Category Archives: Gardening

And Yet Some More

snow in botanical gardenFor the record, I don’t hate winter or snow; I would much rather have a cold snowy winter than a brown, gray, muddy winter. At least you can play in the snow! I like XC skiing, sledding, ice skating, building snowmen and snow forts and all that good stuff. Snow also contributes some nitrogen to the soil and protects perennials from freeze damage. And lucky me, I don’t have to do the shoveling at my house 🙂 !

But Sunday night we had about 6 inches added to the two feet or so on the ground, Yesterday a bit of rain, woke this morning to snow falling again –just got the phone call that school will be dismissed an hour early. Prediction for low of 8 F tonight. Basically, I have run out of things to say about winter. The author of “New Hampshire Garden Solutions”, a great blog about the natural world of the White Mountains, remarks on this long cold snowy winter  –with beautiful photos– in his post “Wintering”. Enjoy!

snow in botanical gardensnow in botanical gardens

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Ramble: Echinacea, and the Bees

EchinaceaDear Readers, It was REALLY hard to write about Echinacea and stay on topic! There was an idea running through my head which I tried to pin down for you, but so many intriguing subjects popped up. Herbal medicine, ethnobotanical uses of the plant, wildlife food value, stories about plant breeders, plant marketing, “snake oil salesmen”, morphology of the Asteraceae, scanning electron microscope photos of pollen…

Echinacea — a genus of herbaceous flowering plants in the Asteraceae family. Commonly called Coneflowers, there are 9 species in the genus (according to USDA PLANTS) and they are endemic to Eastern and Central North America. The word Echinacea comes from a Greek word meaning “spiny”, (as in Echinoidea, the word for sea urchin,  ) and refers to the stiff, bristly center disk of the flower.

EchinaceaEchinacea is a great perennial garden plant. It is tough, drought tolerant, cold tolerant, and not invasive! They are impressively able to hold their own against insects and diseases as well. Three species —Echinacea purpurea,  Echinacea angustifolia, and Echinacea pallida, have been utilized in creating new garden cultivars. There have been so many cultivars released in the past 10-12 years that it’s hard to keep track. One website I checked had 28, and another lists 53!

Echinacea trialThere are a few Echinaceas which can be started from seed in January to flower the first season. ‘Cheyenne Spirit’ is one. This is unusual in a perennial plant and lots of fun for the gardener! Seeds for the All- America Selections Display Garden have arrived and they include the appealing ‘Cheyenne Spirit’ Echinacea cultivar. It’s shorter and stockier than the species Echinaceas, which can be 3 or even 4 feet tall. It is a rainbow of warm color tones, rich orangey red, paler orange, yellow, gold, pink, and cream. A sturdy little plant with long-lasting pretty flowers –what could be better?

EchinaceaWell…

It’s not so busy in the garden and I have been thinking a lot and reading a lot about honey bees, being a beekeeper as well as a gardener. Everyone knows that it is hard times for the bees! Diseases, mites, lack of forage, and chemicals of all kinds are combining to take their toll.  Last year I observed that bees and other pollinators love Echinacea purpurea, which we have here in the garden. But the ‘Cheyenne Spirit’ and other recent cultivars had no pollinators visiting them. Like many flowers that have been “engineered” for certain qualities by plant breeders, they may no longer be particularly attractive to insects.

butterfly on echinacea“…When it comes to ornamental flowers, plant breeders select for beauty. What you lose in this process are many of the characteristics that made the flower attractive to pollinators in the first place. By selecting only for beauty, for example, you may lose fragrance, sweet nectar, nutritious pollen—or any number of things that the pollinators liked. This loss of pollinator-attracting features … happens in all sorts of flowers from roses to pansies. It is the main reason why people interested in planting native bee habitat or wild pollinator habitat are encouraged to plant either native species or heirloom species that have not been highly manipulated. The important thing to remember is that the flowers most attractive to humans are often not those most attractive to pollinators.” (From “Who Pollinates the Daffodils?” by Rusty Berlew of Honey Bee Suite. Read the original article here.)

echinaceaIt seems to me that much has been lost in this type of “improvement”.  I am certainly not against improvement; for example, some hybrid vegetables have a welcome place in my garden. Disease resistance, drought tolerance, heat tolerance; these are plant “improvements” that we probably could not live without. And I am not against beauty, but I think in this case I find the beauty in Nature and her system of plants and pollinators who go hand-in-hand.

honey bee on echinaceaTo conclude, I will just say that I don’t want “beautiful” to outweigh “useful” in my garden. I want both! I would love to know what plants and varieties you find attractive to honeybees and other pollinators in your gardens. And another day I will fill you in on some of those other topics which distracted me today.

 

Not Ready!

 

first snowWell, a little bit ready for winter, as in: prepared. The gardens are mostly cut back, although the Dahlias still need to be dug up and packed away. There’s plenty of wood in the wood shed. Pulled out my winter coat, hat, and mittens. But ready for a couple more months of cold and dark? No.

leaf in snowsnow on sedumsnow on rosesWhat are you doing to get ready for winter?

 

Edible Garden

dahliaHard frost came to my home garden in the wee hours of Monday morning. Here at the top of Kingston Hill, the Botanical Garden had none to speak of, but the plants are looking pretty tired. Lack of rain, deer, woodchucks, and rabbits took their toll this year! Wide swaths of Phlox and Chelone were eaten to little nubs, then eaten again. Hostas disappeared early on. Echinacea has become a wildlife delicacy. Annuals were lunch as soon as they were set out. There are a few bright spots:  Japanese Anemones (eaten and recovered), Dahlias  (near the road= not eaten), Toad Lilies (also eaten and recovered), Ornamental Peppers (untouched!), Callicarpa, and of course, beautiful fall foliage.

Toad Lily/Tricyrtisanemonedisanthus leavesstewartia

Callicarpa/Purple Beautyberry

Oh, and last but not least: Gaillardia, in the All-America Selections Display Garden. These little plants fly under the radar at the annual Plant Sale, but they can’t be beat. They are perennials blooming first year from seed (started April 1st), withstand heat, drought, animals, and insects. October 21 –still blooming! Save a garden spot for them in the spring.

Gaillardia

 

Abundant

By my way of looking at it, this is a pretty good growing year. After a long cold spring, most of the summer has brought great weather. Not too hot or humid, just warm, sunny, and pleasant, with cool nights —  a reminder of why in the days before air-conditioning, people would come north to New England for the summer. The soil is dry now, and a rainy day or two would be good, but still, I’ll take it! So many things have grown so well this season (and it’s not QUITE over!) that I wanted to share a few.

marigoldsOrange flowers and vegetables are everywhere this year!

AAS zinniaNumex peppersungoldMostly I like them, some, well, with so many great petunias to choose from, why would you plant this one:ugly petuniasBut on to other abundant things!

More raspberries (almost) than I could put up, in my home garden.

raspberriesA second cutting of hay in South County:

cutting hayHornet’s nests, big and beautiful in their own way:

hornets, larchhornet, rhodiesFlowers and fruit of all kinds.

bee balmblueberries

Did something grow really well for you this year? I’d love to hear about it!

May Time

There are very few blog entries for May in the archives. There is so much to do it makes my head spin, but the garden is positively enchanting at this time of year! Here’s a look at what is happening right now:

ericaceous garden

Azaleas and Rhododendrons blooming together.

Ruth May Azalea

‘Ruth May’ Azalea –interesting color…

Geisha azalea

‘Geisha’ Azalea, one of my favorites, just because.

Davidia involucrata

The flowers of the Dove Tree / Davidia involucrata.

Pieris

Bright red new growth on Pieris japonica ‘Mountain Fire’.

Calycanthus floridus

Woody flowers of Carolina Allspice / Calycanthus floridus.

May 22 2014 059

Cold-hardy banana (Musa basjoo) survived the winter!

opuntia

Also looking good after a very tough winter: Opuntia humifusa, the Eastern Prickly Pear, native to RI.

shady side

Shade garden…Solomon’s Seal and more coming up through a carpet of Sweet Woodruff / Galium odoratum.