Bittersweet

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I am in Oklahoma this week on a bittersweet errand. Part of it is quite joyful. I am happy to be able to celebrate my Mom’s 90 birthday.

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But for the third time in numerous years, my sister and I are helping her plan a move. She is moving from her apartment, down the hall to assisted living. At least she is able to do that and doesn’t need to leave the lovely property where she’s lived for the 7 years.

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We had a little party here for her this past weekend. Some cousins drove out from the East Coast. More are flying in this week. Turning 90 in my family is very special (I am guessing it would be in most families).

So in addition to helping Mom, we took the cousins to a few Oklahoma sights. The first 2 above are from the Land Run Memorial, commissioned for the Oklahoma Centennial in 2007.

Despite Oklahoma’s sad history, the sculptures themselves are amazing pieces of art. The details rendered in the bronze are stunning.

The absence of plants are also notable. There is, of course, the grasses (and nothing was identified) presumably designed to simulate the prairie.

There was the prickly pear cactus shown in my top photo of the leaping jack rabbit.

And there was red aloe (that I grow in containers in Connecticut) but which is clearly hardy here.

On Friday I will show photos from my other “tourist” trip (a museum I have been to many times but my cousins had not, so they took the docent tour and I went outside to see what was blooming).

Bird and Nature Planted Plants

Probably 10 or more years ago now, I heard a talk by Larry Weaner. At the time, I didn’t realize how influential it was going to become in my gardening style.

What he said was that it’s important to manage invasive plants and then to let the land show you what wants to be there.

I am not sure that I will ever be “done” managing invasive plants, particularly with the number of birds on my property. Fine.

But the land certainly has shown me what wants to be here and it’s goldenrod. But it’s also lots of other things as well.

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This is a plant called boneset (eupatorium perfoliatum). I have quite a bit of it. Pollinators love it because of the tiny, multi-part flowers. It’s native for me.

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This huge patch of asters is just one of several types–all natives– that appeared here by chance and grow beautifully in my heavy wet clay. They’re great for pollinators and go nicely with the goldenrod in this bed.

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This aster prefers more shade so it grows on the edge of our woods.

If I were weed-averse–or less likely to let something bloom to see if it is a weed or a wildflower–chances are I wouldn’t have half these plants. My garden and my pollinators would be poorer for it.

Solidago Acres

I have always wondered about folks who named their houses. How on earth did they come up with their names? When you look at the names–because inevitably, if you name your house, you put it up on a plaque over the door or out on a post by the road–most of them seem very appropriate.

There is one that befuddles me. There’s a large stately house with “Margate” out front. The only thing I can think is that it’s a family name. I can’t imagine what “Margate” has to do with an giant white colonial style home otherwise.

But other than that, names seem to fit homes. I’ve never been into that much until this year when my garden finally got away from me and I am completely over-run with goldenrod. It’s just everywhere. Mind you, I am delighted about it–I could be over-run with some noxious weed!

So as I was walking back to the house with the dog the other day, I said to her (and yes, I chatter to her a blue streak the entire time we’re walking), “Amie, we have to call this house Goldenrod Acres. No, let’s make it Solidago Acres.”

And thus, I have become one of those people who names a house. But no, you will not see me putting a plaque up on it–or around it–anytime soon.

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How did all this goldenrod–the solidago–get here? I have no idea. I suspect this first patch was brought in–as all my plants, wanted and unwanted are–by birds. I have a very robust bird population.

Why it suddenly exploded this year beyond this patch to almost every other garden I have–including some that are literally almost an acre away (yes, I garden on almost an acre of property–but not acres!) I have no idea. Did birds, bees or butterflies spread it? Something must have. Or did other birds drop in new populations? That could be the more plausible scenario for the “rogue” clump that is literally almost as far from this original patch as you can get.

So far as I am concerned, like my “hibiscus hedge,” it can take over a lot of this property. it’s good for wildlife and it’s pretty. And it doesn’t spark allergies. So, as I always say, what’s not to like?

Nativar Little Joe

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Because I have been gardening at my home for over 20 years, I often don’t have room to add a really big plant. The native Joe Pye Weed can get up to 6 feet tall and make a clump of about 4 feet wide. It takes quite a garden to have room for a plant like that!

Luckily the breeders–who are doing a “Honey I shrunk the shrubs” thing with just about every plant imaginable–have come out with two smaller cultivars. Remember, smaller is a relative term when the plant you’re starting with is 6 foot tall to begin with!

I chose “Little Joe,” which is still going to get 3-4 feet tall and perhaps up to 2 feet wide.  The plant you are looking at is only in its first full year–and remember the rule with perennials: the first year it sleeps, the second year it creeps, the third year you reap (and I have added my own part to that which is, the fourth year, you dig and divide!)

So this plant is just barely becoming established. By next year it should be double its size and the third year it should be full sized.

There is a second “dwarf” cultivar called ‘Baby Joe.’ It has darker foliage and stays smaller yet: 2-3 feet tall, but about as wide. So remember, this is still not a tiny plant.

But for those without meadow gardens, these “nativars” might be just the thing!

Native versus Nativar

I won’t even wade into the definition of what a native plant is. That alone can be fairly controversial. And people who love native plants have different ideas about them.

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What do I mean? I might say that I am growing native plants and I might be referring to my echinacea. A very strict constructionist would say that coneflowers are not native to Connecticut and therefore I can’t consider them native.

To me, that’s silly–but I do know people who will only plant regionally appropriate native plants. Bless them.

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Other folks might be growing the double form of coneflowers–these photos are of a neighbor’s plants–and still consider them native.

Technically these double forms are considered “nativars.” That’s a cute form of native and cultivar, combined.

But here are things to consider when planting these types of plants.

First, what is your goal? Are you just planting ornamentally? If so, plant what you like and what will be hardy for you.

If you are planting for wildlife, consider how closely the nativar mimics the native plant. In the case of the coneflowers, the “cone” is replaced by petals. So there is no place for insects or butterflies to nectar. That’s not a good “mimic.”

On Friday I will show a different nativar that maintains the attributes of its parent.

Planting for Pollinators

I’ve done a lot of posting over the last week or two about what I’m planting–my herbs, both for me and for the pollinators, the annuals in the herbs garden, my indoor succulent corner (which no pollinators can get to, of course, unless they accidentally get inside the screened porch–and why would they want to?

As I was thinking back over this and thinking forward to Pollinator Week, which occurs this year June 17-23, I realized that for all my talk about native plants, I hadn’t planted any native plants.

Is this a catastrophe? No. I already have a lot of native plants in my yard. But as someone who talks a lot about native plants, I do like to add them when I can.

But one thing I didn’t do this year was add any trees, shrubs or perennials–the sorts of plants that are native plants. So that’s why no natives this season.

So should I consider my whole season a loss? I guess that depends on what you are trying to accomplish. This season, I am lucky that I can get a little gardening in. I am hoping to be able to harvest just a few tomatoes and some green beans–and to have some fresh herbs to cook with.

I’d like a few pretty flowers to look at and I have chosen those flowers with pollinators in mind. In the past, I have seen both hummingbirds and sphinx moths on impatiens so I chose those for a semi-shaded spot.

For the sunnier spots, I chose annuals in colors of blue and yellow, primarily to attract bees and butterflies. One of the containers has some lantana, which I know the butterflies in my area love.

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My earlier spring container, which was a Wordless Wednesday photo, was violets and alyssum. I have watched honeybees and smaller bees on that until I moved it to a shadier spot where I don’t get to observe it so readily.

So I am not feeling too sad about the gardening season so far. I am just hoping that the deer don’t eat the green beans, as they have in some years. Time will tell!