There is only one species of Hummingbird in the Chicago aea, the Ruby Throated Hummingbird. They spend their winters in Central America and arrive here in May. Throughout the summer, though, there was almost no sign of them in our garden this year.

Ruby Throated Hummingbird

Ruby Throated Hummingbird 

That changed about 10 days ago. Since then, we see hummingbirds almost every time we approach the front steps. Usually they are feeding at the containers stuffed with Hummingbird-attracting annuals.

DSC_0797 Hummingbird

Using the sports setting and a zoom lens, Judy got some pretty amazing photographs. These tiny guys move around so fast that they are a blur much of the time. Of course, that is part of what makes them so fascinating – plus their ability to hover like tiny helicopters.


Hummingbird feeding at Cigar Plant.

Cigar Plant (Cuphea ignea) is a big hummingbird favorite. 

Hummingbird feeding at Star Flower.

Hummingbird feeding at Star Flower.

They also really like Star Flower (Pentas lanceolata).

Hummingbird feeding on Tithonia

Hummingbird feeding on Tithonia

And like the butterflies, they are very fond of Mexican Sunflower (Tithonia lanceolata). 

DSC_0799 hummingbird

After a while I thought the hummingbirds were getting tired of having their pictures taken. Is he mooning us here?

Despite this suspected rudeness, it’s been exciting having the hummingbirds around. 

Have you seen hummingbirds in your garden this year?

Judy shot this video today of a goldfinch eating seeds on the Cupplant (Silphium perfoliatum) in the front garden. Goldfinches love cupplant, and I love to watch them eat.

Though they can be messy. This one must drop at least three seeds for every one he swallows. I guess that works fine from the Cupplant’s point of view.

Do you have goldfinches in your garden? What is their favorite plant?

Sic Transit Tithonia

If you’ve been reading this blog, you know I’m in love with Mexican Sunflower (Tithonia rotundifolia), with its intense orange flowers that draw butterflies like a magnet.

Mexican Sunflower (Tithonia)

Mexican Sunflower (Tithonia)

However, we cannot be blind to the flaws of those whom we love. This past week I learned about such a flaw.

2014-08-09 17.55.42 Tithonia

Namely, in rich soil Tithonia will grow to massive proportions. In my driveway border it had reached 7-8′. According to the Missouri Botanic Garden’s website, its normal height is 4-6′.

The Driveway Border before the Great Tithonia Disaster.

Front of the Driveway Border before the Great Tithonia Disaster.


When it gets so big, it cannot stand up to pounding rain. The stems are thick but not flexible. They crack but do not bend if the weight and force of the water is great enough.

After the Great Tithonia Disaster

After the Great Tithonia Disaster. I have to admit there is a much better view of the Joe Pye Weed.

And that is what happened to my Tithonia. Of the four plants I had originally in the Driveway Border, only one now survives. I’ve staked the survivor to a 10′ length of rebar.

The Driveway Border (post-disaster) seen from the front door window. The one remaining Tithonia seems to be OK.

The Driveway Border (post-disaster) seen from the front door window. The one remaining Tithonia seems to be OK.

Fortunately the Driveway Border is so stuffed with plants I think it still looks reasonably full. 

There is also one Tithonia in the Edibles/Cutting Bed, but it stayed a normal size and did not suffer any cracked stems.

Carrying a mortally wounded Tithonia to the alley. It was a brutally humid day, and I am drenched in sweat.

Carrying a mortally wounded Tithonia to the alley. It was a brutally humid day, and I am drenched in sweat.

In any case, in late August the Tithonia is definitely starting to decline – there are fewer blooms and the foliage is showing signs of decay.

I’m not giving up on Tithonia. I will definitely plant it again next year, but if it grows much bigger than 6′, I will stake it. Like so many of our loved ones, there are times when Tithonia needs support.

Have you learned anything about the flaws of any beloved plants this year?


Westwind Farm Studio is one of the places we saw during the first day of the Portland Garden Bloggers’ Fling. It seemed to me, as a Chicagoan, to be a very Portland sort of place, one where you can record music, take yoga classes, smell the fields of lavender, or commune with nature. It’s a place with a genuinely soothing vibe. 

A grass path leads to the gardens.

A grass path leads to the gardens.

Westwind contains 40 acres that includes woodland, a naturalistic meadow-style garden, and a more conventional garden around a pool.

A meadow garden slopes gently downward to deep green woods.

A meadow garden slopes gently downward to deep green woods.

What I loved best was the meadow garden. Grazing land for sheep not so long ago, it slopes downward towards deep green woods, providing a view that made me want to pitch a tent right there and start a new life as a squatter. 

2014-07-11 20.22.32

Yucca, Agastache, Leucanthemum, Perovskia, Rudbeckia and other flowers bloom among the grasses.

2014-07-11 19.56.15

I don’t know what this grass is (I feel like I should), but don’t the deep green conifers provide a fantastic background for it?

2014-07-11 20.13.53

Another deep green background really sets off these Astilbe.

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The same contrast really makes the red Monarda go KAPOW (a technical term used by garden designers). There were numerous hummingbirds zipping around but I wasn’t able to get pictures of any.

2014-07-11 19.55.20

The gardens here also boast some very satisfying plant combinations, like these Crocosmia and Perovskia.

 2014-07-11 20.03.26 Fireweed

I was taken aback by these HUGE Epilobium in the more conventional upper garden. I’m used to seeing this plant in overgrown spots at the edge of the woods (its common name is Fireweed). Seeing it here made me appreciate its ornamental qualites, proving once again that a weed is in the eye of the beholder.

 2014-07-11 20.11.51  westwind farm studio

Also in the upper garden there were big splashes of bold splashes of yellow, orange and red – contrasting with the sloping meadow, which was dominated by straw-colored grasses.

There was more to see at Westwind, but at this point my camera battery gave out. Because of her job Judy wasn’t able to get to Portland until the first evening of the Fling – so she missed all the gardens we saw on Friday and I had to be photographer for a day. Too bad she didn’t get to see Westwind, it would definitely have helped her decompress from her business trip.

I was going out this morning to pick tomatoes when I saw an unfamiliar butterfly on the Mexican Sunflowrer (Tithonia rotundifolia). Judy grabbed her camera and came outside to get some pictures. However, the humidity was so high that her lens fogged over.

Picture taken through a foggy lens.

Picture taken through a foggy lens.

So, if you’re wondering what photos look like taken with a fogged over lens, here you go. It took several minutes for the lens to clear.

2014-08-23 12.13.54 giant swallowtail

The butterfly turned out to be a Giant Swallowtail. We’d never had one in the garden before to my knowledge.

Giant Swallowtail, view from the back.

Giant Swallowtail, view from the back.

The Giant Swallowtail was really loving the Tithonia, which has turned out to be golden in terms of attracting butterflies to the garden.

Giant Swallowtail caterpillar. Photo: University of Florida Department of Entomology

Giant Swallowtail caterpillar. Photo: University of Florida Department of Entomology

Plants in the citrus family are hosts to Giant Swallowtails. In Illinois, that means Prickly Ash (Zanthoxylum americanum) and Hop  (Ptelea trifoliate) trees, as well as Common Rue (Ruta graveonlens). I’m tempted to plant some Common Rue myself, though I’m not sure where to get hold of it. Giant Swallowtail caterpillars camouflage themselves by resembling bird poop.

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The damaged wings indicate this particular Giant Swallowtail has taken some hard knocks, or bites.

Bumblebee wants the swallowtail to move on, and he does.

Bumblebee wants the swallowtail to move on, and he does.

The Swallowtail was fluttering from bloom to bloom on the Tithonia. Even while feeding he kept his wings moving, which made getting a good shot challenging for Judy. At one point, she saw a bumblebee chase the swallowtail away from a flower.

2014-08-23 12.21.17-2  giant swallowtail

Giant Swallowtails aren’t uncommon, but I’m highly gratified every time I find a new butterfly species in the garden.

Late August Foliage

And now I’m going to force myself to stop obsessing with brightly colored flowers and focus on some calming green stuff. This is something I need to do to keep from getting overstimulated. Fortunately, My Hesperides Garden hosts Garden Bloggers’ Foliage Day to remind me of this essential aspect of the garden.

'Northwind' Switchgrass

‘Northwind’ Switchgrass

‘Northwind’ Switchgrass (Panicum virgatum) probably has the most dramatic foliage in my garden at the moment. It has reached its full height and is about to launch it’s airy panicles of tiny flowers. The two clumps of ‘Northwind’ in the Sidewalk Border have reached an impressive size, a mass of tightly packed vertical stems.

Wild Indigo

Wild Indigo

This year I tried to cut back the wild indigo (Baptisia australis) without also cutting off all the seed heads. 

Wild Indigo seed pods

Wild Indigo seed pods

Judy is among the people who think that the Baptisia seed pods are quite ornamental. I could take them or leave them.

Swamp Milkweed seed pods

Swamp Milkweed seed pods

On the other hand, I’m very fond of milkweed seed pods, especially when they are fully ripe and begin to open. These Swamp Milkweed (Asclepias incarnata) pods have got a few weeks to go before they reach that stage.

East Side Border

East Side Border

Over on the east side bed, it’s all foliage now: Wild Geranium (Geranium maculatum), Celandine Poppy (Stylophorum diphyllum), Red Elderberry (Sambucus racemosa), among others.

Path to the back garden

Path to the back garden

On the west side of the house the Lady Ferns (Athyrium filix-femina) and Wild Ginger (Asarum canadensis) along the path to the back garden has stayed remarkably green. Only the Great Merrybells (Uvularia grandiflora) is starting to get crispy around the edges.

Silky Wild Rye

Silky Wild Rye

In the back garden, the seed heads of shade tolerant Silky Wild Rye (Elymus vilosus) are just starting to emerge from their sheaths.

Wild Black Raspberry patch

Wild Black Raspberry patch

I also like the leaves of wild black raspberry (Rubus occidentalus), which grows in a little patch at the base of the Silver Maple tree (Acer saccharinum). 

Calladium in containers with New Guinea Impatiens.

Calladium in containers with New Guinea Impatiens.

And Calladium is the primary foliage plant in the containers for shade.

What’s your favorite plant for foliage in August?

The Left Bank is my new name for the sunny garden bed that is west of the driveway, between the crabapple and the sidewalk. I like the name, but at the moment the garden looks like a collection of green lumps.

The Left Bank Garden, a collection of green lumps.

The Left Bank Garden, a collection of green lumps.

My intent with this garden was to prove that I was capable of planting a bed where the average plant was under five feet tall. I wanted something lower growing and colorful with year-round interest. The plants would also have to tolerate some fairly dry conditions. 

The good news is that Judy (who usually resists change) has agreed to a do-over of this bed. Hurrah! Wandering in an abundantly blooming garden makes me happy, but I can be made equally happy rearranging an established bed.

At the moment, here’s what I’m thinking of in terms of which plants will be kept, removed, or added.

You’re Out!

Scabiosa 'Butterfly Blue' and Lanceleaf Coreopsis

Scabiosa ‘Butterfly Blue’ (in) and Lanceleaf Coreopsis (out),

  • Coreopsis (Coreopsis lanceolata). These were brought to our garden by a shipping error. I used them to edge the east side of the bed, but they really haven’t worked out. Despite the full sun they tend to grow too tall. If I cut them back, they bloom very sparsely. They are destined for the compost pile.

Prairie Smoke and Starry Solomon's Plume

Prairie Smoke (in) and infiltrating Starry Solomon’s Plume (out)

  • Starry Solomon’s Plume (Smilacina stellata). This is a good plant, but not right for this spot. Too aggressive. There’s a solid patch of them under the crabapple that I like very much, though. That’s where I’ll move the ones now in the Left Bank.

Aromatic Aster (mostly out)

Aromatic Aster (mostly out)

  • Aromatic Aster (Symphyotrichum oblongifolium). Originally I chose this aster because it’s supposed to be low-growing. I love the abundant blue flowers. But while it is shorter than many asters it still tends to smother its smaller neighbors. I plan to reduce the number of Aromatic Asters from three to one. The other two I’ll transplant or give away.
  • Various Salvia. This bed is a mess in part because I filled random bare spots with a bunch of Salvia (mostly ‘May Night’ and ‘Blue Hill’) that I bought really cheap at Home Depot. What can I say, I was in my Salvia Period. Anyhow, it wasn’t thought through and looks it. All the Salvia will be transplanted to the Parkway Garden.

You’re In!

Tulip 'Early Harvest' (with white crocus). Photograph from johnscheepers.com

Tulip ‘Early Harvest’ (in) with white crocus. Photograph from johnscheepers.com

  • More Tulips. There are already some Species Tulips here, but digging up the bed is a great opportunity to plant more! In addition to more species tulips, I’m going to try the Kaufmanniana Tulip ‘Early Harvest’. Kaufmannianas are good perennializers and very early bloomers.

Prairie Dropseed

Prairie Dropseed (in)

  • Prairie Dropseed (Sporobulus heterolepsis). Right now clumps of this shorter prairie grass are scattered around the bed in a way that doesn’t really make sense. I want to move some so that they form a solid border along the west side of the bed.
  • Prairie Smoke (Geum triflorum). These are currently planted right along the sidewalk. I’ll keep them where they are and add a few more to make a wider drift.

Wild Petunia

Wild Petunia (in) growing with Wild Strawberry.

  • Wild Petunia (Ruellia humilis). Petunia-like lavender-blue flowers from June onwards. Low-growing so I’ll plant it behind the Prairie Smoke.

Poppy 'Pulcinella Bright Solar Yellow'. Photograph from Bluestone Perennials.

Poppy ‘Pulcinella Bright Solar Yellow’ (in). Photograph from Bluestone Perennials.

  • Iceland Poppy (Papaver nudicaule ‘Pulicinella Bright Solar Yellow’), To brighten things up I want to interplant the Wild Petunia with this summer-blooming yellow poppy.

Scabiosa 'Butterfly Blue' (in)

Scabiosa ‘Butterfly Blue’ (in)

  • Pincushion Flower (Scabiosa columbaria ‘Butterfly Blue’). Very long-blooming, these will replace the coreopsis along the east edge of the bed.

Oriental Lily 'Gold Band'

Oriental Lily ‘Gold Band’. Photograph from Bluestoneperennials.com.

  • Oriental Lily (Lilium auratum ‘Gold Band’). These fragrant yellow and white lilies will bloom in August after the orienpets across the driveway are done. 

So that’s the plan, tentatively at least. I intend to do the planting this fall. Any thoughts or suggestions?


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