertile and sterile flowers start out pale green and turn to a creamy white and eventually fading to brown in late summer.

The white flowers appear on tips of new growth, so you don't have to worry about winter's harsh blast killing the flower buds. Feel free to cut it back to control growth and encourage stronger stems in early spring.

It took me years to learn to appreciate winter browns, now that I do, I never want to cut back my garden until the very last minute in spring! Just look at what I would miss if I cut the stems of this Hydrangea to nubs in late fall!
nectar and pollen attract pollinators
The second reason I recommend wild hydrangea is for its wildlife value. Planting native plants that have high wildlife value is one of the guiding principles of this garden. Lots of plants are critter friendly, but some are absolutely better than others and those are the ones I plant.

Wild hydrangea has great wildlife value. It's a pollen and nectar source for pollinators and a host plant for two moths, Darapsa versicolor/Hydrangea Sphinx Moth and Olethreutes ferriferana/Hydrangea leaf-tier moth. I keep watching for them, but so far have missed their offspring and the moths.
bees across the flower making it hard to get them and the flower into focus
If you've ever watched a bee race over/work this flower you would guess it has a lot to offer. I love that little carpenter bees (Ceratina spp.), Halictid bees, masked bees (Hylaeus spp.), miscellaneous wasps, mosquitoes, Syrphid flies, thick-headed flies, Muscid flies, dance flies (Empis spp.), tumbling flower beetles, and long-horned beetles (source) also visit the flowers.
Hydrangea arborescens 'White Dome'
Some gardeners think Smooth Hydrangea cultivars are more attractive than the species, they usually like the larger flower heads over the straight species, but, a big flowered cultivar like 'Annabelle' does nothing for me, nor does it look right in my woodland garden. But, if that's one you like go ahead a add it to your garden. If you can't find the straight species, you won't be disappointed with Hydrangea arborescens 'White Dome'. The flower head is also a "lacecap" shape with sterile and fertile flowers and it's equally attractive to pollinators.
 The yellow color of the wild hydrangeas are a perfect complement to the other fall tones
I think of Wild Hydrangea as offering year round appeal, except for very late in winter when I've cut the stems back. But, before long it's greening up and setting buds. The large serrated leaves and tall stems stand up straight and tall in my garden with flowers on every tip. As i shared earlier, they start out green, then they're turn a creamy white and once they're pollinated they fade to a sweet parchment color that lasts all winter.

Wild hydrangea has a nice yellow in the fall, that helps light up a dark corner in a woodland garden and acts as a supporting player to the more dramatic fall gold, reds and oranges. It looks charming with blues, even if it's only a container.
What do you think about its yellow leaves when planted with lilac ex-asters and the red leaves of a Japanese maple and Florida dogwood?

I love it.

Do give this native shrub a chance, it's really quite special.

It's a lovely, easy care,  year round pretty shrub.
It tolerates winter's cold blast.
It's a pollinator magnet and host plant.
It makes sense for a woodland garden.

The particulars

Common Name: smooth hydrangea, Wild hydrangea
Type: Deciduous shrub
Family: Hydrangeaceae
Native Range: Eastern United States from New York, into the mid-western states, south to Texas and Florida
Zone: 3 to 9
Height: 3.00 to 5.00 feet, occasionally to ten feet
Spread: 3.00 to 5.00 feet
Bloom Time: May/June to September
Flower: Flat-topped clusters (4 to 6 inches across) of small white flowers, larger sterile flowers may be present along edges of cluster, appearing in early summer. Flowers on new growth.
Fruit: Dry, light brown capsules appearing in early fall
Sun: Part shade, dappled sunlight, full sun with moist soil 
Water: Medium
Soil: clay soil, wet, dry, shallow and/or rocky soil. Acid to neutral ph.
Maintenance: Low, prune in late spring to control growth, can colonize
Suggested Use: Naturalize, Rain Garden, woodland garden, edge of woods, massing, stabilizing a hillside or slope.
Comments: Showy cultivars that I like 'Ryan Gainey' and 'White Dome', check to make sure you get a cultivar that is not just showy sterile flowers. There are two pink cultivars, but, I am not sure if they are just sterile flower heads. Its roots have been used for hundreds of years in folk and Native American medicine for the treatment of various ailments

Thank you for stopping by and welcome to Clay and Limestone's Wildflower Wednesday celebration. WW is about sharing and celebrating wildflowers from all over this great big, beautiful world. Join us on the fourth Wednesday of each month. Remember, it doesn't matter if they are in bloom or not; and, it doesn't matter if we all share the same plants. It's all about celebrating wildflowers. Please leave a comment when you add your url to Mr Linky.

Gail Eichelberger is a gardener and therapist in Middle Tennessee. She loves wildflowers and native plants and thoroughly enjoys writing about the ones she grows at Clay and Limestone. She reminds all that the words and images are the property of the author and cannot be used without written permission.

Wednesday, February 15, 2017

February Gardenbloggers' Bloom Day

There's not much showing in my garden right now. By not much, I mean any of my wildflower loves, but there are a few delightful non natives that have been in the garden since it's earliest days. Like the golden yellow daffodils that came with the yard. I've added more over the years and I'll have them in bloom until the temperatures soar into the 80s!

The rivers of Crocus tommasinianus that I planted every year have been eaten by hungry chipmunks and voles/mice. Mr I Don't Garden says I don't get to complain since I have invited wildlife into the garden. He's right, I do have a very welcoming sign posted in the front garden, but that doesn't mean, I want them to eat all my plants!

But, being a non-gardener, he doesn't understand how brokenhearted a gardener can feel when she waits all year to see crocus blooms on chilly winter days and instead of a river of the thousands she's planted there are less than a dozen. I know you all understand.
Did I say there were no native wildflowers blooming. How could I forget, Hamamelis vernalis! She's  still in bloom. I do love this beauty. It has the loveliest small orange/yellow/reddish crepe paper streaming petals that furl and unfurl as the temperature falls and rises. They perfume the garden with their sweet clove vanilla scent on warm days. I planted them for the earliest visiting pollinators and for that unforgettable fragrance. Once you smell them, you will, want them in your garden, too.

I love that not only do winter blooming shrubs and trees flower for months, they almost always have some fragrance. How clever of Mother Nature to give winter bloomers that something special to insure that a little fly, gnat or bee will follow the scent and pollinate the flower.
 Hamamelis x intermedia 'Diane' is also in bloom. She's unfurled her spidery crepe paper petals like solar collectors. and they're in full sun receivership, waiting for any early pollinating visitors. Even the marcescence leaves do not detract from her red flowers against the nice blue winter sky. There's speculation that the leaves that cling (until after the last flower petal folds up for the season) actually help protect the blooms from foraging mammals, but, I wonder if they might protect the delicate looking flowers from the bitter cold winds that often arrive when they begin to bloom.

In a few weeks the earliest spring ephemerals will be shining heralds of spring's arrival and I will be back on GBBD to share them. In the meantime, head over to May Dreams Gardens to see lots of other posts celebrating blooms.


Gail Eichelberger is a gardener and therapist in Middle Tennessee. She loves wildflowers and native plants and thoroughly enjoys writing about the ones she grows at Clay and Limestone. She reminds all that the words and images are the property of the author and cannot be used without written permission.

Wednesday, January 25, 2017

Wildflower Wednesday: Chasmanthium latifolium (River Oats)

There aren't nearly enough grasses in my garden. Shallow soil and a shady conditions limit them at Clay and Limestone, but, one that is quite happy here and makes a gorgeous big impression is Chasmanthium latifolium (River Oats).
 clump-forming, upright
I think it's important to tell the truth about plants I showcase and the truth is that I love this one.

Yellowing up on its way to bronze winter color
I planted it for it's year round beauty.
 This cool season clumping grass is a bright green in early spring, growing quickly to about 2 foot tall and sending up arching stems. A bit later, there are attractive flat, drooping seed heads that hang in terminal clusters on thread-like pedicils on arching stems.

As river oats age they begin to yellow (see above June 2016)  and by late summer or early fall the foliage and spikelets have turned a nice bright yellow. By mid winter they're a gorgeous bronze.
I leave them stand all winter where they continue to dance in the breeze, stand up beautifully in the snow and provide shelter for small mammals and birds.
the ex-asters are good companions
Way back when Clay and Limestone was just becoming a garden, a more experienced gardening friend exclaimed, "Oh my, why did you plant that?" when she spied a large clump of river oats. She knew what many of us learn from experience, that river oats can be a bit thuggish in some gardens. Each and everyone of those spikelets can make a new plant in moist soil. It can in dry soil, too!
April green leaves with Phlox pilosa
I love it anyway! But, then, I am a huge fan of colonizing, rough and tumble, take care of themselves native plants. This one has more pluses than minuses, but, plant it only if you don't mind a plant that vigorously reseeds.
wind pollinated
I've seen it growing in rich woodlands adjacent to cedar glades where it it comingles with Hypericum frondosum, Rhus aromatica and sedges.  It can also be found naturally growing in rich woodlands and  stream beds slopes. It's perfect for stabilizing a stream bank or a slope that's eroding. If you've ever tried struggled to dig a clump to divide or transplant you know that its fibrous and deep root system would hold back the steepest slope!
drooping inflorescences and compressed spikelets
I appreciate its year round beauty...flaws and all.

The Particulars

Botanical name: Chasmanthium latifolium
Common Name: river oats, inland oats
Type: Ornamental grass, River Oats is a perennial cool season grass, but it's seed is dispersed in the fall like a warm season grass.
Family: Poaceae
Native Range: Eastern United States, northern Mexico
Zone: 3 to 8
Size: 2.00 to 5.00 feet height by 1.00 to 2.50 feet spread
Bloom Time: August to September~seedheads last until late winter in middle Tennessee
Bloom Description: Green,  compressed spikelets, turn golden as they mature

Sun: Full sun to part shade

River oats behind the bird bath with Solidago, Amsonia and false dragonhead
Water: Medium to wet; more water if planted in full sun. It's happy in my garden near the birdbath where it gets a good soaking while I fill the bath or when the birds visit. 
Suggested Use: Naturalize, stream banks, dry forests, slope stabilization,
let river oats duke it out with False dragonhead

Companion plants: Wildflowers, Phlox, Itea virginica, the ex-asters, false dragonhead
Flower: Showy seedheads year round
Tolerate: Black Walnut, wet soil, deer do not browse
Pollinated by wind
Wildlife value: larval host for several skipper butterflies. The seeds are eaten by small mammals and birds, and the stems and leaves are used as nesting material by birds.
Comments: When happy, it is a rampant self seeder and requires vigilance to catch the seedlings. I would recommend with reservations to gardeners who want their plants to behave.

Only you can decide if there are more pluses than minuses! You'll be happy with Chasmanthium latifolium  if you can accept its one flaw~vigorous reseeding! Good looking foliage and nodding seedheads that flutter and rustle in the slightest breeze, while providing shelter and food for visiting birds, mammals and insects, more than make up for having to weed out unwanted seedlings!

Happy Wildflower Wednesday.

Welcome to Wildflower Wednesday where we come together to celebrate wildflowers from all over this great big beautiful world. It doesn't matter if we sometimes show the same plants, how they grow and thrive in your garden is what matters most. I hope you join the celebration...It's always the fourth Wednesday of the month!

Gail Eichelberger is a gardener and therapist in Middle Tennessee. She loves wildflowers and native plants and thoroughly enjoys writing about the ones she grows at Clay and Limestone. She reminds all that the words and images are the property of the author and cannot be used without written permission.


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