Columbine Are Like Candy

So we all agree that wild columbine (Aquilegia canadensis), also called red columbine, is the most beautiful perennial flower for shade, right? Exactly.

Columbine, Aquilegia canadensis
Columbine in the front foundation bed.

A friend of mine likes to say that columbine are like candy, you can never have enough. Certainly A. canadensis, native to North America east of the Rockies, is a sweet wildflower. The dangling red and yellow blooms put me in mind of colorful chandeliers.

In a moist, partly shady spot wild columbine will grow to substantial plants, in my garden about two feet high and three feet wide. The blue-green foliage is very attractive, and makes a nice groundcover after spring bloom is done if the soil is sufficiently moist.

Columbine, Aquilegia canadensis
A closer look.

A. canadensis is much less common in garden centers than the exotic species and cultivars. That is unfortunate because in addition to being native, A. canadensis is much more resistant to leaf miner, an insect pest that disfigures many columbines.

Columbines are a bit unpredictable, which is part of their charm. Individual plants may not be long lived, but they will self-sow. Once you have columbines, your are likely to continue to have them into the foreseeable future. Even so, seedlings are easy to pull out or transplant.

Columbine, wild geranium, golden alexander
Columbine with wild geranium and golden alexander.

They do tend to pop up in some inconvenient spots. For example, there is one growing between pavers on the path into the back garden. Eventually it will have to come out or be run over by the wheelbarrow. For now, however, I do not have the heart to remove it.

Wild Columbine

Columbine are supposed to be attractive to hummingbirds, but I have never seen hummers feed on this flower in my own garden. The bees do like them.

One problem that occurs with columbine here is that they tend to bloom at the same time that cottonwood trees are dropping their fluff. The fluff gets stuck in and on the flower and at least partially ruins their appearance. This year it has not happened, I’m happy to say, perhaps because the unusual weather has thrown off the cottonwood/columbine synchronicity.

Do you grow columbine in your garden?



Wildflower Wednesday: Starry Solomon’s Plume

Starry Solomon’s Plume is more properly known as Starry False Solomon’s Seal, but the people who write plant catalogues don’t like common names with “false”, it must drive down sales, so they came up with something with a more positive ring. I think they did right, because the other name implies that the plant is trying to pass itself off as Solomon’s Seal, and we really have no reason to suspect it of such duplicity.

Starry False Solomon's Plume
Starry Solomon’s Plume in the front west bed.

The botanical name is Maianthemum stellatum, but until recently was Smilacina stellata (the taxonomists strike again – grrr.)

Like Solomon’s Seal, Starry Solomon’s Plume has a single stem lined with glossy, lance shaped leaves. In spring, there is a cluster of small, star-shaped white flowers at the end of the roughly one foot stems, followed by interesting striped berries in fall. For me the foliage and berries are the most attractive features. Right now is when the flowering is at its peak.

Starry False Solomon's Seal
False Solomon’s Plume flowers

This is a tough plant that will tolerate dry shade. It spreads by rhizomes, but not so thickly that you could really consider it a groundcover. Taller plants can coexist with Starry Solomon’s Plume, but shorter plants like Prairie Smoke (Geum triflorum) will need the gardener’s protection.

Starry False Solomon's Plume
Starry False Solomon Seal berries

Starry Solomon’s Plume is native to most of the USA and Canada. Grizzly bears and ruffed grouse are said to eat the berries, but I can’t verify this because there are no bears or grouse in my neighborhood, ruffed or otherwise. I like to think that an adventurous robin or two will give the berries a try, or maybe a bluejay, but I don’t know.

Wildflower Wednesday is hosted every month by Gail at Clay and Limestone.

Blossoms Are Fleeting, Love Is Eternal

I’ve written before about the glorious display of crabapple blossoms at the Chicago Botanic Garden every spring. But getting to the garden at the right time to see the display is rather challenging. It is at its height for just a few days, a period that can be cut short or eliminated altogether by a late cold snap or hard rain.  The result is that many years we miss it entirely.

Every trip to the Chicago Botanic Garden should begin with paying homage to the statue of Linnaeus in the Heritage Garden.
Every trip to the Chicago Botanic Garden should begin with paying homage to the statue of Linnaeus in the Heritage Garden.

Because I was at the CBG on Saturday morning for my class, I happened to know that the crabapples were at their peak this past weekend. So I proposed to Judy that we go to CBG on Sunday. This despite my frantic efforts to keep up with gardening tasks, and the fact that Judy had taken the red eye from California the night before (she also travels a lot for work, but to much better locations).

You walk past the English garden to a path that is under a virtual tunnel of crabapple blooms
You walk past the English garden to a path that is under a virtual tunnel of crabapple blooms, leading to the North bridge to Evening Island.

We arrived in the late afternoon Sunday, after the weather had cooled and the crowds had thinned. Out came Judy’s camera and she started taking pictures: click, click, click … then just as we approached the crabapples, the clicking stopped. Judy looked at her camera with dismay: the battery was dead.

A carpet of low-growing blue comfrey carpets the ground under some of the trees.
The ground under some of the trees is carpeted with low-growing blue Comfrey.

Of course I had wanted photos for my blog. But I was an adult about it, and sulked no longer than was absolutely necessary. We resolved to go on and enjoy our walk without the distraction of taking pictures. And we did just that, luxuriating in the beauty that was all around us.

North bridge to Evening Island.
North bridge to Evening Island.
Chicago Botanic Garden, Evening Island
Another view of the bridge.

Monday morning I headed out-of-town. Judy did not have to travel this week. That evening I was on-line and noticed that she was downloading photos. A lot of photos.

Chicago Botanic Garden, Crabapple blossoms
Pink crabapple blossoms on Evening Island.

It turned out that she had run out of her office in downtown Chicago at 5 o’clock. She then drove the 24 miles to CBG through the usual rush hour madness. There she took the pictures she was unable to take the day before. This is something I really would never have asked her to do.

Chicago Botanic Garden, Euphorbia, Evening Island
Euphorbia on Evening Island.
Chicago Botanic Garden, Blue Heron
This part of the lagoon is home to a couple of Blue Herons.

Now, is that true love, or what?

Chicago Botanic Garden, Crabapple blossoms, Evening Island
South bridge to Evening Island, the Carillon tower rises above the crabapple blossoms.
Chicago Botanic Garden, crabapple blossom
Another tunnel of Crabapple blossom.

There are two downsides to this, though. The first is that I have to come up with something equivalent that I can do for her. That will be tough. The second is that I could no longer use a really great title I had thought of for the post about crabapples in bloom. Ready? Here it is: “With Malus Towards None”. Get it?

Weeping Redbud, Crabapple in bloom
Weeping Redbud and Crabapple.

Has anyone gone above and beyond the call of duty to indulge your mania for blogging or gardening lately?

May’s Garden Madness

There is the notion that working in the garden brings the gardener a sense of tranquility and calm. Ha! Certainly not in the month of May.

2013-05-19 17.31.27
Front garden. It’s all growing too fast, and I can’t keep up!

Gardening in May is a race against time, against weeds, against the grass, against the weather, against your own plants as they undergo growth spurts like lanky teenagers. And for me it is a very unfair race, because I can only run on Saturday and Sunday, whereas everything else is zipping along 24/7.

The fact is that I cannot get done all the things I feel need to get done in the allotted time.

Sunny days approaching 90 degrees F? OK, I laid out soaker hoses for some plants and watered others by hand. Nevertheless I fear a few of my new plants may have been fried past the point of recovery.

Woodland Phlox, Wild Columbine, and Wild Geranium in the east side bed.
Woodland Phlox, Wild Columbine, and Wild Geranium in the east side bed.

Grass is growing excessively shaggy and creeping into the flower beds? OK, I’ll mow the lawn and trim the bed edging with my weed whacker (after Judy, the weed whacker is the great love of my life).

Weeds staging a hostile takeover throughout the garden? I will roam the flower beds with hoe and dandelion picker in hand. However, this is by definition a task that can never be finished. During this time of year, pulling weeds is like cutting off Hydra heads, they grow back as fast as you pull. At least, that’s how it feels.

Tulip 'World Expression'
Tulip ‘World Expression’. So it turns out Judy had taken pictures before she left. I felt I had to post pictures of the tulips that did them more justice.

Perennials need cutting back? I succeeded in cutting back the New England aster and most of the Salvia (‘May Night’, ‘Blue Hill’), even though the Salvia was not that tall. On the other hand, I didn’t get to the Agastache or the Monarda.

And please don’t even mention staking. I took care of the Phlox paniculata and most of the New England aster, but that’s all. The Penstemon, Monarda, and Heliopsis I did not get to at all.

White Bleeding heart, Merrybells
White Bleeding Heart and Merrybells foliage.

This situation brings on in me and some other gardeners a state of mind I call The Permanent Fret. I am always fretting – if I don’t cut back the Agastache now, will it delay blooming to an unacceptable extent? And what about the Salvia, did I cut them back too early? But if I wait until next week it might be too late!

Of course, a person might ask why, if I get worked up into an irritable frenzy with garden chores, did I dig up so much of the lawn for so many flower beds and borders. To such a person I would say: who asked you?

Wild Geranium, Brunnera, Allium
Back Garden Bed with Wild Geranium, Brunnera, and Allium.

Whew. I’m taking deep breaths now. At times like this I have to remind myself of two of the cardinal rules of gardening: 1) don’t worry too much about making mistakes; and 2) your garden does not have to be perfect.

Have the garden chores of May been driving you to madness?

Last Of The Container Tulips And A New Planting

As I may have mentioned, starting last week and for the remainder of May I have to be out-of-town Monday through Friday. This is what we used to call a major bummer, especially given all that is happening in the garden. Yesterday I arrived home to find that the late season container tulips were blooming. (Sorry, but Judy is also traveling and doesn’t return until Sunday, so these are pictures I took with my cell phone.)

Tulip 'World Expression'
‘World Expression’ (white and red)

We planted three late season tulips: ‘Kingsblood’, ‘La Cortine’, and ‘World Expression’. All of these were winners, but I though ‘World Expression’ was most striking.

Tulip 'La Cortine;
Tulip ‘La Cortine’

Yellow with a red stripe, I thought ‘La Cortine’ was both lovely and exciting.

Tulip 'Kingsblood'
Tulip ‘Kingsblood’

Finally, ‘Kingsblood’ was a good deep red.

We are definitely going to do this tulips in containers thing again. I would not, however, do it again with smaller containers, in which only half the tulips made it through the winter.

Unfortunately, I was not free to spend the weekend gazing at tulips. Saturday morning I started a new class at the Chicago Botanic Garden on annuals and biennials. And there was an incredible amount of catching up to do in the garden. The warm and sunny weather of the previous days had been beautiful but tough on my newly planted perennials, so watering was the most urgent item on the agenda.

This was especially true in the new planting I did on the northeast corner of the house. This is not really a new bed, just an extension of the east and north foundation beds where I had removed the ‘Bridalwreath’ Spirea (Spirea xvanhoutei).

This is one of those weeping shrubs that takes up a lot of space. There were three of them, so I had a lot of space to fill, despite the fact that I just leave the stumps to slowly decompose. (It’s not that I like how they look, but generally the plants hide them, and digging up stumps is a LOT of work. OK, so I’m lazy, so sue me.)

New planting
April 27th: New plants waiting for their new home.

Since I have two newly planted fringe trees (Chionanthus virginicus) in this area, I am filling in with plants that can function as groundcovers. I chose perennials that I already had in other parts of the garden: wild ginger (Asarum canadense), wild columbine (Aquilegia canadensis), woodland phlox (Phlox divaritica) and false forget-me-not (Brunnera macrophylla). There was also an unknown Epimedium that popped up, which I allowed to stay.

My neighbor Audrey provides advice as I plant.
My neighbor Audrey provides advice as I plant in the back garden.

These guys were planted in late April. Until this past week, we were having a cool, moderately wet spring, and the new plants were happy without supplemental watering. This past week, though, we had sun and temperatures around 80 F (27 C). By Friday, many of my new plants were seriously stressed by lack of water.

New planting
New planting

So I went to Home Depot and bought some flat soaker hoses (I prefer the flat ones because they are more flexible), and I have been watering all day.

Are conditions dry where you are? Are you keeping up with your gardening chores.

Foliage Follow-Up: May 2013

May is a time for fresh green foliage, before heat and drought and little critters give us leaves looking tired and tattered.

To begin with, there is wild ginger (Asarum canadense). Not really ginger, but the root does have a strong ginger smell. A nice groundcover native to eastern and central North America.

Wild Ginger
Wild Ginger with Lady Ferns

Then there are the ostrich ferns (Matteucia struthiopteris). They are not yet at their full height, which can be four feet or more. This is their third spring in the garden.

Ostrich Ferns with Bleeding Heart
Ostrich Ferns with Bleeding Heart

Another native plant that I like to use as a groundcover is wild strawberry (Fragaria virginica). This time of year it also has little white flowers. Later there will be tiny strawberries that are edible but best left to the birds and critters. I use a weed whacker to keep the wandering stolons in bounds.

Wild Strawberry
Wild Strawberry

Starry Solomon’s Plume (Smilacina stellata) has inconspicuous flowers in spring. The striped berries that come in late summer are much more interesting. The foliage is nice, also.

Starry Solomon's Plume
Starry Solomon’s Plume

The wild currant (Ribes americanum) has fully leafed out by now. The maple-like leaves have a nice texture. I like the dangling chartreuse flowers as well.

Wild Currant
Wild Currant

The peony buds are not yet open, but some of them have attractive and unusual foliage.

Peony. Can’t remember the variety.

As I say, this is a time of year when all foliage can delight the eye, just by virtue of being fresh and new.

'Darlow's Enigma' foliage
New ‘Darlow’s Enigma’ rose foliage on arbor.

Are the fresh green leaves of spring in your garden making you happy?

Garden Blogger Bloom Day: May 2013

Carol of May Dreams Gardens hosts Garden Bloggers Bloom Day on the 15th of every month, giving gardeners around the world an opportunity to show what’s in bloom on their home ground. So let’s get to it! May has been a good month for color in my garden.

Tulips in Containers on the front steps.

The lily flowering tulip ‘West Point’ is now blooming, adding its cheery yellow and elegant shape to ‘Flair’ and other varieties..

Tulip 'West Point'
Tulip ‘West Point’ and ‘Flair’

And the late species tulips are showing off. The orange and white ‘Little Princess’ …

Tulip 'Little Princess'
Tulip ‘Little Princess’

And the blue and cherry red ‘Little Beauty’ …

Tulip 'Little Beauty'
Tulip ‘Little Beauty’

And Tulipa clusiana ‘Cynthia’, with petals colored red on the outside and a rich yellow on the inside.

Tulip 'Cynthia'
Tulip ‘Cynthia’

Tulipa orphanidea flava is a wonderful tulip, really interesting coloring.

Tulipa orphanidea flava
Tulipa orphanidea flava

The grape hyacinths (Muscari armeniacum) are also blooming well. I can’t wait for these to spread more to create wider clumps, but the delay is partly my fault as I keep disturbing the beds to change perennials.

Grape Hyacinths
Grape Hyacinths

This has been an incredible spring for celandine poppies (Stylophorum diphyllum), the delicate yellow flowers blooming profusely over lush blue-green foliage. They are beginning to show more aggressive tendencies, though, I’m going to have to watch these guys more carefully.

Celandine Poppies
Celandine Poppies

The clove currants (Ribes odoratum) in the sidewalk border are blooming. I planted these because they are supposed to have a strong fragrance. The fragrance is in fact very nice, but you have to put your nose right up to the flowers. This is their third spring, maybe when they are more mature … The much more modest Chartreuse flowers of wild currant (Ribes americanum) have also begun bloom.

Clove Currant
Clove Currant

The tiny blue flowers on Nepeta “Kit Kat’ have just started to open. In my garden, the various Nepeta cultivars are essential plants for edging in areas that absorb hot afternoon sun.

Nepeta 'Kit Kat'
Nepeta ‘Kit Kat’ edging the raised front walk/driveway border.

I thought the Virginia bluebells (Mertensia virginica)  had reached their peak last weekend, but I was wrong. The cool weather has been kind.

Virginia Bluebells
Virginia Bluebells

In the shady back garden, Jacob’s ladder (Polemonium reptans) works well as an edging plant. It also has blue flowers.

Jacob's Ladder
Jacob’s Ladder

False forget-me-not (Brunnera macrophylla) has tiny sky-blue flowers like real forget-me-nots, but this is a reliable perennial.

Brunnera flowers poking up through Allium foliage.

I devoted the last post entirely to old-fashioned bleeding hearts (Lamprocapnos spectabilis). Even so, I have to include one more picture for this post.

Bleeding Heart
Bleeding Heart with Celandine Poppy.

There are quite a few other flowers blooming now: annual stock, violas, and pansies; great merrybells (Uvularia grandiflora), starry solomon’s plume (Smilacina stellata), wild strawberry (Fragaria virginica), and probably a couple of others I can’t think of. Some of these I will include in my foliage follow-up.

In the meantime, happy Garden Blogger Bloom Day to you all!

A Fine Year For Bleeding Hearts

The old-fashioned bleeding hearts (Lamprocapnos spectabilis) in my garden are looking very happy this year, the moist cool spring must agree with them. They are bushy and robust, with many long stems lined with dangling pink and white flowers.

Old Fashioned Bleeding Heart
Old Fashioned Bleeding Heart.

The unique shape of the bleeding heart flower certainly suggests the origin the plant’s name, though it is odd that the drop of “blood” is white. However, this common name makes more sense than some others that have been used. For example: lady in a bath, Dutchman’s breeches, and lyre flower. As to lady in a bath – if the white part is the lady, then the name should be lady in a bath upside down. Now that I think of it, lyre flower is a good fit, though not as evocative as bleeding heart.

Note that the taxonomists have been at their mischief again. The botanical name was Dicentra spectabilis until recently, very suitable and appealing if you ask me. How they came up with Lamprocapnos I don’t know, but it is a very ugly genus name for a lovely flower. Lamprocapnos sounds like one of those parasitic eels that attach themselves to fish and suck out their vital juices.

Bleeding Heart with Virginia Bluebells
Bleeding Heart with Virginia Bluebells

Another reason my bleeding hearts may be looking especially nice this year is that they are just another year older. This is a plant that spreads gradually by rhizomes, the clumps becoming more and more impressive in size.

Bleeding hearts like shade and moisture. They are considered ephemeral because they die back after blooming. In my experience, though, bleeding hearts in the right sort of spot will keep their foliage looking fresh until July or August.

Bleeding Heart with False Forget-Me-Not
Bleeding Heart with False Forget-Me-Not

Blue flowers go particularly well with bleeding heart, especially Virginia bluebells (Mertensia virginica) and false forget-me-not (Brunnera macrophyla).  A note about false forget-me-not. This is not to be confused with forget-me-not (Myosotis sylvatica). False forget-me-not is a longer-lived perennial  with flowers very similar to Myosotis. It also goes under the common name Siberian bugloss. Which would you rather be called? Enough said.

Bleeding Heart with Ostrich Ferns
Bleeding Heart with Ostrich Ferns

Ferns are another excellent companion for old-fashioned bleeding heart.

Do you have bleeding heart in your garden? Is it having a good year?

An Early May Walk Through the Chicago Botanic Garden

Last Saturday morning, after finishing my class at the Chicago Botanic Garden, I walked outside and realized that it was a perfect day. Perfect days have been few and far between this spring, so I called Judy and asked her to come up and meet me so we could take a walk and enjoy the garden together. Oh, and I asked her to bring the camera.

Tulips ‘Passionale’, ‘Shirley’, and ‘Havran’.

The first thing that had us exclaiming was the tulip display in the Esplanade near the entrance. There were a mix of three tulips with a purple color theme. The three were the dark purple ‘Havran’, the medium purple ‘Passionale’, and ‘Shirley’. This last tulip is white with a purple blush. I really like this type of color arrangement with several variations on the theme of a single color.

Daffodils at the CBG Bulb Garden.

After the Esplanade we went to the Bulb Garden. Many of the tulips here have not yet opened. Those that have, for some reason, were mostly pink, not my favorite color for tulips. Even so, the bulb garden was lovely, filled with blooming Narcissus, fritilaries, etc.

Ferns Chicago Botanic Garden

From there we wandered over to a woodland garden which, though unnamed, is actually one of our favorite areas in spring. At this time of year, there are ferns, bluebell false forget me not, and daffodils among the birches and evergreens. When we were there the bleeding hearts were not yet in bloom, but by now they will have added many arching stems of dangling pink flowers to the blue and yellow.

woodland garden cbg may 4 2013

This garden is planted on a steep slope. From the path at the top, you can see down to the lagoon.

Carillon Tower, Chicago Botanic Garden, Evening Island
Carillon Tower at Chicago Botanic Garden’s Evening Island.

Onward. We walked across the bridge to Evening Island, which is really a collection of several gardens. At one end there is a small hill topped with a Carillon. Carillon concerts are given on summer evenings, something we have always meant to go to. One piece of advice: do not stand at the base of the Carillon when it starts ringing. I have learned this through personal experience.

Carillon, Chicago Botanic Garden, Evening Island
View from Carillon hill.

From the Carillon hill, you can see across sunny fields of flowers to another small hill at the other end of the island. Grape hyacinths make a blue carpet at the feet of a hedge of bright yellow forsythia. Per my earlier post, I admit this is a setting where forsythia looks really good, but I still wouldn’t plnat it in my own garden.

Evening Island, Chicago Botanic Garden
Water-side path on Evening Island

We walked along a path lined with crabapple trees. The crabapples are also planted along the water on the opposite shore. When they bloom it is a glorious sight. I’d think there’s another week or two before that happens.

woodland garden 2 cbg may 4 20

Leaving Evening Island on the second bridge, there are more crabapples, daffodils, and false forget me not.

English Walled Garden, Chicago Botanic Garden
English Walled Garden

Before heading to the parking lot, we walked along the English Walled Garden, admiring the yellow magnolia (Magnolia acuminata).

Finally, we had to head home. After almost three hours, there was still a great deal we had not seen. Even so, we had done enough gawking, and there was serious gardening to be done at home!

Have you taken any great walks so far this spring?

My New Bird Feeder For Orioles

I have more bird feeders than I can actually use at any one time. That’s OK, though, because I like to change feeders and types of food as the seasons progress. For instance, I stop feeding peanuts once the warm weather is established.

Male Baltimore Oriole at our old feeder. Help yourself to some grape jelly!
Male Baltimore Oriole at our old feeder. Help yourself to some grape jelly!

These changes keep the birds on their toes (or would if they had toes) – they never know what I’ll do next.

But I want to  state something  here for the record. It is not true, as certain persons claim, that I buy everything the nice salespeople at the Wild Birds Unlimited store try to sell me.

I admit that the Wild Birds Unlimited store is one of my favorite places. Their prices are not necessarily the cheapest, but the quality and variety of their goods are excellent. More important, the staff are real bird people, so to speak. Meaning they will talk knowledgeably and enthusiastically about birds for as long as you care to pursue a conversation.

Oriole feeder.
My new Oriole feeder. Took this with my phone when the light was kind of bad.

Now, I added the new feeder because I wanted to make sure I would be able to accommodate all the Baltimore Orioles that might arrive with the spring migration. Yes, I already have one Oriole feeder, but what if some of the Orioles had to go away hungry? The new feeder has two glass bowls that can each hold a larger quantity of grape jelly (the favorite food of Orioles) than my current feeder (or, alternatively, orange halves).

What’s more, the salesperson pointed out the value of the plastic orange roof (sold separately). Not only does this roof prevent watery grape jelly, it also serves as an orange beacon that flying Orioles can see from above. Apparently the color orange makes Orioles think of grape jelly.

But you can put more than just orange halves or grape jelly in this new feeder. It can also hold freeze dried mealworms. The salesperson says that Orioles love freeze dried mealworms, as do warblers and other migrating songbirds.

Freeze dried mealworms
A bag of freeze dried mealworms.

I did hesitate when I saw the price of the freeze dried mealworms. You would think that demand for such a product would be pretty limited and so the price would be quite modest. This is not the case, however. We live in a strange world.

Anyhow, I threw caution to the winds and bought one bag of mealworms, at least as an experiment for the spring migration. Judy says it’s OK as long as I never take them out in her presence.

The salesperson suggested mixing the mealworms into the jelly for a carb-  and protein-rich snack no Oriole can resist. This, however, I refuse to do. There are limits, after all.

In the meantime, Judy is talking to a lawyer about obtaining a restraining order that would keep me at least 100′ from any Wild Birds Unlimited store.

Have you made any purchases for your garden recently that an ill-informed person might regard as not absolutely essential?

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