Six on Saturday: Wildlife Friendly Perennials

Black-eyed Susan, Rudbeckia hirta, grows in full to partial sun.  It spreads a bit more each year.  There are other species of Rudbeckia equally attractive to pollinators that also produce tasty seeds for the songbirds.  Deer rarely touch a leaf, unless there is a severe drought and they need moisture.

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So many of us want to attract birds, bees, butterflies and other pollinators to our gardens.  We want beautiful flowers and glowing, healthy foliage; but we don’t want to attract deer to feast in our yards.

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Monarda fistulosa loves full sun and spreads on many types of soil. Flower color varies from lavender to white.  Any species of Monarda, which is a perennial herb, feeds pollinators and is distasteful to deer.  Purple coneflower, Echinacea, is another native plant that blooms for much of the summer to attract butterflies, and delights goldfinches once it sets seed.  Once established, both are very drought tolerant.

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As I chat with fellow gardeners, I hear the same concerns over and again.  We want to be good stewards and support wildlife.  But we want to plant things the deer will leave alone!  No one wants to use expensive sprays and granules to protect their plants, and neither do we want to come out to admire it all and find it munched!

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Hellebores keep right on blooming through winter storms and freezing nights from January until May.  Every part of the plant is poisonous and grazers never touch them.  Pollinators find much needed pollen and nectar when little else is in bloom.

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As undeveloped lands shrink, all of the animals that once lived there look for new places to live and raise their young.  And that means that they learn to live among us in our neighborhoods and in the few remaining ‘wild’ places behind and between the developed parcels.

We have the added challenge in our neighborhood of backing up against protected wetlands and a National Park.  The deer and other wild things move freely from park to neighborhood, looking for a safe place to live where their needs can be met.

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Yellow flag Iris spreads in full to partial sun in moist soil.  It produces a lot of nectar, though it blooms for only a few weeks each spring.  All Iris support pollinators and are distasteful to grazers.  Plant a variety of different types of Iris to support pollinators over a longer period of time.

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I sometimes feel conflicted planting to attract some wildlife, while trying to exclude other species.  But as we all eventually learn, deer don’t share; they consume.   Deer will eat a plant to the point of killing it, then go looking for more.

I’ve spent many years searching for those particular bird and pollinator friendly plants that deer and other grazers won’t eat.  These are some of my favorites in our Zone 7b garden.  This isn’t an exhaustive list, just a few good picks that come to mind.

In general,  deer avoid herbs because of their essential oils, and avoid plants with tough, leathery leaves that feel unpleasant in their mouths.  Plants with poisonous leaves are a sure bet; and there are plenty that may be poisonous to eat, but perfectly safe for us to handle.

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A Silver Spotted Skipper enjoys Verbena bonariensis in our garden.  There are many species of  perennial Verbena, all of which attract pollinators and all of which are ignored by grazers. 

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These plants are easy to grow and easy to find, relatively inexpensive to buy, and forgiving of novice gardeners.  I hope they offer a bit of hope to those gardening, as we do, where the deer roam free and generations of rabbits raise their young in the side yard.

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Agastache, anise hyssop, is an herb related to mint.  Like other herbs, it has essential oils that make it distasteful to grazers.  Agastache often attracts even more pollinators than Lantana, which is saying a lot!  Its seeds feed birds once the flowers fade.

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Woodland Gnome 2019

Many thanks to the wonderful ‘Six on Saturday’ meme sponsored by The Propagator.

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Wildlife Wednesday: A Feast For a Swallowtail

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You may count gluttony among those seven deadly sins, but our little Swallowtail didn’t get the memo.

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She was covered in so much wonderful sticky pollen by the time we spotted her, that we aren’t quite sure whether she is an Eastern Tiger Swallowtail or an Eastern Black Swallowtail.  Since no white spots are visible on her body, we suspect that she is the black form of the female Tiger Swallowtail.

From my perspective a bit under her, while she enjoyed this rose of Sharon flower, it looked as though she was lying on the flower’s pistol, straddling it with legs akimbo.  You can see the pollen on her body, legs and even wings.

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These rose of Sharon flowers, Hibiscus syriacus, must be enticingly delicious.  We watch the hummingbirds stop by these shrub several times a day.  Other, smaller butterflies and bees flew in and out and around while our Swallowtail feasted.

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These beautiful trees are easy to grow in full to partial sun and reasonably moist, but well-drained soil.  They self-seed readily and grow with little attention from a gardener.  We let them grow in several places around the garden because they are so beloved by our pollinators.

You will find many different rose of Sharon cultivars on the market.  We’ve found many different ones growing around our garden, with new seedlings showing up every summer.  Rose of Sharon trees begin to bloom when they are just a few years old.

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We may lose a tree or two a year, as they aren’t very long lived and grow on fairly shallow roots.  The largest one in our garden tops out at less than 20′ tall.  This is a good landscaping tree that won’t endanger foundation or roof if planted close to the house.  Growing it near a window provides hours of summer entertainment as the pollinators come and go.

Although it’s not native to Virginia, Hibiscus syriacus has naturalized here, and fills an important niche in our summer garden.

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It is both beautiful and generous, and we enjoy watching the many winged and wonderful creatures that it attracts throughout the year.

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Woodland Gnome 2018

. . .

“Similar to a butterfly,

I’ve gone through a metamorphosis,

been released from my dark cocoon,

embraced my wings,

and soared!”

 .

Dana Arcuri

Garden Gold

Fennel flowers allow for easy access to their nectar.

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The hotter it gets, the more gold in the garden glitters and shines.  As the mercury goes up, yellow and gold feel almost cooling.

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An Eastern Tiger Swallowtail butterfly feeds on Lantana ‘Chapel Hill Yellow,’ a fairly new perennial Lantana introduction. WBG

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I don’t understand the alchemy of that, but I do understand the clear attraction of gold for all of our nectar seeking pollinators.

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Gold flowers may just taste sweeter.  They certainly draw in the bees, wasps and butterflies who draw sustenance from their sugary depths.

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Lantana ‘Chapel Hill Gold’ is also a perennial in Zone 7. WBG

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All the while, these prolific flowers are also ripening seeds to delight goldfinches and other small birds who will feast on their ripe seeds well into the barren months of winter.

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Flocks of goldfinches took wing from the wildflowers where they were feeding, as I walked through the Williamburg Botanical Garden yesterday afternoon.

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Golden and yellow flowers often prove among the easiest for a gardener to grow.  Turn to dill, fennel and parsley for their distinctive round umbel inflorescence, all flat and easy to access;  Rudbeckias and Helianthus for their many petaled sunburst flowers.

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The first black eyed Susans, our native Rudbecki hirta, have begun to open in our garden.

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Coreopsis, Lantana, marigolds and Zinnias all bloom in shades of yellow, orange and gold.

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The season ends on a wild and native note as Solidagos burst into bloom in September and October, towering over the black eyed Susans in our garden like great feathery plumes of living gold.

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Solidago blooms alongside Rudbeckia in our garden, October 2017.

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If the entire garden were nothing but green and gold, animated with swallowtail butterflies and goldfinches, what a beautiful display we would still enjoy.

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Woodland Gnome 2018

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“Any patch of sunlight in a wood

will show you something about the sun

which you could never get

from reading books on astronomy.

These pure and spontaneous pleasures

are ‘patches of Godlight’

in the woods of our experience.”


.

C.S. Lewis

Sunday Dinner: “Be Fruitful”

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“Don’t sit at home and wait
for mango tree to bring mangoes to you wherever you are.
It won’t happen.
If you are truly hungry for change,
go out of your comfort zone
and change the world.”
.
Israelmore Ayivor

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“True passion motivates the life forces
and brings forth all things good.
.
Gabriel Brunsdon

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Double Narcissus ‘Gay Tabour’

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“Try not to become a man of success.
Rather become a man of value.”
.
Albert Einstein

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“There is no season of your life
that you cannot produce something.”
.
Bidemi Mark-Mordi

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“To be fruitful
is to understand the process of growth”
.
Sunday Adelaja

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Photos by Woodland Gnome 2018
*
“It had long since come to my attention
that people of accomplishment
rarely sat back and let things happen to them.
They went out and happened to things.”
.
Leonardo da Vinci

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“Success is not how high you have climbed,
but how you make a positive difference to the world.”
.
Roy T. Bennett

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Sunday Dinner: Nostalgia

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“Memory believes before knowing remembers.
.
William Faulkner
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“Remembrance of things past
is not necessarily the remembrance of things
as they were.”
.
Marcel Proust
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“The ‘what should be’ never did exist,
but people keep trying to live up to it.
There is no ‘what should be,’
there is only what is.”
.
Lenny Bruce
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“There comes a time in your life
when you have to choose to turn the page,
write another book
or simply close it.”
.
Shannon L. Alder
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“We are homesick most
for the places we have never known.”
.
Carson McCullers
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“It is strange how we
hold on to the pieces of the past
while we wait for our futures.”
.
Ally Condie
*
Photos by Woodland Gnome 2017 
For my friend, Janet, who I miss often, and learn from, always
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“Nostalgia in reverse,
the longing for yet another strange land,
grew especially strong in spring.”
.
Vladimir Nabokov
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“For children, childhood is timeless.  It is always the present.
Everything is in the present tense.
Of course, they have memories.
Of course, time shifts a little for them
and Christmas comes round in the end.
But they don’t feel it.
Today is what they feel,
and when they say ‘When I grow up,’
there is always an edge of disbelief—
how could they ever be other than what they are?”
  .
Ian McEwan
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Fabulous Friday: Pineapple Sage In Bloom

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A hummingbird came zooming across my shoulder just as I began watering in the front garden this morning.  It went first to the nearest Canna blossoms, towering now 8′ or more.  But then, it zoomed straight down to the bright lipstick-red blossoms of our pineapple sage, just opening for the first time this morning.

The little hummer flitted from blossom to blossom, drinking deeply from each long, tubular flower.  Pineapple sage is a great favorite of hummingbirds, and gives that extra boost of energy before they leave for their migration.

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Pineapple sage, Salvia elegans, grows together with a small Buddleia in the heart of our butterfly and hummingbird garden.  It began blooming today, immediately attracting our resident hummingbirds to taste its nectar.

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Pineapple sage, Salvia elegans, has grown easier to find at spring plant sales in our area.  It is often offered in small pots, right among the other herbs.  It is easy to grow in full to partial sun, and quickly grows from a small start to a nice sized herbaceous ‘shrub.’  Other than keeping it watered during drought, and pinching it back from time to time to encourage bushiness, it needs little care.

A native of Central America and Mexico, pineapple sage loves heat and humidity.  But it is the shorter days which signal it to begin blooming.

It’s best season is autumn, and it will cover itself in flowers from now until frost.  We are fortunate that pineapple sage tends to return in our garden.  Although it is listed as hardy to Zone 8, it will survive our winter if its roots are deep and well established.  A little mulch helps it survive through winter.

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Like so many herbs, pineapple sage is easy to propagate from stem cuttings or by division.  In the spring, you often can pull a rooted stem, left from the previous season, away from the crown and plant it elsewhere to help this clumping plant spread more quickly.  But we’ve never had a pineapple sage ‘run’ or grow out of control.  It is far better behaved than the mints!

Edible, the foliage has a wonderful fruity fragrance all season.  It is beautiful in fall arrangements and mixed container gardens.  In containers, it might crowd out other plants over the long summer season.  But rooted cuttings or small starter plants would be beautiful in pots newly refreshed for fall.

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Pineapple sage in a vase with Mexican blue sage, Artemisia and Hibiscus acetosella, October 2015.

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Salvia elegans has been identified as one of the top three favorite flowers  hummingbirds choose for feeding, in a study done in Central Mexico.  It’s long, tubular flowers just invite a hummingbird’s beak!  And since the flowers are clustered close together, it takes little effort to move from one to the next.

Our hummingbirds are happily darting about the garden this week, enjoying the Lantana, Verbena, ginger lily, Canna, and now also the pineapple sage, just coming into bloom.  They visit us as we sit on the deck and as we water and work among the plants.

It is fabulous to see fall’s brightest flowers blooming at last!

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Pineapple sage lights up our garden in October 2014.

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Woodland Gnome 2017

Fabulous Friday:  Happiness is contagious,

Let’s infect one another!

~

Flowers  our hummingbirds enjoy visiting:

 

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First Ginger Lilies

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Our first ginger lily of the year began opening a few days ago, wafting its intoxicatingly sweet fragrance across our garden.  These hardy perennials return year after year, growing to over 7 ft high in our garden.

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I remain grateful to our neighbor who offered to let me dig some of these beauties from her garden in the weeks before she moved.  I’d never grown these  before, and simply trusted that we would enjoy them.

We had space for them to spread, and spread they have in the years since.  This part of our garden grows dense and tropical and full of life.

Oh my!  What a treat we look forward to in late summer each year, when our ginger lilies bloom.

Getting reacquainted with their pure white flowers today has made this a Fabulous Friday, indeed.

Woodland Gnome 2017
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“Just remember to say THANK YOU sometimes,
for all of these everyday extraordinary gifts.”
.
Scott Stabile

Fabulous Friday:  Happiness is contagious, so let’s infect one another!

 

 

 

Wednesday Vignette: Peace

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Peace begins with a smile..”
.

Mother Teresa

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“Darkness cannot drive out darkness:

only light can do that.

Hate cannot drive out hate:

only love can do that.”

.

Martin Luther King Jr.

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“The day the power of love overrules the love of power,

the world will know peace.”

.

Mahatma Gandhi

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“The present moment is filled with joy and happiness.

If you are attentive, you will see it. ”

.

Thich Nhat Hanh,

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Photos by Woodland Gnome 2017

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“The mind can go in a thousand directions,

but on this beautiful path,

I walk in peace.

With each step, the wind blows.

With each step, a flower blooms.”

.

Thich Nhat Hanh

Bog Garden: Early Summer

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Maybe you don’t have a pond or spring in your yard, and would still like to grow a few special plants who like their roots wet.  We’re not talking a full-fledged water garden here, filled with Lotus and water lilies.  That requires an excavation or above ground water-tight construction. which will hold a foot or two of water; maybe with a stream or a waterfall with a pump and filter worked in.

A ‘bog’ garden tolerates variable amounts of water, from several inches to slightly moist.  These plants enjoy moist soil, but don’t want to remain submerged all the time.  Our bog garden has evolved in a mysterious old rock and cement construction in our back garden.  Maybe, at one time, it was water tight.  But it’s not water tight anymore.  Its uneven bottom of cemented gravel and large rocks allows for water to collect in several little pools before slowly draining away.

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I cleaned out the old leaves and accumulated silt a few years ago, and began massing pots of moisture loving plants in this mostly sunny spot to create a potted bog garden.  That is also when I began adding to our collection of a Southeastern North American native carnivorous plant, the Sarracenia, or Pitcher Plant.

Sarracenia produce tubular, brightly colored leaves all summer long, starting about now.   Each leaf holds a pool of digestive solution, just waiting for a curious insect to fall into the brightly colored hollow opening.  Their ‘Dr. Seuss’ flowers emerge early, in bright reds and yellows, looking like the sort of flower a child might draw.   These are very unusual looking plants which naturally grow in the sort of wet, insect filled swamp most of us tend to avoid.

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Our first pitcher plant, in late May of 2014

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But they prove easy to grow in a pot, so long as you use their preferred potting mix and keep them moist.  Sarracenia want moist soil, but not water-logged soil.  Their roots need some oxygen and don’t like the sour/stagnant soil often found in water gardens.  Dr. Larry Mellichamp, in his book, Native Plants of the Southeast, recommends a 50:50 mix of pure peat moss and clean quartz sand for pitcher plants.

I began collecting pitcher plants four years ago.  My first one spent the summer with its pot set in a ceramic bowl, about 2″ deep, which I filled with the hose when I watered that part of the garden.  It was gorgeous all summer long, and a conversation piece for every visitor.  That first pitcher plant inspired me to set up a bog garden, the following summer, with space for a community of more pitcher plants mixed with other plants that like wet soil.

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Pitcher Plants growing in the swamps around Jamestown were collected by John Tradescant the Younger around 1638. It was difficult for English gardeners to keep them alive until they learned to grow them in pots of moss standing in water. These are displayed at Forest Lane Botanicals in York County, Virginia.

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Pitcher plants, like other perennials, grow in clumps and may be divided every few years.  The plants we’ve collected were still growing in modest sized pots.  But I wanted to change the look of our bog garden this year, and so tracked down a huge, shallow pot to hold divisions from several of our Sarracenia cultivars.

Following Dr. Mellichamp’s instructions for potting mix has brought us success.  The one plant I purchased, and didn’t re-pot myself, didn’t make it through the winter of 2015.  It was in a compost based potting mix and failed to thrive.  But the grower made it good, and I’ve relied on the peat/sand mixture for my own re-potting.

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Mix and re-hydrate the peat at least a day before you plan to use it.  It is important to have very moist soil when you re-pot pitcher plants.  I knocked three of our Sarracenias out of their pots, pulled out or trimmed back the old, brown leaves, and then gently pulled the clumps apart.  I potted some of the smaller clumps into this new, large pot; and re-potted the largest of each division back into its original pot. Pack the peat mixture into the pot fairly tightly, and then water it in to settle the soil and rinse off the pot.

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You never fertilize Sarracenia.  That is one reason it doesn’t work to use compost or a standard potting mix which would work perfectly well with most potted plants.  Sarracenia take their nutrition from the insects that fall into their leaves.  And they thrive in acidic conditions, which the peat provides.

In addition to pitcher plants, I’ve grown Colocasia, Canna, Asclepias, Hibiscus, Coleus and Zantedeschia  in this bog garden.  All of these have at least a few cultivars that enjoy full sun and wet soil.  This year, I’ve added Colocasia ‘Tea Cups’ to the Colocasia ‘Mojito’ we’ve had in years passed.  Colocasia ‘China Pink’ grows around the outside.  This year I’ve potted up a few divisions from our yellow flag Iris to add to the mix.

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Colocasia ‘Tea Cups,’ saved from last summer’s garden, spent the winter in our basement. We’re happy to have it growing again. This Colocasia loves damp soil and could even grow submerged in a pond.

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A bog garden like this one, where there is usually at least some water, provides important resources for wildlife.  Birds, frogs, turtles and many insects come here to eat, drink and find shelter.  Once the plants grow in, there is cool, moist shade on even the hottest summer days.

Rain provides sufficient wetness for the bog garden during much of the year here in coastal Virginia.  But during dry spells, I try to visit this garden several times a week with the hose, filling it and watering the various pots.  Creeping Jenny, originally planted around the border as a ground cover, has colonized the interior of the garden, too.  I was a little surprised to learn that it, too, tolerates growing in shallow water.

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Tadpoles and other tiny creatures can often be found in the bog garden.  This photo is from its first summer, 2015.

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If you don’t already have a wet spot in your own garden, you might consider building something similar to this with stone and concrete.  If that is too much trouble, you might follow Dr. Mellichamp’s advice and begin with a child’s wading pool.  You can put a small drainage hole or two, if it doesn’t have a crack or hole already, and either excavate and sink the liner in the ground, or build up some landscaping blocks around it to make it more attractive.

Line the bottom with some gravel and sand, and then fill your new bog garden with the peat/sand mix, or just set ceramic pots into it as I’ve done.  Dr. Mellichamp shows a beautiful bog garden he built, in his chapter on bog plants.  His is filled with peat and sand, with the plants growing as they would in a natural bog.  The peat is overgrown with moss and the effect is stunning.

If you don’t have Sarracenia at a garden center near you, you can order a wide variety of pitcher plants, and other water loving plants, from Plant Delights nursery in North Carolina.  Sarracenia Northwest, a grower based in Oregon, offers a wide selection of pitcher plants, and other interesting carnivorous plants.  Their service is excellent.  The plants I ordered arrived in excellent condition.

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Pitcher plants are easy to forget during winter.  Most are hardy in zones 5-9.   They stay outdoors, dormant, and need no special care.  It is only when those psychedelic flowers suddenly appear in late spring, and the first new leaves emerge that you take notice.

That is when I’m moved to clean them up, and begin assembling a beautiful collection of plants for our summer enjoyment in this quiet spot in our back garden.

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Woodland Gnome 2017
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Wednesday Vignette: Meditations

Columbine, Aquilegia vulgaris

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“The soul becomes dyed

with the colour of its thoughts.”

.

Marcus Aurelius

~

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“Accept the things to which fate binds you,

and love the people with whom fate

brings you together,

but do so with all your heart.”

.

Marcus Aurelius

~

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“The object of life is not to be on the side of the majority,

but to escape finding oneself in the ranks of the insane.”

.

Marcus Aurelius

~

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“The first rule is to keep an untroubled spirit.

The second is to look things in the face

and know them for what they are.”

.

Marcus Aurelius

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“Very little is needed to make a happy life;

it is all within yourself in your way of thinking.”

.

Marcus Aurelius

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Photos by Woodland Gnome 2017

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“Do not act

as if you were going to live ten thousand years.

Death hangs over you.

While you live, while it is in your power,

be good.”

.

Marcus Aurelius

quotations from The Meditations

 

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