Wildflower Wednesday: Joe Pye Weed

I am not going to win any awards for novelty with this post, but I do love Joe Pye weed.

Joe Pye weed, Eupatorium fistulosum

Joe Pye weed (Eupatorium fistulosum) is a plant well worth growing, if you don’t already. An excellent back-of-the-border plant that blooms for months from midsummer to mid-autumn, it asks little of the gardener and provides the nectar of choice for bees and butterflies. My clump is about 6 feet tall and thoroughly sturdy, although it would be smaller if I bothered to cut it back in late spring.  Every day I pass it on my way to the mailbox, and every day it is absolutely crawling with bees. And so far, the deer have left it alone.

Gail at Clay and Limestone hosts Wildflower Wednesdays. 

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Backyard blooms: Plants in flower this week

crocosmia and yarrow

It’s July, truly. The temperature isn’t as hot as it usually is, but the humidity is making well up for it. I’m glad I can rely on tough plants like Crocosmia ‘Lucifer’ and yarrow (Achillea) ‘Cloth of Gold’ to keep things looking lively when I’m feeling precisely the opposite.

Crocosmia 'Lucifer'

Hope you are enjoying your gardening season, wherever you are.

Christmas for Mother’s Day: Growing Amaryllis in the Garden

What to do with those leftover Amaryllis bulbs you forced over the winter?

By Dwight Sipler from Stow, MA, USA (Amaryllis  Uploaded by Jacopo Werther) [CC-BY-2.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0)], via Wikimedia Commons

By Dwight Sipler from Stow, MA, USA (Amaryllis Uploaded by Jacopo Werther) [CC-BY-2.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0)%5D, via Wikimedia Commons

If you live in USDA Hardiness Zones 7 or warmer, plant them outside in your garden.

I love Amaryllis and my neighbor usually gives me one every year as a holiday gift. I have never been able to manage bringing them back into bloom in containers–I always forget to tend them–but I thought I’d start planting them out and seeing how they fared.

I have three ‘Red Lion’ bulbs planted in the hot border (so called because it is planted in hot colors: red, orange, yellow, etc.), and one more is ready to go in. Although the first year or two they produced heavy foliage, they didn’t bloom.

Last fall, I scratched in a bit of bulb fertilizer. This spring, I fed the garden with blood meal per my soil test report. And last week:

I think, if you live in Zones 5 or 6, it might be worth a try growing them outside. Make sure the drainage is good, and add a thick layer of mulch in the fall. If you know of a microclimate in your garden where plants bloom early, consider siting it there.

Above all, have patience. While providing proper soil pH and fertility directed by my soil test probably had some positive impact, the reason my amaryllis flowered this year is because they were finally ready. Amaryllis, like the crinums to which they are related, need time to get comfortable in their new surroundings. But once they are settled, they thrive with minimal care.

Helleborus experimentalis

I recently read Gayla Trail’s post about her fear of growing hellebores. I was surprised to learn that many people seem to feel trepidation about growing these plants. They are pricey, certainly, but for me they have been so easy as to be almost ridiculous. I have given mine absolutely no coddling and while my soil isn’t the worst in the world, I think, it isn’t going to win any “Best Tilth” awards, either.

I am conducting a little experiment, then, to see just how tough a hellebore can be. My only expectation is that at least one of these clumps should thrive in spite of me.

I dug up a few clumps of seedlings with my beloved garden knife. Note the exemplary growing conditions.

Experiment methodology:

  1. Dig a hole the same size as the transplant (no larger).
  2. Plop it into the hole (do not amend soil).
  3. Mash with foot.
  4. Do not water.
  5. Do not feed.
  6. Do not tend.
  7. Return periodically to assess progress or demise.

playhouse site

Test Plot A: The kids’ playhouse.  Just above the concrete block on the left of the photo is a window from which the children pretend to sell ice cream. It gets plenty of foot traffic. This is also the landing site for the bucket on a pulley, which hoists things to the fort’s lookout level. The soil here has never been amended, unless you count the occasional covering with a wood chip mulch to cut down on the mud. This site is in deep shade and grass can’t grow here. Assuming similar conditions to neighboring undeveloped garden spaces, the pH here is 4.8.

water meter, west facing

Test Plot B: West-facing gravel scree atop the water meter. This site receives neither foot traffic nor love. The most human attention it gets is a scowl from me as I leave the driveway, thinking “I have got to do something about that space.” May occasionally receive attention from dogs being walked. There are lots of neighborhood dogs.

barren south facing site

Test Plot C: South-facing, against the concrete foundation. The soil here is completely untended, rock-solid clay. I expect it to receive some foot traffic as it is in the access path for any people and equipment who will be working on the addition to our house this summer.

living above ground

Test plot D: No-man’s land behind the shed. Test Subject D, slightly more mature than its counterparts, will live above ground, simply in the clod in which it was dug up. This is in a shady site behind my shed, where large pots and leftover bricks are stored.

These test plantings were established and photos taken on March 28, 2013. We’ll check in periodically and see how they fare.

Aspidistra. Latin for “totally easy.”

Often used as a houseplant, Aspidistra elatior, commonly known as cast iron plant, lives up to its name in my garden (note: that’s not my garden below).

Photo by Nino Barbieri, via Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 Unported  license. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:Aspidistra_elatior_-_01.jpg

Photo by Nino Barbieri, via Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 Unported license. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:Aspidistra_elatior_-_01.jpg

If you have dense shade and live in warmer climes, Aspidistra is a terrific choice for either an evergreen groundcover or an accent plant. It accepts neglect, drought, heat, humidity, and apparently, salt. It copes well with my acid clay. If you have alkaline sand, well, have a go and let me know how it works out.

Use this plant! It won’t trouble you, I promise, and it’s more interesting than most big-box store offerings. Black thumbs of the world, you are on notice. Prepare to surrender your titles.

Plant Delights Nursery carries a number of unusual and attractive Aspidistra species. But if, like me, your pockets aren’t quite so deep, they’re not hard to find elsewhere (even those big-box stores; check the houseplant section. But support your local independent nurseries.).