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

Thursday, January 19, 2017

Hey, all you gardeners

It's catalog season and for winter weary gardeners it's an exciting time. I don't know about you, but, I am finding it hard to resist their seductive plant photos! I am tempted to order anything that looks lush and colorful right this very minute!
But, I have learned over the years not to fill the cart up with "I must have that gorgeous beauty" impulse buys. I have a mound of tags to commemorate the many dead and inappropriate plants that I've impulsively brought home over the years.  I keep them to remind me that without careful planning one can end up with a broken heart and a lot of wasted budget.
How can tempted gardeners survive buyers remorse!

 Guidelines!  You can  create your own plant buying guidelines. That's what I did a number of years ago!
Without guidelines, I would be stuffing my cart with plants that are especially seductive at this time of year. Beautiful they would certainly be, but, they might not make sense for my garden. It took me a few years, but, I made peace with Clay and Limestone's shallow, clay soil that is dry in the summer and wet all the winter. Most plants in the garden are rough and tumble native wildflowers that don't need coddling. They provide food and shelter for the critters that visit and live in this garden. Of course, there are some native plants that need special care, I am not that tough a taskmaster! Those plants get extra water in the summers or are planted so they don't drown in the winters. 

My guidelines are quite simple; before any plant goes into the cart, I like to make sure:
  • It has a good chance to survive the difficult conditions at Clay and Limestone.
  • It's a nectar or pollen source for pollinators
  • It's a host plant for pollinators
  • It will add to plant diversity in my critter friendly garden
  • It's native to Middle Tennessee or is garden friendly (a non invasive plant)
  • It isn't available locally

My dear friends, how do you handle the catalogs that are arriving daily in your email or mail box?

Hamamelis vernalis is not native to Middle Tennessee. It's one of those plants that made it into my cart and  needs some extra watering in the summer to insure bud set. When it blooms in January, I am happy that I dragged the hose all over the place.

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, December 28, 2016

2016 Wildflower Wednesday Roundup

Welcome to Clay and Limestone's Wildflower Wednesday roundup of wildflower beauties! I've loved sharing wildflowers with you all year long and each December I gather them in one post so we can savor their deliciousness in one setting.

Without further ado, here they are.

JANUARY: Wildflower Wednesday: Anemone virginiana
This charming native Anemone can be found in dry rocky areas, on wooded slopes and in open woodlands across Canada and the eastern US (Zone 3 to 8). It blooms late spring to early summer and has small green-white flowers atop tall stems. It will tolerate full sun to light shade. While it is drought tolerant that does not mean xeric. To be happiest it needs well drained and moist soil. Although, it's not a super high wildlife value plant, it attracts small bees, hoverflies and it has been said that birds eat the seeds. Not a deer or mammal food.

Expect to be charmed by the flowers, but, astonished by the thimble-shaped seed heads that remain intact from fall through late winter and sometimes into the spring. Now that's talking about year round interest.

FEBRUARY: Wildflower Wednesday: Smilax bona-nox

That was me as I tried to get a photo of the Wildflower Wednesday plant of the month Smilax bona-nox and its thorns dug into my coat and smacked me in the head. I have mixed feelings about many plants and this one is clearly in the "why, oh, why do you keep showing up in my garden" category.

Greenbrier seedlings pop up wherever birds might transpoop a seed. That's often near where people walk or garden. It's a hazard in my garden and needs to be dug out. Not only was it in a location that put people in harms way, the vines were pulling a small Aronia arbutifolia over. It was this vine that smacked me in the head, so down it came.

Yes, there are pluses to greenbrier. It has very good wildlife value. Just make sure it's not near where people will be walking or working and let it grow. It will make a formidable thicket where mammals and birds can shelter and the Gray catbird will nest. White-tailed Deer, Beaver, and Eastern Cottontail will eat the leaves. The flowers of Greenbrier are pollinated by Blue Bottle Flies. Many animals eat the berries, including: Wild Turkey, Wood Duck, Northern Cardinal, Gray Catbird, Common Crow, Northern Mockingbird, American Robin, Brown Thrasher, Cedar Waxwing, Pileated Woodpecker, Virginia Opossum, Raccoon, and Eastern Gray Squirrel.

MARCH Wildflower Wednesday: Chrysogonum virginianum 
Green and Gold is a charming, little native Asteraceae ground-cover with semi-evergreen foliage and golden flowers. You'll find it happiest in woodland gardens that have good drainage and base soil. Naturally occurring plants are found in bright filtered light along forest edges and clearings. Expect it to be vigorous, it is after all a ground cover.

Green and Gold blooms early in my Zone 6b/7a garden; a few flowers will open in mid-March, but, April is when it pops. Then all at once the small golden flowers are waving above the green fuzzy leaves as if they're saying come on pollinators here I am.

APRIL Wildflower Wednesday: False Soloman's Seal
False Solomon's Seal is a colonizer that spreads very slowly, so gardeners, we don't have to worry that it will crowd out our beloved Spring ephemerals like other colonizing natives have been known to do. I find it makes a charming ground cover beneath understory trees in a woodland garden. In my garden it mingles with Golden ragwort, Christmas ferns and Purple phacelia. It likes rich, loamy woodland soil, but, is tolerant of both moist and dry conditions.

MAY Wildflower Wednesday: Oenothera fruticosa

I love this little beauty. Love that it has spread around the garden and flowers just where a spot of golden yellow is needed in late spring. It doesn't mind my shallow soil, in fact, in nature it is often found growing on shallow, rocky soil. That makes it a perfect wildflower for Clay and Limestone. It's blooming and it's our May, Wildflower Wednesday star.

In mid-spring the rosettes send up slender reddish stems with narrow leaves that herald the arrival of the red flower buds. In late May the buds open to reveal lovely bright yellow saucer shaped flowers. Each flower has one day in the sun and fades by the late afternoon. Luckily for this gardener, the pretty yellow flower show lasts for several weeks, which more than makes up for its daily flower fading.  

JUNE Wildflower Wednesday: Early summer pollinator magnets
As a wildflower loving, native plant fan who gardens for wildlife, the plants in my garden need to be more than just pretty faces, they must be helpful for the critters that visit and live here. The Wildflower Wednesday stars of the month fit that description to a T~they have pretty faces and great wildlife value.

The first thing I do when anyone asks me what they should plant in their garden is to share my gardening for wildlife gardening philosophy, then, I say this: "It's your garden, you can plant what ever you want, but, please remember to plan for all the critters that live and visit your garden."

I tell them that they will never be sorry! Pollinators will thank them by hanging around pollinating flowers and vegetables/fruits; beneficial insects will raise offspring that will gobble up harmful insects; and that the  songbirds and spiders will keep the insects in check. The more you plan and plant for critters...crawling, flying and even digging ones, the healthier and more diverse your garden will be.

JULY Wildflower Wednesday: Joe-Pye Weed
Eutrochium are big, beautiful rough and tumble wildflowers that bloom in the middle of our hot, humid summers. Colossal, bodacious, statuesque, and tough are just a few of words I've heard gardeners use to describe one of my favorite summer pollinator magnets.

They are a quintessential Clay and Limestone rough and tumble wildflower and only require a little special care! They do need to be well established (watered in well the first year) to handle a hot, dry summer and even then a planting might need a big gulp of water once a week. I admit, the straight species is tall and can fall over in a heavy rain (we have those in the Middle South) and the foliage is often described as coarse; but, tall plants like the Joes can be cut back to keep them bushy. Their leaves and deep colored stems are assets in my garden, offering contrast and texture next to the small leaved Echinaceas, Coreopsis, Rudbeckias and Phlox.

AUGUST Wildflower Wednesday: Cutleaf Coneflower
Welcome to Clay and Limestone on a hot, humid sunny August day!

Our Wildflower Wednesday star, Rudbeckia laciniata, is blooming and the smallest bees are feasting on the nectar and pollen. Cutleaf coneflower is a native clump forming perennial with upright stems. The leaves are large, dark green and deeply lobed. Clusters of showy daisy-like flower heads top the plant from late July to fall in my garden (Central South/Middle Tennessee, Zone 6b/7a)

I have a deep appreciate for all the Rudbeckias and find the intense golden yellows not only attractive, but important additions to our garden. They bloom from late summer to frost, their saturated warm colors don't get washed out by our intense summer sun; they're easy to grow; they look fantastic with other late blooming rough and tumble wildflowers; they're excellent cut flowers; and, are important food and nectar source for wildlife.  They are considered a valuable late season nectar source for migrating monarchs.

SEPTEMBER Wildflower Wednesday: A few must have fall blooming asteraceas

Asteraceas rock Autumn.

They bloom spring and summer here, but, come September they take center stage for all the pollinators, birds and mammals that are preparing for winter. They may even be my favorite flower family....and what a flowering family it is with over 23,000 recognized species world wide. Here in Tennessee we have 320 to choose among, many of which we will only see if we look for them as we walk trails in wilderness areas or nature preserves. Many of the Asteraceaes that I love can be found in old fields, prairie remnants and along the roadsides;  plants that until recently have been thought of as weeds.

You've probably heard folks refer to these flowering plants as composites. Sunflower family is another name I've seen used. When plants are classified in a family it's because they have a similar genetic makeup and similar characteristics. Most Asteraceas have characteristics that make identifying them easier. For instance, if you look closely at any of the flowers in this post, you will see that what looks like one single flower is actually a composite of many smaller tube shaped florets. They have disk flowers, ray flowers or a combination of disks and rays. They also have bracts rather than sepals and they need wind or animals to disperse their seeds.

Most of the Asteraceas in my garden are rough and tumble, take care of themselves beauties that fill an important role in a garden ecosystem. Each one of these darlings provides more pollen and nectar return on investment than many other flowers combined.

I think of them as landing pads of deliciousness for butterflies, bees, beetles, wasps and moths. They're magnets for all kinds of insects; including some that are themselves food for spiders, birds and other insect eating critters

OCTOBER Wildflower Wednesday: Keeper of Bees
I am a keeper of bees, but, not a beekeeper. Providing a healthy habitat for native bees and other pollinators has been important to me since that long ago Autumn day I noticed that the garden was filled with buzzing critters. They were nectaring on the ex-asters that lived on the edges of the yard tucked under the shrubs. I had forgotten all about them while I struggled to grow plants that made no sense for this shallow soil.   The plants were alive with activity and there were bumbles of every size, flies that looked like bees and wasps and beetles climbing all over each other.  It was a native plant wake up call and it didn't take me long to fall head over heals for the critters and the wildflowers that brought them to the garden.

NOVEMBER Wildflower Wednesday: Celebrating the Supporting Players in a Wildflower Garden

In the drama of a wildflower garden there are no bit players. The canopy, the understory, the herbacious layer and the ground cover are all part of a diverse ensemble. All the players are essential; all provide food, nesting and shelter for mammals and birds; they're host plants for a variety of insects that are a primary food source for birds, bats, small mammals, amphibians and even other insects that you want in your garden.

Supporting players are essential if you want to garden for wildlife and that's what my garden is all about. It doesn't hurt that they are all darn good looking for most of the year.

My dear friends, Thank you for planting more wildflowers. Thank you for taking care of the bees and all the other pollinators that visit and live in your gardens. Thank you for tolerating what others consider pesky wildlife. Thank you for another year of your friendship, visits, comments and for joining me in celebrating wildflowers all over this great big wonderful world.
You are the best and having you in my life has enriched it beyond measure.

See you next year!

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.

Thursday, December 15, 2016

Frostweed flowers are nature's winter magic

Verbesina virginica has begun its flowering magic and I never tire of seeing it blooming on a cold morning.
Verbesina virginica/white crownbeard/wingstem is a valuable food sources for late pollinator visitors, so I've let it seed with some abandon in the wilder parts of the garden.
You can see capillary action in the above stem
Although, more common on the first frosty mornings of fall, here in my Middle Tennessee Zone 7 garden we have all the right ingredients for frostweed flowers to make their special appearance even in winter.

All that is needed is a warm winter day followed by a cold winter night. During the warm day, the Verbesina's roots draw water up into the stem and later that night freezing temperatures force the sap from the stems where they freeze into sculptural ice candy flower curls. The scientific term is capillary action, but

I think it's magic.

Verbesina's quirky magical winter behavior is just one of the many reasons it's a queen among the rough and tumble flowering natives in my garden. Bumble Bees love it. Green Metallic bees love it. Giant Carpenter Bees love it. Butterflies love it. In fact, it's an essential late summer/early fall nectar food for all visiting pollinators and it's an especially important food for  the Monarch Butterfly. It's has been selected for monitoring by Monarch Watch, an organization devoted to education, conservation and research about/for the Monarch Butterfly. It will always have a place in my garden.

I love its candy curls of ice, but, in the back of my mind are images of summer blooms and visiting pollinators.


I am posting this magical flower for Garden Bloggers' Bloom Day! Stop by May Dreams Gardens to see what other gardeners are sharing for Bloom Day.

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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