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

Wednesday, November 23, 2016

Wildflower Wednesday: Celebrating the Supporting Players in a Wildflower Garden

When we moved to this property there was a canopy of secondary growth shagbark hickories, white oaks,a winged Elm (above) and a few hackberries all growing in a weedy front lawn.
Other than a diseased Cercis canadensis/redbud and a lovely Ostry virginiana that was being smothered by a wisteria vine, there was absolutely no understory.

I loved the canopy and the beautiful fall colors, but, I didn't want a lawn with big trees towering above. What I really wanted were more flowers like the ones I saw on the edges of my new yard that first day in mid-October after we closed on the house. They were a beautiful blue and were covered with bumble bees.

It was my first sighting of the ex-asters and I was in love.
Amelanchier fall 2015 with offspring of the ex-asters I fell for 30 years ago.

I had always wanted to garden, so the following spring I planted more flowers. Most of them died. Lavenders, hostas and other exotic plants that I found at a local nursery just didn't belong in this garden.

Cercis canadensis and Cotinus 'Grace'

It took a while and a lot of research, but, once I figured out that the conditions in my garden, (soil, sun and moisture) resembled the woodlands that are adjacent to cedar glades, I began to plant native plants, including an appropriate understory of small trees and shrubs to create a healthy and diverse ecosystem. By then, I was head over heals in love with wildflowers and gardening for wildlife had become my passion.

The Dancing Tree, Ostrya virginiana
After dozens of years of tweaking and experimenting, I think that there is a pretty good balance of canopy trees, understory trees and shrubs that thrive in the shallow clay soil that is dry during the summer and wet during the winter.
 Hamamelis vernalis and Itea virginica  (2014)
My garden is a Central Basin woodland with dryer, heavier and more neutral soil. Native plants adapted to this kind of environment were essential, the supporting players are small trees (redbuds, hop hornbeams, witchhazels, smokebush and spicebush) and various sized shrubs (Hydrangeas, Iteas, Hypericums and  native azaleas) that are shade tolerant.  My goal has been to provide habitat for critters in a visually attractive space.
Hydrangea quercifolia
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.

Hamamelis virginiana
They 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.
Aronia/Photinia arbutifolia
The Supporting Players:
Lindera benzoin
Hypericum frondosum
Hydrangea arborecens sps and cultivars 'Ryan Gainey', 'White 'Dome'
Viburnum rufidulum 
Hydrangea quercifolia
Itea virginica
Aronia/Photinia arbutifolia

Euonymous americana
Intense fall color on Hypericum frondosum 2015
Aesculus parviflora (just one)
Hamamelis vernalis
Hamamelis virginiana
Rhododendron periclymenoides (Pinxterbloom Azalea)
Juniperus virginica 'Grey Owl'

Lindera benzoin  with Hydrangea arborescens and Mr I's maple.

Asimina triloba
Cotinus 'Grace'
Cercis canadensis
Cornus florida

Callicarpa americana
Ilex glabra
Illicium parviflorum 'Florida Sunshine'
Cornus drummondii 

Amelancer laevis (just one)
Magnolia 'Little Gem'
Ostrya virginica
Neviusia alabamensis
Dirca palustris (just one)
Rhus aromatica

Rhus aromatica

All across America families and friends are making plans to gather for Thanksgiving dinner. It's our annual celebration of the "First Thanksgiving" when colonists celebrated arriving safely in the New World. In my house, before the feasting begins, we all take turns sharing our feelings of gratitude. This year, I am especially grateful for the health and well being of my family; for our first grandchild, Ever Mae; for loving and supportive friends; for fall weather that finally appeared; and, for wildflowers that bloomed no matter how horrid the weather has been.

Happy Thanksgiving to you all,

Welcome to Wildflower Wednesday and thank you for stopping by to help me celebrate the many supporting players in my garden. This has been a challenging year and there isn't anywhere near the foliage color display that one expects in a Middle Tennessee garden in November, thus, many of the photos shared are from previous years. There's rain in the forecast and all of us in Tennessee are keeping our fingers crossed that it happens. Too often this summer and fall rain has skipped past us. We need a good rain to put out the wildfires that are ravaging the forests in the southeastern states.

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, October 26, 2016

Wildflower Wednesday: Keeper of Bees

I am a keeper of bees, but, not a beekeeper.
There are no honeybee hives in my garden, although, honeybees regularly visit. Several neighbors have hives and I like to think their honey is Clay and Limestone tasty.

I am the keeper of this habitat called Clay and Limestone. It's become my life's work.

Providing a healthy habitat for native bees and other pollinators has been important to me since the 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, there were tiny bees of many kinds, flies that looked like bees and wasps, and bumbles of every size. 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.

You could easily say that wildflowers opened my eyes to all the critters that live in and visit this garden.

I noticed which plants they nectared on, which plants they needed for raising their young, and, which plants had nuts, fruits and berries for the birds and small mammals. I planted as many as I could pry into the shallow soil.

Once you have a garden filled with native plants, you can't help but notice that there's always something happening. Birds are bathing or drinking at the baths; spiders are building webs to collect unsuspecting insects; beetles are mating; and, the bees are everywhere.

I enjoy all the critters (okay, I am not too crazy about the voles, they keep eating my favorite plants) but, the pollinators, especially the bees, have a special place in my heart.

Pollinators are active as soon as there are blooming flowers. Here that means small flies will be buzzing around the late winter blooming witch hazels in January. It gets busier when the spring ephemerals bloom and the mason bees and honeybees arrive. From then on, bumbles, green metallic bees, mason bees, big and tiny carpenter bees, sweat bees, flower flies, beetles, moths, butterflies and skippers are busy visiting anything that offers nectar and/or pollen. But, come fall, the rush to get ready for winter ramps up the activity and the little ex-asters, which are some of the last natives blooming in this garden, are covered with every kind of pollinating creature.

Autumn is a delightfully magic time.

You can be a keeper of native bees and other pollinating critters, it's not difficult at all. 

The Golden Rules for a pollinator friendly garden

*Choose plants that make sense for your garden, then plant lots and lots of them. Plant at least three of each plant, more if you have the space! Many bees practice flower constancy, working one flower type at a time, so give them a swath of these plants to visit. Make sure the plants are nectar and/or pollen rich with good wildlife value. (Central Basin natives make sense in a Middle Tennessee garden)

*Plant host plants~don't stop at nectar and pollen plants.  A healthy garden is diverse, so plan for all the critters that live or visit. The Monarch butterfly is a great example of a pollinator that needs a specific plant, in this case milkweeds, in order to reproduce and live in your garden. Some bees have plant preferences, but most are generalists and are happy visiting any flowers.

*Avoid hybrid strains with 'doubled' flowers, they often lack pollen, fragrance and nectar as a result of the hybridization. A good way to check a flower out before you bring it home is to observe it for any pollinator visitors while shopping at the nursery. I stay away from pretty flowers that have no visitors and stock up on those that are pollinator hotels!

 *Plan for bloom from late spring to early winter.  Since bees are most active from February to November (longer in mild climates) late winter blooming Hamamelis vernalis and the earliest spring ephemerals (like the toothworts, hepaticas, spring beauties and False rue-anemone) are perfect plants for a variety of pollinators.

*Bee sure to include water.  Shallow birdbaths, mud puddles or even just a small saucer with sand and rocks helps supply pollinators with the necessary water and minerals they need when ever they are out and about, but, especially in the long, hot, dry summers that many of us are experiencing.

*Provide nesting sites for a variety of visitors.  Leave a three foot square of bare soil for ground nesting bees and ix-nay on the plastic landscape cloth~bees cannot tunnel through it. Leave decaying logs for beetles and tunneling bees. Build or purchase specialized bee houses. Trust me, building your own Pollinator Condo is a fun project!

*Wait until spring to clean up your garden. Get over thinking that fall means garden clean up time~spring cleaning makes sense! I leave dried flower stalks and grasses standing all winter for hibernating insects. Did you know that many beneficial insects overwinter in decaying leaves and in plant stalks? The one exception is summer phlox~I always cut down and dispose the stalks in the trash to keep the phlox bug from over wintering and decimating the plant the next season.

*Practice peaceful coexistence. Bees sometimes choose to nest in inconvenient places. Rather than exterminating them, think of it as an opportunity to watch and learn about them up close.

As a gardenblogger, I  consider educating others about native bees to be an important job. If you want to help, here's a few things you can do.

Share your knowledge through your blog.
Talk to your gardening friends.
Invite native plant experts and ecologists to speak to your garden clubs.
Request pesticide free plants at garden centers and/or refuse to shop at nurseries that can't or won't acknowledge whether or not their plants are treated with pesticides that are known to be harmful to pollinators.
Plant more native plants.

*Of course, you all know that the very best thing you can do for bees and other pollinators is to never, ever, ever, ever use pesticides! 


Welcome to Wildflower Wednesday and thank you for stopping by to see the native ex-asters and their happy pollinator visitors. October is the best time to see clouds of lilac blue flowers in my garden and I have been thrilled to see that they have been blooming and attracting pollinators despite the drought that has been a challenge most of the summer and fall. It seemed only right to share all those lovely flower faces and the pollinator visitors with you for October's WW post. I hope you enjoyed this post as much as I have enjoyed writing it and finding the best photos to illustrate my points! You have seen some of the photos from previous seasons, but, the critters and stellar flowers are in the garden today.

Symphyotrichum is a genus of about 90 species of herbaceous annual and perennial plants that were formerly treated within the genus Aster, but, are now known officially at Clay and Limestone as the ex-asters.  

The ex-asters* in my garden, Symphyotrichum shortii, S cordifolium, S laeve var. laeve, S  novae-angliae, S oblongifolium, S patens, S pilosum, S praealtum, S priceae are all endemic to Middle Tennessee and grow and thrive in the  clay soil and semi-shady to almost full sun conditions of my Zone7 garden (formerly Zone6b). Symphyotrichums are found all over North America and there are many that will grow in your garden.

Many kinds of insects, especially long-tongued bees, small-tongued bees, butterflies, skippers, and flies are attracted to the pollen and nectar of ex-asters and several bees are known to specialize on them. I was excited to learn that the cats of the Silvery Checkerspot and Pearl Crescent feed on the foliage. One can conclude from the long list of critters that feed on all parts of ex-Asters that they have good wildlife value! (Illinois Wildflowers) *Not all of the ex-asters named are shown in this post.

Thanks for joining in and if you are new to Wildflower Wednesday, it's 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 your wildflower is in bloom or not and, it doesn't matter if we all share the same plants. 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, September 28, 2016

Wildflower Wednesday: A few must have fall blooming Asteraceas for the garden

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.
Goldenrod/Solidago flowers
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.
Verbesina virginica with numerous disk florets that are surrounded by ray florets
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.
numerous gold or yellow disk florets, surrounded by 30 or more ray florets
I think of them as landing pads of deliciousness for butterflies, bees, 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

I love this time of year with the attention grabbing Frostweeds, golden yellow of goldenrod, the brilliant pink and purple of the ex-asters, and the lilac-blues of Hardy Blue Mistflower against the Autumn blue sky. These early fall blooms with their intense, rich colors are a treat for our senses and necessary for our garden residents and visitors. 
If you asked me what plants I recommend for a pollinator friendly fall garden, I would tell you that you can't go wrong with the four I'm showcasing today.

You don't have to take my word for it~just walk trails in a local park, visit native plant gardens or check out your local nursery and notice which plants are attracting the most pollinator visitors.

Please enjoy a few more photos of my early fall favorites!

Verbesina virginica with its unusual white ray flowers is found on roadsides, woodlands and waste areas. It's a take care of itself plant that has enormous wildlife value for foraging pollinators (carpenter, honeybees, bumbles and small tongued bees and butterflies) during late summer when gardens are winding down.  It’s such an important food source for Monarch Butterflies that it had been selected as a monitoring plant by Monarch Watch. Frostweed grows in full sun, partial shade, or full shade with minimal watering or care.  Like most rough and tumble wildflowers, it can take care of itself.  Keep in mind that it reproduces very well from seed! The earliest I've seen the flowers open is late August in my Middle South garden and the best bloom is mid-September. Once in bloom you can expect them to be visited by an array of pollinators. The foliage is a larval host for the Summer Azure, Bordered Patch, and Silvery Checkerspot butterflies.

It really has a  lot going for it

  1. rough and tumble good looks, 
  2. it's a pollinator magnet
  3. drought tolerant 
  4. native species 
  5. it magically makes ice flowers on cold and frosty mornings
  6. Okay, it's not magic it's capillary action, but, I think that's magical.
It's a pretty spiffy wildflower.

Symphyotrichum novae-angliae/ex-aster

Here's another roadside weed that has hundreds of beautiful cultivars. It's a classic daisy flower that blooms in mid-September in my garden and looks spectacular with the Goldenrods. At one time this planting had a cultivar name, but the seedlings have taken over. Symphyotrichum novae-angliae are the first of the ex-asters to bloom. They're tall and gently sway in the slightest breeze. I didn't edit any out this past spring and they've spread to make a lovely show in pinks and purples.

Bumblebees, small bees, carpenterbees, butterflies, skippers and beneficial insects flock to these flowers.  Full sun and moist soil is preferred. I cut this plant back in June, but it still gets tall. Very easily grown from seed, this beauty has seeded itself all over my garden. But, you know, I love that!

Hardy Blue mist flower: Many gardeners under appreciate the charms of Hardy Ageratum. They consider it too weedy and aggressive for their gardens, until it blooms and then they begin wondering why the heck they haven't more of it! I no longer wonder why I haven't more, I've let it spread 4 feet down the side of the Susan's bed and I am thrilled with the river of blue.  

Conoclinium coelestinum is a graceful, low growing, eastern North American native wildflower that begins blooming in late August and continues through early fall. The lilac-blue flowers add a softness to late summer and fall gardens when rough and tumble flowers like the Susans, Goldenrods, Cup Plant, Verbesinas, Joe-Pye weeds and Ironweeds are making a large and loud scene. It's especially beautiful when allowed to naturalize and make its own big statement.

Butterflies and bees are drawn to the nectar-rich flowers, while birds eat the seeds. If you want more, and once you see it massed you will, it's easily propagated from seeds, cuttings, rootball divisions or layering. It thrives best in a well-drained acidic to neutral soils in a sunny environment. If you want easy care this is a great wildflower, but, it does naturalize easily, spreading by rhizome and seed (and is pulled out just as easily). 

Goldenrod/Solidago sps.

Goldenrods provide a big flower show each year and every bee, skipper, butterfly, soldier beetle, ambush bug, fly, spider, flower fly, etc... that visits or lives in this garden can be found noshing on it. You can't ask for a better wildlife valuable plant and when you combine them with the ex-asters, you get beauty and happy pollinators.

Goldenrods are the king of the colonizing wildflowers, some more than others! Don't let that stop you from adding them to your sunny garden. There are 100s of Solidago species in North America and you can be sure you will find several that make sense for your garden. I grow Solidago 'Fireworks' in the Susans Bed and Zigzag goldenrod/Solidago flexicaulis in one of the woodland gardens.  Neither are colonizers.  The rest are species and aggressive colonizers that I cull every spring and fall.

Give me this time of year with the intense colors of the wildflowers and the frenetic activity of pollinators, birds and other critters. These early fall blooms are a treat for the senses. But, my friends, it's only the beginning of the full fall show in a Middle South garden and I'll be sharing more Asteraceas and their critter visitors with you in the coming weeks.

Please remember, if you want to provide for fall pollinators you must plant landing pads of deliciousness like Goldenrods, Verbesinas, Hardy Bluemist flower, the ex-asters, and other wildflowers and you must never, ever, ever, ever, use pesticides in your garden. I do mean never!

Happy Wildflower Wednesday.

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 your wildflower is 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.


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