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entrance

That Liriope needs thinning and transplanting. I hesitate to call it invasive, all successful plants are, but it is certainly vigorous. A member of the lily family.

caterpillar petunia

Dapper caterpillar on Petunia. Still unidentified.

geometry

Geometry.

empress wu

Hosta “Empress Wu” spent her first two years in a big clay pot. Now she’s under the mulberry tree: morning sun then dappled shade. Covered in birdshit for a few weeks while the mulberry is fruiting but that’s why we have hoses. “Empress Wu” is touted as the largest Hosta in cultivation, so far. Five feet tall by nine feet wide. The little cage behind contains nettle seedlings.

firepit evening

Seedlings that spent the season in pots are now in the ground.

jalapeno final

The jalapenos were generous this year. They perished after three nights below freezing.

amaranthus hopi red dye seedheads

Chenille seedheads of Amaranthus “Hopi Red Dye.”

chamaecyparis & friends

Fading lilies with Artemisia, Chamaecyparis, and blue-flowering Perovskia.

maquis 3

Maquis 1

maquis face west

Maquis 2. Few people in Kansas are familiar with the maquis biome, though similar to the prairie, so my affectation usually goes uncontested. What barely qualifies this bit of the garden as maquis is Mediterranean plants, lavender and thyme primarily, and dry, rocky soil. Faking a maquis doesn’t come easy in Kansas clay: two feet under these plants is an eight-inch layer of pea gravel, three 40-pound bags and a lot of digging.

malevolence fruit 2

Fruits of Solanum atropurpureum, common name “Malevolence,” generally considered hardy to Zone 10. It has re-seeded for three years in this Zone 6b garden.

zinnia will rogers 1

Dahlia “Bishop of Llandalff” struggles in our unpredictable weather. Zinnia “Will Rogers” doesn’t.

thunbergia final

Tropical Thunbergia alata flowers profusely in September and October, turns to mush at first frost.

barrow zuke 2

Butterfly barrow.

oyster 1

The shiitake mushroom logs, at top, gave at least 20 pounds this year. The oyster mushroom logs were deemed a failure until this bloom after the first frost.

oyster 2

Oyster mushrooms, “White Pearl” here, flush in cold, damp weather. Sauteed with garlic and jalapenos then scrambled with eggs.

lemon 1

Centuries of practical experience recommends removing all fruit buds in the first producing year of any fruit tree, to allow that fruiting energy to be directed to plant growth. This two-year Meyer lemon, eight inches tall when it arrived, had four baby fruits in Spring. I couldn’t resist keeping one.

baroque rococco

new bed 2

The purple (more like hot pink), coneflowers were re-seeding selfishly in the garden. I prefer the whites. I corralled the pink rogues in new beds by the bench. The goldfinches are crazy about the seeds.

morning glory trellis

“Heavenly Blue” morning glories are accurately described. I threw a handful of seeds at the base of this trellis when planting the Dead Log elderberry bed in August. And they bloomed. They seem to do better with afternoon shade here.

toadstool indicator of oyster fruit

This wild fellow reminded me to check the mushroom logs.

bay 1

Laurus nobilis, the Mediterranean Bay tree, my dear friend. Bought as a three-inch start five years ago, now four feet and seemingly amenable to my topiary dream. It comes on the back porch every Winter.

pokeweed snakeweed

Pokeweed and snakeweed.

okra bugs

Okra “Stewart’s Zeebest” was so productive that I’ve had enough for this year. Glad these bugs can use the rest.

salvia elegans first blooms

Pineapple sage, Salvia elegans, with few blooms in too much shade. In full sun, they flower with abandon but require daily water. Trying to find the balance.

solanum atropurpureum fruit

Little Path facing West.

pepper chinese five-color

Chinese “Five Color” peppers are remarkably cold-tolerant. This photo was taken after a 28-degree night. Very hot; use sparingly for salsa and Arrabbiata.

ride face east 1

The Ride, facing East.

poison ivy 1

Poison Ivy coloring up.

gravel bench 1

Gravel bed in progress, for Thymus, Dianthus, small bulbs and miniature roses.

view table 1

View from the table.

monty model

Suppertime.

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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.

barrow thyme

The Barrow of Thyme.

bidens 1

The yellow flowers of Bidens aristosa in the foreground, orange Thunbergia alata–one of the many plants called Black-Eyed Susan–on the tower behind. Red Amaranthus cruentus “Hopi Red Dye” on the lean.

cukes 2

The last of the “Poona Kheera” cucumbers.

helenium perilla amaranth 2

Burnt-orange blooms of Helenium “Flammendes Kathchen” jostling with purple Shiso, Perilla frutescens, and Hopi Red Dye amaranth. Naked stem of red Ricinus up front. I’m a big fan of Rousseau.

barrow circle trellis

firepit

Unknown pink-mottled, burgundy-leaved Coleus behind the fire pit.

ligustrum coleus ipomoea zinnia

Bottom to top: the waxy, variegated leaves of “Jack Frost” privet, Ligustrum japonicum; that unknown burgundy Coleus, which takes a surprising amount of afternoon sun; Ipomoea batatas “Sweet Caroline Bronze”; and, in the barrow, Zinna “Profusion Apricot,” yellow and white Lantana camara, and an expiring zucchini. The white Lantana, typically hardy to zone 10, over-wintered in open ground, zone 6b. A native/naturalized Euonymus climbing the elm tree.

ride west

The Ride, facing west.

ride east

The Ride, facing east.

canna red king

Canna x generalis “Red King Humbert” blooming late. I would grow this for the foliage alone. Below, bush basil, wild aster and a potted banana seedling.

little path 2

The Little Path, facing west. Bottom right, a toppled castor bean, Ricinus communis “Carmencita”; bottom left, the first blooms of the “Bluebird” aster, Symphyotricum laeve. Above are the ripening stems of “Scheherazade” lilies and the flopping stems of bee balm, Monarda fistulosa. The Chamaecyparis flopped upon is the second plant I put in this garden seven years ago. I owe my stolid Chamaecyparis friend two things: more shade from the afternoon sun, and to look up it’s full name. The rosy flowers of Sedum, ahem, Hylotelephium “Autumn Joy” attract an amazing number and variety of insects.

aster yucca

“Bluebird” aster sprawling on Rattlesnake Master, Eryngium yuccifolium, on the right, and a variegated Yucca filamentosa “Color Guard” at left. A blue “Moonglow” juniper seedling, Juniperus scopulorum, center right. Chives, red valerian, thyme and yarrow fill the gaps.

okra bed 1

Okra does well here and I try new types regularly. “Stewart’s Zeebest” is a Louisiana heirloom touted as spineless, extra tender, smooth (no ribs), and heavy yielding. So far, its living up to it’s press: seven-inch pods are perfectly tender. Blaring red “Will Rogers” zinnias share the bed.

main path face north

The Main Path, facing north. Right of center, the Popcorn Cassias, Cassia/Senna didimobotrya, have been struggling lately, shedding leaves and refusing to bloom. Might be too damp in that spot this year. Leaning in from the left, the extraterrestrial orange flowers of Lion’s Ear, Leonotis nepetifolia, a nuisance self-seeder this year–a mint, after all. Most of the plants are at least eight feet tall. In Autumn, they start to lean, a very efficient method for increasing their territory. If the plants aren’t pulled before the seed ripens, and the stems are allowed to fall, in Spring you’ll find clumps of easily transplanted seedlings coming up at least 10 feet from the parent. Lion’s Ear is a powerful hummingbird attractor.

tomato last

The last tomato, “Amana Orange.” Misrepresented as an Amish heirloom, it was selected by Gary Staley of Brandon, Florida, in 1984. The fruit tended to crack this year but we had unusual summer rains. The fruits are a fetching shade of apricot-orange, the texture is meaty, the taste is good–more sweet than acid.

snake path full length west

The Snake Path looking patchy. Baked, then drenched, all summer. The Blue Bed on the left is due for an overhaul. A storm at the end of the month flattened the Impatiens balsamina “Peppermint Stick,” and there was too much shade for the pineapple sages, Salvia elegans, to produce a decent flush of bloom.

rose prairie sunset fading

Probably the last bloom on “Winter Sunset” for the season. It spent this year in a pot, recovering from a near-fatal rabbit encounter. It will go back in the ground in a couple of weeks.

hosta guacamole

Hosta “Guacamole” on the fade, attended by a self-sown orange Impatiens. The yellow Coleus to the right of the Impatiens is also self-sown. Serious zone-pushing this year. The plume poppy, Maclaeya cordata–those deeply cut, gray-green leaves–could use more sun.

elder patch

The Dead Log elderberry patch was planted from cuttings in early March, in a small clearing between a mulberry tree and a walnut tree. The plants get three or four hours of direct sun a day, then mostly dappled shade. They’re looking well. “Heavenly Blue” morning glories on the trellis.

lemon portulaca

Potted Meyer lemon under-planted with a peachy Portulaca. Surrounding pots contain Agapanthus and “Apricot Profusion” zinnias.

pelargonium table

Pelargoniums on the back patio.

face east

Facing east. Snake Path on the left, Little Path to the right.

view from table end sept

View from the table, September 26, 2017.

thunbergia amaranth

bidens 2

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

long path face north

Entrance to main path looking North.

snake path impatiens

Six inches of rain in 60 hours. Five inches of mulch were swept from the Snake Path to smother a seedling thyme hedge 20 feet away. Balsam responding with first scarlet blooms.

ride face west

The Ride, facing due West.

drunk drive 1

August 16. A woman in a red Trans-Am going at least 50 in a 35 zone “lost control of her vehicle” and took out the mailboxes in my neighbor’s drive.

drunk drive 2

And cruelly pruned a Yucca and flattened a Miscanthus. It was a hit-and-run but the driver behind her got the license plate number. The Yucca is already sprouting and what’s left of the Miscanthus is blooming. If only humans were still as adaptable and resilient as plants.

beanville 1

Beanville. First attempt at growing bush beans in containers, a yellow flagelot. I get a handful of beans most days. They adapt well with daily watering and weekly fertilizing with fish emulsion and the occasional sprinkle of coffee grounds. I over-planted this time: the big pot on the stump contains seven plants. Three next year.

clematis close

Clematis terniflora. Rampant, to 30 feet in trees. In my garden, this is a tough and cursed weed. And you too would curse it as I do, until late August. For two weeks it scents the air with sweet vanilla. Everyone in the neighborhood enjoys it. It is a Type 3 Clematis, cut hard above the lowest bud break in March.

canna leaves 3

Leaves of Canna “Red King Humbert” at 7pm.

canna flower backlight

Flower of Canna “Robert Kemp” at 7pm.

back door view

View from back door.

back door flash

Down the steps.

back door long view approaching storm

Off the patio and towards the garden with approaching storm.

amaranthus topple

Amaranth toppled by a storm. Unless they’re hurting a neighbor, I leave plants to do what they do. Now that the stem is closer to horizontal, every node has a new upwards shoot. Rosarians know this.

centranthus ruber

The pink flower is Centranthus ruber, a personal gardening triumph for 2017. I have known this plant for much of my life, in Spain and California. Loves free drainage, which takes years of careful soil work in a clay-heavy Kansas garden. This is my third year of growing these plants from seed and I had good germination this Spring. This one bloomed in a pot, perhaps a lesser triumph but I’m very pleased. I have eight more fattening up in my short patch of sandy, gravelly soil and, as a gardener, I expect more triumphs next year.

elberberry patch log

This elderberry patch was planted with six-inch cuttings in February 2017. “Heavenly Blue” Morning Glories climb the trellis.

eclipse leonotis

Eclipse. Mostly clouded. Leonotis nepetifolia, seven feet so far.

swallowtail caterpillars

Eclipse. Swallowtail caterpillars undeterred from chomping on fennel.

eclipse 1

Eclipse. At the darkest, chartreuse and yellow leaves glowed.

monty sculpture stump

How does it feeel?” Monty Don joins in on the chorus of one of our favorite garden work songs.

party down

persicaria virginiana

Persicaria virginiana, Virginia Knotweed. Many gardeners here pull this plant as a weed. I find it subtle and elegant. It does run quickly but easily controlled.

petunia blue 2

Petunias are often tricky in this humid climate but I always pick up a few from Vinland in Spring. They are good companion plants, a Solanaceae. This one, a NoID, appears far more blue in photos than real light, but its a real doer–non-stop blooms since July.

lilium black beauty 2

The shy blooms of first-year Lilium “Black Beauty,” an oriental hybrid (L. henryi x L. speciosum). I’ve had it reach seven feet in gardens past.

rose prairie sunset bud 2

A Griffith Buck rose, “Prairie Sunset,” in bud.

rose prairie sunset open 1

“Prairie Sunset” in bloom. The fragile blooms usually last for three days, fading to white, unless beautiful iridescent beetles find them.

shiitake logs flush 3 1

Third flush on the shiitake logs. We’ve had at least 30 pounds so far.

thyme barrow

The Wheelbarrow of Thyme.

snake path face south

View from the table, early August.

vacant lot face southwest

helenium perilla polygonum

Helenium “Flammendes Kathchen, Perilla, Polygonum orientale, “Kiss Me Over the Garden Gate.” The burgundy plumes of Celosia “Dragon’s Breath” in the background, left.

hosta impatiens

malevolence fruit 2

Solanum atropurpureum in fruit.

colocasia leaf 2

Colocasia esculenta.

talinum paniculatum

The bright, fleshy leaves of Talinum paniculatum ‘Limon,‘ Jewels of Opar, are a good salad leaf. Like purslane, Talinum is classified as a succulent. The pink flowers and scarlet seed capsules held on long stalks are charming. A regular self-seeder now.

elderberries

Sambucus canadensis “Burroughs Creek.”

barrow zucchini long viewfriends over

*view table seat 2

View from the garden table, early July.

*view table seat end july

View from the table at the end of July.

*barrow love lies 1

Amaranthus caudatus ‘Love Lies Bleeding’ and ‘Poona Kheera’ cucumbers in the big barrow in early July.

*barrow love lies 2

The same barrow, another trellis added on the other side, at the end of July. I always enjoy the adventures of cucumber tendrils.

*barrow cukes

Cucumbers coming on. ‘Poona Kheera’ develops a russet skin at maturity, which might contribute to it’s prolonged holding capacity at large size, always juicy and tender.

*snake path before

The Snake Path before.

*snake path after

Snake Path after. The small plants edging the hump (snake) on the left side are old-fashioned Balsam, Impatiens balsamina ‘Peppermint Stick’. Despite being heat-lovers, the four hours of sun they get in Summer causes severe wilting and required daily can-watering. With a deep mulch of hay, I now water lightly twice a week in 90F+ temperatures.

*snake

Its a fake snake, sent by a friend shortly after I began making this garden seven years ago. I wasn’t expecting the package when it arrived, and when I opened it, I jumped four feet backwards from a standing position. An excellent garden gift. I move it to a different position every year and enjoy the occasional cries of alarm from visitors. Of course, once Winter passes, I have forgotten all about it when I’m cleaning away debris. This year, I managed to jump four feet backwards from a seated position. The shock is like a Spring tonic; I’m on high alert for a couple of days. A brush with mortality is often useful, an immediate change in priorities.

*pond long view

The big pond in the morning. Can you spot the snapping turtle? Hint: The carapace looks black.

*pond snapper

Hello you, Chelydra serpentina. Several snappers have occupied the pond over the years. They come in from the creek, Burroughs Creek, which runs along the south side at the front of the property. The creek usually dries up by August, except for a few mosquito pools, and the snappers come looking for deeper water. Once in, they are generally very shy, ducking underwater at the slightest intrusion. This youngster is getting used to me but he is not alone in the pond. I was lucky enough to sneak up on Emily Dickinson, the Queen of All Snappers, this morning, a resident for four years. She has, at least, a three-foot carapace, and is easily four feet from snout to tail end (females grow larger than males). I fling raw chicken legs in there every now and then because, other than each other, I can’t imagine what they could find to eat. The pond freezes solid in Winter and they survive. Remarkable beings.

*lily tangle

Two-year Lilium ‘Scheherazade’ making way through a tangle of native Bee Balm, Agastache ‘Black Adder’ top left, Castor Bean and Iris.

*fish pepper canna close

The Fish Pepper is a hybrid of either the Serrano or Cayenne, TBA, with the recessive gene for albinism. At the bottom right are nearly all-white leaves; most of the leaves are green with white mottling. This plant was overwintered on the back porch and is now heavy with fruit.

*queen anne bed i mow around it leave it alone

The far west side of the property is a blank canvas, weedy with Amur Honeysuckle, Lonicera maackii and Slippery Elm, Ulmus rubra. Subtraction is the game here: mowing, pruning and sawing. Every year, I mow around a large patch of ground just to see what comes up. This year, Queen Anne dominates.

*queen anne lace fleabane best and this is what it does

And this is the beauty it gives. I have doubts that this the straight Daucus carota–it lacks the central dark floret. Could be Daucus pusillus.

*castor self-seeded

Self-seeded Castor Beans, Ricinus communis ‘Carmencita’.

*verbascum monarda

The white-flowered Mullein, Verbascum thapsus ‘Governor George Aiken, fronts the purple haze of native Bee Balm, Monarda fistulosa, with the orange blooms of Trumpet Creeper, Campsis radicans, climbing the utility pole in back.

*shiitake logs

Pleasantly surprised by Shiitake after a thunderstorm.

*shiitake long best

A fine dinner here.

*nicotiana syvestris

Self-seeded Woodland Tobacco, Nicotiana sylvestris, in the herb bed. They always find a right place.

clematis jackmannii canna robt kemp

This purple Clematis jackmannii was four feet up the post in April until decapitation by rabbits. Nevertheless, it persisted, now flowering two feet up. Beside it is a Spring-planted ‘Black Beauty’ lily now setting buds. The large maroon leaf in back is Canna x generalis ‘Red King Humbert‘, overwintered in the ground without mulch–highly unusual. Our winters are distinctly warmer than a decade ago; we had very little snow last year.

hosta maclaeya polygonum

Left, Hosta Guacamole; Maclaeya cordata, the Plume Poppy, with glaucous, incised leaves and sprays of white blooms; and deep green Persicaria virginiana, Virginia Knotweed, soon in delicate flower.

*whit bones

A sculpture by Whit Bones atop a dead elm trunk. Pollarded Catalpa bignonioides on the right. Young Buddleia ‘Black Knight’ at the base.

helianthus annus chocolate cherry

Helianthus annus ‘Chocolate Cherry’ and another Whit Bones sculpture on the stump behind.

*chasmanthium latifolium

Chasmanthium latifolium, Indian Wood Oats.

*lilium bright diamond tragic beauty

This ‘Bright Diamond’ lily is a favorite–the first lily I planted here, long-blooming and intensely fragrant–and having a hard season. Deer, rabbits, floods, wind… Once the foliage ripens, it will be moved to a better situation.

 

*stinkhorn

The Stinkhorn is a fungus in the Phallaceae, hence the colloquial name “Devil Dicks.” This is carrion-scented Mutinus caninus, swarming with flies.

*asclepias gaillardia helianthus beat down storm

Butterfly Weed, Asclepias tuberosa; Blanketflower, Gaillardia aristata; and Dogtooth Daisy, Helenium ‘Flammendes Kathchen’ flattened after a downpour.

 

*more zuke

HR Giger undoubtedly took a design tip from zucchini. Q: Why do country people always lock their car doors when they come to town? A: So some farmer won’t slip a bag of zucchini on the back seat.

 

*dianthus pushing through

This tiny red Dianthus, provenance unknown, has had an even rougher time than the ‘Bright Diamond’ lily. Moved three times in three years, in every “perfect” place I put it, it is soon swamped by it’s neighbors. Next season, it will have it’s rich reward (see next photo). In Kansas, Dianthus transplanted in Autumn frequently rot over Winter. Wait until new growth is up and strong in Spring, then divide and transplant.

*purple grit quartzite 1

The light purple stone mulch is chicken and turkey grit, 100% quartzite, $13 for a 50lb. bag at Orscheln. In Britain, a nation of gardeners, horticultural grit is available at every nursery, at 1/4th the price here. Chick grit is the closest we get in retail America. In combination with compost, it improves drainage in heavy clay soils, and makes a great mulch–perfect for the beleaguered Dianthus, Mediterranean herbs, natives, succulentsany plant that needs quick drainage from the crown. Thyme, Daylilies, Sedum and burgundy Gaillardia are already in place. After looking at it for a couple of weeks, I don’t mind the color at all, and it will be covered in green soon enough.

*purple grit quartzite 2

*calamintha main path

On the Long Path, the bright green leaves, center, belong to the tropical Plumbago auriculata ‘Imperial Blue, flowering best in September, when the worst of the heat has passed. It leans against Iris x robusta ‘Gerald Darby’ and is flanked by Calamint aka Nepitella, Calamintha nepeta subsp. nepeta, a member of the Mint family and a prime honeybee plant. It tastes like a cross between mint and oregano, partners well in vegetable and mushroom dishes, and makes a fine tea. After four years in the garden, I can report that Calamintha self-seeds freely in NE Kansas, maybe too much, as is the case with Perilla and Ageratum. Lamb’s Ears, the sterile, non-flowering Stachys ‘Helene von Stein’, are the gray-leaved plants along the stones.

*phyllody 3

See those bright green clusters of leaf-like structures where flowers should be on this white Echinacea? That is phyllody, the result of a hormonal imbalance caused by environmental conditions such as heat stress and drought, and by severe insect damage. In this garden, the vector is most likely a phloem-munching insect: Hemiptera, the Leafhopper. I don’t mind the occasional mutation in the garden but best practice is to pull and discard affected plants. Don’t compost them.

*lilium gold band leonotis

Lilium ‘Gold Band’ on the right; the beanstalk stem of Leonotis nepetifolia, Lion’s Ear, on the left

*tiger lilies

Tiger Lilies, Lilium lancifolium, in bloom on the north side of the house, the first flowers from their smothered bulbs in at least a decade. The brush along the fence line was extremely thick and each year I thin out more and more. Two years ago, I noticed three-foot lily stems poking through. I cleared a bit more space around them. Last year, the stems grew to six feet but didn’t bloom, instead storing energy in the bulbs for this year’s spectacular resurrection.

 

pelargonium table in disappearing woodpile

Also on the north side, the Pelargonium table in the disappearing woodpile.

*moth bumblebee monarda

What hovers like a hummingbird, has antennae like a moth, and looks like a bumblebee? Hemaris diffinis, the Bumblebee Moth, all over that Monarda.

garage tower cuke tomato

Tower 2 is home to ‘National’ pickling cucumber, a self-seeded cherry tomato, Thunbergia alata and ‘Heavenly Blue’ Morning Glory. Cornflowers, Centaurea cyanus ‘Dwarf Blue’, are dying off at the base, making room for seedlings of ‘Ragged Jack’ kale next month.

*jalapenos

Jalapenos and Petunia ‘Ultra Star Red‘.

*little path overhead

The pots bordering the Little Path mostly contain Mediterranean herbs requiring free drainage: ‘Munstead’ lavender, hyssop and rosemary.

posts painted

The new trellis posts have been trimmed and painted–a suitably innocuous hue, I think, which should disappear when covered with growth next year. The installation of the posts has caused enough disruption in these beds this season. I’ll let the plants grow on undisturbed and deal with the remaining construction when the garden is finished for the year.

cassia leaves

The leaves of the Popcorn Bush, Cassia didimobotrya.

*7pm light

July 29, 2017, 7pm.

monty almost suppertime

Almost suppertime.

*love lies on coleus

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 thunbergiiConcorde), 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 1

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.

garage bed face east

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.

north pathA 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 face north

Garage bed, facing north.

garage bed face west

garage bed petunias

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.

main path dichelostemma

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 main path

Monty was four or five months old when he came here four months ago. He’s adjusting well.

pots caged

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.

lilies peppers

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.

pots stumps

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.

little path face north

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).

urn bed wide 2

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.

clematis sabotage

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.

bench bed 4

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.

elderberry close 3

Flower cymes of Elderberry, Sambucus canadensis.

elderberry close 1

plum bed face north

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.

phacelia bed

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.

bees catalpa hive 1

The main entrance to the hive is the hole on the left side of the crotch.

bees catalpa hive 2

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…

hive face west

hive close

… 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.

hive open

I have much to learn on this fascinating new project. Bees are exacting in their requirements.

hive face north

The hive sits under a wild cherry tree, with good morning sun. Seems like the perfect spot, so far.

harvest mulberries lettuce

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.

main path face north 1

urn bed face south

bench bed 5

avant garde pot 2

pear bed face east 1

 

*garden 2014 windowsill

September 2014. Photo Dayton Segard.

 

garden 2014 garage bed spring

Kitchen garden, mid-May 2014. Photo Dayton Segard.

garden 2014 garage bed mid-july

Kitchen garden, early August 2014. Photo Dayton Segard.

*garden 2014 deer leg

Found this under the peach tree in early Spring 2014. Photo Kerri Conan.

*garden 2014 brush fence

Honeysuckle path in the woods. Photo Dayton Segard.

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.

HAYEFIELD
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.

SWEETBAY
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

Bidens aristosa in full glory at Sweetbay. Photo 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.

ROB’S PLANTS
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

Flowers of Eryngium yuccifolium, Rattlesnake Master. Photo Crazytwoknobs, Wiki Commons.

Flowers of Eryngium yuccifolium, Rattlesnake Master. Photo Crazytwoknobs, Wiki Commons.

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

Calamintha nepeta subsp. nepeta. Photo chhe, Wiki Commons.

Calamintha nepeta subsp. nepeta. Photo chhe, Wiki Commons.

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.

 

Two inches of snow fell last night in Goodland, Kansas, in the northwestern corner of the state. Click image to link to Finger on the Weather in Wichita.

Two inches of snow fell last night at the NOAA station in Goodland, Kansas, in the northwestern corner of the state. Click image to link to Finger on the Weather in Wichita.

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.

Photo Chris Paulk. Click image to link to Foodista.

Photo Chris Paulk. Click image to link to Foodista.

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.

Verticillium wilt of tomatoes. Photo via Ontario Crop IPM.

Verticillium wilt of tomatoes. Photo via Ontario Crop IPM.

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.

Photo copyright Henriette Kress, http://www.henriettesherbal.com. Click image to link.

Polygonum orientale. Oh, those excessive and romantic Victorians! Photo copyright Henriette Kress, http://www.henriettesherbal.com. Click image to link.

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 todaygenerally 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.

Bidens aristosa borders in full glory at Sweetbay in North Carolina. Click image to link. Photo Alicia Maynard.

Bidens aristosa borders in full glory at Sweetbay in North Carolina. Click image to link. Photo Alicia Maynard.

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 reaching for the sky. This plant is commonly referred to as either "Lion's Ear" or "Lion's Tail." From my research, "Lion's Ear" generally refers to L. nepetifolia; "Lion's Tail" usually means L. leonurus, the most widely distributed species (naturalized in California and the South). To see more, click image to link to Strange Wonderful Things.

Leonotis nepetifolia reaching for the sky. This plant is commonly referred to as either “Lion’s Ear” or “Lion’s Tail.” From my research, “Lion’s Ear” generally refers to L. nepetifolia; “Lion’s Tail” usually means L. leonurus, the most widely distributed species (naturalized in California and the South). To see more, click image to link to Strange Wonderful Things.

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.

Cardinal Climber mingling with Thunbergia alata and honeysuckle. Click image to learn more at Gardening From The Ground Up.

Cardinal Climber mingling with orange Thunbergia alata and honeysuckle. Click image to learn more at Gardening From The Ground Up.

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 quamocliteven 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.”