Wednesday, May 25, 2011

Wildflower Wednesday: Wildflowers for Shade

There is more to shade gardening than hostas! In fact there are a number of North American native flowers for shady areas. On this Wildflower Wednesday, hosted by Gail at Clay and Limestone, I would like to share some shade wildflower successes from my zone 5 garden.

This is woodland phlox (P. divaricata). These have been blooming their heads off for a couple weeks now and they absolutely light up this shady border. They haven't spread to groundcover status as much as I would have hoped, but the flowers are so pretty I'm thinking of planting more to help connect the blobs I currently have. If you have shade that is at least sort of reliably moist, you should not miss out on these lovelies!

Heucheras are like the designer clothes of the plant world. Every season there is a new color and pattern that's all the rage. Now don't get me wrong, I like designer heucheras just as much as everyone else! I'm looking to add some 'Citronelle' or 'Lime Rickey' to this border. But I've also discovered the pleasures of native H. richardsonii.

You can see the foliage here; the words I think of are ruffly and textured. They're pure green and so mix well with everything. Their flower spikes get to about 2 feet tall with white flowers. Sorry for the blurry picture...I always struggle to photograph heuchera flower stalks. They like soil on the moist side so mine have struggled occasionally in this dry shade (nothing has stayed dry this spring so that's not a problem this year). Here they are co-mingling with columbine and lily of the valley.

Native columbines (Aquilegia canadensis) are a stalwart of the part sun/part shade garden. I cannot get enough of these plants. After they've flowered I really enjoy the bobbing seedheads and clover-like foliage too.

What are these little cloudlets of yellow? They're yellow pimpernel (Taenidia integerrima). These are some of the most underrated, unknown natives but you can see in the above photo that they play nice with spring classics like bleeding hearts...

...and with other natives like shooting starts (Dodecatheon meadia). Unlike ephemerals, taenidia keeps its foliage all year and its flowers last for months at a time. It's a member of the carrot family so I would assume it's a host plant for swallowtail butterflies (although I've never seen any on my plants). It's dealt with deep shade and extremely dry conditions and my plants have gotten better every year (in fact this year I added three more).

Since the flowers are so delicate and small I think they look best in drifts and definitely need to mixed with other more robust plants to fill in around them. The past few years my mix of taenidia and big-leaved aster (Eurybia macrophylla) has worked really well. The large aster leaves are a backdrop for the taenidia flowers, and once they're done the asters start blooming. If you have shade in zones 4 to 8 I have two words for you: grow taenidia!

Fore more wildflowers check out Clay and Limestone! This is a wonderful time to see the last of the ephemerals and early season wildflowers all around the country!

Sunday, May 15, 2011

May Bloom Day: Slow-Motion Spring

After a beautiful week of summer temperatures we're back to chilly, cloudy, early spring weather. A lot of plants have been in slow motion thanks to the delayed onset of spring, but nevertheless here's what's blooming...

...bleeding heart with a bumblebee and the first tentative blooms of yellow pimpernel (Taenidia integerrima)...

...I had to search under the foliage to find the flowers of these wild ginger (Asarum canadense). Definitely worth it! They're unique little blooms with red reflexed petals. These flowers lay on the ground sheltered under the large leaves.

Woodland phlox (P. divaricata) is blooming for the first time! I had kind of failed to get this groundcover happily established and spreading, but since the clumps are blooming that means they get to stay at least another year. Maybe it's a sign of good things to come from these plants!

Also making a strong performance is the prairie smoke (Geum triflorum). These buds are not fully in bloom yet but they're still so cool to see bobbing above the foliage. I can't wait for them to make it to the seed-head stage, which creates the real "smoke" looking part of their name.

All of my zizias (Z. aurea) are now in bloom. These water-loving plants have been very happy with all the rain this spring.

And what would May be without tulips? After a rocky start, my border of tulips has been lovely with a mix of yellow, purple and orange. I'm growing (foreground to back) 'Dordogne', 'Negrita', 'Rembrandt's Favorite', one 'El Cid' which returned from last year, and an un-named yellow variety.

The 'Dordognes' are a little more orange than I would have liked, but when you look close you can see gorgeous brush strokes of pink and apricot:

Even the inside of these tulips is artistic:

To enjoy more flowers visit Carol at May Dreams Garden, who hosts Garden Blogger's Bloom Day every month.

Also blooming but not pictured: hellebores, variegated Solomon's seal, violets, un-named tulips.

Friday, May 13, 2011

How Not to Plant Tulips

Like a long line rather than in a concentrated clump.

These tulips came with the house, so I am not actually responsible for this (although admittedly I haven't done anything about it for five years, so maybe I'm an accessory to plant design-acide).

But no longer! This is the year I dig these up and move them to the bed where I have massed tulips (and plan to mass more Darwin varieties so I don't have to do this every fall). But how should I move them? Or more specifically, when?

I would prefer to dig them up now once they've finished flowering because I know where they are. If I wait until the fall their foliage will be long gone and I'll be digging blindly.

Of course I could mark them with plant markers, but then I'll have marker sticks randomly around my garden all year. And they could get ruined by fall anyway. If the severe storms we had earlier this week happen with any sort of frequency I wouldn't be at all surprised to have plant markers washed away.

Has anyone out there successfully moved tulips post-flowering? Will I kill the bulbs if I do that? Feel free to leave suggestions!

Pictured at left, front to back: 'Dordogne', 'Negrita', 'Rembrandt's Favorite', one 'El Cid' and an un-named yellow variety.

Sunday, May 8, 2011

Tulip Trials

My Mother's Day present from the gardening gods was tulips...

...which all seemed to bloom almost simultaneously this weekend. It's not a moment too soon because I've been craving these flowers all spring and yet they've been plagued with issues!

Squirrels (or some other rodent culprit) have been decapitating my tulips just as they're on the verge of blooming! Look below the blurry-too-close-up yellow blooms in this picture and you'll see the evidence:

Stems bereft of their flower heads, which are being severed in the night just as the buds are about to open.

I am confident it's not deer because they're not around in my neighborhood (and if errant ones were to wander through it would be big news and immediately known.) In the previous five years I've grown tulips here I've never seen any damage like this and it's downright heartbreaking! But I have hope that my Tabasco topdressing will keep the killers away from the 'Dordognes', which will be blooming later than these varieties:

This is 'Rembrandt's Favorite' with solid purple 'Negrita'. I was so excited about this combo, and mixing it with the stately yellow perennial tulips in this bed (they must be Darwins).

Unfortunately the 'Negritas' are suffering some discolorations, which is rather taking away from the effect. I'm not sure if this is environmental (i.e., frost damage or poor soil), or if I should be aggravated with John Scheepers and stick to bulb-buying with Brent & Becky's.

One 'El Cid' from last year returned, and perfectly placed between the pure yellows and the bi-color Rembrandts.

I struggled mightily to dig trenches in this border with its terrible soil and remnant lava rocks, and last October I swore I would never plant tulips here again. But they would look so out of place in my other borders, and I have to say I've been really enjoying playing with color combos the last couple years. I know they're like annuals that take tons of extra labor...

...and they don't really flow well with look and feel of the rest of my garden...

...but I really loved those 'Ad Rems' I saw at the Chicago Flower & Garden Show and thought maybe next year...

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