Wild Things

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

"Easy to mix them up!" Kelly Kindscher holds up two cuttings of common prairie plants. On the right is grass-leaved goldenrod. On the left is slender mountain mint

“Easy to mix them up!” Kelly Kindscher holds up two cuttings of common prairie plants. On the right is grass-leaved goldenrod; on the left is slender mountain mint.

“My work is about plants and people.” – Dr. Kelly Kindscher

Kelly Kindscher is a Senior Scientist with the Kansas Biological Survey and a Professor of Environmental Studies at the University of Kansas, where his students call him “Kelly.” Many Kansans know him as “Mr. Prairie.”

A lifelong Kansan, Kindscher is a founder of the Kansas Land Trust, a statewide conservation group, and KU’s Native Medicinal Plant Research Program, which bio-prospects for medicinal compounds in native prairie plants. Somewhere in there, he found time to map coneflower populations in Wyoming; study wetlands in New Mexico; chart the plants in Kansas’ state parks; and publish dozens of papers and two books: Edible Wild Plants of the Prairie (1987) and Medicinal Wild Plants of the Prairie (1992); both published by the University of Kansas Press.

Kindscher propagating native plants in the greenhouse.

Kindscher propagating native plants in the greenhouse.

In 2006, Kindscher and University of Arizona ethnobotanist Gary Nabhan published Renewing the Native Food Traditions of Bison Nation, a manifesto calling for the large-scale restoration of free-ranging bison to large tracts of the Plains, and the renewal of food traditions unique to the region. Immense herds of bison modified the prairie landscape for thousands of years, creating rich habitat for many plants and animals, which in turn provided highly nutritious food for Native Americans–a population now plagued, like much of the nation, with diabetes.

Kindscher knows full well the wealth of the prairie. Thirty years ago he and a friend walked across Kansas, a 70-day trek in blazing summer, tracking the changes in vegetation.

Prairie turnip (Psoralea esculenta), chokecherries, lambsquarter, wild licorice (Glycyrrhiza lepidota), prickly pear cactus, leek-flavored Yucca blossoms and wild Bergamot (Monarda fistulosa; “The best prairie mint.”), were once used as food and medicine by Plains natives. Kindscher is powerfully fond of lambsquarter (Chenopodium album), a quinoa relative weedy enough to infuriate gardeners. He cooks big pots of it with olive oil. “I wish more restaurant chefs would catch on to lambsquarter,” he says. “It’s a hearty, flavorful green, a sweeter version of chard, and it grows wild everywhere. It gets a nine out of ten for flavor.

Kindscher in the field.

He also favors the puckery chokecherry (Prunus virginiana), once a dietary staple of Plains tribes, combined with bison jerky to make pemmican, the native American equivalent of a mega-energy bar. In the creek-laced woods are leafy stands of LINK pawpaws (Asimina triloba) with green, oblong fruits with a golden, custardy pulp that mingles tastes of pineapple and banana. “The pawpaw is the only tropically related fruit that has made it this far north,” Kindscher notes. He praises the buffalo currant (Ribes odoratum), especially “Crandall”, a Kansas cultivar prized by rural jelly-makers. “Jelly and preserves are a great way to capture phytonutrients,” he adds.

The wild prairie is abundant in edible roots, bulbs and tubers rich in complex carbohydrates–a trade-off for their often subtle flavors. “Most native root crops–prairie turnips, hog peanuts, Jerusalem artichokes–are too bland for modern palates,” Kindscher observes, “though they generally offer superior nutrition. You have to choose between healthy food and junk and sometimes that means different tastes.”

The wild tomatillo, Physalis longifolia.

The wild tomatillo, Physalis longifolia.

The concept of food as medicine looms large in Kindscher’s work with the Native Medicinal Plant Research Program (NMPRP). The NMPRP was granted a U.S. patent in 2012 for the discovery of new chemical compounds in the wild tomatillo (Physalis longifolia), a prairie fruit significant to the Indian diet. “Dried, they taste like sweet cranberries,” says Kindscher. The compounds in wild tomatillos also show promising anticancer activity in melanomas, thyroid and breast cancers, and certain leukemias.

The NMPRP’s work on the lonesome prairie has not gone unnoticed by the mainstream. In spring of 2013, Kindscher was contracted by Kellogg’s “to prospect prairie plants for healthful cereal products,” he says, “looking specifically for fiber and protein.” Someday there might be a taste of the wild prairie in your breakfast bowl.

Kindscher’s knowledge of prairie plants takes him to the classroom and the field, the kitchen and the community pot-luck, the laboratory and the dais, the courtroom and the publisher. “I’m a jack-of-all-plants,” he laughs. And how does a jack-of-all plants unwind at home at the end of another flora-filled day? He tends a vegetable garden that most people would call a small farm.

Flower of Physalis longifolia, near Cimarron, Kansas.

Flower of Physalis longifolia, near Cimarron, Kansas.

Ripe fruit of Physalis longifolia. The fruits were eaten raw, cooked and dried by the Zuni, Hopi and other Native American tribes

Ripe fruit of Physalis longifolia. The fruits were eaten raw, cooked and dried by the Zuni, Hopi and other Native American tribes

Bidens in full, bug-humming glory at Sweetbay. Click image to zoom. Photo: Alicia, Sweetbay

recent post about Bidens by Alicia at Sweetbay inspired unabashed garden envy. Located in central North Carolina, the Sweetbay garden is very close to my ideal – loose, lush and beautiful. It is a true country garden: comfortable, expansive and attuned to its environment. Grass tracks wend through broad clumps of healthy, vigorous plants teeming with wildlife. Alicia, Sweetbay’s curator, is no “pretty flower” gardener either – she knows her Latin, knows her critters, and is fluent in color theory and composition. Her garden expresses her awareness of her surroundings, and even her non-native plants look  natural in their tall masses and billows.

The Sweetbay garden awash with Bidens in September. Alicia uses pink seashore mallows to complement all that yellow.

I was smitten when I saw the Sweetbay Bidens. Tough, floriferous plants ring my bell, and, to go one better, Alicia notes that Bidens is a reliable re-seeder. Too reliable, many gardeners say. Alicia identifies her plants as Bidens aurea, but I found contradictions when I went looking for B. aurea seeds, for which there are surprisingly few sources in the United States. The problem was that B. aurea is described as having a five-petalled flower, occasionally six, but upon scrutiny, the Sweetbay Bidens have eight petals. That got me digging.

Here, then, is a  quick overview of the genus, and descriptions of three garden-worthy Bidens species native to the United States – one of which is likely the Sweetbay Bidens.

Bidens species are found across the U.S., often labelled weedy or invasive.

Bidens is a genus of approximately 280 species in the family Asteraceae, close relatives of Cosmos and Coreopsis. Africa and the Americas are each home to about 100 species, with 65 species restricted to Eastern Polynesia. The remaining species range from Eurasia through the Malay Archipelago, New Guinea, and Australia.

Bidens seed are zoochorous – they are primarily dispersed by animals. In Latin, “bidens” means two teeth, referring to the two (sometimes more), barbs on each achene that readily attach to feathers, fur and clothing. This efficient dispersal trait is responsible for Bidens‘ global range.

The barbed achenes of Bidens stick to feathers, fur and clothing, dispersing hem easily across the globe. Photo Aelwyn, Wikimedia Commons.

“Single plants produce 3000 to 6000 seeds, many of which germinate readily at maturity, making possible three or four generations per year in some areas. Seeds three to five years old may have 80% germination.” Source: World of Weeds

Bidens seeds are relished by ducks and are eaten by bobwhites as well. This plant also serves as brooding cover for chicks, which are attracted to the cool, insect-rich environment in which it grows.” –  University of Missouri Extension

Bidens are of special value to many species of bees, producing a dark, highly prized honey.


Bidens aurea is native to Arizona in the U.S., reaching south to Chile.

– Bidens aurea (formerly B. heterophylla); Arizona Beggatick, Bur Marigold.

Bidens aurea is native to southern North America–Arizona in the U.S.–extending south to Guatemala, though at least 12 species have naturalized in Chile. It is hardy in Zones 5-8, according to the Missouri Botanical Garden.

Habitat: A spreading, perennial prairie plant, mostly indifferent to soil types, though purported to run in loose soil. Drought-tolerant, generally thriving on rain water. Full sun is the standard recommendation, but with the record heat we’ve had in the U.S. the past two summers, some afternoon shade would probably be beneficial.

Bidens aurea var. wrightii, flower and leaf. Photo Wikimedia Commons.

FormB. aurea reaches three or four feet in height, with a spread of two to three feet. Finely divided leaves similar to Coreopsis. Abundant one- to two-inch flowers are yellow, darker in the center and lighter at the tips of the rays, often fading to cream or white.

As a garden plant, B. aurea is far more popular in the U.K. than in the Americas, where it is commonly regarded as a weed. Hannay’s Lemon Drop, a cultivar released by the now-defunct Hannay’s Nursery in Bath, is a staple in British autumn gardens.

Propagation: By seed or cuttings, though B. aurea reliably self-seeds in it’s range. Germination takes about 20 days. Cuttings can be taken in late spring and early summer.

How to grow: Bidens aurea; Val Bourne, The Telegraph.

Bidens aristosa ranges over the eastern half of the U.S.

Bidens aristosa (syn. Bidens polylepis); Bearded Beggarticks, Tickseed Sunflower

RangeB. aristosa‘s range covers the entire eastern seaboard, excepting Florida, north into Canada, west to Colorado and south into Texas and Mexico. Hardy in Zones 3-9.

Habitat: According to the Native Plants Journal of the University of Kentucky, “B. aristosa is found in non-forested areas within temperate deciduous forests of North America.” It prefers damp places and low ground, and is often found in roadside ditches and abandoned fields. B. aristosa also colonizes woodland margins, thriving in strong, dappled light and some afternoon shade.

Bidens aristosa, flower and foliage. Photo Wazowski collection, Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center.

FormB. aristosa grows from three to six feet tall. The pinnate leaves are divided into sharply toothed leaflets and are oppositely placed on the stem. The flowers are two-toned yellow with seven or eight petals, one to two inches in size, produced from mid-summer to early fall.

Propagation: Like much of it’s clan, B. aristosa is a freely self-seeding annual, occasionally biennial, listed in some places as weedy or invasive (wetlands in particular). The seeds need cold stratification and light to germinate.

Here is the Bidens aristosa profile from the Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center.

U.S. distribution of Bidens coronata. Photo USDA Plants Profile.

Bidens coronata (syn. B. trichosperma); Crowned Beggarticks, Tall Swamp Marigold, Tall Tickseed Sunflower. Listed as a plant of Special Concern in Rhode Island.

Range: Like B. aristosa, B. coronata is found along the entire eastern seaboard (except for Florida), north into Canada and west to Nebraska. Hardiness accounts vary, generally Zones 4-8.

Habitat: A water-lover, B. coronata is found in wet meadows, marshes and swamps, hence the common name “Swamp Marigold.” It needs full sun and grows well in most soils, including clay.

Bidens coronata, foliage and flower. Prairie Moon Nursery has seed.

FormB. coronata ranges from two to five feet in height. Two-inch flowers are cadmium yellow in the centers, lightening at the tips of the petals, blooming from August to October. The narrow leaves opposite, pinnate and coarsely toothed.

Propagation: A re-seeding annual or biennial, B. coronata can also be propagated by cuttings in late spring and early summer. Seeds require cold stratification and light for germination.

USDA Plants Profile

Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center

I’m guessing that B. aristosa is the species growing in Sweetbay’s North Carolina garden. Like the Sweetbay Bidens, it has eight petals and similar foliage. B. aristosagrows in the dappled shade of pines in the Sweetbay garden, suiting the species’ range and habitat standards. And, perhaps the clincher, B. aristosa is referenced in a publication titled “Wildflowers on North Carolina Roadsides.” But whatever the species, Bidens is a tough, low-maintenance plant for dramatic fall color, and is attractive to honeybees and all manner of bugs. As soon as I locate a reputable source for seed, B. aristosa will have a home in my garden.

Update: Turns out Alicia knew all along that her plants were Bidens aristosa. Here’s an excerpt from her email: “Just wanted to clarify about the Bidens. I’ve always thought they were Bidens aristosa or polylepis. I think aristosa and polylepis may have been lumped by now, I’m not sure. Anyway the Bidens I have is a terrific native annual for wet places, although it’s quite drought tolerant too.
Thanks to Alicia for setting the record straight.

This is another of Ian Spomer’s cellphone panoramas. Click on the image, then enlarge. Move left to right, and imagine yourself in the middle. Three years ago, this was a big thicket.

Why is there a rotting Datsun in the garden? Its Burroughs‘ car.

Apart from a 1947 incident in south Texas when Burroughs and his wife, Joan Vollmer, were issued a pubic indecency citation for having sex in their car on the side of the road, driving doesn’t figure much in the Burroughs record. But not long after Burroughs bought this property in 1981, he decided he wanted to drive again. He was in his late 60s then, with a pronounced shoulder hump. The cramped Datsuns of the time, then a no-frills economy car, suited his posture. The license was obtained, the car purchased, and Burroughs drove around Lawrence. His friends say he could barely see above the steering wheel.

After a respectful while, a year or so, a Meeting of the Handlers was convened. It was agreed that William was a frightening driver. Burroughs was approached and, being a wise old cat, he surrendered the keys. The Datsun was drained out, pushed into the back yard and, legend has it, the keys thrown into the creek bordering the property, now Burroughs Creek, nearly 30 years ago.

The past two winters, raccoon families have nested in the Datsun’s back seat. Lichen is gaining ground on the car’s surface, a kind of lichen that thrives on auto paint and rusting metal.

This pathway was carved out in 2010, originally two feet wide. A coppiced Catalpa is on the left, turning chartreuse before retiring for winter. Photo: Ian Spomer

Alley looking east. Photo: Ian Spomer

Many of the saplings you see in the above two pictures will be removed this month. In 2009, the alley above was barely three feet wide. Over 200 trees have been cleared since then, mostly elm, walnut, hackberry and silver maple. The wild blackberries on the left–tart, tiny fruit that the birds always get first–are tedious to remove, as is the honeysuckle. But every gardener knows that endurance is insurance. Photo: Ian Spomer

Lonicera maackii, fall berries and foliage. Photo: Ian Spomer

Lonicera maackii berries. Birds eat them last. Photo: Ian Spomer

I’m ambivalent about Lonicera maackii. I curse it frequently, yet can’t deny an appreciation for it’s flowers, fruit and amenability to pruning. Its a case of making lemonade from lemons, as it is with many invasive plants. Make an asset of over-abundance, teach the plant to suit your design. Isn’t that the essence of cultivation? I think L. maackii is beautiful, requiring much less attention than most roses and much easier to pull when unwanted.

The yard that abuts the Burroughs property belongs to the neighbor two doors south. He has an L-shaped lot which crosses the creek and connects to Burroughs’ deep back yard. Photo: Ian Spomer

Looking east to the garage garden. Photo: Ian Spomer

That glorious yellow-orange foliage on the tree at right belongs to Koelreuteria paniculata, the Golden Rain tree, which borders on invasiveness in Kansas. I pull at least a hundred K.p. seedlings per season and you see this tree barging all over town.

Koelreuteria paniculata is a four-season plant with bipinnate leaves. Spring growth is bronze and pink, followed in summer by foot-long panicles of tiny, orchid-like yellow flowers that shed after three weeks to cover the ground with a “golden rain.” The flowers are followed by inflated, russet seed pods looking very much like pods of Physalis alkekengi built large. After a brilliant foliage display in autumn, the bare winter trunks would figure well in a Tim Burton movie.

Dead center, the black, contorted trunk, is Catalpa speciosa, the Northern Catalpa. Photo: Ian Spomer.

Catalpa speciosa is another somewhat invasive tree in Kansas. It’s twisted branches, so beautiful in silhouette, are brittle and easily snapped in strong winds. It coppices well, making a four-foot-tall shrub with fuzzy, foot-wide leaves.

Gardening here is essentially woodlot management, a process of considered subtraction. I have removed far more plants than I have put in, and I have the brush piles to prove it. I leave the smaller brush piles in the less-visited areas areas of the garden to be engulfed in Clematis terniflora and provide habitat for wildlife. A pair of red foxes made their home in a honeysuckle thicket last Spring.

A picture from the Mars Rover? No. This landscape sculpture, nearly six feet in diameter, is 80 feet underwater off the coast of Japan. Diver Yoji Ookata took this photograph in August 2012. Who, or what, made it? Aliens? Click image for the answer.

100 Must-Have Garden Plants
The list of the 100 must-have garden plants, chosen by people like Dan Pearson, Piet Oudolf, Fergus Garrett and others, has just arrived here with my latest copy of Gardens Illustrated.  Even though some old favorites appear among the selections, I have included the entire list with the hope that it might get you to try out something new this season. Inspiration for 2013, but its going to be hotter – Tom.     Juniper Hill

Naked German Monk Likely a Victim of Hallucinogenic Berries
A concerned hiker who spotted the naked man and tried unsuccessfully to assist him notified police in the Bavarian town of Unterwössen, according to news reports. Police found the man cold and disoriented and took him to the hospital.     Yahoo News

Heptacodium miconioides
Although this China-native, fountain-shaped shrub or small tree may now be extinct in the wild, it is becoming increasingly popular as a unique and attractive landscape specimen. The common name refers to the fragrant creamy white flowers in clusters of seven that bloom profusely from late August to late September. Flowers are followed by an equally showy display of purplish-red “fruits”.      Missouri Botanical Garden

Flax was one of the most important crops to early American farmers and to the economy of our emerging nation. Grown in almost every state east of the Mississippi River, and some beyond, flax was literally the fiber and preservative that helped sustain our people.    Jefferson Institute

Gardener’s Delight Offers Glimpse Into the Evolution of Flowering Plants
Dandy peony, the Double Peppermint petunia, the Doubled Strawberry Vanilla lily and nearly all roses are varieties cultivated for their double flowers. The blossoms of these and other such plants are lush with extra petals in place of the parts of the flower needed for sexual reproduction and seed production, meaning double flowers — though beautiful — are mutants and usually sterile.
Science Daily

Rumex Ruminations
Mainer Merritt Fernald, who was the Harvard wunderkind of botany from around 1900 to 1950, said all of the 17 native Rumex species in North America were edible. He completely failed to mention most of them are so bitter it would take days of boiling to make them palatable, if ever.     Eat The Weeds

Commelina communis
The flowers of this species have a “true blue” color that is found in few other plants. Usually, most “blue” flowers are closer to violet or purple. The Asiatic Dayflower has become the most common Commelina sp. (Dayflower) in Illinois for reasons that are not entirely clear.
Illinois Wildflowers

Oedo Island
Just imagine an island which is green 365 days a year and always covered with beautiful blossoming flowers and trees, most of which you probably know only from botanic textbooks or TV programs showing pictures of remote tropical countries.     Korea Travel Club

Summer-y Summary
Autumn is upon me, here in the nether region between I Don’t Want to Live Here Anymore and Now I Live Somewhere Else.  When you exist in a shadow world such as this, you tread a fine line between the Things that You Have to Do But Don’t Want To and the Things That You Just Aren’t Going To Do Anymore.      A Thistle in My Sensitive Area

A Brief History of Seeds and Plant Domestication
Seed varieties have declined significantly since the beginning of time, and even more so with plant domestication. World blight may come upon us if we continue to depend on limited varieties of corn, soy and wheat. (Hat tip to James Grauerholz.)      Utne Reader

The Sideyard Garden Takes Front and Center in Historic Charleston
What might strike you right away is that there is rarely a front yard here; it is all about the side yard in Charleston. A side yard in my neck of the woods is usually a gardening afterthought or it is used as a storage area for supplies or trash bins. But the side yard is to low country Charleston gardens like shrimp and grits are to its cuisine.     Garden Envy

Rembrandt Peale, “Rubens Peale with a Geranium,” 1801. Click image for Rembrandt Peale Wiki.

Ceanothus (California Lilac), a genus of about 50–60 species of shrubs or small trees in the family Rhamnaceae, is one of the plants I sorely miss from my California gardening days. Colonies of Ceanothus and Manzanita cover miles of the Big Sur coastline. The pictured cultivar, “Dark Star,” grows to eight feet tall and blooms in early spring, filling the air with sweet fragrance. Photo by Pete at East Bay Wilds, a first-rate native plant nursery in Oakland, CA. Click image for more of Pete’s photos of Ceanothus species and cultivars.

Ian Spomer, Number One gardening collaborator, has an application on his phone that stitches related photographs into a panaroma. This shot is in the back yard, facing east. The tree alley is at left, then the round herb bed, the elliptical bug bed, the kitchen garden behind the garage, the bean teepee and the catnip bed at right. Click on the image and then enlarge it for a detailed tour.

“Don’t knock the weather. If it didn’t change once in a while, nine out of ten people couldn’t start a conversation.” – Kin Hubbard

The nights are in the 40s and 50s now, with a low of 38 in the forecast for Saturday. Daytime temperatures are in the high 70s and low 80s. Fall is here. The Virginia Creeper (Parthenocissus quinquefolia) is starting to color, as are the imported Amur Honeysuckles (Lonicera maackii), loathed for their invasiveness but nevertheless beautiful twice a year. Masses of unscented white flowers in spring become pea-sized red berries in fall, which hold as the leaves turn a clear yellow. And, in one of Nature’s countless serendipities, Clematis terniflora, the Sweet Autumn clematis (another rampant, naturalized foreigner), comes into bloom at the same time the honeysuckles put on their fall finery.

The Sweet Autumn clematis, Clematis terniflora, weaves its way through the Amur honeysckle, Lonicera maackii.  The clematis fills the evening garden with a sweet scent that some people liken to root beer. Photo Dayton Segard.

Sweet Autumn clematis along the north bank of Burroughs Creek. Photo Ian Spomer.

The big, five-parted leaves of Virginia Creeper (Parthenocissus quinquefolia, top center) will soon turn crimson and the Hosta plantaginea (bottom right) are beginning to sag. The round-leaved Creeping Jenny (Lysimachia nummularia “Aurea”) is reverting to chartreuse-yellow as the weather cools. Wintercreeper (Euonymus fortunei, bottom left) is another introduced thug, though with attentive pruning it can become something of an asset in the wilder garden. It remains evergreen through winter, taking on a dull red hue. Photo Dayton Segard.

In the kitchen garden behind the garage, a couple of nights in the low 40s took the determination out of the okra. No complaints–I ate well of okra this season, one of the few plants that sailed through the unprecedented heat. Eggplant did fairly well, particularly the long, slender Japanese types, but the tomatoes and peppers shut down when temperatures exceeded 95 degrees for two months straight. Now, with temperatures in the 80s, the tomatoes and peppers are blossoming and setting fruit like mad, racing to make seed as the days grow shorter.

Tomato “Sungold” heavy with fruit, tangled with soft yellow Thunbergia alata and Ipomoea tricolor “Flying Saucers.” Photo Dayton Segard.

The garden was plagued with rabbits until this year’s heat, and old wheelbarrows make bunny-thwarting, moveable substitutes for permanent raised beds. Smaller barrows hold spinach, kale and salad greens. This barrow was home to two kinds of Japanese eggplant, Thai basil, edamame and Scarlet Runner beans (which gave flowers but no beans). Four five-gallon, bottomless buckets (two behind this barrow), each hold one okra plant (Clemson Spineless), and three or four zinnia plants. Photo Dayton Segard.

In the front barrow, Lolla Rossa lettuce has reseeded. Photo Dayton Segard.

Malabar spinach, Basella alba, also took the heat in stride as long as it got a good soaking every couple of days. I thought I was buying the purple-stemmed form, Basella rubra, as the seed packet advertised, but B. alba was just fine, too. The vines weren’t self-twining–I had to weave them through the trellis. The raw leaf is too dense for many palates, too slimy when cooked, but I find it tasty in all applications and certainly a useful and nutritious food plant for hot-weather cultivation. And bonus points because it looks wild and weird. Photo Dayton Segard.

Ian Spomer picking beans. The bean teepee was good in theory, but only fair in practice. Yardlong beans (actually, a cowpea), yellow wax beans and Kentucky Wonder beans were planted in late June. The Yardlongs were extremely vigorous, loving the heat, and gave well before shutting down at the end of August. The yellow wax beans didn’t make it (on the shadiest side of the teepee), and the Kentucky Wonders just started producing about two weeks ago. If we try the teepee again, it will have better sun and plantings of bush beans between the poles to hide bare ankles and maximize usage of space. Photo Dayton Segard.

Q: Know why they call them “Wonder” beans?
A: You spend all summer wondering if you’re going to get beans.
Old farmer joke. Real old.

Plantsman and photographer Dayton Segard in the kitchen garden. Photo Ian Spomer.

Concord grape and morning glory climbing a sculpture by Jordan Briceland on the back wall of the garage. Photo Dayton Segard.

Long shot of the kitchen garden behind the garage. Herb bed on the left, and the bug bed behind. Photo Dayton Segard.

Long, long shot of the kitchen garden, standing in front of the wild cherry tree and looking east through the tree alley. Photo Ian Spomer.

Looking west through the tree alley to the wild Black Cherry tree, Prunus serotina. The twigs and leaves of P. Serotina are highly poisonous, containing prussic acid which converts to cyanide when consumed. Butterfly caterpillars eat the leaves and birds love the fruit, and after several prunings, the tree reveals a beautiful form. This past Tuesday, Winky the Cat, the garden’s monoscopic exterminator, was buried under the cherry tree. Bon voyage, sweet friend. Photo Ian Spomer.

Winky’s grave under the cherry tree, looking south to the creek. The stones will be removed in Spring and replaced with a low, quiet shrub. Photo Ian Spomer.

Looking north this time, to the tsunami of honeysuckle along the fence line. Underneath the honeysuckle? A plush carpet of poison ivy. Photo Dayton Segard.

Many happy hours are spent in the seating area next to the bug bed. Ten people sit comfortably on the stumps, chairs and hay bales. The view is to the south, with the kitchen garden on the left. Most of the plants in the bug bed are highly attractive to pollinating insects: Hyssop, Monarda, Agastache, Liatris, various culinary mints, Asclepias, Lantana, Cleome, Sedum, and Zinnias for the butterflies. Photo Ian Spomer.

View of trees from seating area, looking south. Photo Ian Spomer.

A winter holding bed for seed-grown Munstead lavender, calamint and silver thyme. When the pond on the back patio was installed, excess sand was dumped in this area. The soil drains well and has a slight slope, which should keep the Mediterranean plants happy until final placement in spring. Photo Ian Spomer.

The bug bed’s last hurrah. The blue plumbago is tender, so it gets potted up and taken in for the winter. The soft pink heads of Sedum spectabile “Autumn Joy,” a staple in Kansas gardens, are covered with an amazing variety of insects. Photo Dayton Segard.

Cleome on the fade. Photo Dayton Segard.

A robust Datura inoxia pierced by the ultra-thorny Solanum atropurpureum “Malevolence.” Photo Dayton Segard.

Look at those thorns! I found seeds of “Malevolence” from Rob Broekhuis of Rob’s Plants this spring, and set out a dozen plants in different locations around the yard in June. All were stunted by the heat–reaching only two feet tall, not the standard four–but they’re setting fruit now so I’ll have seed to try for better results next year. Photo Dayton Segard.

Had I sown three times the seed, the Cardinal Climber, Ipomoea sloteri, might have put on quite a show on the old lamp at the front of the house. Still, the idea holds promise. Photo Dayton Segard.

Potted up and ready to spend the winter in the sunny back porch. Photo Dayton Segard.

Winky (2007-2012), keeping an eye on her garden. I hope she always will.

Burroughs in the garden. Text reads: “W.S. Burroughs at rest in the side yard of his house looking at the sky, empty timeless Lawrence Kansas May 28, 1991. ‘But the car (dulls?) it’ he noticed when he saw this snapshot. Allen.”  Photo and text by Allen Ginsberg.

William Seward Burroughs II, American writer. February 5, 1914 – August 2, 1997.

“The only American novelist living today who may conceivably be possessed by genius.” – Norman Mailer, 1962

William S. Burroughs was 83 when he died in Lawrence, Kansas, 15 years ago today. He came to Kansas from New York City in 1981, finally settling into an unassuming two-bedroom bungalow (a mail-order kit house built circa 1926-1929), in the peaceful Barker neighborhood south of downtown. Shortly after moving in, Burroughs had the house painted red, and so it remains. The house sits on nearly an acre of land, the property bordered on the south by Burroughs Creek (renamed in 2004, formerly the Atchison, Topeka and Santa Fe tributary). In 2005, the Lawrence Historic Resources Commission added Burroughs’ home to their Register of Historic Places.

Burroughs’ wake at Liberty Hall in Lawrence, 1997. Photo John Blumb.

For twelve years following his death, Burroughs’ house was a rental property, inhabited primarily by incurable hipsters and snake-wrangling Wild Boys, none of whom cared much for the work of gardening. Burroughs, too, was less a gardener than an aficionado of Nature, frequently bringing visitors outdoors to see his fish pond, and to sit and chat on an old couch in the shade.

Philip Heying took this picture of Burroughs House on a June evening in 2009.

Concerns about wear and tear on the now-historic property prompted James Grauerholz, Burroughs’ heir and executor of the estate, to take the house off the rental market in the summer of 2009.

I had worked with Grauerholz and William Burroughs Communications (WBC) in the past, transcribing And The Hippos Were Boiled In Their Tanks from the original typescript, helping in the office, working on local Burroughs art shows, catering the occasional WBC function and doing some woodlot management on Grauerholz’s three-acre property in East Lawrence. In June of 2009, Grauerholz asked me to be the resident caretaker of the Burroughs house.

Two things immediately caught my attention: the number of tourists visiting the house, and the tangle of plants that had claimed Burroughs’ yard as their own.

WSB feeding fish in the backyard pond. About five of Burroughs’ fish survived until this year, when three snapping turtles from the creek moved into the pond. Buster, the king bullfrog, disappeared too. The largest snapper has a two-foot carapace and a head the size of a tennis ball. While I don’t think much of gardening with snapping turtles, I imagine Burroughs would chuckle. Photo credit unknown.

The front yard was overwhelmed by Vinca minor and trumpet creeper, Campsis radicans. The back yard had become a dense thicket of Lonicera maackii, various species of Euonymus, Clematis ligusticifolia, poison ivy, Virginia creeperpokeweed and wild blackberries, and countless 10-foot saplings of hackberry, Catalpa, redbud, Koelreuteria, black walnut, elm and  silver maple. Clearly, gardening at Burroughs House was to be a process of subtraction. Three years on, it still is. Over 100 trees have been cleared to date, half an acre opened up, and the battle against the Campsis, the Lonicera and the blackberries is never-ending.

To me, a garden is wildish and green. If there must be strict order, keep it at the front of the house to please the neighbors. First job in the front yard was to hack back the Campsis and Vinca , and lay in a boxwood hedge along the walkway under the front porch. A “Darlow’s Enigma” rose went behind the box and is now climbing up the porch railing. A single plant of a non-flowering cultivar of lambs ear, Stachys byzantina “Helene von Stein,” produced enough cuttings to carpet the ground under the box. Their big, white leaves help define the walkway at night. While the front yard is still far from formal, it does look a bit neater now, which is important because the front of the house is frequently photographed.

Burroughs checking out the wildlife in his garden, probably some damned squirrel in the Catalpa tree. Wild Clematis ligusticifolia on his right, snakeroot on his left. Photo credit unknown.

At least 150 tourists visit Burroughs House each year. Most of the time, visitors take quick pictures in front of the house and move on. About 20 percent of the tourists behave badly, trespassing deep into the yard, picking fruits and flowers, and stealing garden ornaments. One man rang the doorbell at 6am demanding a tour, and I’ve caught others in the backyard with flashlights after midnight. These people are summarily booted, often having to explain their behavior to the police.

I chat with many of the polite visitors, however, and am still surprised at how many of them have no idea that Burroughs was a writer, the younger ones especially. Celebrity (notoriety?) is the sole draw for most visitors, many of whom describe Burroughs as “that punk rock guy who hung around Kurt Cobain and made drug movies.” True enough, but that’s only an iota of Burroughs’ wild and remarkable life.

Burroughs in the back yard with Ginger, 1982. Photo Jim McCrary.

Burroughs is long gone from this place. None of his things are here; his famous friends no longer come around. But when he was here, it was perhaps the happiest time of his life. This was his home for 16 years, the longest he ever stayed in one place. He wrote seven books in this house, and produced over 2,000 artworks in a variety of media. He collaborated on several music and film projects, and wrote a musical play, The Black Rider, with Tom Waits and Robert Wilson. He found financial security, some ease and comfort, and the community of people who genuinely cared for his talent and his well-being. And, at long last, he found love. At one period, Burroughs was shepherd to 20 cats.

“Love? What is it? Most natural painkiller what there is. LOVE. Pure love. What I feel for my cats present and past.” – William S. Burroughs, “Last Words,” 2000. Burroughs’ final journal entry.