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

Thursday, February 8, 2018

Blogging Anniversary

PPPP~Practically Perfect Pink Phlox
Ten years ago today, with equal excitement and anxiety, I clicked the publish button on my first blog post. There was no way I could have predicted what was to come or what an adventure it would be. Since that first brief~seven sentence post~a lot has happened. I've made new and dear friends. I've seen more gorgeous gardens than you can possibly imagine. I've even attended a garden bloggers get together in the UK. Along the way, I've grown as a writer, a photographer, a nature lover and a gardener.

I don't for one minute regret the time I've spent sitting at my desk hunting and pecking my way to posts I was never sure anyone would ever read! I've been one fortunate garden blogger...Because of you, dear readers.

I started blogging to connect with other gardeners who felt as passionate about gardening as I did. What I found were generous, kind and supportive people, many of whom have become very dear friends.

Most of us have only been able to visit each other's gardens through our blog photos and posts, but, that doesn't diminish our connections.

A few of us have been able to visit each other's gardens...What a delectable treat that has been.
Quite a few of us have exchanged seeds and plants.

So my dear friends I continue to blog because it's still important to me to connect with other gardeners; it's still important to talk about native plant gardening for wildlife; and, it's still important to showcase wildflowers on Wildflower Wednesday. My friends, you are all dear to me. Thank you for being here for this marvelous and magical experience.


PS I thought you would enjoy seeing Phlox pilosa the the Practically Perfect Pink Phlox again. I love knowing that many of you have a bit of Clay and Limestone in your garden.

 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 24, 2018

Wildflower Wednesday: The Siren Call of a Wildflower

My favorite garden catalogs arrived this month and just like that I am head over heels in want of a plant that could be wrong for this garden!
with pedulous umbels that are similar to allium (source 
Meet Asclepias exaltata! A Monarch butterfly host plant that grows in shade. I'm not kidding, Asclepias exaltata is one of the most shade tolerant of its genus. That's exciting news for those of us that have more shade than sun in our gardens and want to grow host plants for the Monarch butterfly.

But, there's a but, Asclepias exaltata is a moisture loving plant! Where I garden the soils are generally dryer (summer), heavier and more neutral than where poke milkweed is naturally found. Is this enough of an issue to make me turn a deaf ear to the siren call of this beautiful wildflower?

I don't know, so I'm going to research Poke milkweed before I sail away!
R W Smith photographer
 A. exaltata is a tall and elegant looking flowering plant that can be found in woodland areas across the eastern portion of the United States and Canada. It has a sweet fragrance in bloom and the weeping downward pinkish flowers have been described as reminiscent of an exploded firework.  I like the exploded firework image, but, for the more botanically inclined:  "Umbels weep down with each flower on a long pedicel with 10+/- flowers per umbel. Color is white with lavender to green tinges. Stems of the umbels are a purplish color. Horns protrude through the hoods. Corolla reflexes backward. Corolla, hoods, and horns are a light pink color. " (Monarch Watch source)

The unique flowers give way to beautiful elongated seed pods in late summer. Poke milkweed is taller than its relatives and is less likely to take over your entire garden like Asclepias syriaca/common milkweed.  Once established its deep taproot will make it nearly impossible to transplant successfully, so it’s best planted where it will be happy, and left undisturbed.

The photos below are from the Minnesota Wildflower website.

Look at that plant in the shade
The plant gets its common name from it's large leaves which superficially resemble Pokeweed (Phytolacca americana).
Provides a Monarch larval food source in the shade!

All sources mentioned that it grows best in moist soil and several suggest that it's happiest in moist soils along with cooler temperatures. All of the sources say it flowers nicely in dappled sun and some, say it will flower in full shade. One grower suggests keeping it out of the direct sun or the leaves will yellow. Illinois Wildflowers says the plants must be protected from prevailing winds and grown in rich loamy moist soil with good drainage.

All agree that it has a strikingly sweet fragrance when in bloom and the seed pods are cool. Several gardeners said that bunnies ate their plants to the ground.

The particulars

Asclepias exaltata
Common Names: Tall Milkweed, Poke milkweed
Asclepiadaceae (Milkweed Family)
Perennial Native Wildflower
Bloom: Jun, Jul, Aug
Color:  White, Pink
USDA Zones: 3, 4, 5, 6, 7
US Regions: Midwest, Northern, Northeast, Southeast
Distribution: AL, CT, DE, GA, IA, IL, IN, KY, MA, MD, ME, MI, MN, MS, NC, NH, NJ, NY, OH, PA, RI, SC, TN, VA, VT, WI, WV  Canada: ON, QC
Light: Partial, Shade
Soil: Sand, rich loam
Moisture: Seems to require moderate moisture.
Size: 3'-5'
Benefits: Pollinators, Butterflies,
Habitat: Woodland plant, grows best in dappled sunlight in the understory in loamy soils with moderate moisture. Taprooted.
Deer Resistant, but not bunny resistant
Germination: Requires stratification cold/wet for 4 weeks. Seeds are not expensive and are available on the internet.
Uses: Attracts Pollinators, Honeybees,  Butterflies and bunnies
Good wildlife value

In conclusion: Butterfly lovers with shady gardens are in luck! Especially, if you have a moist, shady garden in the eastern United States and Canada. If you have a dry shade garden and want to water this plant during dry periods you, too, can grow A exaltata. Forget growing it in the deep south, it's too hot. If you have a sunny, dry garden then stick with A tuberosa, you won't be disappointed or exhausted from dragging a hose around all summer.

 I still hear the siren song, but, right now, I'm leaning toward growing it from seed, in a container, close to the door, where I can smell the sweet fragrance, watch pollinators visiting and water it daily.


PS Before I go, I want to share with you garden guidelines that help me make better plant choices.  You can modify it to fit your garden and goals.

Before I place any in the online cart I like to make sure:

  • It has a good chance to survive the difficult conditions at Clay and Limestone.
  • It's a middle Tennessee or Central Basin native.
  • It's a nectar or pollen source for pollinators.
  • It's a host plant for pollinators.
  • It has berries, seeds and/or nuts for my critter visitors and residents. 
  • It has good wildlife value.
  • It will aid the diversity of my critter friendly garden.
  • It isn't available locally.
  • Exceptions can be applied by a gardener willing to haul water all summer long for moisture loving plants; purchase containers so plants get good drainage; and, what ever else a plant needs whose siren call won the gardener's heart.

Welcome to Wildflower Wednesday and thank you for stopping by to see what plant made a siren call to me this month. 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, December 27, 2017

2017 Wildflower Wednesday Roundup

Welcome to the Wildflower Wednesday December 2017 Roundup! There's still color in the garden and we thank the St Johns wort and beige colored stalks of wildflowers and grasses for brightening the gray days. Gardening in the Middle South is a treat, we have four seasons, but our winter is mercifully short and spring and autumn make up for the steamy hot summer weather. Soon the earliest spring ephemerals will break dormancy and the gloriously long bloom of wildflowers will begin.

Without further ado here are the best and brightest of Clay and Limestone's 2017 wildflowers.

January 2017 Wildflower Wednesday: Chasmanthium latifolium (River Oats)
 clump-forming, upright
There aren't nearly enough grasses in my garden. Shallow soil and 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).

I think it's important to tell the truth about plants I showcase and the truth is that I love this one. 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, it especially loves moist soil. It does spread in dry soil, too!

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.

February 2017 Wildflower Wednesday: A Fine Native Hydrangea
the sterile flowers stay attached after flowering has finished
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.

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 stream banks 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.

March 2017 Wildflower Wednesday: Trillium cuneatum

 My garden has taken a beating the last two winters and it wasn't from the weather. It's been decimated by voles. Native wildflowers have disappeared. Gone are Trilliums, Erythronium albidum (white trout lily), Hepatica, Dicentra cucullaria (Dutchman’s breeches), Camassias and several other ephemeral beauties.

Trillium cuneatum was one of the first native plants that I discovered when we moved here, so it was placed at the top of my list to be replaced. The garden wouldn't be the same without that dramatic mottled foliage and those twirling sessile flowers!

It's extremely frustrating to discover that a healthy practice I advocate~using leaf mold to mulch wildflowers~ was the very one that made it easy for voles to feast on the plant crowns, roots, and bulbs/rhizomes. I found their shallow runs when I pulled the mulch away to look for emerging plants. I was heartbroken to see depressions in the soil where my beautiful spring ephemerals ought to have been. Of course I did a mad search to see what other gardeners were using to deter voles. I decided to use expanded shale/PermaTill in the bottom of the hole and also as a mulch. Voles have been described as a cross between a mouse and a mole. They're about five inches long and covered in brownish fur. The mole part of them makes them great diggers, but, they are supposed to dislike the rough shale and thus avoid the protected plants. I will let you know how well it works.

April 2017 Wildflower Wednesday: Golden Alexander

 Golden Alexander is a lovely wildflower and should have been a Wildflower Wednesday star years ago, but, it has always been over shadowed by the showier early blooming Aquilegias, Baptisias and Phloxes. That is until this year, when I noticed how nicely it had seeded around the garden.

I don't understand why they are so rarely planted. It's a stellar plant for early season color and the small flowers are an important and easily accessible food for tiny pollinators. There's a lot of other flowers in bloom when the Zizia flower in my garden, but, colder climate gardeners, this will bloom earlier than some showier wildflowers and could be a must have plant for your wildflower garden!

May 2017 Wildflower Wednesday: Spiderwort

I love my garden in the early morning. Once the sun has made it past the trees, it begins to spot light the shadier garden nooks. Spiderworts do look their best in that cool morning sun. The sun light makes its feathery violet hairs glow. Later in the day they're washed out by the hot, bright light, but that is the case for many delicate flowers.

Tradescantia  virginiana like all members of the dayflower/Commelinaceae family is ephemeral - its flowers stay open only one day (half day if sited in full sun), but, it continues blooming for a long time. The leaves are strappy, with pointed tips. Each has a channel (which looks like the perfect place to fold it) and is bright green with a dark green midvein and visible parallel veins.

In my garden, spiderwort's arching stems are usually 2 to 3 foot tall and the clumps are never wider than 2 feet. The plant hasn't spread aggressively beyond their original plantings, but then C and L doesn't have rich, moist soil, which would encourage it to misbehave. They are known to spread by seed and if any seeds sprout where you don't want them, they're best dug out when young, before a thick, fibrous root can develop in the middle of one of your prize ornamental plants.

June 2017 Wildflower Wednesday: Deer-tongue Grass

Panicled seedheads
I have an abundance of several lesser known native grasses growing in my garden. Until recently they've been considered weeds and even now you can find articles on how to rid your lawn of them.

Our unusual and lesser known star of Wildflower Wednesday is Dichanthelium clandestinum. Deer-tongue Grass is one of the various panic or witch grasses that I've discovered growing in damp spots in the garden. The unbranched leaves of early spring caught my eye and I was determined to identify it.

What I discovered was that most of the witch grasses/panic grasses are members of the Panicum or Dichanthelium genus and impossible for me to tell apart. Their panicled seedheads make them easily identifiable as panic grasses, but that's as far as I have gotten with most of them. Deer-tongue grass is a native grass that occurs in the eastern half of the US. It prefers damp soil, so look for it in marshy ground, thickets, woody edges, stream banks, roadsides, and even near the shore.

It's most attractive in the early spring when the silver flower heads shimmer in the slightest breeze. The clasping leaves give the plant a bamboo like appearance and the foliage turns yellow-brown in autumn. It's attractive and has good wildlife value....so it's a keeper!  Under the right conditions it can be an aggressive spreader, but, so far, that hasn't happened here. 

July 2017 Wildflower Wednesday: Partridge Pea makes a stand

It's been half a dozen years since Partridge Pea/Chamaecrista fasciculata was a Wildflower Wednesday star. That's way too long for such a fabulous Fabaceae to sit on the sidelines. Chamaecrista fasciculata is an annual that grows in poor sandy or gravely soil. It forms large stands if happy and you can count on blooms for several months. It has attractive blue-green pinnate leaves and showy flowers that are a brilliant yellow with a red blotch at the base and dark red anthers. The flowers grow in the leaf axils all along the sprawling stem.

Here's what I love about it!
  • long bloom season
  • pollinator magnet
  • pretty flowers
  • ferny leaves that add texture to a garden bed
  • host plant for butterfly caterpillars. Cloudless Sulphur caterpillars will feed on both the Partridge Pea’s leaves and its flowers. You can tell which the caterpillar concentrated on by its color, which may be yellow or green.
  • ecologically valuable 

August 2017 Wildflower Wednesday: Euphorbia corollata

Euphorbia corollata, is looking particularly lovely in the midst of the other late summer flowers. It's almost unnoticeable in the garden at most other times of the year. I often forget it's there until the tiny white blooms grab my attention in early August. You won't be surprised to hear that this is another underappreciated wildflower seen on the sides of roads. In fact, I had driven by a large patch for years before someone pointed it out to me. Of course, I made a point of stopping to get a closer look and it wasn't long after that I located and purchased three for my garden.

September 2017 Wildflower Wednesday: Desmodium paniculatum

Panicledleaf Tick trefoil, another fab Fabaceae, is a sprawling native to most of Eastern North America. It's truly a plant of the woodlands or wilder areas in our gardens. Somehow, it has comfortably established itself in my garden. It's especially happy in the wayback Garden of Benign Neglect. Honestly, it's taken awhile for me to open my heart to them, but, after a half dozen years, we are getting along fine.

October 2017 Wildflower Wednesday: Wild Poinsettia
Wild poinsettia is happy in a container in my wildflower garden. I'm happy it's contained, too. Not because I wanted to keep it in check, quite the opposite, I wanted to make sure it survived. It's dry under Clay and Limestone's canopy of shagbark hickories and oaks and containers are one of the best ways I know to take care of special need plants. In my dry shady garden this is a special need plant.

I like Euphorbias. There are at least a dozen species in my neck of the woods. Some have more ornamental appeal like Euphorbia corollata, our Wildflower Wednesday star last Augustmany of the natives we find in our lawns or garden beds are considered weeds.  Plants like Wooly Croton, Spotted Sandmat, Prairie Tea, Toothed Spurge and Cumberland Spurge, aren't without their charms, but, try convincing most gardeners to embrace them! I do encourage others to consider our native wild poinsettia. It's a delightful annual that has distinctive coloring that resembles the Christmas poinsettia, but, it is a wildlife friendly plant and worthy of garden consideration.

I don't know if you'll want to invite wild poinsettia into your garden, but, I hope you'll consider it a wildflower and not a weedy plant.

November 2017 Wildflower Wednesday: Polystichum acrostichoides
The flowers are gone from the garden, except for a few of the last to bloom ex-asters and two tiny fleabanes that are protected by fallen leaves. There is still color in the trees and shrubs and stalwart blooms on the native witch-hazel, but, we're quickly moving toward the season of gray and brown in my part of the gardening world.

The graceful arching fronds of evergreen Christmas fern (Polystichum acrostichoides) are especially appreciated this time of year.  It's wonderful to have a fern presence in the midst of a hot and humid Nashville summer, but, this fern shines in winter when the dark, leathery fronds pop against the decaying leaves or poke up through a light snow.

Ferns are ancient plants (350 million years on this planet) and scientific research almost always focuses on tropical ferns, but, that doesn't mean our Christmas fern has no ecological value. It's not a host plant for any insects and mammals don't browse it, but, as stated above the decaying plant provides habitat for birds, while also stabilizing the soil. But, we gardeners know that their value is beyond measure. We want plants that are easy to care for, lovely to look at, require very little fuss, can survive our hot humid summers and our long cold winters and are not eaten by pests, like deer and rodents.  I think you'll find that Christmas fern more than meets those qualifications. 

My dear friends, Thank you for planting more wildflowers. Thank you for taking care of the bees and other pollinators. Thank you for tolerating pesky wildlife that too often eat your favorite flowering plants. Thank you for another year of your friendship, visits, comments and 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.


Most of you have been very busy with the holidays, but, if you have the time to join this Wildflower Wednesday, just add your link to Mr. Linky and leave a comment.

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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