Archive for the ‘native plants’ Category

Yucca Conquers Dismal Driveway Dirt

My front garden is a difficult site.

Since the house is barely 50′ off the street, most of the front yard is driveway or reclaimed driveway.  Of course, driveway equals compaction.  So only the toughest plants will survive.

Last year I lost a few newbies from drought.  This year I have had the opposite problem.  We have had tons of rain and a few plants  have succumbed to root rot diseases.  Let me clarify, however, that I am NOT complaining about the rain.

The plants that survive here are tough cookies.  I study them daily often finding something that attracts my attention when I am on my way to the mailbox.

One of the most interesting events this summer was the first blooming of my nodding yucca (Yucca cernua).  This is a rare yucca that came to me from my East Texas plant bud, Peter Loos.   I will admit that I kept it in the pot for an embarrassingly long time.  I couldn’t find the right place for it plus was not really sure I wanted a yucca!  But then I saw it in bloom in a friend’s garden and decided to work it in to the driveway bed.

During the first year I admired the dramatic sword-like foliage and decided that maybe I was wrong to have waited so long to plant the yucca.

In late May I noticed the first bloom stalk.  Every day as I ran errands or went to my consulting  job I would stop and take note.  The stalk grew to 2′, 4′, 6′ and finally stopped around 8′ or so.  It dominated the front yard like a totem and I began to notice that on sunny days a dragonfly was always perched on the tip.


The nodding yucca flower stalk seemed to dominate the front garden forever like a giant pencil pointing toward they sky.

It seemed to take forever for the flowers to emerge from the naked stalk.  After about two weeks, a crop of lovely florets hovered above – like small dangling orchids.   A constant stream of pollinators visited them every day.

The pendant flowers of the nodding yucca took over 2 weeks to emerge from buds after the stalk reached its ultimate height.

For over two weeks my front garden was graced by a giant bouquet of pristine white blooms on an 8′ stem.  It politely flowered in harmony with the gardenia in my front foundation planting.

I most definitely was wrong to keep the poor old nodding yucca languishing in a pot for so long.   It has rewarded me well for a chamce to grow in my dismal driveway dirt.




More Bee Meadow, Please

I’ve been ailing this spring.   Sciatic nerve pain has prevented me from doing many things that I love – like gardening…

This new condition has made me even more appreciative of the plants that grow with little or no maintenance.

Because of this, the Bee Meadow is one of my favorite spots these days.

In mid-May, I vowed to post regular pictures of the Bee Meadow.  The last were posted on May 15.

Here is the latest installment.

This shot was taken on May 26, from my neighbor's hill. Richard is lounging in the golf cart as Woodrow meanders through the meadow.

The orange milkweed (Asclepias tuberosa) has been the highlight of the planting recently.  This native milkweed is beautiful in bloom but I am hoping it will provide a food source for the Monarch butterfly caterpillar.

The orange butterfly milkweed is a beauty right now.

This New England aster always provides a few early flowers.  The main bloom time will be in fall when the bees are in need of forage.

This New England aster came from my friend, Jan Midgley. According to Jan it dependably offers some blooms in early summer.

The bee balm (Monarda fistulosa) is just beginning to bloom.  It is a wonderful plant for all the pollinators.  I love the scent of the blooms and the leaves.

Yellow rosin weed and a robust eastern gamma grass sing backup for the lovely lavender bee balm.

So there you have the latest installment.  But… fear not, there is much more meadow to come!



The Ever Entertaining Bee Meadow

As those who subscribe to this blog have probably noticed, I have been on hiatus.  I have probably published only two blog posts this year.  Hopefully I am about to get back on track with this update on the Bee Meadow.

Newcomers to this blog can search “Bee Meadow” and read 12 or so posts that tell the story of this native pollinator planting that was installed in 2010.

I have discovered that the hill in my neighbor’s back yard is the perfect vantage point for taking photos of the site.

Ursaluna looks like a black bear headed off to rob the honeybees in this late April shot taken from my neighbor's hill.

During April we had a few scattered prairie phlox  and yellow false indigo flowers but mostly a carpet of white clover.  Now in mid-May, more flowers are blooming and budded.  This week the first flowers on the starry rosin weed (Silphium asteriscus) appeared.

Starry rosin weed shows off the chunky bracts that make up the silphium's unique involucre. The chunky bracts help to distinguish rosin weeds from sunflowers which have much narrower & pointed bracts.

Yellow false indigo (Baptisia sphaerocarpa) has been blooming for a couple of weeks.  Since there is diversity in the population of plants, they all bloom at slightly different times.

Woodrow meanders behind a lovely yellow false indigo. This one came from my friend Allen Anderson in South Mississippi and is always the last to bloom.

I’ve noticed that my dogs enjoy grazing on a spring tonic of goldenrod and big bluestem leaves.

After snacking on goldenrod leaves, Dotsie pauses to admire the prairie phlox.

I have decided to photograph the Bee Meadow at regular intervals all summer.  I’ve chosen vantage point near the prairie phlox (Phlox pilosa) and will try to shoot from the same spot each week.

Since it looks as if we have four robust bee hives this year, I also hope to be spending time here harvesting honey!


Studying the Buds

I am happy to see signs of spring.

On warm days, the honeybees are buzzing around.  I’ve noticed that the buds are swelling and have even seen leaves on the most precocious ones.

This year as usual, I am charmed by the native azalea flower buds.

Native azalea buds are striking all winter with overlapping scales that catch the low slanting sun.


The scales become loose and often take on different colors as the buds swell.


The scales separate and begin to reveal the inner contents in a slowly dramatic strip tease.


The exotic erotic flower parts will continue to expand as they mature to the final flower color and release their intoxicating fragrance.

Stay tuned for further developments!  I will soon post pictures of the golden orange flame azalea (Rhododendron austrinum) and the precious pink wild honeysuckle azalea (Rhododendron canescens).

Right now I’m enjoying the green phase.



A Late Splash of Orange

We had enough of a hard frost to fry the African blue basil in my front yard.  But then our weather progressed from balmy winter days to muggy winter days.

I can see this 'Georgia Gem' blueberry from my bedroom window. Wilbur B-Diddy Bobo likes it.

I am really appreciative of the fall leaf color that is hanging in.  Right now the blueberries are my favorites.  I try to never draw a landscape plan without using a few blueberries.  As landscape plants alone they have lovely late winter flowers, nice arching stems and day glow orange fall leaves.  Then, of course, the tasty fruit is there for me and the birds.

I’ve noticed several rabbiteye blueberries (Vaccinium ashei) in my neighborhood with very showy fall color.  My rabbiteye blueberries here have pretty good color but my showiest blueberry is a variety called ‘Georgia Gem’.

‘Georgia Gem’ is actually a southern highbush blueberry (Vaccinium corymbosum).  Here in the first week of December the leaves are a startling coppery orange.  They show no sign of dropping any time soon.

Woody strolled on a shag carpet of cypress straw last weekend.

This has also been a stellar year for bald cypress color.  It has been so fine, in fact, that I’ve been embarrassed to remember that I used to think that bald cypress didn’t have very good fall color.  I’ve officially apologized to cypress trees everywhere because I was just wrong!

After the hickory next door lost its leaves, we could see the Earth Day cypress glowing like a beacon even though it is well over 200 feet from our deck.

The Earth Day cypress was planted by my students during an Earth Day celebration at Meridian Community College where I used to teach.    Two years later I walked out the back door of my classroom one day to find the poor tree ripped out of the ground and lying there with roots exposed.

After walking past it for two or three days, I decided to take it home.  It was about 8′ tall but was so dehydrated and emaciated that I could carry it by myself.  Richard made fresh clean cuts on the roots where the tree had been ripped from the ground and we planted it in our wet area.

The Earth Day cypress lived to tell the tale.  It took a lick or two during Katrina but is about 40′ tall now.

My bald cypress trees are still holding a little of their bronzy foliage.   Most of the leaves are in a colorful pool beneath the trees.  Walking through the cypress grove is like walking on a soft spongy orange carpet.

It’s a soggy dreary day today.  But… no worries – orange color shows up well on cloudy days.

When I pass my bedroom window on the west side, I can see the Earth Day cypress.   When I turn toward the south, I am treated to a view of the ‘Georgia Gem’.

Thanks to these two – it’s a lovely day!


A Strong Foundation

Right now the giant leopard plant is blooming beside my front door and the purple gazing ball echos the 'Tameukeyama' maple's fall color.

I taught a Landscape Design class for quite a few years.

We always spent a good bit of time discussing the foundation planting.

I still remember the first time I heard that term.   A “foundation planting” must be the basis of all landscaping, I thought.  It sounded important and mysterious…

But actually the term just referred to a planting that bordered the foundation of a house.

On older houses, the foundation planting served the purpose of hiding the unsightly things that might accumulate in the crawl space under a house – much like the skirt on a trailer.

A couple of years before I moved into my present residence, I decided that my then rental house needed a foundation planting redo.

For inspiration – I reviewed all the “rules” that I once taught all my eager design students.

The giant leopard plant offers interesting foliage texture all year long and surprises me with a bouquet of early winter daisies.

Rule #1 – Always accent the front door using a plant with striking form, texture or color or an attractive hard feature.

Rule #2 – Clearly define the edges of the bed.

Rule #3 – Plan for interest in all seasons since you will be likely enter the house in this area almost every day of the year.

Rule #4 – Repeat plants arranging them in masses or small groups.

Then – I modified the list and added a few new rules.

Rule #5 –  Incorporate native plants.

Rule # 6 – Paint your house a color that will serve as a nice backdrop for the plants.

Rule #7 – Use plants or yard art that has sentimental value.

And last but not least, Rule #8 – use the plants that have been sitting around in your nursery instead of going out to buy new ones.

So I followed the Eight Rules and have been pleased with the results.

The 'Miss Patricia' holly, 'Rosa's Blush' dwarf blueberry and 'Taylor's Rudolph' dwarf yaupon are evergreen and variable in hue.

The plants closest to the front sidewalk have strong features.  The giant leopard plant (Farfugium japonicum ‘Giganteum’) has large glossy leaves 24-7.  I also appreciate the fact that it blooms in early winter when little else is in flower.  The ‘Tameukeyama’ Japanese maple has extremely fine textured foliage, intense red-purple fall color and a striking growth habit.

Just in case two accents weren’t enough, I perched my favorite purple gazing ball on top of my husband’s grandmother’s bird bath pedestal to serve as a third.

Next to the maple, I grouped a trio of fruiting plants.  Darrow’s dwarf blueberry (Vaccinium darrowii ‘Rosa’s Blush’) is a lovely shade of gray green with pastel pink growing tips.   Dangling white blossoms are precursors to a crop of tiny blueberries.   My two hollies – ‘Miss Patricia’ and ‘Taylor’s Rudolph’  are not quite so precocious.  I’m hoping they will begin to produce red holly berries in the next year or so.  Right now I have to be content with the deep green foliage they offer.

The bed is bordered with small pieces of petrified wood gifted by my friend, Peter Loos and carpeted with a planting of native Louisiana phlox.  I think that the plants are quite striking in front of the background colors I have chosen for the house.

And 99% of this planting originated in my little backyard nursery.   Many of the plants were gifts from nursery friends or souvenirs of vacations.  Others were propagated from cuttings or seed.  Many had sentimental value.

It was wonderfully liberating to get them all in the ground so that I could really live with them as landscape plants.

And so that I had enough space in the nursery to start a new plant collection!

Orange you glad it’s Fall?

Our giant white oak has yet to change color or drop leaves but the hickory behind is golden orange.

Here in the South, we never know what kind of fall foliage to expect.  Some years the leaves simply turn brown and slough off.   Other time like this year we have a radiant Autumn with intense leaf color that continues for weeks.

In celebration we have spent a lot of time on the woodland trails and on the back deck admiring the display.

In late afternoon, we can be found gazing to the west toward the mockernut hickory next door which is back-lit by the setting sun.

The hickory is framed by the giant white oak that inspired me to buy this place.

In the fall color department, the white oak is a bit of a slacker.  The hickory, however, has been dependably golden every autumn.

The landscape plants make a nice transition to the orange dogwoods in the edge of the woods.

I have lived here for almost 30 years and have watched the mockernut grow up.  When it was still fairly young, a limb from the white oak topped the hick.  It looked kind of rough and I considered taking it out.  I am so grateful that my better judgement prevailed because the tree outgrew the injury and now the only sign is a slightly kinky leader.

Mockernut hickory is known in the plant world as a sort of prankster.   Its nuts are large and almost round but after the husk falls off, only a tiny nut and even tinier kernel are left.  I think my mockernut was planted by a squirrel who forgot to come back and nibble the tiny kernel.

On the other side of white oak central, I planted a bed – full of Japanese maples, native azaleas, bigleaf magnolia and sweetshrub.

A study in textural extremes - a golden cowcumber leaf has settled in with a threadleaf Japanese maple.

I selected a coral bark maple a.k.a ‘Sango-kaku’ for its intense red winter twigs.  I was disappointed the first fall when the leaves turned yellow instead of red.  I soon learned that after golden yellow, the leaves would morph into a beautiful shade of apricot and stay on the trees for a very long time.

I compensated by planting a threadleaf Japanese maple that does turn red in the fall.  I believe the variety is called ‘Garnet’.  It is quite striking in combination with all the yellow, gold and orange in the area.

I chose three bigleaf magnolias for their  fragrant spring blooms and striking coarse textured leaves.  The leaves of this cowcumber (as they call it in the country) can be up to a yard long.

As I walked through the back garden the other day, one of those enormous cowcumber leaves had drifted down and settled on top of the Garnet threadleaf maple.  It was quite a study in contrast – one of the most coarse textured leaves ever nestled in with one of the finest textured.

Proving once more that Autumn is a season of surprises.


October Blues

Cool blue-purple 'Raydon's Favorite' conspires with Indian grass to impart a lavender tinge to my slag driveway. I like it!

It has been a while since I posted an update about my new street-side (formerly driveway) bed.

Things are coming along quite well considering the harsh growing conditions.

Right now the stars of the show are an aromatic aster variety called ‘Raydon’s Favorite’ (Symphyotrichum oblongifolius ‘Raydon’s Favorite’) and a striking blue Indian grass (Sorghastrum nutans).  Both are first year plants and, considering that, are creating an amazing display.

I have grown the straight species aromatic aster for years and it is a fine plant.  This selection seems to have a more prolific flower display with flowers that are a little larger.

My research indicates that ‘Raydon’s Favorite was first sold by Allen Bush at Holbrook Farms.  Bush received a piece of the plant from Raydon Alexander of San Antonio, Texas.  The accompanying note stated that this aster was Raydon’s favorite.   Mr. Alexander believed that the plant originated near Lookout Mountain, Tennessee.

The Indian grass is a seedling from a Mississippi Black Belt Prairie remnant.

Indian grass is one of my favorite native grasses.   It has a striking upright growth habit. Foliage is often bluish and the flower clusters are copper colored.

This was a lucky pairing.   These two blue /purple companions are the coolest combo in my October garden.


Mandy’s Rustic Wedding Flowers

When illuminated by the later afternoon sun the grasses and rabbit tobacco seem to glow.

Last year my niece Mandy Brister began planning her wedding to Brandon Clark.

Mandy wanted a rustic wedding with hay bales, burlap, mason jars and vintage furniture.

I volunteered to make wildflower arrangements for the tables.

The wedding was last weekend.  My sister Jean Mann and I had fun making the arrangements but we did agree that it was stressful!

My first dilemma what that I had no time to collect flowers until the last minute.

Due to our very strange growing season, the floral pickings were very slim.  I was worried about the lack of flower color.

But then – the native grasses came to the rescue.

Guests were greeted by this rustic bouquet.

I harvested stems of big bluestem (Andropogon gerardii), little bluestem (Schizachyrium scoparium) and bushy broomsedge (Andropogon glomeratus).

Then I gathered purpletop (Tridens flavus), river oats (Chasmanthium latifolium) , switch grass (Panicum virgatum), Indian grass (Sorghastrum nutans) and sugarcane plume grass (Saccharum giganteum).

These grasses provided subtle color and tons of texture.

I collected lots of goldenrod (Solidago spp.), fruiting stems of purple beautyberry (Callicarpa americana) and golden narrowleaf sunflower (Helianthus angustifolium).

I was delighted to find a large stand of silvery rabbit tobacco (Pseudognaphalium obtusifolium).

My sister arranged this lovely display of photos and flowers.

Rabbit tobacco is an excellent filler in fresh and dried arrangements.

I used a couple of dried exotics – green clusters of Chinese abelia flowers and dried mophead hydrangeas.  The hydrangeas had been collected over the past growing season by Mandy’s aunts.

I added in some greenery from native Florida leucothoe (Agarista populifolia) and Japanese cleyera.

I then purchased 3 bunches of white florist roses to match the roses in Mandy’s bouquet.

The effect I tried to achieve was a representation of a garden gone wild.

This is one of the eight Mason jar arrangements we made for the dining tables.

All together my sister Jean Barton Mann and I assembled about 20 arrangements.

We were really grateful that Mandy’s Aunt Judy Smith and Cousin Carlee Smith came in at the last minute and added the finishing touches to the reception area.

The wedding was beautiful and I feel sure that Mandy and Brandon will be very happy together.

As I harvested flowers and grasses around my property and on the roadsides, I channeled my floral design mentor, Ralph Null.

I think Ralph has done more than just about anyone to promote the appreciation and use of native plants in Mississippi.

He taught his students to gather some of their materials from the wild or from roadside stands.

Ralph called these collected materials “roadside-us”.

He inspired the garden club ladies of Mississippi to get down in the ditches and pick local flora.  Some tired of tramping through the mud, briers and chiggers and began planting native plants for their flower arrangements.

So thanks to Ralph for teaching me to pilfer the fields and roadsides.  Thanks to my sister Jean for working so creatively with me to get those flowers in the vases and on the tables.

My problem, though, is that every time I pass a pristine stand of goldenrod, narrowleaf sunflowers or native grasses, I feel a strong urge to stop and gather.  Maybe in a couple of weeks, I can see them again as lovely wildflowers and not just as an opportunity missed.



Gathering Seed from the Prairie

This yellow blanket flower was the object of one of our recent collection efforts.

I’ve been busy lately collecting seed from prairie remnants near the University of West Alabama.

The harvested seed will be planted at the Black Belt Garden there in a site that will be established as a prairie garden.

I am working with Sam Ledbetter, the Manager of the Black Belt Garden and with Marc Pastorek of Meadowmakers in this venture.

We have recently been focusing mostly on harvesting native grass seed.

Last week, however, we found a wonderful stand of yellow gaillardia or blanket flower (Gaillardia aestivalis var. aestivalis) and collected seed using Marc’s hand held machine.

I’ve decided to post photos of the collection process here.


This plant has been in bloom around Sumter county since May so most plants now have more red puffy seed clusters than flowers.

Marc is using his weed-eater type machine to collect the seed.

Here's Marc displaying his seed haul.

On closer inspection you can see that there are seeds of other companion plants in the mix.

The seed will be air dried and planted in November.

FYI, Marc’s machine is a Prairie Habitats Hand Held Seed Harvester.   Click on the link if you want to see more about how it works.

There is margin for error with this machine.  The operator has to be able to recognize the seed heads of desirable plants and undesirable plants.  Since Marc is able to do this, he can avoid harvesting invasive weeds that may be growing nearby.

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