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.

Tulipalooza and other May Flowers

Happy Garden Bloggers’ Bloom Day! For those of you who don’t know, GBBD occurs on the 15th of every month, giving garden bloggers everywhere an opportunity to show off their best blooms of the moment. It is hosted by Carol of May Dreams Gardens.

Happy container tulips greet visitors at the front walk.

Happy container tulips greet visitors at the front walk.

The timing of May’s GBBD is very fortuitous as it occurs at the peak of the tulip season.

A closer look at the container tulips.

A closer look at the container tulips.

This seems to have been an excellent year for tulips and spring bulbs generally, due in part to the cool weather and generous rainfall.

'Princess Irene' is still going strong.

‘Princess Irene’ is still going strong.

Mid-season tulips are lasting later into the late season, and late season bulbs seem especially luscious.

Tulip 'Couleur Cardinal'

Tulip ‘Couleur Cardinal’

‘Couleur Cardinal’ has been looking great for weeks.

'Ballerina'

‘Ballerina’

The same is true for ‘Ballerina’.

'Annie Schilder' with 'Princess Irene'

‘Annie Schilder’ with ‘Princess Irene’

And ‘Annie Schilder’.

'Kingsblood'

‘Kingsblood’

‘Kingsblood’ is a later-season tulip that has more recently joined the party.

Tulipa 'Chrysantha' (yellow), 'Lady Jane' (white), and 'Red Gem'.

Tulipa ‘Chrysantha’ (yellow), ‘Lady Jane’ (white), and ‘Red Gem’.

As for late season species tulips, I have discovered that my friends at John Scheeper’s have made an unusual (for them) shipping error. But I’m not complaining!

2015-05-11 09.12.06 tulips

You may recall I ordered T. clusiana ‘Chrysantha’ and ‘Tubergen’s Gem’. However, it seems that instead of the latter, I received T. clusiana ‘Lady Jane’ instead.

Tulips 'Lady Jane' and 'Chrysantha'

Tulips ‘Lady Jane’ and ‘Chrysantha’

It turns out, though, that ‘Chrysantha’ and ‘Lady Jane’ are excellent partners. ‘Lady Jane’ has a candy cane color scheme, with a creamy white interior that goes well with the rose and golden yellow of ‘Chrysantha’. ‘Lady Jane’ is also a bit taller and starts blooming a little later. Also taking part, though a bit faded, is T. batalinii ‘Red Gem’.

There are three Tulip varieties I wouldn’t try again: ‘Elegant Lady’, ‘Blushing Lady’, and ‘Salmon Pearl’ – all have colors that are too soft to mix with the powerful reds, oranges, and yellows that predominate among my tulip plantings. Also, ‘Elegant Lady’ has very long stems that seem to require staking.

Bleeding Heart

Bleeding Heart

White Bleeding Heart

White Bleeding Heart

If the tulips have a co-star, it is the Bleeding Heart (Lamprocapnos spectabilis), pink and white.

But let’s tear ourselves away from the tulips and check out the other blooms at our place.

Peony 'America'

Peony ‘America’

‘America’, our earliest Peony, has just started to bloom in the back garden.

Red Trllium with a dash of Virginia Bluebell

Red Trllium with a dash of Virginia Bluebell

Also in the back garden, the Red Trillium (Trillium recurvatum) has begun to flower as the Virginia Bluebells (Mertensia virginica) begin to fade.

Wild Currant

Wild Currant

The dangling chartreuse flowers of Wild Currant (Ribes americanum) have made their appearance.

Flowering containers on the back patio.

Flowering containers on the back patio.

If they’re not full of tulips, the containers are full of pansies (Viola tricolor or V. x wittrockiana), Sweet Alyssum (Lobularia maritima), and Stock (Matthiola incana).

Prairie Smoke

Prairie Smoke

In the front garden, the Prairie Smoke (Geum triflorum) continue blooming. The flowers are nice, but it’s the seedheads that are really special and give this plant its common name.

'Donald Wyman' crabapple blossoms.

‘Donald Wyman’ crabapple blossoms.

Sadly, we never got a picture of our ‘Donald Wyman’ crab at its peak this year, but there are still a few blossoms that have not been knocked off by the rain.

Clove Currant

Clove Currant

Finally, this has been a great year for blooms on the Clove Currant (Ribes odoratum), which I have placed right next to the sidewalk so anyone can enjoy its spicy-sweet scent.

What are your favorite blooms in the garden right now?

An Indigo Bunting for Mother’s Day

According to All About Birds, the website of the Cornell Lab of Ornithology, Indigo Buntings are common. That has not been our experience, however.

Indigo Bunting in the back garden last Sunday.

Indigo Bunting in the back garden last Sunday.

Maybe three years ago Judy and I saw an indigo bunting foraging for seeds in the back garden. These are small birds, about the size of a sparrow or goldfinch, but what they lack in size they make up for with the most amazing electric blue color.

Three years ago: Indigo Bunting, or tiny blue Sasquatch.

Three years ago: Indigo Bunting, or tiny blue Sasquatch.

Judy grabbed her camera and got a single shot that was so fuzzy the bunting could have been a tiny blue Sasquatch. It was a tantalizingly brief visit, and ever since then we have been yearning for the Indigo Bunting to return.

To attract Indigo Buntings, let your flowers sow their seeds all around the lawn. Hedges and brushy or weedy areas are a plus, but neat weedless lawns are a turnoff. I’ve been spreading white millet on the ground, and you can also tempt them with thistle and nyjer seed (not surprising, since they are just small finches with a terrific sense of fashion).

If you have other birds ground feeding in your garden you are more likely to attract Indigo Buntings, who will want to get in on the grub.

Indigo Bunting

Indigo Bunting

Anyhow, on Mother’s Day an Indigo Bunting appeared in the back garden. He made himself at home and stayed for the whole day, allowing Judy to get a decent number of pictures. Their color is so outlandish and unusual I can’t help but think they are completely out of place in a Midwestern suburban garden.

Indigo Bunting

Indigo Bunting

I hope this one Indigo Bunting brings his friends and that they all stay a good while. But if we never see him again, he did make an outstanding Mother’s Day present.

Indigo Bunting

Indigo Bunting

Indigo Buntings are vigorous singers – here’s a link to some recordings.

Have you ever had Indigo Buntings visit your garden?

Return of the Prodigal Songbirds

Right around May 1 they return from winters spent in southern Mexico, Central America, and the Caribbean. (If only I could spend my winters there.)

Male Baltimore Oriole

Male Baltimore Oriole

Of all the migrating birds that return from the tropics, my favorites are probably the Baltimore Orioles and Rose Breasted Grosbeaks.

Rose Breasted Grosbeaks: 2 males, one female.

Rose Breasted Grosbeaks: 2 males, one female.

In late April I start putting out grape jelly and oranges for the Orioles, safflower seeds for the Grosbeaks.

I maintained an anxious watch on the feeders, but by May 4th there had been no appearances. Then I had to go out of town. The morning after I returned, however, there they were: the Orioles with their striking plumage of black and bright orange, the Grosbeaks wearing red chevrons on their chests (suitable, I always thought, for superheroes).

Female Baltimore Oriole

Female Baltimore Oriole, with a beak full of jelly

Once they arrive, the Baltimore Orioles will visit the feeders all summer. Their normal diet consists of fruit and insects, and they prefer to spend most of their times up in the treetops.

Male Baltimore Oriole ready to snarf down some jelly.

Male Baltimore Oriole ready to snarf down some jelly.

Jelly and colorful ripe fruit (oranges, but also cherries and grapes) will tempt them into making appearances at lower elevations, however.

The song of Baltimore Orioles has a certain fullness to it, but they chatter sometimes as well. Here’s a link to what they sound like.

Rose Breasted Grosbeaks

Rose Breasted Grosbeaks

Rose Breasted Grosbeaks visit feeders for only a few weeks in May. They like sunflower, safflower, and peanuts – though I notice at our feeder that they have also developed a taste for jelly.

The males look like they are wearing dark suits and starched white shirts with a bright red tie.

2015-05-09 10.58.44

They are woodland birds whose song sounds a bit like American Robins. Here’s a link.

Have migrating birds been arriving in your garden?