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Late Bloomers and Falling Leaves: GBBD, October 2019

October 18, 2019

fallen leaves 2019In the month since I posted last, my part of Maine has had at least three mornings of below freezing temperatures and light frost. Cold-sensitive plants like morning glories, basil, and coleus have shriveled up and turned black. Garden paths are carpeted with fallen leaves from deciduous trees, and many perennial plants are also showing their progression into winter dormancy with brightly colored foliage.

fall foliage 2019

But just as early-blooming crocuses and daffodils are unfazed by spring snows, there are late bloomers in the garden who shrug off fall frosts. This is especially true of the asters and their relatives in the extended Asteraceae family. So, even as we move inexorably toward winter, I am still enjoying garden flowers.

In the entry garden, smooth blue aster (Symphyotrichum laeve) ‘Bluebird’ is blooming in the Blues Border, Bluebird with bees
alma potschke 2019
and the New England aster (Symphyotrichum novae-angliae) cultivar ‘Alma Potschke’ is flowering near the front porch.

On the Front Slope, seed-grown New England asters are blooming in various shades of pink, lavender and violet.

lavender seed-grown aster violet seed-grown aster

Some of the flowers blooming in the October garden have been blooming for many weeks.

Coreopsis lanceolata began flowering in late June, coreopsis lanceolata october
Herbstsonne october 2019 and Rudbeckia x ‘Herbstsonne’ in early August.

vernonia lettermanniiIn contrast, Vernonia lettermannii ‘Iron Butterfly’ has just begun to bloom. Along the side of the driveway, the fringy yellow flowers of our native witch hazel (Hamamelis virginiana) are also beginning to open.witch hazel flowers

Garden Bloggers’ Bloom Day is a monthly virtual gathering of garden bloggers hosted by Carol at May Dreams Gardens on the 15th of each month (although some of us habitually show up late). Visit her blog to see her own and others’ October blooms.

Aster Season: GBBD, September 2019

September 18, 2019

Ionactis linarifolia clumpI’m several days late with my Bloom Day post this month.

As we passed the Labor Day weekend, it seemed as though a weather switch was activated, bringing cool temperatures and an autumnal feel to my Maine garden. Blooms on the tall garden phlox (Phlox paniculata) that are the glory of the August garden are now fading, and members of the greater Asteraceae family have taken the stage. These include composite flowers like Coreopsis and Rudbeckia, but also flowers of Liatris and the many species of goldenrod (Solidago) that bloom around the edges of my garden.


Although the daylily (Hemerocallis) season is largely over, there are still a few last buds waiting to open on late varieties like ‘Richard’, ‘Chewonki,’ ‘Autumn Minaret’, ‘Final Touch’ and ‘Rosy Returns.’ I even have one daylily, the very late-blooming ‘Sandra Elizabeth’ that has not yet opened its first bud.

late daylilies

I still have three species of Monarda in bloom. The scarlet M. didyma is a favorite of hummingbirds preparing to migrate. Its flowers, along with those of M. fistulosa and M. punctata are also loved by native bees (not surprising given their common name of “beebalm”).

red Monarda Monarda punctata September

Sedums come into their own in September, and these have been a favorite nectar source for my amazing bumper crop of monarch butterflies. (I have seen six newly-emerged butterflies in my garden in the past four days, all but one from chrysalises that I never noticed until I found a butterfly hanging on the empty chrysalis case drying its wings.)

sedum autumn fire 2019 monarch on sedum

Ionactis linarifolia with phloxBut the stars of the September garden are the true asters. The first of these to bloom in my garden is the flax-leaved aster (Ionactis linarifolia). This is a native wildflower that grows happily in my property’s sandy soil, and I have transplanted  several into the front slope garden. This one has seeded itself into a clump of moss phlox (Phlox subulata). It will be interesting to see if these plants can peacefully coexist in shared space. I hope so, since the phlox blooms in spring and the aster in fall.

The flax-leaved aster has been followed by a number of other wild asters that grow around the edges of my garden and occasionally pop up as self-sown seedlings in flower beds.

heart-leaved aster 2019 white aster 2019

But my favorite aster is our native New England aster (Symphyotrichum novae-angliae), which has just begun to bloom this week. For several years now, I have been growing the popular nursery cultivar, ‘Alma Potschke’ in the porch border, but I am not a fan of its coral color (and I notice that the native bees also avoid it if they have other choices). I much prefer the purple-pink color range of the wild asters. This past year, I planted eight seed-grown New England asters on the front slope, and I am eager to see what variety of colors I will get in their flowers as they bloom for the first time this year.

Front Slope NE asters

Garden Bloggers’ Bloom Day is hosted on the 15th of each month by Carol at May Dreams Gardens. Visit her blog to see September blooms from other gardens.

The Magic of Metamorphosis

September 9, 2019

nectaring monarchOne of the things I love about gardening is that it connects me to the wonders and beauty of the natural world. This summer, I have had a front-row seat for one of nature’s magical processes, metamorphosis.

Metamorphosis is a process of development in which an organism takes on dramatically different forms over the course of its life. Metamorphosis is quite common in the insect world, where many types of insects undergo a four-stage process in which an egg (stage 1) is deposited by an adult; a larva (stage 2) hatches out from the egg; after a period of growth, the larva encloses itself in a pupa (stage 3), and eventually emerges as an adult (stage 4).

We can see this process in such insect groups as flies, beetles and bees, but we are most aware of it in butterflies and moths. Butterfly and moth eggs are deposited on host plants, and caterpillars (larval stage) that hatch from the eggs feed on these plants. Caterpillars go through a process of growth through successive instars, where they shed their old skin and grow a new larger one. When they reach the largest instar, they form a pupa (chrysalis or cocoon). Inside that chrysalis or cocoon, the molecules of the caterpillar are rearranged to form the adult winged butterfly or moth that emerges at the end of the pupal stage.

My front-row view of the process this summer was provided by monarch butterflies. Monarch populations have declined dramatically in recent decades, and just seeing one in my garden has become a rare treat. Last year, after not seeing any for at least six years, I saw two in my garden. At least one of these deposited eggs on milkweed plants, where I saw as many as five monarch caterpillars feeding. I was thrilled.

But that turned out to be the merest preview to this year’s monarch show. Although Monarch Watch has reported that monarch populations are down in the United States Northeast region this summer, that report does not match the observations of gardeners on the ground in Maine. Throughout the state, gardeners have been reporting larger numbers of monarchs than they have seen in many years, with abundant eggs, caterpillars, chrysalises and adult butterflies. I have seen as many as three dozen caterpillars feeding on a single morning, and I have seen more than two dozen chrysalises in my garden.

By the second half of July, I was seeing adult butterflies depositing eggs and caterpillars feeding on the butterfly weed (Asclepias tuberosa) in my front garden. In late July, a few days after I saw my first-ever jade-green monarch chrysalis in the butterfly house at the Coastal Maine Botanical Gardens, I spotted two hanging on low-growing foliage by my driveway.


fresh butterfly on butterfly weed butterfly weed caterpillars

In the weeks that followed, I got better at seeing the chrysalises hiding in plain sight on the foliage of plants. It got easier when monarch caterpillars feeding on the milkweed (Asclepias syriaca) by my back door began to pupate on the side of the house, leaving the house looking bejeweled.

pupating monarch house siding chrysalis

Since early August, I have seen a dozen and a half monarch butterflies emerge from their chrysalises, including four newborn butterflies yesterday and ten in the past eight days. And there are still six more chrysalises that I am watching. I never get tired of the wonderful process by which a fat striped caterpillar curls itself up and wraps itself in a case that seems too small to hold that much caterpillar and then transforms itself into a butterfly that unfurls from that same too-small case ten to fourteen days later.

Transparent chrysalisFor most of its life, the chrysalis is jade green. Then, a day or two before the butterfly will emerge, the chrysalis darkens, turning black and then becoming translucent so that you can see the butterfly wings folded up inside. When the butterfly emerges, it hangs onto the outside of the empty chrysalis case while it unfolds and dries its wings. Then it will open and close the wings to pump fluid into them and prepare to fly. Often, the new butterflies fly first to some nearby foliage where they continue to hang, alternately drying and pumping their wings. Eventually, they will flutter somewhat unsteadily off to more distant plants.

monarch emerging

The butterflies that emerged in my garden in the early weeks of August were short-lived insects focused on mating and depositing eggs. The ones emerging now, however, are the long-lived super-generation that will fly to Mexico, overwinter there, and then mate and lay eggs in the spring. Their offspring and their offspring’s offspring will make the trip north next year.

These butterflies are intent on finding nectar and ingesting calories to fuel their long migration. The flowers of fall sedum, with their nice big, flat “landing pad” blossoms are popular nectaring plants. I have also seen them nectaring on flowers of Liatris, Echinacea and Monarda. I’ve noticed, however, that the butterflies seem to disappear from my garden a day or two after they emerge. This may mean that there are not enough nectar sources for them and that they are flying off to better nectaring opportunities elsewhere in my neighborhood.

nectaring monarchs

I don’t know whether this year’s monarch abundance is a fluke or a sign of recovery for this species. I hope we will see a repeat performance next year. For now, I am enjoying the wonder and magic of metamorphosis.

Ten Years in Jean’s Garden

August 22, 2019

imageTen year’s ago today, I clicked “publish” and sent the first post of Jean’s Garden out into cyberspace. At the time, I had no idea how these ten years of garden blogging would enrich my life.

The first unexpected source of enrichment was the community of gardeners and garden bloggers that I was suddenly connected to. imageIn my early years of blogging, that experience of community was mediated by the now-defunct social media garden blogging site, Like most members of Blotanical, I signed up hoping to find readers for my blog. But the site was designed to encourage members to read one another’s blogs and engage in supportive interactions, and I jumped in with both feet. Blotanical connected me to an international network of knowledgeable gardeners and garden bloggers. A few of these I eventually met in person. There are others whom I have not actually met, but think of as old friends after years of reading and exchanging comments on one another’s blogs. Regular readers of my blog who are not themselves bloggers have also become part of my gardening community. For example, I now belong to a local garden club that I was recruited to by a friend whom I met through her comments on my blog.

bringing nature homeAs I interacted with other gardeners through blogging, I became a better, more knowledgeable gardener. Writing about my garden and gardening pushed me to become much more aware of what I was doing and why I was doing it. Garden blogs introduced me to ideas and debates in gardening that I hadn’t been aware of before and to books exploring those ideas. My garden reading shifted from garden narratives and essays to books on garden design to books of garden science. The book that influenced me most was Doug Tallamy’s Bringing Nature Home (Timber Press, 2007), which I reviewed in 2011. This book completely changed the way I thought about insects in my garden and introduced me to the case for growing native plants. It also pushed me in the direction of thinking about the garden as an ecological community in process rather than as a work of art.

The learning and thinking I was doing as a garden blogger further influenced the course of my life. As I did research and wrote about horticultural science, my confidence in my understanding and my desire to learn more grew. Without garden blogging, I doubt I ever would have used my time in retirement to become a Maine Master Gardener Volunteer or to earn my Certificate in Native Plants and Ecological Horticulture from the Coastal Maine Botanical Gardens (where one of the required courses for the certificate was taught by Doug Tallamy).

back garden entrance - JulyJust as I have been changing as a gardener in the course of these ten years, so has my garden been changing. When I began blogging, I had three small flower beds at the front of my house and was focusing on developing a garden around the deck at the back of the house. The third of these back garden flower beds, the Fence Border, was in the process of becoming as I published that first post, and the Serenity Garden was just a germ of an idea.

Morning on the patioI was also just beginning to think about putting an addition on the front of my house when I retired and using that addition as an opportunity to completely rethink the landscaping at the front of my house. Today, that addition is five years old, and most of the new front garden is in place. This area at the front of my house is now my primary focus in garden work and in garden enjoyment.

It’s not just the size of my garden that has changed. My garden today is less controlled and more exuberant. My design process is as much concerned with creating habitat for pollinators as with creating beauty, and my new garden areas are more likely to include native plants. I’m also much more committed to choosing “the right plant for the right place,” rather than trying to change my garden conditions to accommodate plants that will never really be comfortable there.

Ten year’s on, I’m looking forward to more learning, more gardening, and more garden blogging.

After the Peak: GBBD, August 2019

August 15, 2019

front slope mid-AugustIn mid-July, I was counting flower buds on daylily (Hemerocallis) plants and waiting eagerly for the daylily bloom to begin. A month later, the daylily bloom is past peak and I am more likely to be counting how few unopened buds are left. There are still many daylily varieties flowering, and even a few late bloomers who have not yet opened their first buds, but other varieties have now finished blooming.

Among the daylilies I am continuing to enjoy are the reds and oranges added last year when I planted the front slope.

Blue Blood mid-August SV Velvet mid-August Crown Fire

There are also yellow flowers like ‘Yellow Pinwheel’ and “Late Summer Breeze.’ ‘Late Summer Breeze’ has been hiding its flowers among the foliage of Amsonia tabernaemontana on the side slope, but its wonderful fragrance is not at all retiring.


Yellow Pinwheel 2019 Late summer Breeze hiding
The way that the delicate flowers of daylily ‘Autumn Minaret’ float high above the foliage on their thin stems always reminds me of butterflies. Autumn Minaret floating

Other plants come into their own in late summer. I have three species of Monarda in bloom. Of these, my favorite is Monarda punctata (spotted beebalm), a northeastern native that thrives in my dry, sandy soil. I love its pink bracts and the tiered flowers reminiscent of pineapple.

Monarda punctata clump Monarda punctata flowers

Liatris has just begun to bloom. Liatris spicata is blooming in both its violet and white varieties, with several more species to follow.

Liatris spicata violet Liatris spicata white

Another plant in the Asteraceae family that is going strong in the late summer garden is purple coneflower (Echinacea purpurea). And this is also the time of year when Rudbeckia ‘Herbstsonne’ lights up the back of the blue and yellow border.

echinacea mid-August Herbstsonne mid-August

August is the season of summer phlox (Phlox paniculata). ‘Blue Paradise’ has been blooming for weeks, as has this old-fashioned pink variety. ‘Robert Poore’ and ‘Miss Pepper’ have just opened their first flowers this week, and ‘Bright Eyes’ and ‘David’ will probably follow in the next few days.

August phlox

Our exceptionally rainy weather in May and June has been followed by dry weather in July and August, and the garden is looking a bit tired and drought-stressed. Under these conditions, I find it more rewarding to focus up close rather than on wide views.

The gentle pastels of early summer have given way to the stronger colors and contrasts of the late-summer garden, and I have been especially enjoying those contrasts. In the blue and yellow border, phlox ‘Blue Paradise’ contrasts with a native goldenrod, and the yellow flowers of daylily ‘His Pastures Green’ bloom against a backdrop of blue balloon flowers (Platycodon grandiflorus).

Blue paradise & goldenrod His Pastures & Platycodon

On the side slope, I’m enjoying the contrast between Liatris spicata ‘Floristan Violet’ and daylily ‘Olin Criswell.’ And in the front slope garden, I like the way the sprawling flowers of poppy mallows (Callirhoe involucrata) and Coreopsis lanceolata sprawl together.

Olin Criswell & Liatris Poppy mallows & coreopsis

Butterfly weed (Asclepias tuberosa) is another plant that is happy to grow in my dry, well-drained soil, and I love it’s bright orange flowers. There aren’t as many flowers as there might be because this plant has been doing its job of feeding monarch caterpillars, which are abundant in Maine this summer.

butterfly weed flowers butterfly weed caterpillars

house siding chrysalisI have never seen a monarch chrysalis in my garden before this year, but this is one of six now hanging from the siding on my house near a clump of common milkweed (Asclepias syriaca) that grows by my back door; and I counted more than a dozen caterpillars still feeding on those milkweed plants today. I wonder how many of these will also hang their jewel-like chrysalis on the side of the house?

And, with luck, new butterflies will soon emerge from those chrysalises.

nectaring monarch

Garden Bloggers’ Bloom Day is hosted on the 15th of each month by Carol at May Dreams Gardens. Visit her blog to see what’s blooming in other August gardens.

The Daylily Show

August 8, 2019

daylily season entrance gardenDaylilies have been putting on an amazing show in much of New England this summer. Our rainy weather in May and June seems to have provided Hemerocallis plants with just the right amount of extra moisture during a critical stage of their growth, and they responded with a profusion of flower buds.

I was especially thrilled that this has been such a great year for daylilies because I included more than fifty daylily plants, including at least thirty varieties new to my garden, in my big front slope planting last fall. Almost all of these bloomed the first year in my garden.

The daylilies peaked last week and are now starting to decline. I still have a few varieties that have not yet begun to bloom, but some of my early bloomers are now finished with their flowering. This seems like a good time to share the daylily show I have been enjoying. Because the array of daylilies blooming in my garden is dizzying, I have focused on those in the front garden.

We’ll start along the walkway that runs from the front house entrance to the patio (shown above). Here the daylilies grow in shades of pink and lavender. (If you hold the cursor over the image, you’ll see a list of the daylily varieties pictured.)

entrance garden daylilies

The side slope, which runs down the hillside from the walkway planting to the driveway, has a palette of soft peaches and yellows.

side slope daylilies

The sunny front slope is where I have indulged a love of hot colors. It is planted primarily in reds, oranges, strong yellows, purples and hot pinks. I’ve divided these daylilies into three groups, the first representing the left side of the slope, the second focusing on the center of the slope, and the third representing the right side of the slope.

front slope daylilies1

front slope daylilies2

front slope daylilies3

Finally, let me leave you with an image of how all those hot color daylilies combine with the other plants around them. I’m imagining how this will look in a year or two, when the plants grow into larger clumps, filling in the spaces between them. I’m looking forward to more big daylily shows in the years to come.

Front slope hot colors

Plants Behaving Badly: Aggressive vs. Invasive

July 28, 2019

tradescantia in bloomAs terrestrial invasive plants have become a more prominent issue, I’ve noticed that many gardeners are confused about what makes a plant “invasive.” Part of the confusion is that gardeners have long used the word “invasive” to refer to plants that behave badly in their gardens. Gardeners also call them “garden thugs,” these plants who don’t play well with others. Whether you invited them into your garden or they showed up uninvited, they quickly shouldered others aside and hogged more than their fair share of garden real estate. But this is not what scientists mean when they call a plant “invasive.” So, to help clear up the confusion lets refer to these plants that behave badly in the garden as aggressive.

Invasive refers to how a plant behaves when it escapes from your garden. To be defined as invasive, a plant has to meet three criteria:

  1. An invasive plant is a non-native plant. Native plants have coevolved with other species (plants, animals, insects, fungi) in our native ecosystems and have long-standing relationships of interdependence with those other species that provide a system of checks and balances. This means that, although a native plant like spiderwort (Tradescantia virginiana) may behave aggressively in the garden, self-sowing rampantly and spreading itself around where it is not wanted, it will not create a problem in the wild.
  2. An invasive plant has naturalized in the wild. This means that the plant is growing where no human being planted it and that the plants are reproducing on their own and spreading in wild places.
  3. A plant is invasive when the naturalized populations of the plant in the wild are causing harm. This usually means harm to native ecosystems because the plant is out-competing native plants for light, water, nutrients and space, creating ripple effects through all the species in the ecosystem that were dependent on the native plants that have been crowded out.

Some plants that behave badly in the wild also behave badly in your garden (they are both invasive and aggressive). A good example is goutweed or bishop’s weed (Aegopodium podagraria). But many plants that seem perfectly well behaved in your garden (not aggressive) create havoc in the wild when they escape from gardens. This is why it is so important to understand the difference between an aggressive plant and an invasive plant. I’ve often heard gardeners arguing that a plant is not invasive by saying, “I’ve had it in my garden for years and it has never spread,” or “If you just keep it pruned, you can keep it under control.” But these assertions focus on how the plant behaves in your garden, not on the chance that it will escape and behave badly in the wild.

Most documented invasive plants in Maine have escaped from ornamental plantings, usually through having their seeds dispersed far from the parent plant by wind or by animals. It’s not just coincidence that many of our most problematic invasive plants have bright berries that are attractive to birds. The birds eat the berries, the seeds are roughed up and prepared for germination as they pass through the bird’s digestive system, and the seeds are then pooped out far from the parent plant, enclosed in a nice little packet of fertilizer to give them a good start in life. The gardener growing the parent plant usually has no idea that the plant has escaped from their garden.shrub honeysuckle berries

There’s a good reason why states adopt lists of invasive plants; landscapers, homeowners, and gardeners are usually not good judges of how likely it is that a plant will escape from an ornamental planting and behave badly in the wild. (To see the Maine list of invasive plants, click here.)

Bottom line: Aggressive (how a plant behaves in your garden) and invasive (how a plant behaves when it escapes from gardens) are not the same thing, and we can’t predict the likelihood that a plant will escape from our gardens and behave badly in the wild from how it behaves in the garden.