Playing catch-up

What a busy month October has been! With moderate temperatures and low humidity, it’s been delightful to be in the garden.

My visit to Montrose at the beginning of the month for a Garden Open Day yielded (of course) a box full of plants.

Trick or treat? Treat, definitely.

Trick or treat? Treat, definitely.

I came home with:

  • Edgworthia ‘Snow cream’
  • Saruma henryi
  • Iris unguicularis
  • Zephyranthes drummondii
  • Zephyranthes ‘Capricorn’
  • Cooperia ________ ( I’ll look this up later)
  • Cyclamen hederifolium
  • Cyclamen coum ‘Lake Effect’
  • Sternbergia lutea
  • Two seedpods of Aesculus parviflora, bottlebrush buckeye, that I found in the parking lot of the school next door.
  • A part-time job.

Well, nearly. I casually asked someone working at the Open Day if they ever needed any help, and coincidentally, they do. It’s time to get all those tender plants in the greenhouses, you see, and down into the cellar and in cold frames. So I came back a few days later to have a proper conversation/interview about working there, and I guess I looked sturdy enough to be of some use.

So I work two mornings a week there, doing what needs to be done and learning everything I can. I hope to have lots to share with you.

 

 

Bug watcher

Montrose last Saturday was a great place for insect watching.

Fiery skipper (Hylephila phyleus) on gomphrena

Fiery skipper (Hylephila phyleus) on gomphrena

Pollinators were out in force, making the most of the glorious fall day.

Painted lady (Vanessa cardui)?  on butterfly bush.

Painted lady (Vanessa cardui)? on butterfly bush.

I particularly enjoyed watching these bees, their pollen sacs full of neon-orange pollen, coming in to feast on the dahlias:

honeybee with full pollen sacs coming to a dahlia honeybee with orange pollen sacs landing on dahlia DSC_6805 multiple bees landing on dahlia

Counting my summer successes: Ceratotheca triloba

About this time last year, I made my first visit to Montrose. On a tour of the gardens there, I became bewitched by Ceratotheca triloba, sometimes known as South African foxglove.

Ceratotheca triloba

Looking something like a cross between a salvia and a foxglove, Ceratotheca triloba grew tall and elegant in bare gravel and gracefully entwined with a nearby red-foliated cotton plant. Seized with plant lust, I promptly went home and scoured my seed catalogues. I found the seeds in a catalogue that promised they were rare, but since the seed pack only cost $2, I’m guessing what they meant was “rarely purchased.”

That’s a shame, for Ceratotheca triloba has been perfectly charming for me this year and would probably be equally well behaved in others’ gardens, should they learn about this under-the-radar gem. I started some of the seed at home and planted out two sturdy seedlings. They grew for me, flowered for perhaps three months, and produced seed. I cannot ask for more.

ceratotheca triloba african foxglove

In dry, light shade it performed well, if it sagged a bit in its old age. (Who doesn’t?) I might have done a better job pinching it early in the season to coax it into a more shrubby form. As you might imagine, bees love the long, drooping tubular flowers. My form is more lavender-colored than the pink one I saw at Montrose; I don’t know if the color is impacted by pH or sun exposure, or if it just naturally varies a bit. Next year I’ll experiment with its placement and see what I can learn.

Ceratotheca triloba seed pod, ready to spill its contents.

Ceratotheca triloba seed pod, ready to spill its contents.

On my desk sits an envelope full of homegrown little black seeds, waiting for their chance to fill the abundant vacancies in my garden. I allowed some seed to sow itself naturally; if I remember not to mulch over the spot too heavily, perhaps I’ll see Mother Nature’s design work next spring.

Ceratotheca triloba is an annual, and there’s no excuse for not trying it next year. I’m sure you’ll love it as much as I do.

ceratotheca triloba african foxglove

Gardening as spiritual practice: Slowing down, looking around

Sometimes, when I approach my house from the road, I think “Oh, what a terrible mess.” I see the weeds that need pulling, the plants growing in the wrong places, the big gaps where plants haven’t filled in as quickly as I hoped.

Thinking about the garden this way–Don’t I owe it to the neighbors to stay on top of my weeds? Is my garden turning into the neighborhood eyesore?–turns it from a joy into a chore. Moreover, such a mindset prevents me from enjoying nature in its cycle, where it is and as it is, in the present. So yesterday I took a few minutes out from weeding to appreciate the gorgeous rosy colors of fall in my garden. The oranges and yellows are here, too, but today I’m sticking to a softer palette.

aster tataricus

Aster tataricus

rose chrysanthemum with yellow center

An unknown chrysanthemum, picked up from a bargain table a few years ago. I’ve made many more of it from its cuttings.

Bee on aster tataricus.

Bee on Aster tataricus

iris domestica seed pod

Deep purple-black seeds of Iris domestica (blackberry lily)

ceratotheca triloba

Fuzzy, foxglove-like blossoms of Ceratotheca triloba.

spider egg sacs in yucca plant

Two egg sacs of Argiope aurantia

anemone hupenensis 'Pamina'

Anemone hupenensis ‘Pamina’

physostegia

A pass-along Physostegia (obedient plant) begins to flower.

Verbesina virginica: A reason to look forward to winter

Two years ago, Gail at Clay and Limestone kindly shared with me some seeds of Verbesina virginica.

verbesina and beeI had never before heard of this wildflower, native to my area of the United States. I’ll blame my ignorance on the fact that Verbesina virginica grows in mostly in alkaline soils, which I don’t now and never have had. Also known as white crownbeard, Verbesina virginica can be either biennial or perennial, and grows from the Atlantic coast west to Texas and Kansas and as far north as Iowa and Pennsylvania. It spreads gently by rhizomes to form colonies in the dappled shade of large trees.

While beautiful in itself and appealing to pollinators, the real show comes in winter. Cold temperatures freeze the water in the plant’s stems, which then rupture under pressure. The ice expands as it freezes, forming elegant, curving ribbons. It’s this habit that gives the plant another of its common names, frostweed. I haven’t seen any frost ribbons from my own plant, as this is the first year it’s grown to any noticeable height, but the prospect of watching this natural sculpture form in my garden gives me a reason to anticipate the dark season ahead.

A "frost flower" of Verbesina virginica. Photo by Gail Eichelberger, © clayandlimestone.com. Used by permission.

A “frost flower” of Verbesina virginica. Photo by Gail Eichelberger, © clayandlimestone.com. Used by permission.

Verbesina virginica frost flowers. Photo by Gail Eichelberger, © clayandlimestone.com. Used with permission.

Verbesina virginica frost flowers. Photo by Gail Eichelberger, © clayandlimestone.com. Used with permission.

Forrest Mims III runs a time-lapse gallery of frostweed in glorious action on his website. And  Bob Harms at the University of Texas at Austin has a website devoted to the science and art of these stunning frost flowers, which he calls “crystallofolia.”