My ideal garden is a cross between a Victorian family farm and Ninfa. What I usually end up with is a cross between an unkempt laboratory and a set for the Planet of the Apes. “Right plant, right place” and “Nature bats last” are my primary principles, both inferring tolerance for a high degree of informality. Last Spring, I was stymied by a visitor who described the garden as “kind of municipal.” Was it the zinnias? Another friend called it “a good place to take a nap.” Whatever the garden is, this was it’s most floriferous year and I have the birds and bugs to prove it.
The mailbox bed is home to wild bergamot (Monarda fistulosa), Echinacea purpurea, Shasta daisies, maiden grass, three Sedum, Euphorbia and Yucca nearly blooming. The six-year-old snowball bush on the left, Viburnum opulus ‘Sterile,’ bloomed profusely, dozens of white softballs, for 10 days in mid-April. My neighbor likes it too. The white-flowered mullein in front, Verbascum thapsus ‘Governor George Aiken,’ is one of three seedlings planted three years ago–this is generally a biennial species. It didn’t bloom last year but is off to an impressive start now. The other two sent up nine-foot velvety spikes of creamy, nickel-sized flowers in early June. The street gets hot; whites, pastels are cooling.
The yucca plant is exclusively pollinated by the yucca moth. The caterpillars of the yucca moth can only survive on the seeds of the yucca plant. These organisms co-evolved, a perfect example of mutualism.
Creek bed, back to front: two-year cutting from a wild elderberry (Sambucus canadensis), taken from the Burroughs Creek Trail under (rare now) snow in early January; the ultra-thorny, white-flowered ‘Darlow’s Enigma’ rose, just after first prolific flush of blooms–not convinced it repeats; and dark-leaved ninebark, Physocarpus opulifolius ‘Seward,’ starting it’s third year at three feet tall, so far.
Front walk: The pseudo-shrubbery, with shaggy boxwoods and yews, hostas, Solomon’s Seal, Arum italicum Marmoratum, a dwarf red barberry (Berberis thunbergii ‘Concorde‘), and Virginia sweetspire, Itea virginica ‘Little Henry,’ in full, fragrant bloom.
Big pond: Back patio, facing north.
Big pond: Facing west from the top step to the back porch.
Past the pond and into the back garden. On the left, someday, sturdy raised beds; now, wheelbarrows, old boards, plastic pots… anything suitable. A new bean trellis is in progress–see the 4×4 in the center of the picture.
Looking to the southwest on the main path. Prairie dropseed, Sporobolus heterolepis, in the urn and below. Mexican evening primrose, Oenothera speciosa var. berlandieri, a thug in pink, in the foreground. The clump of pots on the left side contain a young Meyer lemon tree; three blue cultivars of Agapanthus; cuttings of Sedum spectabile ‘Blade Runner’ in the smaller pots; all under-planted with ‘Red Sails’ lettuce, orange pot marigolds (Calendula officinalis), and low-growing Zinnia ‘Profusion Apricot’ for the butterflies.
Urn bed: Looking north. Variegated upright basil ‘Pesto Perpetuo,’ Greek oregano, thyme, sweet william, red miniature roses, wild violet, purple coneflowers. The large, spherical seed clusters on the right are Allium christophii, about two feet tall and fading after silver-lilac bloom. The starry green shoots on the way up, bottom center, are ‘White Diamond’ lilies, ultimately four feet tall and highly fragrant. A rogue woodland tobacco, Nicotiana sylvestris, holds it’s ground, bottom right.
The garage bed. Looking east. The seven-foot trellis will follow the line of the old 4x4s on the ground, ending next to that lucky peony that never blooms, center. Purple pole beans, Poona Keera and National cucumbers, bitter melon and Thunbergia alata will be the inaugural climbers. Lettuce and tomatoes in the cage on the right, soon joined by eggplants and basil, all grateful to be shaded from our merciless summer sun by the deep red ‘Carmencita’ castor beans coming up at the posts.
A photo of ‘Carmencita’ castor bean, Ricinus communis, behind the banana on the right, taken two years ago. That one was about nine feet, with a heavy crop of bright red seedpods. The Ricinus clan–generally tall, dramatic and toxic–are very useful as shade for other plants, the degree of shade adjustable by pruning. It ignores intense heat, humidity and drought, though it does love regular water. Of tropical origins, Ricinus have strongly reseeded in my Zone 6 garden for the past five years.
Garage bed, facing north.
There are four flowering Jalapeno pepper plants spaced among the red Ultra Star petunias in the big pot on the left. That gaudy petunia was the first plant I grew successfully as a child. I haven’t grown it since, more than 50 years ago, and I’m very glad to have it again. Snow peas are on the trellis to the left, arugula and dwarf blue cornflowers below. Self-seeded tomato and castor bean on the other trellis, purple-podded pole bean seeds in the ground below.
The tubular red flower on the right side is the firecracker flower, Dichelostemma ida-maia, a hardy bulb native to California and Oregon, averaging two feet tall. Behind it, the spire with yellow flowers is the moth mullein, biennial Verbascum blattaria, a potentially pernicious weed in some areas. It rarely shows up here so I welcome it’s company. The strappy daylily to the left is ‘Steeple Jackie,’ bright yellow blooms on six-foot scapes.
Monty was four or five months old when he came here four months ago. He’s adjusting well.
A major component of my rabbit defense program is the making of many dozens of chicken-wire cages. These protect lavender and hyssop seedlings, immediately devoured in the open last year. The bricks protect a variegated ‘Fish’ pepper from digging squirrels.
Another prison pot containing, appropriately, Eryngium leavenworthii, and, in front, a seedling of red-flowered Petunia exserta, nearly extinct in the wild. The pot is flanked by ‘Spicy Bush’ basil, with ‘Chicago Apache’ daylilies and ‘Wyoming’ canna behind. The cage in the background contains ‘Scheherazade’ Orienpet lilies, ‘Danish Flag’ poppies and ‘Tennessee Cheese’ sweet peppers.
Hosta ‘Daybreak,’ ‘Isla Gold’ tansy, lemon balm and plume poppies, Macleaya cordata, jostle with wild knotweed, Polygonum virginianum. The pots on the stump contain golden creeping jenny, Lysimachia nummularia ‘Aurea,’ and ‘Empress Wu’ and ‘Guacamole’ hosta.
Left front, our native bee balm, Monarda fistulosa, delights the honeybees and makes a fine tea for humans. This bed also contains Sedum spectabile ‘Autumn Joy’–another excellent bug plant, blooming in autumn; dark red daylilies; Miscanthus grass; rue; true blue-flowered viper’s bugloss (Echium vulgare, another good bee plant); lemon balm; catnip; and three plants of purple-tinged, spiky, seven-foot-tall ‘Malevolence‘ (Solanum atropurpureum).
The same bed from the north side. The cages on the dinosaur kale were no protection from cabbage moths, now just a line of leafless stems. The pots contain ‘Winter Sunset,’ a Griffith Buck rose with apricot blooms; a three-foot bay tree in training; scented Pelargoniums and tarragon.
More depredation. Last year, rabbits chewed this newly planted Clematis jackmannii to the ground within an hour of planting. In a fit of cat-inspired optimism, I removed the cage two days ago and noticed today that the vine, four feet tall with six fat buds, was wilting. Here’s why. I’ll have a talk with Monty this evening.
I like everything about elderberries: the form, the foliage, the flowers, the vanilla fragrance and, of course, the delicious, health-giving fruit. Last year I made a tasty elderberry liquer. The salad bowl on the stump to the right contains ‘Red Sails’ lettuce and a lone kale seedling. I had great germination from ‘Red Sails’ this year–you may have noticed it all over the garden. A good-looking, nutritious eating lettuce, it also makes a fine ornamental. Most of the plants in the ground will be left to bloom for seed. In the center, the tall yellow flowers are new blooms of Thermopsis villosa, the Carolina bush pea.
Flower cymes of Elderberry, Sambucus canadensis.
The main path with a checkerboard of escarole and red lettuce; peonies; feathery gray wormwood (Artemisia ‘Powis Castle’); Calamintha nepetoides aka Nepitella, another good honeybee and tea plant; Rattlesnake Master, Eryngium yuccifolium; lilies and ‘Hyperion’ daylilies.
Blue-flowered Phacelia tanacetifolia, Bee’s Friend, in the foreground. Why so many bee plants? First off, bees are extremely important to plant life–everyone should have bee plants in their gardens. Secondly, the aged, hollowed Catalpa tree in the background contains a huge hive of native bees.
The main entrance to the hive is the hole on the left side of the crotch.
Apparently, all the bees buzzing around the entrance confused the camera’s auto-focus. This was the sharpest of over 30 photos; you can glimpse the honeycomb inside. This hive swarmed in April, half the group taking up temporary residence in the mulberry tree in back. A bee-keeping neighbor came over and captured the swarm, involving a bee suit, a 20-foot ladder and a pole saw. And, in a moment of serendipity, the following day another neighbor came over with a homemade gift…
… a top-bar hive. A top-bar hive differs from the standard hive, or Langstroth hive, in that it contains no pre-made frames for the honeycombs. The combs simply hang from bars of wood, ostensibly making for lighter work and easier harvests for the beekeeper.
I have much to learn on this fascinating new project. Bees are exacting in their requirements.
The hive sits under a wild cherry tree, with good morning sun. Seems like the perfect spot, so far.
Overall, May 2017 has been good to the garden, with more rain coming tonight. Through an ever-escalating series of defenses, the three-year rabbit plague has mostly abated. I’m growing lettuce in open ground. A pleasant half-hour at dusk yielded salad greens and enough mulberries for a pint of jam and a couple of pancake breakfasts. I take care of the plants, the plants feed me, I feed the mosquitoes… Everything in balance.
Seed-swapping is one of the great traditions of gardening and gardeners are generous souls. I’m very pleased to be growing plants from seeds obtained from gardeners around the country–specifically Nancy Ondra at Hayefield, Alicia Maynard at Sweetbay and Rob Broekhuis at Rob’s Plants. They have introduced me to many fine garden plants–several now indispensable. Here are some that did well in my northeastern Kansas garden in 2014.
– Verbascum thapsus ‘Governor George Aiken’ (Click title for photo at Hayefield.)
I had long heard tales of a white-flowering Mullein, Verbascum thapsus, and came across a picture of V. ‘Governor George Akin’ on the Hayefield blog in 2013. As luck would have it, Nancy was giving away seeds of that same Verbascum, and even more luck produced nine healthy plants set out last Fall. I’m hoping for five-foot spires of snow-white flowers from June through September but V. thapsus is tricky in the garden. These are not plants to be coddled. They grow in profusion in sun-blasted, bone-dry rubble along train tracks and riverbanks, but too much shade and water in the garden and they soon rot away. I planted them in sun-scorched earth but Kansas winters are wet and mucky, so fingers crossed for the Governors.
– One Plant, Three Seasons: Amsonia hubrichtii (Click title for article and photos.)
“Here in southeastern Pennsylvania, Arkansas bluestar comes into bloom in the first or second week of May and continues into the first or second week of June. Its light blue color looks great with white, silvery, and pastel partners. …After the bloom period, the key summer features of Arkansas bluestar are its rich green color, its fine texture, and its dense, mounded habit. …Toward the end of the growing season, Arkansas bluestar really takes center stage.” – Nancy Ondra, Hayefield.
A Winter-sowing of Amsonia hubrichtii yielded 13 plants, nine making it through to wispy, foot-tall youngsters in gallon pots, now buried and mulched to overwinter. Amsonia seed need cold to germinate, barely covered and pressed into the soil. Sow seeds in pots no later than early January (I sow in Autumn), put them outside, and start looking for seedlings as weather warms up at the end of March. My two-year-olds should make airy 3′ x 3′ mounds in three years, with pale blue, star-like flowers in May and brilliant yellow foliage color in Autumn. The young plants hinted at their forthcoming glory last Fall, bright yellow threads in the dying grasses. I’ll follow Ondra’s lead and inter-plant my patch of Amsonia with blue asters. You can’t go wrong with yellow and blue.
– One Plant, Three Seasons: Patrinia scabiosifolia (Click title for article and photos.)
“Is it possible for any gardener to have just one favorite plant? For most of us, I imagine, it’s tough to get closer than a top 5 or top 10. But if you asked me that question at this time of year and insisted on one top pick, I wouldn’t hesitate to choose Patrinia scabiosifolia (or scabiosaefolia, as some sources prefer to list it).” – Nancy Ondra, Hayefield.
I now have seven plants of Hayefield’s Patrinia, four of which bloomed last year. The tallest reached seven feet before toppling in a storm. The flat-topped clusters of small, chrome-yellow flowers looked great against vines of white morning glory and orange black-eyed susan, and the foliage turned bright red in October. Like the chartreuse bracts of the Euphorbia clan, Patrinia‘s bright flowers complement most color schemes. A good see-through plant–I have several at the front of a border so passers-by can observe the great variety of insects swarming the flowers. So far in this garden, Patrinia rivals Sedum x ‘Autumn Joy’–now Hylotelephium telephium ‘Autumn Joy’–as a bug attractor.
Patrinia transplants best in early Spring, just as the leaves emerge, and goes into a deep sulk otherwise. I agree with Nancy Ondra: this is a Top 10 plant.
– Sanguisorba tenuifolia var purpurea, Japanese Burnet (Click title for picture at Hayefield.)
“Sanguisorbas are the height of fashion right now, and deservedly so, for they provide flowing movement and have an elegant willowy presence. They have finely toothed pinnate foliage, above which long-lasting flowers hold themselves high on wiry stems. They associate brilliantly with equally tall, airy grasses, spired and whorled veronicastrums, and taller daisies.” – Telegraph
I planted four young Sanguisorba tenuifolia purpurea, Japanese burnet, among Miscanthus, Gaura, Nepeta and white Verbascum last Autumn, germinated from a Winter sowing in early January 2014. Might be too hot and dry for them in Summer, though extra mulch and water will help. I’m hoping they’ll be as tough as Hayefield’s Patrinia.
– Fields of Gold: Bidens aristosa (Click title to link article at Sweetbay.)
“April/May and September are peak months in my garden. In September the big star is Bidens but there are other things in bloom too. All of that golden yellow needs some contrasts.” – Alicia Maynard
Three years ago, Alicia Maynard of Sweetbay sent me seeds of Bidens aristosa after I expressed admiration for her spectacular Bidens borders. I now have plenty of Bidens and the September garden shimmers. Almost too much of a good thing; Bidens self-seeds easily and several species are considered invasive. In garden beds, it takes diligent weeding to keep in check but three-inch seedings pull up easily and transplant fairly well. Bidens is a great asset to the Fall garden, masses of mustard-yellow flowers, and an end-of-the-season boon for insects. I did some research on Bidens in a previous post: Three Bidens: aurea, aristosa, coronata.
– Eryngium yuccifolium, Rattlesnake Master (Click title to link article at Rob’s Plants.)
“Scattered along the stiff, upright stem of this unusual perennial are tough, blue-green, yucca-like, parallel-veined leaves. Smooth, rigid stem bearing thistle-like flower heads made up of small greenish-white florets mingled with pointed bracts. The individual, greenish-white flowers cluster into unique, globular heads. These occur on branch ends atop the 6 ft. plant.” – Native Plant Database
Seed for Rattlesnake Master–Native Americans reputedly used it as a snakebite antidote–came from Rob Broekhuis of Rob’s Plants four years ago. I now have a 5′ x 4′ clump of three plants that bloom reliably in late July–insects love the branching scapes of spiny, spherical flowers. A member of the Carrot family, it does indeed resemble a fleshy Yucca with barbed, glaucous leaves–a somewhat modest plant after flowering when it tends to flop and flatten smaller neighbors. Plant something substantial around Eryngium yuccifolium or use twiggy branches for support. Good mingling with roses.
– Calamintha nepeta subsp. nepeta, Lesser Calamint (Click title to link article at Rob’s Plants.)
“The LESSER CALAMINT (Calamintha nepeta) is a variety of the herb possessing almost superior virtues, with a stronger odour, resembling that of Pennyroyal, and a moderately pungent taste somewhat like Spearmint, but warmer. It is scarcely distinct from C. officinalis, and by some botanists is considered a sub-species. The leaves are more strongly toothed, and it bears its flowers on longer stalks. Both this and the Common Calamint seem to have been used indifferently in the old practice of medicine under the name of Calamint.” – Botanical/A Modern Herbal
Rob sent seed of the species Calamintha nepeta subsp. nepeta three years ago and Calamint is now an indispensable plant in the garden–over two dozen plants to date. Fragrance, flowers, butterflies and bees, tough and compact, great filler, makes good tea… A beautiful, useful, care-free plant. Mine get to about 18 inches tall and wide, a bit sprawly but smaller and bushier if cut back by half in May. The cultivars ‘Blue Cloud’ and ‘White Cloud’ are tidier.
Drought-tolerant Calamint prefers full sun in its Mediterranean home but in Kansas requires little water when mulched and grown in some afternoon shade. If it wilts, water quickly, nip off withered stems and all will be well. It seems to like my barely amended clay soil and starts blooming here in early July, tiny bluish-white flowers borne in thousands, a low haze in the border. Calamint propagates easily through division and cuttings, and regularly self-sows–it is a mint, after all. If you don’t want volunteers, shear the plants immediately after flowering.
It was a normal season for this Kansas garden: nipped by late freezes, flooded through June, parched by summer drought, contorted by wind, blistered by the prairie sun, devoured by insects (mainly flea beetles and grasshoppers), set back by 60-degree nights in August, wilted by Verticillium, flattened by storms and now mauled by nut-caching squirrels. And it looks like we’re in for a hard Winter.
If the only food plant I could grow was okra, I would be fine with that. Easy, tough and delicious. A thick patch of Clemson Spineless planted in a rubber stock trough was standing in rainwater for 10 days in July, despite daily bailing. I didn’t punch holes in the tank when I planted because it stands 40 inches high and holds 150 gallons. It seemed a shame to damage such a useful object. Okra’s spreading roots go down about eight inches, leaving nearly three feet of soil below. I threw in a deep layer of gravel for bottom drainage and figured only a monsoon could fill that tank. Wrong again, and hard evidence to support my theory that there’s a strong whiff of masochism in gardening–the way I do it, anyway. The okra pulled through despite inundation and I enjoyed excellent succotash for a month or so. Next year I’m growing rice in that tank.
Greens do well here in Spring and Fall and unusually cool weather in June and July prolonged the first season. Southern Giant mustard, a heat-tough Lollo Rossa lettuce, and a third-year selection of an exceptionally crunchy and unknown strain of Oak Leaf lettuce finally bolted in early August (bitter about three weeks before), but I’m still picking arugula and it carries quite a sting. The arugula planted at the end of September will be sweeter in cool weather. Nasturtiums are roaring back as the temperatures drop. Every part of that plant is good to eat. The leaves and flowers are succulent and peppery (orange flowers best), the stems add crunch in stir-fries, and the large, green seeds are pickled and marketed as capotes, giant salad capers.
I planted three dozen robust starts of Siberian kale in March–half in part-shade, to see if that might help them to cope better with summer heat–and the rabbits really enjoyed them. And still I refuse to fence my greens.* Masochism.
In July, I watched vigorous, four-foot-high, fruiting tomato plants succumb to Verticillium wilt–-a common fungal problem in northeast Kansas gardens. Conditions were perfect for Verticillium to flourish in early Summer: prolonged cool–moderate temperatures and wet soil. Verticillium affects most of the Solanaceae–tomatoes, potatoes, eggplants, peppers–but the peppers growing next to the afflicted tomatoes stayed healthy and productive. Why? The peppers were F-1 hybrids (Red Knight), bred and crossed to resist a variety of diseases and insect predators; the tomatoes were open-pollinated heirlooms, much less resistant. To my palate, heirloom tomatoes have an obvious flavor advantage over most hybrids (though “JetStar” is good eating). Growing heirlooms next year will require more raised beds or more containers, affording a fair measure of control over soil conditions. To grow tomatoes in-ground next year, I’m restricted to hybrids. Well, there’s always “Sungold.”
Flowers did better than food this year and there were many floral “firsts.” Winter-sown Patrinia scabiosifolia from Nancy Ondra at Hayefield yielded a dozen healthy seedlings. Now there are five, thanks to the litany of environmental grievances listed above, but The Five look healthy and strong: deep-green rosettes of ovate leaves in full Kansas sun thriving on low-to-moderate water. Tough plants. Next year, fingers crossed, they will send up scapes three to six feet tall with panicles of bright yellow, hermaphrodite flowers that hum with all sorts of insects.
Rob Broekhuis of Rob’s Plants supplied seed of Balloonflower, Platycodon grandiflorus “Sentimental Blue,” which also yielded about a dozen sturdy plants. The rabbits enjoyed them as much as the kale. They also liked the Talinum paniculatum “Kingswood Gold,” the dainty, chartreuse-leaved Jewels of Opar. One plant of each remains, relatively safe in pots, and both are blooming now, stock for next year–if they make through Winter. The Balloonflower blossoms are stunted on my straggling specimen, barely two inches across, of a clear French blue. Opar’s blossoms are tinier still, a half-inch of single pink petals with a boss of bright yellow stamens and minuscule orange fruits.
Last year I read up on annuals popular in the Victorian era. This year I grew Polygonum (Persicaria?) orientale, Kiss-Me-Over-The-Garden-Gate. The knotweeds–Polygonums/Persicarias/Fallopias; whatever they are called today—generally do well here, often too well. A flamboyant patch of escapee Polygonum/Persicaria bistorta, has taken over a wet ditch by the North Lawrence pumping station, and the tough but delicate-looking Virginia knotweed, Persicaria virginiana, long ago made itself completely at home in the Burroughs garden.
Of the eight seedlings of Kiss-Me-Over-The-Garden-Gate set out in Spring, only two survived, contorted by wind and storms. The weakest went to seed at a mere two feet; the survivor is five feet tall by three feet wide and the flower bracts have maintained their hot pink color for two months. Polygonum reseeds easily and I’m hoping for sturdier offspring next year, as in the photo above.
Three more annuals, all new to this garden in 2013, did very well in spite of difficult conditions: Bidens aristosa, Tickseed; Leonotis nepetifolia, Lion’s Ear; and Ipomoea sloteri, Cardinal Climber. Granted, all three are generally known as tough, vigorous plants; rampant or invasive in some areas.
The Bidens seed came from Alicia Maynard’s garden at Sweetbay in central North Carolina. Her Bidens borders are spectacular: billows of two-inch flowers–which, though two-toned, read as a clear, medium yellow–on sturdy five-foot stems of dark green, pinnate foliage. Bidens species bear close resemblance to their relatives, Cosmos and Coreopsis. I scattered seed in Fall of 2012 (seed needs cold stratification and light to germinate), in three different exposures of the garden: full sun, all-day dappled light and afternoon shade.
The shaded Bidens required little supplemental water, grew to three feet and bloomed willingly, if sparsely, from mid-July to late September. The plants in full sun needed weekly watering but were bushier and grew to four feet, flowering profusely in early August through early October. All the plants were swarming with honeybees; Bidens makes a fine, dark honey.
While at least a hundred species are native to the Americas, Bidens are listed as invasive or weedy in some parts of the country, wetlands in particular. Not surprising, as a single plant can produce up to 6000 seeds. I’ll keep a close eye on volunteers next Spring but Bidens aristosa is a plant I’d like to see full-time in the garden.
Leonotis nepetifolia, Lion’s Ear, a member of the Mint family, elicited the most comments from garden visitors this year. At eight feet tall, with medium-green, heart-shaped leaves and stacked whorls of tubular, bright orange flowers (the lion’s “ear”), it is indeed a remarkable plant, friendly and somewhat coarse. Native to Africa and hardy to Zone 9 (an fast-growing annual here in Zone 6a), Leonotis nepetifolia germinates readily at warm temperatures, the seed lightly covered.
Like all mints, it revels in water but my plants in amended clay were surprisingly drought resistant. Four plants were placed in full sun, two in afternoon shade. The shaded plants languished, barely reaching three feet with no bloom, so give Leonotis nepetifolia plenty of sun, even Kansas sun. Despite their thick, square stems, stand-alone plants were soon toppled by wind and required emergency staking. I stake as little as possible. Next time, I’ll grow them closer together in clumps for additional support. The base of each flower contains a tiny reservoir of sweet nectar that attracts hummingbirds.
If you wish for serious hummingbird action in your garden, a must-grow is the Cardinal Climber, Ipomoea sloteri, another plant with confusing nomenclature. Dave’s Garden lists the synonyms Ipomea x multifida, Quamoclit multifida and Quamoclit sloteri. The common name, too, is often misleading–Cardinal Climber is frequently referred to as Cypress Vine, Ipomoea quamoclit—even by seed companies. Both plants are similar in flower but the foliage of the Cypress Vine is finely cut, like asparagus, while the leaf of Cardinal Climber depends more on the standard, heart-shaped form of the Ipomoea clan and is deeply incised, looking feathered or fingered. Both plants are attractive, but I find Cardinal Climber to be fuller, healthier and more floriferous–hence the crowds of hummingbirds.
An old-fashioned vine, perhaps too pedestrian for fashionable gardeners, Cardinal Climber is one of the most attractive, reliable and easy-going plants I’ve ever grown (in five gardens to date, ranging from Zones 5 to 11). Officially hardy to Zone 9 or 10, depending on position; an enthusiastic annual everywhere else. Given the right conditions–full sun, occasional water in dry times, and a structure to climb–it can reach 20 feet in one season. Cardinal Climber reserves it’s one-and-a-half-inch, deep scarlet trumpets until late August but the profusion of blooms and hummers that follows is worth the wait. The flowers are similar in color to those of Pineapple Sage, Salvia elegans, another hummingbird attractor, and they pair well together.
* Three years ago, to defend against rabbits, nearly every plant in the garden was caged in chicken wire. A friend came to visit one day and as we sat and talked in the garden he casually remarked, “I imagine the garden at Alcatraz looks like this.”