Entering the Back Garden

Here is a view of the entrance to the back garden, taken last Saturday. This is the time when the Celandine Poppies (Stylophorum diphyllum) are finishing their bloom season but the Wild Geranium (Geranium maculatum) is hitting its stride. These two plants dominate the ground level in the beds inside the wooden gate.

Wild Geranium in late May at the entrance to the back garden.

Wild Geranium in late May at the entrance to the back garden.

Wild Geranium is great for making a low, soft, billowing mass, dotted with white or lavender flowers.

The arbor has the rambling rose ‘Darlow’s Enigma’ on one side and Clematis ‘Ice Blue’ on the other. These are still leafing out. Judy and I laid the brick path ourselves. Moss has been very obliging about filling in between the pavers.

It’s been a very long day and so I am making this a very short post. I’m participating in ‘Wednesday Vignette’, hosted by annamadeit at Flutter and Hum. Click the link for more – trust me, you’ll love it.

Sic Transit Aquilegia

Wild Columbine (Aquilegia canadensis), native to eastern and central North America, is another of my favorite flowers of late spring.

Wild Columbine dance in the breeze above a patch of Spanish Bluebells.

Wild Columbine dance in the breeze above a patch of Spanish Bluebells.

As someone once said, “Columbine are like candy, you can never have too much.” Wild Columbine flowers dangle like red and yellow chandeliers. The ferny blue-green foliage is attractive all year; even when the leaf miners leave their trails (which does not happen that often), it doesn’t bother me.

Columbine with Spanish Bluebells and Ostrich Ferns.

Columbine with Spanish Bluebells and Ostrich Ferns.

In our garden I have noticed a disturbing pattern, though. After a couple of years a patch of Wild Columbine is magnificent, the plants three feet or taller and covered with blooms in late May and June.

But after a couple of more years – they disappear. I strongly suspect that Wild Columbine are beautiful but not strongly competitive. If other plants cover the ground early in the season, the Wild Columbine will whither away.

Wild Columbine with Wild Geranium in the background.

Wild Columbine with Wild Geranium in the background.

Right now the only big patch of Wild Columbine in our garden is at the corner where the North Foundation Bed meets the East Side Bed. The Wild Columbine self-sow happily here as elsewhere as long as there is bare ground.

Currently they combine beautifully with Spanish Bluebells (Hyacinthoides hispanica) with Ostrich Ferns (Matteuccia struthiopteris) providing a backdrop.

Another view.

Another view.

Is the lesson here that in order to keep Wild Columbine I will have to periodically create little Columbine Safety Zones by yanking out their competitors?

What’s your experience with Columbines, Wild or otherwise?

The Beautiful Onions of Spring

The genus Allium includes onions, garlic, leeks, scallions, and several dozen ornamental species. All Alliums are alliaceous, which is an excellent word you can hold onto for occasions when you want to impress others with your botanical knowledge. It means they smell like onions.

Allium 'Globemaster' in the Parkway Bed.

Allium ‘Globemaster’ in the Parkway Bed.

In our garden we have two ornamental Alliums that bloom in spring. Both are at their peak this weekend.

Out in the front garden we have a clump of the Allium hybrid ‘Globemaster’. ‘Globemaster’ sounds like it could be a character from The Avengers (its superpower: deters deer and rabbits! Actually, that is an important point, deer and rabbits really do not like Alliums).

They say Allium 'Globemaster' doesn't need staking, but these three say there are exceptions to every rule.

They say Allium ‘Globemaster’ doesn’t need staking, but these three say there are exceptions to every rule.

We started with three ‘Globemaster’ bulbs, and now have a clump of about 18. Alliums like to spread if the conditions are right. Baby Allium bulbs (called bulbils or bulblets) split off from the big bulbs but also are created in the flower clusters and drop to the ground.

As ‘Globemaster’ has spread, it has retained its height (about 3′-4′) but the flowers have become smaller than the original 10″ globes. Probably it’s time to dig them up and replant.

A drift of Allium 'Purple Sensation' in the back garden.

A drift of Allium ‘Purple Sensation’ in the back garden.

In the back garden, we have A. aflatunense ‘Purple Sensation’. This Allium also likes to reproduce – from a handful of bulbs it has created a drift about 6′ long, even though it gets only part sun (full sun is optimal). ‘Purple Sensation’ is shorter and has smaller flower clusters than ‘Globemaster’.

Allium 'Purple Sensation' with flowers of Cranberrybush Viburnum.

Allium ‘Purple Sensation’ with flowers of Cranberrybush Viburnum.

Finding companion plants is an important challenge with spring-blooming Alliums, because the foliage dies back and can leave you with bare ground by summer. Among the ‘Purple Sensation’ bulbs we have Great Forget-Me-Not (Brunnera macrophylla), Golden Alexander (Zizia aurea), and Short’s Aster (Symphyotrichum shortii).

Alliums are popular with bees and other pollinators.

Alliums are popular with bees and other pollinators.

Also, last year I planted three ‘White Swan’ Peonies (not yet blooming). In past summers I have been not quite satisfied with the look of this bed after the Alliums were done – but we’ll see how it goes this year.

Alliums with Wild Geranum.

Alliums with Wild Geranum.

I certainly do like Alliums, though no one has ever accused me of being an Allium fanatic (as opposed to, say, tulips).

Allium 'Purple Sensation' with Golden Alexander.

Allium ‘Purple Sensation’ with Golden Alexander and Great Forget-Me-Not.

There are also a couple of summer-blooming Alliums in our garden but I will leave those for another day.

Do you grow spring-blooming Alliums? If so, which companion plants do you think work best?

The Catbird Came Back

Catbirds sound as if they should be some kind of mythical creature – part cat, part bird – like centaurs or griffins.

Gray Catbird

Gray Catbird

However, Gray Catbirds are actually another one of those migratory birds that arrive from Central America to spend summers in our garden.

Gray Catbirds have a black cap and a reddish brown patch on their rump.

Gray Catbirds have a black cap and a reddish brown patch on their rump.

They compensate for their relatively drab coloring with vocal talents. At times they really do sound like mewing cats. Part of the same family as mockingbirds, they will also mimic the songs of other birds.

Most oddly, they will sometimes sing in a way that sounds as if they are accompanying themselves with a broken accordion. Here’s a link to recordings of Catbird calls and songs.

Gray Catbirds are not colorful, but they are kind of cute.

Gray Catbirds are not colorful, but they are kind of cute.

Gray Catbirds like shrubs and thickets, but they do visit our feeders to eat jelly and safflower seeds. Their normal foods consist mostly of fruit and insects.

Do you have Gray Catbirds visiting your garden?

Nepeta ‘Kit Cat’ Makes a Really Nice Edging Plant

Actually, this is a short post with two goals. The first is to show how good Nepeta x faassenii ‘Kit Cat’ looks when it blooms along the edge of my Driveway Border. The second is to say farewell to the tulip season.

Nepeta 'Kit Cat' along the edge of the Driveway Border with the container tulips giving their grand finale.

Nepeta ‘Kit Cat’ along the edge of the Driveway Border with the container tulips giving their grand finale.

I love ‘Kit Cat’s’ mass of small blue flowers. And it looks pretty good even when not in bloom. Nepeta is happy soaking up hot afternoon sun and only needs supplemental watering in fairly extreme circumstances. The foliage is an attractive gray-green and has a minty fragrance.

Before I planted ‘Kit Cat’ I used Sweet Alyssum (Lobularia maritima) to edge the west side of this bed. This looked great when in flower, and the fragrance was wonderful. Only thing is it would start looking ratty around mid-summer. I finally decided to use Sweet Alyssum mainly in pots.

As for the tulips, they were all looking at least a little worse for wear this past weekend. By the time I get home on Friday it’s likely most of the petals will be gone. It was a glorious tulip season while it lasted, though. For the record, my absolute favorite tulips are now ‘Early Harvest’, ‘Princess Irene’, ‘Couleur Cardinal’, and ‘Ballerina’. However, I reserve the right to revise this list.

I’m linking this post up with Wednesday Vignette at Flutter and Hum. Follow the link to see some other intriguing vignettes.

My Heart Goes Out to Lamprocapnos spectabilis

Bleeding Heart (Lamprocapnos spectabilis) is one of the stars of my garden in May. This makes it even more unfortunate that it got switched from the genus Dicentra to the genus Lamprocapnos, one of the ugliest plant names in existence. Yes, I’ve carried on about this before, but bear with me.

Bleeding Heart glowing in the late afternoon sun.

Bleeding Heart glowing in the late afternoon sun.

What makes it even more insulting is that there are eight Dicentra species that didn’t have to switch genera. You know how many species had to switch? Just one. In fact, poor Bleeding Heart is all alone, the only species in the genus Lamprocapnos, which makes it feel both isolated and stigmatized. No wonder it’s bleeding.

Bleeding Heart

Bleeding Heart

Speaking of which, Bleeding Heart didn’t exactly win the lottery in the common name department, either. I mean, Bleeding Heart sounds rather grisly. Another common name is Lady-in-the-Bath, but when you look at the flower it appears this name should be revised to Lady-Upside-Down-in-the-Bath, which raises all kinds of practical questions.

Bleeding Heart

Bleeding Heart

Another common name, which I like, is Lyre Flower. I would use that name except that I fear very few people would know what I was talking about.

Anyhow, I love this plant. in my garden, it thrives in moist soils in shade, though the soil should not be wet over winter. If it’s happy, it makes a mound of bushy loveliness about three feet tall and wide. While it is supposed to be ephemeral, here in zone 5 I find that the foliage lasts until at least late summer if the conditions are right.

Bleeding Heart

Bleeding Heart

There is nothing quite like the heart-shaped flowers that dangle from long, arching stems. These blooms keep coming for a month or more.

And here’s another plus: rabbits leave it alone.

Great companions for Bleeding Heart include Virginia Bluebells (Mertensia virginica), Brunnera (Brunnera macrophylla) and all kinds of ferns.

Bleeding Heart originated in northeast Asia. There is a North American native Bleeding Heart, Dicentra eximia. However (and I know I may upset some friends when I say this), in my opinion the exotic Bleeding Heart is far showier and preferable to the native.

Do you grow Bleeding Heart in your garden?

A Frond Indeed

A few years ago I removed the foundation planting of yews that were in front of my house and replaced them with Ostrich Ferns (Matteuccia struthiopteris). Overall, I have been happy with the switch, though it leaves the front of the house bare for several months of the year.

A foundation planting of Ostrich Ferns.

A foundation planting of Ostrich Ferns.

Right about now the Ostrich Ferns have completed unfurling. They stand nearly 4 feet tall, and they will keep stretching upward for a while yet.

Ostrich ferns: strrrreetch!

Ostrich ferns: strrrreetch!

They are majestic plants, but I always wondered why they were named after ostriches, because honestly I don’t see the resemblance. Well, it turns out that the species name struthiopteris comes from the Greek struthio for ostrich and pterion for wing. So, “ostrich wing”. Although, frankly, I still don’t see it.

Ostrich Fern and  Bleeding Heart

Ostrich Fern and Bleeding Heart

Our Ostrich Ferns are quite happy growing up against the north side of the house, where it’s moist and shady. They make a pretty good background plant for the Bleeding Heart (Lamprocapnos spectabilis) and others growing further out from the wall.

If Ostrich Ferns had elbows I would say they were elbowing their way to the front of the Bleeding Hearts.

If Ostrich Ferns had elbows I would say they were elbowing their way to the front of the Bleeding Hearts.

I say “pretty good” because Ostrich fern definitely has expansionist tendencies, and is a bit disgruntled with its role as a background plant. It’s sending rhizomes out to establish beachheads among and in front of the Bleeding Hearts. After the Bleeding Hearts are done blooming I will have to get my shovel and carry out a containment operation.

Cinnamon Ferns with Virginia Bluebell on a rainy Sunday.

Cinnamon Ferns with Virginia Bluebell on a rainy Sunday.

We have other ferns in the garden: Lady Ferns (Athyrium filix-femina) and (I think) Cinnamon Ferns (Osmunda cinnamomea). In fact, I will close with the above photo of Cinnamon Ferns with Virginia Bluebells (Mertensia virginica) that Judy took this past Sunday.

I’m linking this post to Foliage Follow-Up, hosted by Pam at Digging. Check out the foliage featured by other garden bloggers.