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September’s Special Flowers: GBBD, September 2018

September 15, 2018

Liatris blooms SeptemberBy mid-September in Maine, fall is in the air and the garden is winding down. High summer’s riot of colorful blooms has been replaced by sparser flowering and plants with an overgrown, seedy look.

The stars of this late-season garden are the members of the family Asteraceae, all those late-blooming composite blooms with their characteristic combination of disc and ray flowers that are such an important food source for bees at this time of year.

The flowers for which this family is named, the asters, are just beginning to bloom in my garden. First up are the flowers of stiff flax-leafed aster (Ionactis linarifolia), a native wildflower volunteer that I have transplanted into the garden. Other species of aster will follow. Alas, these will not include the flowers of New England aster ‘Alma Potschke’, which have all been eaten by the resident woodchuck. first asters of fall

September solidagoThe asters have been preceded in bloom by their cousins, the goldenrods. I’m not sure which Solidago species, with golden inflorescences made up of tiny disc and ray flowers, is currently blooming along the dirt road at the front of my property. Much easier to identify is silverrod (Solidago bicolor), which seems to be flowering especially profusely this year.

silverrod 2018

Three different species of blazing stars (Liatris) provide a dramatic display in my side slope garden as they bloom in succession in late summer and early fall. Currently, the tall spikes of Liatris aspera are nearing the end of their bloom, while the flowers of Liatris novae-angliae have just begun.

Liatris aspera 2018 Liatris novae-angliae macro

Other members of  the Asteraceae family have been blooming in my garden for many weeks. These include purple coneflowers, rudbeckias,  and false sunflowers.

September composites

Not all my September blooms are part of this important botanical family. Sedums are also prominent at this time of year. ‘Matrona’ is blooming in the back garden, and ‘Autumn Joy’ and ‘Neon’ are blooming along the Lavender Walk in the front. Sedum matrona2018
autumn joy lavender walk Sedum neon 2018

There are many other flowers providing pleasure in the September garden.

balloon flowers september 2018 Balloon flowers (Platycodon grandiflora) continue to bloom,
and morning glories (Ipomoea tricolor ‘Heavenly Blue’) have just begun to open on the garden fence. morning glory on fence

Here and there, flowers of Phlox paniculata have escaped the attention of the woodchucks.

September phlox bright eyes September phlox blue paradise September phlox david
pinky winky september The flowers of Hydrangea paniculata ‘Pinky Winky’ are turning from white to red,
and an occasional rose bud opens. knock out rose bud

Garden Bloggers’ Bloom Day is a celebration of flowers hosted on the 15th of each month by Carol at May Dreams Gardens. Visit her blog for a taste of the wonderful variety of flowers blooming at this time of year in gardens around the world.


Learning About Native Bees

August 25, 2018

clip_image002This year, the Coastal Maine Botanical Gardens, where I am working on a certificate in Native Plants and Ecological Horticulture, added a new option for students, half-day mini-courses. I signed up for several of these, but I worried that, given their three-hour length, they might lack depth. I was wrong. My first course of this type earlier in the summer was on floral mimicry, the ways that flowers fool pollinators by mimicking something they are not and promising a reward that they don’t actually deliver. The instructor was Kyle Martin, a Ph.D. candidate in plant biology at Cornell; floral mimicry is the focus of his doctoral dissertation, and he was full of enthusiasm for all the scientific details. It’s amazing how much science a geeky instructor faced with a class of geekily enthusiastic students can cram into three hours!

This weekend, I drove out to the botanical gardens for a three-hour course on creating welcoming environments for pollinators, with a focus on native bees. Entomology (the study of insects) is the weak link in my horticultural knowledge, so I was hoping to learn a lot from this course. Once again, I was not disappointed. An introduction to the different families of bees provided a structure for understanding the overwhelming diversity of these insects (there are 270 different species of bees in Maine alone), and I’m embarrassed to admit that I did not know that bees go through the same four stages of metamorphosis (egg, larva, pupa, adult) as do butterflies. I was also surprised to learn that wild bees are much more efficient pollinators than European honey bees and that they are also under much greater environmental stress. Since the focus of the class was on reducing those stresses by creating welcoming habitat for native bees, we paid particular attention to where and how bees nest and lay their eggs as well as to the plants they forage on.

clip_image004The instructor for this course was Deb Perkins, a wildlife ecologist whose company, First Light Wildlife Habitats, works with landowners in New England to create and improve wildlife habitat. I was somewhat familiar with Deb’s work because she lives in my town (Poland, Maine) and had been hired by our local Conservation Commission, of which I am a member, to create a wildlife management plan for some of our conservation lands. I was delighted to meet her, to learn more about her and her work, and to discover that I could arrange an individual consultation about how to improve habitat on my own property. I also discovered that she writes an excellent blog about ecology, which I have added to my sidebar. I particularly recommend her posts The Wonder of Wild Bees and Give a Warm Welcome to Wild Bees.

Because there is only so much that even an excellent instructor can cram into a three-hour class, the resources Deb Perkins introduced us to were perhaps the most valuable aspect of the course. These include the wonderful photo gallery of the USGS Bee Inventory and Monitoring Lab, the Xerces Society, and Maine’s Eagle Hill Institute. I was particularly excited about the latter, which offers a dizzying array of weekend workshops and one-week natural history seminars at their coastal Maine location. There may be a week-long seminar on native bees or a weekend workshop on asters and goldenrods or on fall mushrooms in my future.

The Wildlife-Friendly Garden

July 31, 2018

patio border late JulyI garden in a clearing in the woods in rural Maine. I cultivate perennial gardens pretty intensively in the cleared area adjacent to the house and leave the forested areas around my house wild. This means that much of the wildlife that is at home in and around the forest also makes its way into my garden.

For the most part, I welcome wildlife into my garden. I garden organically (no pesticides or chemical fertilizers), I include many native plants that have co-evolved with native wildlife, and I am tolerant of some damage to plants. I was charmed one day recently to find a small toad hanging out in a blossom of daylily ‘Sarah Scally’ (right). Sarah Scally with toad

I’m thrilled that my garden is busy with pollinators all season long, from the first bees visiting the crocuses blooming through the snow in April to bumble bees snoozing on aster blossoms in October.

crocuses with pollinator alma potschke with bees

monarch caterpillar 2018They are accompanied in their pollinating rounds by flies and hummingbirds and hummingbird hawkmoths and butterflies. While I was working in the garden one day last week, I followed a glimpse of fluttering orange to find a monarch butterfly, the first one I have seen in my garden in at least five years, flitting from milkweed plant to milkweed plant, possibly choosing a place to lay eggs. This morning, I found a monarch caterpillar feeding on milkweed near the back door, a very welcome sight.

I am entertained by the sight and sounds of the birds that visit my garden. One day while I was working at my desk, I looked up to see a pair of robins busily eating the tiny jewel-like fruits from the little pin cherry (Prunus pensylvanica) tree that grows outside my study. Phoebes are a common sight in my garden, as they busily hunt insects. Especially in the morning and evenings, I relax on the porch to the flute-like songs of thrushes.

A number of mammals also visit my garden. In early summer, when the red maple (Acer rubrum) trees drop their abundant seeds, the chipmunks scurry around sucking them up like little vacuum cleaners. And I am always happy to see foxes in the garden, as they help to keep the rodent population under control.

woodchuck pruned violetsOf course, sometimes my wildlife-friendly garden is a little too friendly, attracting animals that I would prefer to keep at a distance. That has been particularly true this year, when I have been plagued by a woodchuck (or possibly two). The woodchuck is a large herbivorous rodent, a close relative of the marmot, and often called a “groundhog.” I became aware of the woodchuck’s presence several weeks ago. At first, it was mostly eating violets, and I hoped a good pruning at this point in the season might help rein in the exuberant violets. But then the animal moved on to eating my garden phlox and the New England asters in the porch border, and I suspected that it had dug a den under the porch. woodchuck pruned phloxAfter four or five woodchuck-free years, I had forgotten just how frustrating it can be to walk through the garden and find plants that were just beginning to bloom broken and stripped of flowers and foliage. Fortunately, woodchucks tend to have very particular tastes, and only a few plants have been eaten. However, any hope I had that the woodchuck was not making its home in my garden was erased this week when I discovered a large pile of soil beside an entrance to the woodchuck den in my side slope garden.

Just in case my adventure with the woodchuck wasn’t enough wildlife contact for me, my garden has also been visited by deer this summer. Usually the deer come through in the spring when they are very hungry and browse heavily on some favorite plants. But I don’t usually see any sign of them during the summer; deer dinneras long as I walk around the garden every day and leave my scent, they stay away. But one morning recently, I discovered this clump of leafless stems. This is what a hosta looks like after it has been turned into deer dinner. A few days later, the Serenity Garden at the edge of the woods was hit hard, with most of the foliage stripped from goatsbeard, bowman’s root, and viburnum, and other plants (including hosta and astrantia) eaten right down to the ground.

I have two theories about why deer and woodchucks are making themselves at home in my garden this year. First, the populations of both rodents and deer are up. This is most likely because our red oak trees (Quercus rubra) have “masted” two years in a row, meaning that they have produced an exceptionally large number of acorns. All the animals that use those acorns for food (including rodents and deer) have been more likely to survive the winter, creating population pressure on available habitat.

The second reason for more wildlife damage in my garden is loss of habitat. A new house is under construction on my dirt road, and the cutting of trees and excavation of soil has driven out animals that were living there. This includes the fox family that were using a den right beside the construction. They decamped as soon as the commotion began; and although I know they are still in the neighborhood because I occasionally hear them barking during the night, I haven’t seen a fox hunting on my property in many weeks. I believe it was the intimidating presence of the fox family that kept the woodchucks away for the past several years; now that the foxes are gone, the woodchucks feel free to move back in.

Although it is frustrating to walk around the garden in the morning and find damage to plants from these unwanted guests, this is the nature of gardening in my rural woodland setting. Unless I want to fence my garden against the woodchucks and the deer (I don’t), I need to understand that my wildlife-friendly garden will attract some wildlife I would prefer not to have in the garden along with the wildlife that makes gardening in this setting special.

The Mid-Summer Garden: GBBD, July 2018

July 16, 2018

entrance garden JulyThere are only three months of summer in Maine: June, July and August. (And some would probably dispute the first half of June, arguing that it is still spring.) So July really is the middle of summer, when the garden reaches its high summer peak. This year, we had a record-breaking heat wave (exceptional for its length, the high temperatures achieved, and dew points that are almost unheard of here) as June turned into July, and blooms accelerated, with some plants blooming weeks ahead of their normal schedule. Suddenly, the garden has that lush, slightly blowsy look characteristic of high summer.

I’m thrilled with the way my new entrance garden, begun just three years ago, has filled in. Two varieties of spirea blooming by the walkway make a big statement at this time of year, and they are accompanied by hardy geraniums, heuchera, tradescantia, astilbe, and daylilies.

spirea with geranium and daylilies

Daylilies form the heart of the mid-summer display in my garden. In mid-July, the daylily bloom is just about to peak. Slightly more than half the varieties I grow are now blooming, and some of the early varieties will be finished soon.  The common orange daylily, Hemerocallis fulva, whose roadside flowers are a sign of summer in New England, will soon finish blooming. Another species daylily, Hemerocallis citrina, which forms large clumps of wonderfully fragrant pale yellow flowers, will last a bit longer.

H. fulva flowers H. citrina side slope
Happily, many of my early-blooming daylilies are re-bloomers and will continue to make flowers for many weeks (or even months). These include the lovely ‘Lily Munster’. I’m not usually a fan of daylilies with droopy petals; but this one, which can be covered with masses of flowers from July to September, stole my heart. Lily Munster flowers

Alna Pride flowerMany of my favorite daylilies are from the Maine daylily breeding program of Joseph (father) and Nick (son) Barth. One of the first Barth daylilies I acquired, and still a favorite, is ‘Alna Pride’. In addition to being strikingly handsome, this daylily, like many of the Barth offerings, is fragrant. ‘Alna Pride’ is named for the town of Alna, Maine. Other Maine places are honored in the names of ‘Sheepscot Valley Sunset’ and ‘Southport Delight.’ But most of the Barth daylilies seem to be named for Barth family members and friends, and I sometimes feel as though I have the whole extended Barth clan in my garden.

Barth daylilies

lavender hidcote blooming Daylilies aren’t the only flowers in my garden. Along the Lavender Walk, the lavender is in glorious bloom, accompanied by flowers of the groundcover sedum ‘John Creech’ and the first flowers of Echinacea purpurea ‘Magnus.’
john creech blooming echinacea magnus blooming

But the daylilies really are the stars of the July garden – so I leave you with more of my daylily blooms.

July daylilies-001

Garden Bloggers’ Bloom Day is a wonderful community celebration of  flowers, created by Carol at May Dreams Gardens and hosted by her on the 15th of each month. Visit her blog to see the bounty of July blooms from gardens far and wide.

Blues and Pinks in the Early Summer Garden: GBBD, June 2018

June 17, 2018

blues & pinksI’m a couple of days late with this bloom day post; with so much happening in the garden, I’m finding it hard to find the time to write about what’s happening in the garden. In the month since I  documented new growth and blooming spring wildflowers, the garden has exploded in a profusion of early summer blooms. Most of these are in shades of blue and pink.

The Blue and Yellow Border is in its blue period, with colors ranging from the intense blues of Tradescantia virginiana ‘Zwanenburg Blue’ to the barest hint of blue in the flowers of Amsonia tabernaemontana. B&Y blue period
zwanenburg blue 2018 barely blue amsonia

siberian iris bluesThe showiest blue flowers in my garden at this time of year are the Siberian irises (Iris sibirica). I originally planted two unidentified varieties that were pass-along plants from a friend and then added several named cultivars obtained from nurseries. Over the years, these irises have been divided and re-divided, and they have also self-sown with abandon. The irises showing off their beauty on the Back Slope at this time of year are mostly self-sown, and their colors display a range of genetic diversity from deep blues to paler lavenders.

At first glance, the Side Slope also seems to be a study in blues, but a closer look reveals a number of accompanying pink plants, like ninebark ‘Donna May’, rose ‘Therese Bugnet’,  and Geranium x cantabrigiense ‘Biokovo.’ side slope blues & pinks
ninebark blooms
therese bugnet pink biokovo pinks

porch and patio pinksPink is the dominant color in perennial borders that flank the walkway to the patio. Peony ‘Mons. Jules Elie’ has just begun to bloom above a frothy border of ‘Biokovo’ flowers. Across the walkway, the clear pink flowers of Geranium x oxonianum alternate with the deeper pink hues of Tradescantia virginiana ‘Pink Chablis’ and the flowering spikes of heuchera ‘Raspberry Regal.’

pink tradescantia pink oxonianum
pink peonies
At this time of year, the Fragrant Garden at the front of the house is a study in pink and white, with blooms of dianthus, peonies, mock orange, roses, and geranium ‘Biokovo. I am particularly enchanted by this soft pink flower on the rose ‘Quietness.’ quietness flower

The pleasure found in my morning walk through the garden increases every day at this time of year. It’s a wonderful season to be a gardener.

Garden Bloggers’ Bloom Day is hosted this month and every month by Carol at May Dreams Gardens. Visit her blog to see beautiful blooms from gardens near and far.

Groundcover With Fringe Benefits

May 31, 2018

strawberry groundcoverWhen I was designing and planting the side slope that runs from my house’s front entrance down to the driveway, I had just read Rainer and West’s Planting in a Post-Wild World (see Favorite Garden Books: Planting in a Post-Wild World), and I decided to implement their idea of planting a groundcover layer under the “design layers” of perennials and shrubs. Buying enough plants or landscape plugs to establish a groundcover can be expensive, so I looked around my property for likely candidates that could be transplanted. When I did, the wild strawberries (Fragaria virginiana) that grow everywhere in my poor sandy soil, called “Look at me; look at me!”

The strawberries had a lot to recommend them in addition to being free. They have shallow roots that won’t compete with the deeper roots of most garden perennials, and they send out runners that root themselves in uninhabited patches of soil between other plants. In addition, they have charming white flowers in May and delicious (albeit tiny) red berries in June. I popped strawberry plants out of the ground from places they would not be missed (like the gravel outside the entrance to my basement), tucked them into spaces between plants on the side slope, and waited to see what would happen.

strawberry leavesSome plants that flourish in poor soil will do poorly if transplanted into rich garden soil, but that is not the case with these strawberries. In their second year growing on the side slope, the little transplants have grown into big clumps with much larger leaves than they had growing in the wild, and they have sent out many daughter plants. They are doing admirably the job for which they were recruited – covering ground and suppressing weeds. As an added bonus, this year they are also sporting masses of strawberry blossoms. I’m curious to see whether the berries, like the leaves, will be larger on plants growing in richer soil. Whatever their size, I’m looking forward to a bumper crop of delicious strawberries in the coming weeks.

side slope strawberry flowers

Spring in Maine: GBBD, May 2018

May 16, 2018

new spring growth2018Less than three weeks after the last of the snow melted from my garden, things are happening fast. This is the nature of spring in Maine: long weeks of impatient anticipation followed by an explosion of new growth. Deciduous trees have bloomed and made new leaves, and the hillside by the driveway that was covered with crocus flowers two weeks ago now features new foliage of shrubs and herbaceous perennials.

Not many perennials are in bloom yet. Exceptions are the hellebores and the bleeding hearts (Lamprocapnos spectabilis ‘Gold Heart’) in the Serenity Garden.

hellebores 2018 goldheart flowers

Most of my blooms at this time of year come from wild volunteers, like this young pin cherry tree (Prunus pensylvanica) flowering outside my study window.

flowering pin cherry 2018 pin cherry flowers 2018
viola blanda I am happy to have sweet white violets (Viola blanda) seed themselves around in the entry garden, where I can enjoy their lovely flowers each spring. Here and there, some common blue violets (Viola sororia) have also appeared.
viola blanda flower viola sororia


Bluets (Houstonia caerulea) form carpets of flowers in spring. Another carpeting groundcover, moss phlox (Phlox subulata) has just begun to open its first flowers. bluets 2018
strawberry flower & buds Wild strawberries (Fragaria virginiana), which I am encouraging as groundcover in many parts of the garden, have also just begun to flower, and their numerous buds provide a promise of delicious berries in the weeks to come.

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 gardens this May.