I Forgot To Mention We Were Going to Quebec

We’re actually in Quebec right now, but we’ll be back soon.

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This picture was taken at the garden of Pat and Norman Webster, who live about 90 minutes southeast of Montreal (Pat writes the blog Site and Insight). I’ll have lots more about their truly amazing garden after we return to Chicago. Not to mention the Montreal Botanic Garden, the Jean-Talon Market, and the Gaspe Peninsula.

At the Jean-Talon Market in Montreal.

At the Jean-Talon Market in Montreal.

So far Judy has taken about 700 photographs. I may post one or two while we are away, but I won’t be writing any full posts until we get home.

Enjoy these final days of summer.

Wildflower Whining

The wildflowers aren’t whining, I am.

For starters, why can’t the Yellow Coneflowers (Ratibida pinnata) stand up STRAIGHT! I could put up with some nonchalant leaning, but these guys want to just flop over like, I don’t know, like something that is very floppy.

Yellow Coneflowers

Yellow Coneflowers

For the past six weeks I have been in a quiet struggle with my Yellow Coneflowers, trying to get them to be just the tiniest bit vertical. At first I would allow them to lean (I hoped) gracefully and naturally against lengths of twine tied inconspicuously between discretely placed stakes.

Eventually, though, they would always end up looking like they needed someone to call them a cab after a night of way too much fun at the neighborhood tavern. Finally, I gave up on subtlety and started trussing each one to its own personal post.

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All this after I cut them back by about half back in June.

I don’t know why my Yellow Coneflowers are so excessively flexible. They get full sun. Perhaps the soil is too rich?

Even with all the angst over staking, I still love this plant. The petals are a clear, cheerful yellow and their droopiness reminds me of a basset hound’s ears. The cones make me think of clown noses. Needless to say, they are great plants for birds and pollinators.

Ironweed

Ironweed

Another wildflower I feel like complaining about is my Ironweed (Vernonia fasciculata). So far it just doesn’t seem to be a plant with much visual impact. Maybe I just need to give it more time (this is its third summer in the Driveway Bed). It was DSC_0631 ironweedseriously damaged by the four lined plant bugs this spring, so perhaps I am being too harsh.

Or perhaps I shouldn’t have planted it in the raised Driveway Bed, which could be a bit too well-drained. Maybe the Ironweed should be transplanted to another spot with more moisture? I’ll probably give it one more year before making a decision. I’m reluctant to just get rid of this plant. For starters, it is a host plant for American Painted Lady butterflies.

To read about more wildflowers, check out the Wildflower Wednesday post at Clay and Limestone.

The Grateful Deadheader

Deadheading if fun. Deadheading is relaxing. Almost every day, I take time to deadhead selected flowers.in the morning or evening (sometimes both).

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Deadheading, of course, is removing faded flowers. We do this to keep the fresh, new flowers coming. You could argue that this is mean to plants, who want only to produce a certain quantity of seed so that they can relax and take a nap. By removing flowers before the seeds ripen, we force plants to produce more flowers and extend the blooming period.

You could deadhead any plant, but it works better – and is more needed – with some than with others.

Mexican Sunflowers are an annual, but they can grow pretty tall.

Mexican Sunflowers are an annual, but they can grow pretty tall.

In our garden, my #1 deadheading priority is the Mexican Sunflower (Tithonia rotundifolia), whose beautiful orange flowers tend to be somewhat short-lived. Fortunately fresh blooms appear with great rapidity and in even greater numbers.

Mexican sunflower

Mexican sunflower

With Mexican Sunflower you need a scissors or pruner because the stems, though surprisingly delicate, do not break. Mexican Sunflowers eventually achieve the size of large shrubs with LOTS of flowers, so deadheading is like a game of hide and seek. You poke among the numerous stems, buds, and blooms for those seedheads that have lost their bright orange petals (actually ray flowers).

Just cannot get enough of these flowers. That's why I have to deadhead like crazy.

Just cannot get enough of these flowers. That’s why I have to deadhead like crazy.

It’s very satisfying when you find one that is cleverly hidden. I only wish I could pay someone to follow me around and ring a bell every time I deftly wield my little pruner.

Cosmos 'Carmine Sonata'

Cosmos ‘Carmine Sonata’

Another flower for daily deadheading is ‘Sonata Carmine’ Cosmos (Cosmos bipinnatus). As with Mexican Sunflower, the more faded flowers you pick, the more new flower buds rush to take their place.

No pruner is needed however. Just grab hold of the fading flower and give it a pull. They give a gratifying little “pop” when you do so. Don’t grab the stems, however, as you are likely to pull up a whole chunk of the plant.

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Marigolds at Giverny. I swear I didn’t do any unauthorized deadheading, though I was tempted. 

Then there are Marigolds (Tagetes patula), of course. These can also be deadheaded by hand, the fading flowers making a sound like snap beans when you break them off their stems.

'Cassie'

‘Cassie’

I used to deadhead the flowers on my roses, especially ‘Cassie’. However, this year I decided to let it go. The result is that all the rose hips are quickly gobbled up by birds. After a brief summer vacation, ‘Cassie’ is again producing flowers.

Deadheading is surely one of the most relaxing things you can do after a stressful day. A simple but satisfying task that pays enormous dividends for your garden. Plus those little pops and snaps which to me are so soothing. If only I could find someone to ring a bell when I deadhead the Tithonia.

Do you enjoy deadheading your flowers?

Be The First On Your Block to Grow American Spikenard!

Here’s something new for your shady garden: American Spikenard (Aralia racemosa).

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This is a big woodland perennial native to a large swath of Eastern and Central North America, from Quebec to Manitoba and from Georgia to Texas.

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American Spikenard has been growing in my garden for two summers and so far I am pleased with it. It is a big plant growing up to 5′ tall, though mine is under 3′ this year. It has dark stems and bold, heart-shaped leaflets.

A closer look at American Spikenard flowers.

A closer look at American Spikenard flowers.

In mid-summer it has interesting-looking racemes of tiny greenish white flowers. While the individual flowers may not look like much to most people, they do attract a variety of native bees, including some really tiny ones.

American Spikenard berries

American Spikenard berries

Later in the summer there are berries that I think are extremely ornamental as they turn from green to purple. The berries are attractive to birds.

A closer look

A closer look

A virtue of American Spikenard is that it can take over after ephemeral spring flowers have faded away. Also, it is supposed to be quite adaptable as to soil. It likes moist, fertile woodlands best, but a variety of sources say it will grow (less imposingly) in dryer and leaner locations.

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I grow pots and pots of Marigolds (Tagetes patula) and Impatiens (Impatiens walleriana), so I am not a plant snob. However, this plant is really underused, and there is an innocent pleasure in growing an unfamiliar plant that will excite questions from your gardening friends and neighbors – as happened with American Spikenard when my garden was on the Wild Ones tour.

This provides one last reason, if you need one, to give this woodland wildling a try.

Another Garden Gem in Rockford, Illinois

This is my second post about the recent gathering of nine Midwest garden bloggers to see the horticultural sites of Rockford, Illinois.

First, let me respond to some grumbling in reaction to my defining Rockford as a “small city”. If this seemed like big city elitism to you, I apologize. I grew up in the metro NY area and spent most of my adult life in and around Chicago, so my idea of “small” may be a bit skewed. For the record, Rockford has about 150,000 people and is the third largest city in the great state of Illinois, the Land of Lincoln.

Another view.

OK, then, moving on. We spent the morning at the Klehm Arboretum, then proceeded to have lunch at a bustling place in downtown Rockford called Octane, where the food was creative and good.

A Monarch Waystation is planted between the parking lot and the Rock River.

A Monarch Waystation is planted between the parking lot and the Rock River.

Next stop was the Nicholas Conservatory and Greenhouse, located along the Rock River. A Monarch Waystation and bioswale is laid out between the parking lot and the water.

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Inside, there is a mosaic floor representing the Rock River and its tributaries.

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Which leads the way into the greenhouse.

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A water feature with fountains winds its way through the greenhouse.

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Which features a good deal of garden art along with the plants.

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The fish in the indoor koi pond add to the sense of movement.

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Lots of Epiphytes and orchids to examine.

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I love Bird of Paradise Flowers (Strelitzia reginae).

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There were also some interesting food plants. Do you know what jack fruit looks like? Well, here you go.

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And here’s a papaya tree. No picking allowed.

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When you’ve walked all the way through the conservatory, you come out the other end at the Eclipse Lagoon.

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Turning away from the river, the boundary of this garden is marked by a long limestone wall and waterfalls.

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The garden is full of both xeric and water-loving plants, native and exotic.

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Lots of ducks. Supposedly this is how they feed, but I suspect they are mooning the tourists.

We decided to skip the rose garden because we were running out of time but also because we suspected the roses would not be at their best in August (though there were some in bloom).

Next stop: the Anderson Japanese Gardens.

A Visit To The Klehm Arboretum

Rockford, Illinois, is a small city on I-90 just a few miles from the Wisconsin border. I’ve been there many times for my job, and driven past it many more times on the way to Madison (where we once lived) or Minnesota (where my younger son and brother live).

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And yet, until Friday I had never been to the Klehm Arboretum. Klehm has 155 acres of woods and gardens, and is really worth seeing.

It started out in the early 1900s as a nursery run by a local landscape architect. In 1968 the Klehm family bought the land and moved their nursery operation to the site. About twenty years later the Klehms moved their nursery to Wisconsin.

Lots of Nicotiana 'Woodland' and Cleome in the mixed beds.

Lots of Nicotiana ‘Woodland’ and Cleome in the mixed beds.

However, they donated the land left behind to the Winnebago County Forest Preserve District. This donation made possible creation of the Arboretum.

Thanks to Beth of Plant Postings, nine garden bloggers from Illinois, Indiana, and Wisconsin spent a day together visiting Klehm and two other Rockford gardens.

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Several of the group recognized those Hydrangeas as ‘Limelight’.

We first walked to the Fountain Garden, which featured mixed beds of annuals, perennials, and shrubs.

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Luckily we ran into one of the horticulturists (in the blue cap), who was happy to engage in plant talk with us.

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He even shared with us some Cleome and Nicotiana seeds.

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The fountain garden has a pavilion which is a popular wedding venue.

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Almost forgot to show the fountain at the Fountain Garden.

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As always with garden bloggers, lots of picture taken.

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From the Fountain Garden we wandered further out to the Clarkor Pavilion and demonstration gardens.

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Entering this part of the Arboretum there was a big patch of a very handsome Pennsetum.

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Some dramatic plantings were there to be seen. I was glad to see they weren’t afraid of tall plants.

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Lots of grasses, too.

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Trees were underplanted with Hostas and Solomon’s Seal.

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More Nicotiana. The horticulturist said it seeded all over and they let some of the volunteers grow where they had planted themselves. Same for the Cleome.

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From the demonstration gardens we followed a water garden with its own pond and stream.

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The stream led towards the Children’s Garden.

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An Alphabet Garden was among the attractions at the Children’s Garden.

At this point we had only seen a small part of the Klehm Arboretum, but it was time to move on to lunch and the other two gardens we wanted to see before heading home. More posts on the Midwest garden bloggers Rockford gathering to come in the near future.

Robin Takes A Bath

Robins go in for a very aerobic style of bathing. We have a bird bath set up so that we can watch it from the back porch. Provides a lot of entertainment.

Hmm, time for a bath.

Hmm, time for a bath.

A young robin contemplates taking a dip.

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And SPLASH!

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And rest.

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And SPLASH!

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And a little grooming.

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OK, where’s the hair dryer?