Wednesday, May 26, 2010

Wildflower Wednesday--Wild Hyacinth

Wild hyacinth (Camassia scilloides): native to North America with distribution from Ontario, Canada, down through the Midwest and Mid-Atlantic all the way to the Southeast and Texas. According to the USDA, it's endangered in Michigan, Wisconsin, North Carolina and Pennsylvania.

Here, it has been the star of the new south border. Its blooms are white shaded with the slightest hint of lavender.

As one of many new residents in this border, it's been the only one blooming this spring (which is not surprising).

It's been easy to grow and easy to love...takes part sun and average to dry soil, hardy in zones 4-8, reaching around 18" tall.

Tuesday, May 18, 2010

Rain garden, one year on

A year ago today I finished my rain garden, and what a wonderful first year it's had! Let's have some classic before-and-after shots! Here is what it looked like when I started:

Here is is completed last spring:

And here it is today!

What is in this rain garden? A mix of water-loving Midwestern natives: cardinal flower (Lobelia cardinalis), obedient plant (Physostegia virginiana), swamp milkweed (Asclepias incarnata), golden alexander (Zizia aurea), Pennsylvania sedge (Carex pensylvanica, which is NOT a good choice I found), porcupine sedge (C. hystericina) and owl-fruit sedge (C. stipata).

Many of the plants are still in the "creep" stage of the classic "sleep, creep, leap" development cycle of perennials. But some are already exploding from the combination of lots of water and sun.

The zizias have reached about 2' tall if not more, which is pretty much as tall as these plants usually get. Clearly they love being in the rain garden.

But you'll notice one half of the garden is very robust while in the other half the plants are still rather small. Why? The difference in sun exposure in just this small 6-foot stretch of garden is significant. The plants near the southern edge get a couple more hours of light per day than those at the northern end. It surprises me that such variation takes place in only 6' of space!

A number of sedges (genus Carex) are perfect for rain gardens because they love moisture but will tolerate dry spells once established. Carex is an enormous genus, so you can find sedges that like sun and moisture or sun and dryness, shade and moisture or even dry shade. In this regard they're more versatile than grasses and can handle the variable conditions in a rain garden that is periodically flooded.

This garden is my first experience growing various sedges, and I really encourage you to add some if you are growing a rain garden or need a grassy plant in a challenging site (see above paragraph about their diversity). While I was researching an article on sedges a while back, Dr. Andrew Hipp, plant systematist at the Morton Arboretum and author of Field Guide to Wisconsin Sedges told me that sedges reward close examination, and he was absolutely right!

Look at the inflorescence of this porcupine sedge (C. hystericina) and click to enlarge:

It looks a little prickly but also kind of dainty...a little like a bottle brush, which is its other common name.

Compare that to the owl-fruit sedge (C. stipata):

Its inflorescences look like spiky burs that would be painful to touch (they're not). Close inspection reveals remarkable variations between these cousins in the genus Carex.

I mentioned earlier that Pennsylvania sedges were not a good choice for the rain garden. I think it's too moist for them. Of the four I planted, three survived and the two doing the best are on the berm and hence stay drier than those in the trough. Bless these plants for liking dry shade! If you grow them, site them somewhere other than the rain garden.

My other piece of advice would be to keep the berm of your rain garden at a very gentle slope. Mine is too steep and I have mulch erode off the sides and pile up on the plants below during rainstorms. I just clean them off once the water has been absorbed, but it's a nuisance that could have been avoided. (See the right side of the photo below for the erosion issue.)

Overall, growing a rain garden has been a rewarding experience, both from an environmental standpoint and an aesthetic one. Every time I see the garden brimming with water I'm pleased because that's water that is not ending up in a storm sewer or joining an erosive flood in a nearby river, and it's on its way to recharging our underground aquifers (which I then use too extensively for all the laundry and dishes around this place, so it's the least I could do!). On top of that, I've watched the zizias and sedges burst into vigorous growth, and the later bloomers (obedient plant, lobelias, etc.) are all growing and thriving.

It took some hard labor and careful plant choices, but this rain garden was well worth the effort, and I must add it's required barely any work since its early days. Happy birthday, rain garden!

Friday, May 14, 2010

Blurry Bloom Day

Warning: Many blurry photos ahead due to high wind conditions in the Chicago area lately!

It finally feels like a real Bloom Day! In the garden there are of course Canadian columbines (Aquilegia canadensis)...

...including this one that is a seedling I planted last year. So far it's my first seedling to flower!

The peonies and bearded irises are just waiting to explode. Cool, rainy weather lately has stalled some blooming around here.

The salvia is just beginning to bloom. 'Plumosa' is still only in bud.

Even the chives are looking lovely...

In the shady part of the front garden, yellow pimpernel (Taenidia integerrima) is doing wonderfully. It's the little puffs of gold you see here.

Those enormous leaves are actually the aptly named big-leaved aster (Eurybia macrophylla). It appears to be swallowing the Taenidia, but I assure the Taenidia is in no real danger.

(Conspicuously absent from this area are my Jacob's Ladders [Polemonium reptans] which I'm not even sure survived the winter.)

OK, so this little woodland area is doing quite well with shooting stars, lily of the valley and the Taenidias, but thanks to wind and a deluge of maple seeds, this picture does not do it justice.

That little blur in the foreground is a happily blooming 'Cascade Creeper' tiarella that I was sure would not make it this year. It was so dried out and sad last fall I figured it was a goner for sure. Now (although you can't tell from the picture) it's blooming, growing new foliage, and generally loving life near the Japanese painted fern and astilbe.

Golden alexanders (Zizia aurea)are the stars of the garden right now. These ones are in the sunny corner at the end of the front garden. Please excuse the harsh afternoon light and shadows. I pretty much broke every photography rule of thumb on this post!

Here are the very happy, very large golden alexanders in the rain garden, along with porcupine sedges (Carex hystericina) and owl-fruit sedges (Carex stipata) that are "blooming." Like grasses, sedges have inflorescences that contain flower parts but don't look like blossoming petals and all that.

Those blurry pink things are coral bells (Heuchera sanguinia), which are currently my only heucheras in bloom. The native alumroots nearby (H. richardsonii) are starting to send up some tentative flower stalks. Here you also see the lily of the valley that has crept under my neighbor's fence. Since this is a relatively new border I'm tolerating the invasion because I need the plants.

Due to wind I could only get a close up of this wild hyacinth (Camassia scilloides).

It's lovely by itself, but they're even better en masse. I have eight of them starting to bloom in the new southern border, but alas the weather would not cooperate for me to show them all to you.

My prairie smoke (Geum triflorum) are growing very slowly this spring after being planted last fall (in that whole sleep, creep, leap progression we're somewhere between sleeping and creeping). So there is just this one measly bud...

...and that completes this Bloom Day post! Check out May Dreams Garden where Carol graciously hosts Bloom Day and you can find out what's blooming everywhere!

Friday, May 7, 2010

Seedling Hits and Misses

Today has been rainy, chilly and dreary--it reminded me of those bleak days in February and March when houseplants and started seedlings were the only plants growing. That reflection led me to think closely about my seedlings, almost all of which have been transplanted to the garden. I can't deny it's been a rollercoaster year for seedlings. Some germinated wonderfully, others not at all. Some have grown vigorously, others struggled, and others won't really give me an answer until later this season. It's not like this is the first time such things have happened, but this year I attempted to provide reliable light with my little fluorescent lamp. Ah, such are the vagaries of gardening...

The Hits

Basil seedlings are probably the biggest hit of the year so far! Here you see (left to right) Thai basil, pesto basil and Greek basil. I can't wait to explore the subtle differences between those flavors. My basil harvest last year was sub-par thanks to cool, rainy weather, so I am really hoping for better conditions!

Also a hit are the coreopsis 'Sunfire' seedlings. I know this guy doesn't look like much, but these seedlings have grown vigorously without getting leggy, and since they're perennials I don't expect explosive growth at this point anyway. There are about eight others just like this one, grouped in my new south border near the rattlesnake master (Eryngium yuccifolium), nodding wild onion (Allium cernuum) and a baptisia.

Broccoli seedlings are a definite hit. (Please pardon all the maple seeds strewn about the garden.)

Here's a closer look at a particularly good one. I've sown more seeds directly in the garden, but I'm very happy I started a few inside first.

The Misses

Black-eyed susans are my biggest miss this year. Why are they not pictured? Because they have all died, or at least have disappeared. I'm downright aggravated! I nursed them along despite a weak germination rate, and immediately upon transplanting last week they were eaten (not their fault) or just shriveled. I'm hoping maybe a couple will magically appear next season as their roots perhaps survived the foliage-eating, but my plan for coneflowers and rudbeckias in the volcanic-rock-salvaged border has been foiled!

A potential miss are the pink cosmos I got compliments of Renee's Garden. Only this one has a bud, and I'm afraid they'll turn out to be too leggy. They sprouted quickly but got spindly and floppy way too fast. I think the fluorescent lamp wasn't enough and they've suffered from a lack of sunlight. But maybe this bud is a good sign and the others will follow suit...

Gratuitous vegetable garden photo:

While nothing besides the broccoli was started indoors, the cool-season veggie garden is coming along beautifully! White, red, yellow and green onions are growing, as well as about five types of lettuce, two types of spinach, and some kohlrabi (plus the broccoli, of course). Warm-season crops like squash, peppers and tomatoes will have to wait a couple more weeks thanks to our unpredictable spring weather, but right now I'm not complaining!

This is by no means the end of the seedlings around here. Carrots, squash and cucumbers will be directly sown in the veggie garden, along with borage and marigolds for pollinator attraction and pest prevention, respectively. Hyacinth bean will be started near the front porch and alyssum is destined for the front garden as a quick annual groundcover.

How are your seedlings doing this year? Do you have more to start outdoors? Are you already harvesting vegetables?

You May Also Like

Related Posts with Thumbnails