The Great Butterfly Bush Debate

Butterfly on butterfly bush bloom

Butterfly on butterfly bush bloom

Butterfly Bush, Buddleia davidii, has been widely bashed from garden writers, ecologists, and conservationists. Attacked from all sides by master gardeners and other garden professionals, I am sticking to my guns on the benefits and pleasures of planting it. “An invasive thug that only provides sugar-water”: That is the complaint that conservationists use to discourage you from planting this shrub.

Swallowtail

Swallowtail

 As a preferred late summer nectar source and butterfly magnet, I enthusiastically promote it in my butterfly presentations for its many virtues. An important tool to draw butterflies, I also plant many natives next to it that can act as host plants.

Swallowtail on bloom

Swallowtail on bloom

One of the few flowering shrubs that deer will not touch, I use it all the time in my landscape designs as an easy to grow, beautiful, fragrant, disease free, flowering shrub. The only care required is a general whacking back of the whole shrub in the early spring to encourage bushiness and flower production. Over 100 varieties provide a wide palette of forms, sizes, and colors, to choose from. The dwarf varieties are especially valuable for small gardens and containers, like ‘Blue Chip’ and ‘Pink Chip’, growing only 4 feet tall.

Butterfly Bush 'Pink Chip'

Butterfly Bush ‘Pink Chip’

Why do butterflies love this plant? Providing loads of sugar water , the nectar filled nectaries, are shallow which is important to accommodate the short-tongued butterfly. Butterflies can reach the copious nectar easily which has a high percentage of sucrose, an energy fuel. Attractive to moths, bees, and other insects, this plant is valuable to all kinds of wildlife, not just butterflies.

Miss Molly Butterfly Bush in border

Miss Molly Butterfly Bush in border

Miss Molly adds a new color, raspberry, to the mix

Miss Molly adds a new color, raspberry, to the mix

Native to Japan and China, butterflies don’t care where their source of nectar hails from. In my post Butterfly Watching, I noted that butterflies have taste receptors on their feet to locate food and if their foot’s receptor and the molecule match, the butterfly eats. So, the plant’s origin is irrelevant and is an attractive food source. As humans, we eat many non-native plants, why can’t a butterfly do the same?

The butterfly bloom nectaries are numerous and easily accessible

The butterfly bloom nectaries are easily accessible

Invasive thug or non-native adaptive? There are several ways of looking at this plant. I know that it invades into mostly disturbed areas where lots of aliens/invasives have already taken over and is known as an invasive in over 25 states. But still, it is providing an important late summer source, when it is sorely needed. The other short-coming that ecologists claim is that butterfly bush only provides nectar, not acting as a host plant for the caterpillar to reproduce, but that is also true of other native plants.

Monarch caterpillar on milkweed

Monarch caterpillar on milkweed

Butterfly Bush seeds do not ripen until dry weather during the following spring. Worried by the potential for invasiveness? Then you can dead head it before the seeds ripen in the spring or cut the whole bush back which will eliminate the spread of seeds into adjacent habitat. Colonizing disturbed ground sites such as railway lines, quarries, roadsides and waste ground, butterfly bush can form dense stands of shrubs that butterflies flock to. What’s not to like!? Here is the position of the UK’s Butterfly Conservation on their website:

“Buddleia provides an important nectar source for adult butterflies, moths and other insects in townscapes and the countryside. This has become increasingly relevant because wildflowers have become so depleted following habitat loss and the general lack of nectar sources in the countryside. It also brings enjoyment to many people, both because of its heavy-scented and beautiful blooms but also because of the butterflies and other insects it attracts. It therefore plays a role, alongside other non-native garden plants, in helping to maintain or restore the link between people and native UK wildlife such as butterflies. In gardens, Buddleia is often pruned annually thus removing seed-heads and reducing the potential for seeding.

Buddleia is not important as a caterpillar food-plant and cannot replace naturally occurring wildflowers, which are crucial to provide a variety of nectar through the year as well as being food-plants for caterpillars. Buddleia can cause serious problems on some important conservation sites, especially brownfield sites. It needs to be controlled in these and other semi-natural sites to allow natural vegetation to develop. The cost of control can sometimes be considerable.

In reaching a position on Buddleia it is important to weigh up the undoubted benefits it brings in garden situations against the possible risks to wildlife habitats. It is also important to recognise that Buddleia is already naturalised and well established across much of the UK.

In view of its value as a nectar source, BC will continue to recommend its planting in gardens alongside other butterfly-friendly non-native plants, but will avoid giving it undue prominence and will give advice on its management and control.

Miss Molly

Miss Molly

A sea change is going on with some conservationists, that we are dealing with a changed world and there is no way to go back to an idealized world of  stable co-habitating species. From the beginning of time, species have moved around, finding new territories, and creating new ecological niches. Invasive species, like it or not, are part of nature. Serving an ecological purpose, whether it aligns with our idea of what it should look like, isn’t relevant to nature.

And according to the Royal Horticultural Society:

• Research reveals a mixture of native and non-native ornamental plants may provide the best resources for pollinating insects in gardens
• Native plants are not always the first choice for pollinators visiting gardens
• Non-native plants can prolong the flowering season providing an additional food source.

So, armed with this knowledge, you make the decision.

Swallowtail on bloom

Swallowtail on bloom

Posted in Insects and butterflies, invasive, native plant | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , | 5 Comments

Got Milk…….. Weed?

Painted Lady butterfly on milkweed

Painted Lady butterfly on milkweed

One of the most beautiful flowers, both in flower and seed pod, as well as great importance to wildlife, has been relegated to the roadside for years and virtually ignored. Asclepias syriaca, or common milkweed, is struggling and harder to find because wild areas are disappearing and roadsides are  regularly mown. “Familiarity breeds contempt” is a common saying and one that I would apply to this plant. Only when something becomes scarce do we appreciate it, and I can see that happening with milkweed. But there is a sea change coming down the pike and people are being urged to plant this “weed”.

One colony of plants connected by underground roots

One colony of plants connected by underground roots

Acknowledged as a primary source for survival of many insects, notably the Monarch,  people are waking up to its integral role in supporting other wildlife. See my post Monarch Waystation on the many reasons to plant milkweed for Monarch survival.

Milkweed has a highly complex flower structure and quite beautiful

Milkweed has a highly complex flower structure and is quite beautiful

Milkweed Facts

  • Milkweed is the only plant on which monarch butterflies will lay their eggs, and it is the only food source for monarch caterpillars

  • It grows in colonies that expand in size every year; each individual in a colony is one side shoot of a large plant and are genetically identical or a clone; one large branching underground rhizome connects the entire colony

A caterpillar munching away at a milkweed leaf

A caterpillar munching away at a milkweed leaf

  • Surprisingly, the flowers are extremely fragrant and you can smell a colony long before you see it

  • Although one shoot may have between 300 to 500 flowers that make up the umbels, only a few of these develop into pods

    Pods of milkweed are held vertically

    Pods of milkweed are held vertically

     

  • Vegetative and flower growth is rapid, but the pod development is very slow and held on the plant for many weeks

  • All pods are held vertically to the plant and hold many seeds; germination of these seeds is very sparse; milkweed more likely expands by underground rhizomes than from seed

    Thorny pods of milkweed

    Thorny pods of milkweed

  • The nectar is very high in sugar content, 3% sucrose, and the supply is constantly being renewed over the life of the flower; the flowers produce much more concentrated nectar than the many insects that feed on it could ever remove

  • Milkweed teems with insect life, providing food and microhabitat to hundreds of insect varieties

     

  • At least 10 species of insects feed exclusively on milkweeds, notably the Monarch butterfly caterpillar

Monarch caterpillar

Monarch caterpillar

  • The adult Monarch lays its eggs on the leaves of common milkweed, the larvae live on its leaves and milky sap, and the adult Monarchs drink from the flower nectar, although adults will drink from other flowers

  • The latex milky sap from the milkweed is extremely toxic to other wildlife and is concentrated in the tissues of the Monarch which protects it against predators

The milky sap is toxic

The milky sap is toxic

  • The adult Monarch migrates south. East of the Mississippi, they fly as far as 4,800 meters to over winter in Mexico, often to the same tree location

    Tropical Milkweed, Asclepias curassavica, is found in hotter climates, like Florida

    Tropical Milkwwed, Asclepias curassavica, is found in hotter climates, like Florida

    This relationship between the milkweed plant and the monarch butterfly makes the pairing a symbiosis, where they become one entity instead of two separate organisms. Most importantly, without the presence of the milkweed plant, monarchs would go extinct.

Asclepias incarnata

Asclepias incarnata

Other Varieties of Milkweed

Asclepias tuberosa, orange-flowered Milkweed below is probably my all time favorite for drawing insects and pollinators to the garden early in the season, around June for me in the mid-Atlantic. A long-lasting cut flower, I scatter it through my borders to brighten up early summer plantings. It comes in an all yellow version called “Hellow Yellow”.

Yellow butterfly Weed "Hello Yellow"

Yellow butterfly Weed “Hello Yellow”

Another milkweed which is a conversation piece oddity is Asclepias physocarpa, or Hairy Balls. Forming puffy seed balls two to three inches in diameter, the orbs are covered with hairs and are quite bizarre looking. Perfect for flower arranging, the cut branches are quite expensive to buy from a florist, but easy to grow. A favored host of the Monarch butterfly, I always try to grow this plant for the odd looking pods.

Hairy balls forms a bizarre pod

Hairy balls forms a bizarre pod

Tropical milkweed, Asclepias curassavica, is commonly seen growing in Florida and has bright red-orange and yellow flowers and is also a great nectar source. The leaves are narrower and the plant produces many more seed pods than the common milkweed.

 

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Hypertufa Party

 

Hypertufa party gear

Hypertufa party gear

Hypertufa troughs

Hypertufa troughs

Gardener’s Dictionary

Hypertufa (n.): An artificial and lightweight stone that gardeners can create from a recipe and mold into plant containers, troughs and any other shape.

If you mention hypertufa to a non-gardener, you would probably get a blank look. But in the gardening world, it is very trendy and a sign of a serious gardener is the number of hypertufas scattered in their garden.

Hypertufas lining a wall

Hypertufas lining a wall

Perfect for planting miniatures and alpine plants, hypertufa troughs fit into any size garden, large or small. A man-made imitation of light weight tufa rock, hypertufa is a mixture of 3 things: perlite, peat moss, and portland cement. Some fiberglass fibers used for strengthening is a good idea but not essential.

Old enameled bowls make good molds for gardens

Old enameled bowls make good molds for gardens

Purchasing a ready-made one is always an option but pricey. A medium 15″ trough could set you back around $75, whereas the materials for constructing several will be around $30. And the fun involved is something that pulls people together for a hypertufa party, complete with wine and lots of food.

Use an old cat litter box for a rectangular mold

Use an old cat litter box for a rectangular mold

Any Excuse for a Party!

Hypertufa partying takes some planning and preparation but is worth it once everything starts to happen. Mise en place- the cooking phrase, having everything in place, is paramount here. You don’t want to be running around gathering supplies while everyone is waiting. I tell my guests that I will provide all the materials for making if they bring a mold on a piece of plywood, a face mask, and rubber gloves. Molds are simply a tupperware bowl without a lip, an old styrofoam ice chest, cat litter container, or a sturdy box.

Prep

  • Blue Tarps– I use a couple of blue throw away tarps to lay on the ground which makes cleanup a breeze

  • Face Masks and Gloves– Face masks are essential to keep you from breathing portland cement dust which is toxic; Rubber gloves keep your hands clean

  • Mixing Tub– I use an old cement mixing tub, but any wide mouthed plastic container will do

  • Mixing Tools– Use a shovel or sturdy garden trowel

  • Old Trash Bags– Using plastic between the container and the hypertufa mix when packed into the mold makes the unmolding process easy

  • Plywood Pieces– The pieces when wet are heavy and hard to transport without a study board underneath it

Mixing peat most, cement, perlite, and fiberglass fibers together

Hypertufa Ingredients

  • Portland Cement-one 96 pound bag which costs around $15; this will make lots of troughs, at least 12 good sized ones

  • Peat moss– 3.8 cubic feet bag will cost around $16

  • Perlite-one 4 cubic bag costs around $14

  • Mesh Fibers– These cement fiberglass fibers are a strengthening agent for the hypertufa, available at cement suppliers or on line, a 1 pound bag at $7

Perlite is the ingredient that makes the mixture very light and porous

Perlite is the ingredient that makes the mixture very light and porous

You can get the perlite and the peat moss in smaller sizes if you just want to make a couple of troughs, but the Portland Cement only comes in the monster size.

I cut open the Portland cement bag with a knife and scoop out the contents-Wear a mask!

I cut open the Portland cement bag with a knife and scoop out the contents-Wear a mask!

Mixing

Using a small bucket for measuring, use 3 parts portland cement to 2 parts each of the perlite and peat moss and mix these thoroughly into a mixing tub, breaking up lumps. Add the fibers at this point, if you are using them. I find if you add the fiberglass fibers your hypertufa is more resistant to cracking in the long run.

Use a small bucket for measuring

Use a small bucket for measuring

Enlist everyone at this stage in mixing and squeezing the lumps to make a uniform mix. Next have your hose handy and start adding water in increments, mixing after each addition until the mixture will hold in a clump in your hand. It resembles wet cottage cheese at this point.

The mixture should form a ball in your hand

The mixture should form a ball in your hand

Testing the mixture

Molding – The Fun Begins!

Molding and forming the trough is the fun part.  Everyone brought their mold staged on a sturdy piece of plywood so that they can transport it home easily.  We covered the molds with a piece of old trash bag which greatly simplifies the removal of the mold from the hypertufa.  After donning their gloves, people dove into the tub and grabbed handfuls of the mixture and start covering their mold with a two-inch layer of hypertufa mixture. It is important to have good coverage so that the walls are sturdy and won’t cave in.  I had dowels ready for people to insert through the bottom of the troughs for drainage holes.

Molding the mixture around a large bowl

A hypertufa made in a styrofoam ice chest

A hypertufa made in a styrofoam ice chest

Curing 

After everyone had thoroughly coated their mold and smoothed the bottom and sides, we took a break and admired everyone’s creations. At that point, the troughs are ready for curing.  Curing simply means that the cement has to dry slowly to avoid any cracks forming. To do this, simply mist the container once a day and cover the trough with a piece of plastic to hold in the moisture. You can’t rush this step and it will take a couple of weeks to fully harden and cure.

Some hypertufa troughs curing in their molds; keep them wet for a couple of weeks before unmolding

Some hypertufa troughs curing in their molds; keep them wet for a couple of weeks before unmolding

Planting

After waiting impatiently for about a month, you can turn the hypertufa over and remove the mold.  At that time, you can fill it with soil and plant with succulents or miniature plants. Your completed trough will last for years outside and will eventually grow moss to make it look like an antique planter.

Beautiful established trough

 

Posted in Gardening crafts | Tagged , , , , | 6 Comments

Butterfly Watching

A skipper butterfly inserting its proboscis into the flower slurping up nectar
A skipper butterfly inserting its proboscis into the flower slurping up nectar

Butterflies are flying everywhere in my yard, swooping, basking, and fluttering like graceful ballerinas in a ballet. Observing the butterflies visiting my flowers and trying to catch them with my camera is difficult at times, so I did some research about their habits to make it more likely to capture them in the lens of my camera.

A swallowtail nearing the end of its life shows some wear
A swallowtail nearing the end of its life shows some wear

Cold blooded creatures, butterflies remind me of snakes and lizards who seek out the heat of the sun for warmth, and that is exactly where you will find them. When the sun comes out, butterflies magically appear. Living for a fleeting 2 to 4 weeks, butterflies are interested in doing only two things-eating and reproducing.

Gulf Fritillary on Zinnia

Gulf Fritillary basking on Zinnia

Here are some factoids that will help you observe and understand butterfly behaviors and hopefully catch a good picture! Or just to enjoy their swooping antics.

Quick, darting little skipper butterfly on Zinnia
Quick, darting little skipper butterfly on Zinnia
  • Butterflies love the sun and need heat from the sun to warm their bodies, so you will see fewer butterflies on a cloudy day.

  • Watch where you stand when observing butterflies so you don’t cast a shadow that could scare them off.

Monarch

Monarch

  • Butterflies fly more often at 9:30 to 12 in the morning and 2 to 3:30 in the afternoon, and like a light breeze.

  • Butterflies are slower in their movements in cooler temperatures so you probably could catch them ‘basking’ in the sun at lower temperatures. Butterflies need an ideal body temperature of about 85ºF to fly. Since they’re cold-blooded animals, they can’t regulate their own body temperatures. If the air temperature falls below 55ºF, butterflies remain immobile, unable to flee from predators or feed. When air temperatures range between 82º-100ºF, butterflies can fly with ease. Cooler days require a butterfly to warm up its flight muscles, either be shivering or basking in the sun. And even sun-loving butterflies can get overheated when temperatures soar above 100ºF, and may seek shade to cool down.

Monarch basking

A basking butterfly perches with its wings outstretched in a patch of sunlight to raise its internal temperature. This is a great time to get a good picture of them

  • Butterflies don’t have any chewing mouth parts, but eat by sipping nectar, through their proboscis. The proboscis is found curled neatly on the lower side of the head when not eating. When a butterfly eats, the proboscis extends like a straw which they insert deep into the flower to suck up the nectar, a behavior called ‘nectaring’. When eating they will circle around a flower for seconds at a time, making sure to drain all the nectar.

Curled proboscis

Curled proboscis

  • Some butterflies don’t have access to flowers, such as rainforest understories, and will instead eat the liquids from fermenting fruit found on the forest floor.

Owl Butterfly feeding on fruit

Owl Butterfly feeding on fruit

  • Male butterflies can be found puddling, sipping at the moisture in puddles or wet soil. They are also benefiting from the salts dissolved in the water which increases a male butterfly’s fertility.

  • Butterflies lay their eggs on the specific host plants and are very particular in finding the perfect plant to do this. For a great list of host plants with pictures of butterflies, go to Dallas Butterflies. This includes butterflies in my region of the mid-Atlantic as well as other areas of the United States. I am always looking at my host plants to see if I can find eggs or caterpillars. A plant stripped of leaves is a good sign of caterpillars.

Black Swallowtail caterpillar feeding on parsley plant

Black Swallowtail caterpillar feeding on parsley plant

Skipper butterfly on lily

Skipper butterfly on lily

 

  • Butterfly wings are transparent. Formed of layers of chitin, a protein that makes up the insect’s exoskeleton,  thousands of tiny scales  cover the wings which reflect light in different colors. Moths and butterflies are the only insects to have scales.

Transparent wings of a swallowtail

Transparent wings of a swallowtail

  • Butterflies taste with their feet. Taste receptors on a butterfly’s feet find its host plant and locate food.  A female butterfly lands on different plants, drumming the leaves with her feet to make the plant release its juices. Spines on the back of her legs have chemo-receptors that detect the right match of plant chemicals. When she identifies the right plant after visiting at least several choices, she lays her eggs.

  • Adult butterflies can only feed on liquids, usually nectar. Modified mouthparts enable them to drink, but they can’t chew solids

Swallowtail on Mexican sunflower

Swallowtail on Mexican sunflower

  • Within about 10-12 feet, butterfly eyesight is quite good. Anything beyond that distance gets a little blurry to a butterfly. Butterflies rely on their eyesight for vital tasks, like finding mates of the same species, and finding flowers on which to feed. In addition to seeing some of the colors we can see, butterflies can see a range of ultraviolet colors invisible to the human eye. The butterflies themselves may have ultraviolet markings on their wings to help them identify one another and locate potential mates.

Swallowtail on Zinnia

Swallowtail on Zinnia

  • Lots of hungry predators are happy to make a meal of a butterfly. Some butterflies fold their wings to blend into the background using camouflage, rendering themselves all but invisible to predators. Others try the opposite strategy, wearing vibrant colors and patterns that boldly announce their presence. Brightly colored insects often pack a toxic punch if eaten, so predators learn to avoid them.

The brightly colored Monarch is toxic to predators because of  a chemical that it ingests from eating milkweed

The brightly colored Monarch is toxic to predators because of a chemical that it ingests from eating milkweed

 

Plant nectar rich flowers for a steady parade of colorful butterflies to visit your garden. Go to Plant These For the Bees for ideas on plant choices which work with all pollinators. Tithonia, or Mexican Sunflower, Zinnias, and Lilies are my all time favorites for butterfly attraction and watching.

Skipper butterflies on Dahlia

Skipper butterflies on Dahlia

Bee Skep poster, go thttps://www.etsy.com/listing/182225449/18-x-24-pollination-poster-plant-these?

Bee Skep poster, go thttps://www.etsy.com/listing/182225449/18-x-24-pollination-poster-plant-these?

Posted in Pollination | Tagged , , , , , , | 6 Comments

Plant Lust: More Must-Haves

Echinacea 'Pink Poodle'

Echinacea ‘Pink Poodle’

With a Perennial Plant Association conference under my belt this past week, touring “wow” gardens, and cruising the trade show aisles filled to overflowing with new perennial introductions, you would think that I have ‘perennial fatigue’. It sounds like a new disease doesn’t it? But I have the perennial bug bad. And my list of must-haves just ballooned like an Peony on steroids! Here are some perennials that I will be looking for at the nearest garden center or big box stores. The big box stores sometimes get the new intros before my wholesale nursery starts to carry them, so I will be on the hunt. Go to Plant Lust- 8 Must Haves to see some other plant acquisitions on my list.

Heliopsis ‘Sunstruck’

Heliopsis 'Sunstruck'

Heliopsis ‘Sunstruck’

The variegated foliage of Heliopsis helianthoides ‘Sunstruck” was an attribute that jumped out at me right away. The flower is pretty too and I think for the size of the plant (a gallon), there were plenty of them.  Ultimately growing 14 to 16 inches tall with a similar spread, this is a selection of our native wildflower, False Sunflower. Forming a medium tall mound of silver and green variegated leaves with branching heads of sunny flowers in mid to late season, this should be attractive to native pollinators. Foliage beauty is very important to me since a perennial will only flower for a limited amount of time and this one has it in spades.

Echinacea ‘Pink Poodle’

Echinacea 'Pink Poodle' planted with lavender Russian Sage

Echinacea ‘Pink Poodle’ planted with lavender Russian Sage

DSCN3325

Yes, I know, another Coneflower! I have Coneflower overload but this ‘Pink ‘Poodle’ was a standout in a perennial border that I visited. Introduced in 2009, but overlooked by me, the double-flowered plant features very full and fluffy-looking flowers packed with bright pink petals, resembling a dahlia. The plant habit is well-branched, strong and bushy. It is excellent for cutting, but I suspect that it won’t be as attractive to butterflies as the single flowered ones. If you are familiar with ‘Razzmatazz’, which looks very similar, this is a much better plant.

Helenium ‘Red Jewel’

Helenium 'Red Jewel'

Helenium ‘Red Jewel’

I am always on the hunt for red flowers. Red attracts hummers and butterflies, and it goes with everything. This Helenium ‘Red Jewel’ attracted my attention on an estate property along a country lane mixed with other herbaceous perennials. Petal skirts of garnet red surround the brown center and look like tiny ballerinas dancing through the foliage. Tall at 4 feet and yes, it probably needs to be staked unless you have other shrubs or perennials around supporting it, the flowers attract butterflies. Requiring full sun, with a good amount of room, I imagine planting this at the back of a border and enjoying the late season color.

Helenium 'Red Jewel' will probably need staking of other support

Helenium ‘Red Jewel’ will probably need staking of other support

Agastache ‘Kudos’

If you have never grown an Agastache or Anise Hyssop, go right to the nursery and pick one up. Deer resistance, longevity of bloom, attraction to pollinators, ease of growth, and fabulous scent, are just some of the attributes of this great plant. This is one of my top plants for attracting pollinators. Go to Plant These For the Bees for other good selections. Overwintering an Agastache has been a challenge for me. They sometimes make it and sometimes not, and of course drainage is always implicated when a plant fails. Only ‘Blue Fortune’ Agastache has been reliable for me, and the other varieties I treat more as annuals. But the Kudos series is purportedly hardier and also mildew resistant which can be a problem.

Agastache 'Kudos Gold'

Agastache ‘Kudos Gold’

‘Kudos’ are shorter than other Anise Hyssops, clocking in at 17-20″ tall. So, more compact, fuller flowers, and the blooms come in an array of colors-gold, ambrosia, coral, mandarin, silver blue, and yellow. What’s not to like? I have the gold one in the ground and am very interested to see if it survives my winter here in zone 6b. The claims of hardiness are zones 5 through 9.

Agastache 'Kudos  Ambrosia'

Agastache ‘Kudos Ambrosia’

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Rolling in the Blackberries

Blackberries ripening

Blackberries ripening

Blackberry Deluge

It is late July and August and that means plump juicy blackberries are ready and waiting. I am looking for ways to use them as I pick about a quart a day and we can’t eat them fast enough. I will freeze some but I love to use them fresh and they are classified as a “superfood”, full of antioxidants and other good stuff. I use them as a garnish for green salads,  a topping for yogurt and granola, pies, jam, and cobblers.

Culture

Blackberries starting to ripen

Blackberries starting to ripen

If you have never grown blackberries, this is one of the easiest and most satisfying berry to grow. I started with one “cane” or stem of a thornless blackberry variety some years ago and it can grow to be one ginormous mass of a plant unless you train it to a trellis.  The tips of the canes will root in and produce more progeny to start more plants and you can end up with a field of blackberries.

Blackberry canes will tip root into the soil to make new plants

Blackberry canes will tip root into the soil to make new plants

One day of picking!

One day of picking!

For trellising, I found that cattle fence was the perfect candidate by being both sturdy and cheap. Trained canes out-produce untrained ones in spades.  And because trained ones fan out on the fence, you can pick from both sides and reach your hand through the cattle fence if you spot one nestled on the opposite side. Three sturdy metal fence posts support the 10 foot piece of cattle fence.  Tractor Supply is a great source for this type of fencing.

Blackberries trained on cattle fence

Blackberries trained on cattle fence

Planting foot high suckers in early spring alongside the cattle fence about every foot or so produced a wall of blackberries a couple of months later. These are quick off the mark berries! They took off running and covered the fence completely and flowered and set fruit. Planted in partial shade next to two pine stumps. The speed at which the canes produced surprised me. The only maintenance was a pine straw mulch and tying the canes to the fence. I didn’t bother to water or fertilize.  Blueberries in contrast take at least 5  years to amount to anything and you have to acidify the soil, fertilize, etc. and pick them for hours. So, ease of maintenance of these vitamin packed blackberries converted me to a true believer.

Picking Is So Easy

Picked berries ready to go

Picked berries ready to go

Picking is a snap as they slip right off the cane, are easy to spot, and with trellising, the berries are at eye level. The berries fill a bowl up quickly and I just rinse them off before use. Other berries, such as strawberries, you have to crouch down and lift leaves to spot the berries, as well as capping the berry before eating- a lot more work!

Sorbet is one of my favorite hot weather desserts so I decided to try making it with my favorite berry. Blackberry Sorbet was delicious and it used two pounds of berries. Here is the recipe:

001

Blackberry Sorbet

2 C water

2 1/2 C granulated sugar

2 Pounds of blackberries (about 8 cups)

4 T lime juice

4 T Creme de Cassis liquor (optional, this is a black currant liquor which added a nice zing)

Heat up the water and add sugar and stir until dissolved. Place saucepan in fridge to chill. Process the blackberries into a puree in a food processor. Add this puree to the chilled sugar syrup and then strain the entire mixture through a fine sieve to remove the seeds. You need to press the mixture through with a wooden spoon until you get as much liquid through the sieve as you can. You will end up with a slurry of seeds which you can discard in your compost or feed the chickens.

Add the lime juice and the cassis to the mixture and place the mixture in the fridge with plastic wrap on the top to chill for at least 6 hours, preferably overnight. Once thoroughly chilled, transfer the mixture to your ice cream machine and process according to the manufacturer’s directions. It took about 30 minutes for the mixture to make sorbet in my ice cream maker. If you don’t have enough blackberries, you could halve this recipe. This recipe makes almost 8 cups of sorbet, enough for desserts for a week.

028

Make your sugar syrup

025

Weigh or measure your berries

032

Process berries into a puree

039

Add chilled sugar syrup to puree with seeds

031

Squeeze lime

033

Measure crème de cassis along with lime juice

041

Add juice and cassis to mixture and press through sieve

044

Chill strained puree for at least 6 hours

Freeze in your ice cream maker and enjoy!

Freeze in your ice cream maker and enjoy!

Posted in Cooking in the garden, Edible plants, gardening, vegetable gardening | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , | 8 Comments

Plant Lust- 8 Must Haves

Longwood's borders are chock full of annuals, perennials, and shrubs

Longwood’s borders are chock full of annuals, perennials, and shrubs

Plant Lust

According to Urban Dictionary, Plant Lust is defined as an uncontrolled desire or craving for any member of the kingdom Plantae. Yes, I just added that to the Urban dictionary as it is a well known term to plant addicts and I fit right into this category. Plant lust or envy is a condition with no cure or treatment. A craving or appetite for unusual plants is a common condition in garden circles and you learn to live with it. See what is on my current list.

Kingdom Plantae Wish List

I have a running list of plant acquisitions in the Kingdom Plantae pegged on my bulletin board that I “must” have. Understand, that I don’t “need” any of these. I need more plants like my dog needs more toys! I compare it to clothes shopping when you are not looking for anything in particular, and then spot something so perfect that from that moment on, you can’t do without.  When I visit different gardens and see something irresistible, I whip out my iphone, take a picture and look for the name tag. That happened recently when I visited Longwood Gardens in Kennett Square, PA, and my plant envy list just got longer. Here are a few things that I will be looking for next year, either seeds or plants, anyway that I can get them!

Pennisetum 'Feathertop'

Pennisetum ‘Feathertop’

1. Pennisetum villosum ‘Feathertop’– I am not a huge grass fan, but I definitely have some favorites that I use at many of my landscape jobs. Hakonechloa or Japanese Forest Grass, pictured below, is my absolute favorite grass for shade. But I am open to suggestions for new favorites.

Japanese Forest Grass 'All Gold'

Japanese Forest Grass ‘All Gold’

 

So when I saw this Pennisetum ‘Feathertop’, I fell in love. Yes, it is an annual for me because it is hardy in zone 8 to 10. And yes, it looks like it could seed in after reading the reviews- meaning coming up everywhere. But with its pretty, white, bottlebrush plumes, perfect for cut flowers, these dramatic plumes contrast with all kinds of perennials – kind of how a pretty scarf can ramp up your outfit. This valuable attribute helped give Feathertop the Award of Garden Merit from the Royal Horticultural Society in 2002.

 

Feathertop Pennisetum

Pennisetum Feathertop with Verbena bonariensis

Pennisetum Feathertop with Verbena bonariensis

 

Feathertop Pennisetum

Feathertop Pennisetum

2. Ammi majus or Bishops Weed- An annual that looks like Queen Anne’s Lace on steroids. Instead of a flat umbel profile, the flower is dome-shaped, with beautiful frilly fern-like foliage. This plant also can seed in, but that’s quite all right. I can deal with it. I see this as a great filler and valuable addition in cut flower arrangements.

Ammi majus

Ammi majus

Dome shaped flower of Ammi majus

Dome shaped flower of Ammi majus

3. Celosia argentea ‘Sylphid’

Celosia 'Sylphid' with Zinnias

Celosia ‘Sylphid’ with Zinnias

What can I say about green flowers? I am a sucker for them every time. And when I spotted this Sylphid Plume Celosia, it was love at first sight. Graceful greenish-yellow feathery plumes sit on tall straight stems.  The perfect color to set off vibrant colors in your garden or bouquet.

4. Flashpoint Lily

Flashpoint lily in a garden

Flashpoint lily in a garden

Flashpoint is a Orienpet Lily (cross between an Oriental and Trumpet) which is an explosion of color, red and cream outfacing blooms. I didn’t see these at Longwood, but love this combination so much, I am going to duplicate it in my garden. Similar to a ‘Stargazer’ lily but with a lot more substance and staying power. Fragrant too!

5. Dahlia ‘Pam Howden’

dahlia

Dahlia 'Pam Howden'

Dahlia ‘Pam Howden’

Dahlias are definitely my weakness. Big, blowsy, colorful blooms that arrange beautifully and draw pollinators. What’s not to like? Pam Howden, a ‘waterlily’ type, is one I spotted and will be planting next year. Loaded with blooms, I admired another dahlia, pictured below, Starfire.

Starfire dahlia

Starfire dahlia

6. Hibiscus ‘Fifth Dimension’

Fifth Dimension Hibiscus has a beautiful silvery plum center

Fifth Dimension Hibiscus has a beautiful silvery plum center

Hibiscus was definitely not on my radar when I went to Longwood, but this one practically jumped up and hit me – Fifth Dimension. Looking the flower up on-line, I discovered that when the bloom first starts to open,  it is orange with a silvery contrasting center. As the day progresses, the orange changes to yellow. I caught this bloom in the yellow stage. Go to Longwood Gardens Blog  to see a time-lapse video of the transformation, like a psychedelic experience!

7. Gomphrena ‘Fireworks’

Gomphrena 'Fireworks'

Gomphrena ‘Fireworks’

gomphrena

Gomphrena ‘Fireworks’

I admit I have grown this one before and loved it. But after spotting it in the Longwood beds, I need to add this to my permanent list of annuals for yearly planting.  Flowering all season long with straw textured globes, the ends of the petals are topped with yellow stars. I grow these from seed as I have never seen the transplants available in the spring.

8. Lisianthus or Eustoma 

Lisianthus comes in pink, white, and purple, and bi-colors

Lisianthus comes in pink, white, and purple, violet, and bi-colors

Commonly known as Prairie Gentian, Lisianthus plants are herbaceous annuals which have bluish-green, slightly succulent leaves and a large rose-like flowers growing on the long straight stems. Frequently seen as cut flowers at the florist, you can grow these in your garden if you can find the transplants in the spring as the seeds are very difficult and slow to germinate. Preferring cooler temperatures would limit this flower for me, but I would like to give it a try. Great as a long-lasting cut flower and I know this will be hard to find.

Lisianthus resembles a rose

Lisianthus resembles a rose

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Nectar in a Pot-Movable Feast

Pollinator garden in a container

Pollinator garden in a container

Do you want to have a pollinator garden but just don’t have the space for one? Plant a container instead, one that you could move around to sunny spots on your balcony or patio- like a movable feast!

Anise Hyssop, Blue Fortune in the container attracted lots of buble bees and butterflies

Anise Hyssop, Blue Fortune in the container attracted lots of bumble bees and butterflies

Plant It and They Will Come

We all know how important it is to plant nectar rich plants to create pollinators pockets to provide stopping points for all our native bees and honeybees(non-natives), and other visiting pollinators. Go to Monarch Way Station to see how to set up a complete area if you have the room for a raised bed or garden space. If not, try potting up a variety of perennials and annuals which are known butterfly magnets. For lists of plants specific to your region, I find the best resource is Xerces at The Xerces Society.

Setting out the plants

Setting out the plants

Plant it and they will come

Plant it and they will come

Ingredients

For the first pictured container, I used:

Oregano ‘Kent Beauty’ -2

Anise Hyssop ‘Blue Fortune’-2

Anise Hyssop ‘Tango’-1

Blazing Star-1

Yarrow ‘Red Velvet’-1

Butterfly bush ‘Miss Molly’-2

Verbena bonariensis-2

Lantana ‘Samantha’-2

Zinnia-2

Celosia-2

Coleus-1

Pentas-3

Pollinator container with Pentas, Zinnia, Anise Hyssop, Vinca, butterfly Weed and Bush, Coneflower

Pollinator container with Pentas, Zinnia, Anise Hyssop, Vinca, Butterfly Weed and Bush, Coneflower, Helenium, Oregano, Zinnia, Achillea

To pot up a container efficiently, simply set in your largest plants first, the tall Verbenas and Anise Hyssops,  towards the back of the pot, and fill in with the small and medium ones. My spiller was the Oregano and the Trailing Zinnia which will cascade in a couple of weeks. Planting in a 15 inch container ensured that I could move it around without straining my back and I stuffed 21 plants into it.

Scrape off excess soil around the root ball to fit all your plants into a confined space

Scrape off excess soil around the root ball to fit all your plants into a confined space

To make this possible, I had to shake some of the root ball soil off to make it easier to shoehorn all those plants together. Don’t be afraid to shake the excess soil and even remove some of the roots from the root ball as the plant will quickly make new roots.

caterpillar

A few days after I potted up the container with Butterfly Weed, a monarch caterpillar appeared munching away

To see more plants to plant for pollinators, go to Plant These For the Bees and check out the best methods for planting, such as blocking.

Bee Skep poster, go thttps://www.etsy.com/listing/182225449/18-x-24-pollination-poster-plant-these?

Bee Skep poster, go thttps://www.etsy.com/listing/182225449/18-x-24-pollination-poster-plant-these?

Posted in Container gardening, Insects and butterflies, Pollination | Tagged , , , , , | 2 Comments

Lawn Alternatives-Moss, Sedge, and Creeping Thyme

A creeping thyme lawn is springy and fragrant to walk on

A creeping thyme lawn is springy and fragrant to walk on

Everywhere you look in suburbia, there is at least some space devoted to the ubiquitous lawn. The main focus of U.S. gardening is the lawn which ironically was inspired by  British landscape gardening. Still, mown grass dominates public and private spaces but is a water hog, is laden with chemicals, and pollutes the air with engine driven lawn mowers and weed eaters.

To add to this love affair with lawns, many localities still have “lawn ordinances”, which effectively make any other form of front garden illegal, and prosecution for growing anything else is common.

Progressive gardeners often wage a war against lawns and the public perception that lawn is the only way to go is slowly changing. There is even a campaign website: lawnreform.org.  On this website are great pictures of a variety of sedges that are suitable for lawns.

 “Kerb-appeal” – a desire to appeal to future buyers or to show off the home is an American way of life and we are creatures of habit when it comes to our landscapes.  Americans want “low maintenance and evergreen” which translates to boring, cookie cutter landscapes with no connection to the architecture of the house.

There is nothing cookie cutter about English gardening!

There is nothing cookie cutter about English gardening!

On the other end of the spectrum, English gardeners express themselves through gardening and if you travel through an English neighborhood, each landscape is different. The pictures below came from a tiny village called Blockley in the Cotswolds where each house had their own personally unique  gardens, with very little or no lawn.

IMG_3306 English landscape English landscape

More and more people are ripping out parts, or their entire lawn and replacing with plants that require less water and care, most notably less cutting. In more arid parts of the country, there are incentives to replace lawns with alternatives like gravel or water sipping plantings.

Using arid loving plants doesn't mean boring- seen in front yard in California

Using arid loving plants doesn’t mean boring- seen in front yard in California

 

With our constant rain this summer in the mid-Atlantic region, we are cutting our lawn at least every 4-5 days which requires a lot of time and produces a copious amounts of dirty exhaust and burns fossil fuel. Not to mention that a lawn is a sterile “desert” with poor underlying  soil with little to no biological action of microbial life and earth worms that make a soil healthy.

PA Sedge, Carex pensylvanica is a great alternative to fescue

PA Sedge, Carex pensylvanica is a great alternative to fescue

DSCN0693

But there are alternatives like creeping thyme for sunny locations and moss for shady moist locations. If you really want grass, you can plant a sedge that hardly ever needs cutting. Pennsylvania Sedge or Carex pensylvanica doesn’t look as neat and tidy as a fescue but it rarely needs cutting. It does need sun to grow in thick like the above picture.

Moss

A mossy "lawn" is not as manicured as a fescue lawn but is perfect for shady locations

A mossy “lawn” is not as manicured as a fescue lawn but is perfect for shady locations

Moss wouldn’t work in low moisture climates but is an alternative in shady locations. Designers and designers who are looking for sustainable, shade loving options, either as a lawn replacement or a sculptural backdrop as accents, have discovered moss.

Moss can accent sculptural pieces

Moss can accent sculptural pieces

Think Smooth

To start your own moss garden you need to first remove any existing plants, especially grass and weeds. Apply a pre-emergent like Preen to discourage germination of any existing seeds. Smooth out the soil, which can be loam or clay, but not too sandy. Any dips or undulations in the soil will be visible once the moss starts growing. Sandy soils won’t hold the moisture needed for good moss growth. Moss is a great soil stabilizer but must be mature to channel water for runoff.Bulbs and primroses growing up through moss

Bulbs and primroses growing up through moss

Preparing really smooth soil speeds up rhizome (underground stems) attachment and encourages faster branching so be sure to remove any debris, sticks stones, and leaves.

Ph

I was always under the impression that moss grows in only acidic soil, in ranges below 7 which is neutral on the Ph scale. But doing my research on moss culture, they aren’t really particular about Ph because the rhizomes do not feed on the soil. Plant any companion plants before you introduce the moss, smoothing the soil after planting.

Moss lawns are easy in the Pacific Northwest

Moss lawns are easy in the Pacific Northwest

You can scrape up patches of moss from the woods or other parts of your property and place them on top of your smooth soil. Scratch the surface very slightly before laying the patches down so that they will adhere and press the patches firmly into the soil, preferably by stepping on them. Contact is crucial between the bottom of the patch and the top of the soil for the moss to start growing. The transplanted mosses need some time for the moss to acclimate and become established while the moss adjusts to new sunlight, water, and substrate.

Selecting patches of moss

Selecting patches of moss

Placing patches of moss together to form a blanket of moss

Placing patches of moss together to form a blanket of moss

Water, Water, Water

Mist the moss thoroughly every day, making sure to saturate until the moss starts to grow. This might be 6 weeks or more. You can taper off slightly as the moss starts to fill in but your moss will go dormant when it dries out. The higher the temperature, the more water required to keep the moss verdant. If you remove leaves by raking or blowing, it is a good idea to pin the moss down with soil staples, or fern pins, or use a netting to keep the moss in place.

Creating a mossy fairy garden by transplanting patches of moss and pressing them into the soil and saturating with water

Creating a mossy fairy garden by transplanting patches of moss and pressing them into the soil and saturating with water

Mossy fairy garden

Mossy fairy garden

Maintenance

Established moss is naturally weed resistant but juvenile moss may have patches of soil and still be thin. Controlling weeds with hand removal is important until the moss is spongy and thick. A daily misting helps greatly in getting your moss established.

Moss garden at Mt Cuba

Moss garden at Mt Cuba

 

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Echibeckia??? Black Eyed Susan/Coneflower Cross

Echibeckia yellow with orange

Echibeckia orange

Yep, the name needs a makeover, but Echibeckia for me is a winner. I love the look and late summer bloom time,  and if it survives my zone 6b winter, I want more!  I picked up this new cross at Home Depot which surprises me with new cultivars that I can’t resist. There are so many new varieties of perennials that it is hard to keep up with the deluge!

Echibeckia Summerina Yellow

Echibeckia Summerina Yellow

 An “echibeckia” is a cross between two compatible genera (genuses) – the coneflower (Echinacea) and the black-eyed susan/gloriosa daisy (Rudbeckia). So think- coneflower/black-eyed susan cross makes a totally new flower.  These two varieties are favorites of a lot of gardeners, so you could predict crossing these would produce a winner.

Echibeckia

Echibeckia

Summerina is the first three-variety series of this new cross, coming in an orange-with-yellow bicolor, a yellow-with-orange bicolor, and burnt orange. So, Echibeckias combine the look and fast growth of black-eyed susans (Rudbeckia) with the hardiness and disease resistance of coneflowers (Echinacea). Combining these two staples of the garden was a slam dunk! Both tough plants on their own, but Pennsylvania is the northern limit for hardiness at -10 degrees being the drop dead winter temperature to survive. I will report back next year on how they do!

Echibeckia

Echibeckia

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