Tuesday, September 27, 2011

Wildflower Wednesday: Fall Classic

It's unmistakeably fall around Chicagoland, and in terms of native plants that means it's time for asters and goldenrods.
My two species of goldenrod are in their full glory. Pictured above is elm-leaved goldenrod (Solidago ulmifolia), a very underrated species that deserves much more attention by the gardening public at large.Elm-leaved goldenrod grows in part shade and mine have been admirably drought tolerant. They're reached about 2' tall but are not aggressive, weedy-looking, or otherwise poorly behaved. I love their arching flower stalks; they remind me of comets gracefully crossing the night sky.

And they look great with shade-tolerant ex-asters, big-leaved aster (Eurybia macrophylla). These have been blooming for about six weeks and are finally starting to slow down. Together they've made a wonderful combination in dry shade.

Smooth blue aster (Symphyotrichum laeve)...

...and Short's aster (S. shortii) are also blooming, and as you can see they share an extremely similar lavender hue.Short's aster is another little-known-but-should-be-better-known wildflower. Like the elm-leaved goldenrod, they're happy in part shade and dry conditions. True to their name they only reach about 2' tall so they don't flop like many taller asters (although in today's rain mine did admittedly droop a bit). I was hoping to get a little more crossover in the bloom times between the Short's aster and my yellow coneflowers (Ratbida pinnata), but these are late bloomers so no luck. Still, they're bringing badly needed blooms to the fall garden!

All of the wildflowers seen here are hardy for zones 4-ish to 8-ish. For more wonderful wildflowers this Wednesday, visit Gail at Clay and Limestone.

Tuesday, September 6, 2011

Winding Down

The first taste of autumn has definitely arrived. In classic backwards fashion, I spent the recent weeks of sweltering weather working feverishly in the garden every change I got. Now that the temperatures have cooled and a crisp breeze has arrived, I am finding myself much less motivated to work and much more content to just enjoy the garden. Enjoy, for example, the coreopsis that is now in full glory (C. tripteris).
The fungal leaf spot that was overrunning my tomatoes has required near-daily spraying of my 3-1 water and milk solution (as you can see in the above photo of a milk-soaked leaf). But it hardly counts as work. Really, I'd be standing there puttering in the veggie bed anyway, thinking about how some plants turned out to be duds this year (green beans, most of the carrots, bell peppers yet again) and some have been rock stars (tomatoes although they take forever to ripen, chili peppers, lettuce earlier this summer). And I've enjoyed how the milk solution has won itself pride of place as an antifungal treatment in my garden. It's made stunning progress on the leaf spot in just a few days, earlier in the season it saved my green beans from total annihilation, and it stopped the powdery mildew long enough to allow my monardas to bloom for the first time ever! Once they stopped blooming and I stopped paying attention to spraying (or rather, turned my attention to fungi infections in the veggie garden), the monardas were promptly engulfed in those damned white spots. If you're looking for a simple, organic way to control mildew and fungus, you really can't beat three parts water to one part milk.
I'm definitely pleased that the hyacinth bean vines are finally blooming, even though they're not really vining up the front porch poles. They're making a late-season effort and they're lovely. I know now these vines just aren't right for this location because they clearly don't get enough sun early in the season. In my unrequited pursuit of vines on these ugly white poles, I have decided to try morning glories next year.
I'm eagerly watching as the goldenrods bloom in tiny burst by tiny burst of yellow. These elm-leaved goldenrods (Solidago ulmifolia) were gorgeous in their first year, and their robust height and arching sprays of buds seem to promise more of the same this year. The zig-zag goldenrod (S. flexicaulis) is a little pummeled from rain, but it's still got plenty of flower buds.
These harebells (Campanula rotundifolia) are barely 6" tall with delicate, almost ferny foliage. It's hard to appreciate them by this solitary flower, which is one of the last ones left. I added five to my Border of Misfit Plants, and they've re-bloomed all year in the terrible soil and unpredictable sun patterns. I am happily enjoying this rare success in my most problematic border and hoping they keep it up next year. Soon, I will have to stop just enjoying and return to the important activities of fall. Spring bulbs are already on order and will require much digging in the garden and potting more for forcing. The inevitable frost will lead to extensive clean-up and composting of vegetables and other spent plants (the ones that just look ugly, with no real "winter interest"). Containers will have to be emptied and cleaned. But until then, it's nice to take a look around and enjoy before it all goes away.

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