Tag Archives: all-america selections

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 purpureaEchinacea 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.

 

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

 

Count Down: Plant Sale 2014

plant sale

The countdown is on to Saturday, May 10th!

Come see us at the East Farm Spring Festival! The URI Botanical Gardens will be selling Annuals, Garden-dug Perennials, and vegetable seedlings. All-America selections, heirloom varieties, and more. All proceeds benefit the Botanical Gardens!

Free parking, gardening demonstrations, vendors, food, children’s activities.

Saturday May 10th, 9 am to 2 pm

East Farm Spring Festival

plant sale

The Colors of Autumn

Under sunny skies or gray, colors of the garden seem at their fullest right now.

bi color dahliaMany thanks to Donna Lane and the Rhode Island Dahlia Society for their generous contribution of Dahlia tubers to the Botanical Gardens! After losing many tubers to decay in storage last year, I contacted them and they were kind enough to offer us a great selection. No, I still don’t know the variety names, but any reader who does is invited to let me know!

large red dahlia

tropical garden

red seed pod closeup

The tropical garden at the back of the All- America Selections Display Garden between the greenhouses became as colorful and lush as I had dreamed of. The large green leaves right in the middle are a cold-hardy banana plant, which will stay outside all winter (with some protective mulch and wrapping), and hopefully delight us in the spring by being alive and well.

goldenrod and physostegia

Goldenrod (Solidago spp.) and Physostegia are a great combination for fall. Goldenrod is underused as a perennial garden plant. I think it is unfairly associated with hay fever. The real villain is usually ragweed, which doesn’t have conspicuous flowers and thus evades suspicion!

cajun belle peppers

‘Cajun Belle’ and ‘Cayenetta’ are two peppers growing in the AAS Garden. Medium hot and very productive, they add to the Colors of Autumn at the Botanical Gardens.

Still July

turk's cap lily

Still July. Color and heat are the themes in the Garden. Lilies, inherited from the Biological Control Lab Lily Leaf Beetle program here at URI ( http://cels.uri.edu/pls/biocontrol/ ),  hold up really well in the heat.

large white lilypink lilies

Watering is crucial in some spots, but most of the Garden survives, even thrives, without extra watering. The dahlias donated by the Rhode Island Dahlia Society are taking off. They may be small this year but next year they will be incredible, I promise!

hole in sunny borderA large hole in the sunny border (“Let’s call it an alteration rather than destruction”–thanks, Louis) is the result of a frantic search for a dropped engagement ring. All’s well that ends well, I guess! In the Conservatory, the temps are warm and tropical, amazing flowers are blooming and papayas are slowly ripening.

Aechmea 'Silver Vase'Lotus seed pod

papaya

The pumpkin vines in the All – America Selections Garden are growing about a foot a day. Even the melons, which were dreadful last year, are looking good. A woodchuck has tunneled into the lower AAS Garden and eaten the ornamental kale. I am plotting my revenge.

yellow melonwatermelon on vineBlack-eyed Susans (Rudbeckia spp.) are everywhere, blooming almost a full month earlier than last year.

rudbeckia/black eyed susanblackeyed susans/rudbeckia

Back to the Garden!

empty greenhouseNow that the plant sale is over (and a great success), it’s time to return my attention to the Botanical Gardens. The plant sale is a lot of work, although it’s a lot of fun too, and it’s gratifying to see the greenhouse EMPTY! Many thanks to the students who helped me out the past two weekends.

I am really happy to be back outside in the Garden, even to pull weeds. The main garden, where the stage is, looks good. This part of the Garden is the area most often reserved for special events. The College of Nursing will be holding their Commencement ceremony here.  A retirement party for the Dean of Pharmacy, Joan Lausier (celebrating 50 years at URI!), will be held in the Garden in June. A few weddings are already scheduled, and of course garden tours are always going on.

peonyMay is a busy time for garden chores. There are peonies to stake, already flopping with last night’s heavy rain. Annuals are ready to be tucked into the perennial beds for extra color. Plants for the All-America Selections Display Gardens are getting impatient in the greenhouse and will be planted out this week ( hopefully!) Dahlias need to planted, Montauk Daisies cut back, and of course, the never ending task of weeding.

all-america  selections logoSpeaking of chores, our summer garden crew is all new. Welcome, Louis and Feather. And good bye to Mike (Bartlett Tree Service), Giles (Central Nurseries), and Emily (Tower Hill Botanic Garden). You will be missed! Ryan (Arnold Arboretum) and Kyle (adventure), hope to see you in the fall. Let Summer Begin!

lavender and roses in June

October Garden

white anemone flower

What’s left in the October garden? The weather has been so mild that many plants are still lingering in the slanted autumn light. Japanese Anemones look beautiful in the main garden. The white ones, ‘Honorine Jobert’ stand up proudly and make themselves seen. The pink ones, ‘Queen Charlotte’,  lie down as soon as they bloom, tangling themselves among the skeletons of the Sedums and Rudbeckias, tempting me to rip them out despite the beautiful pearly pink color and abundant flowers. Speaking of Sedums, they seemed to go by quickly in the wet grey week we had, along with my favorite aster, the bright ‘Alma Potschke’ in the main garden. The Actaea along the Kinney wall is still standing, the seed pods as eye-catching as the fuzzy white flowers.

actaea near stone wall

Annuals are still alive and well here on Kingston Hill, although the temperature really dropped the first week of October. Teri of Hidden Field Farm in Wakefield reported a killing frost the night of October 6, but we’ve been lucky. Or maybe not lucky — it feels a little like limbo. Do I pull out the tomatoes in the All-America Selections garden, which are still flowering and fruiting but look ugly and half dead? (I did.) What about the ‘Holy Mole’ peppers, and the Celosia ‘Fresh Look Gold’ ? (I left both –the peppers look healthy and productive, and the Celosia looks….interesting.) A hard frost is definitive, leaving no questions about what should be done.

zinnias

Other bright spots of color: the Calendula near the front of the Kathy Mallon Outreach Center, the Dahlias of course, the Callicarpa with stunning bright purple berries near the fire lane. The Nepeta in the main garden, an occasional Rudbeckia. And the Rose Garden is full of pink, red, white, and yellow roses…  A wedding there on October 9th caught a beautiful perfect blue sky day among the late roses.

roses

 The weather forecast is not for cold but for rain, which might spare the annuals but be the end of the perennial flowers. Of course it’s inevitable that they will all be gone soon, but what a gorgeous “Indian Summer” it’s been.

sedum autumn joy