Bee Meadow Update

We have had a rainy summer and the Bee Meadow has prospered.

During late June and July, wild bergamot or beebalm (Monarda fistulosa) and purple coneflower (Ecninacea purpurea) dominated the space.  Since beebalm is a member of the mint family, it is very aromatic.  On hot days, it wafted like incense and we could smell it as we approached the meadow.  The place was buzzing with all sorts of insect pollinators as well.

My friend Denice Kopf enjoyed the beebalm, purple coneflower and native grasses during her visit in late June.

The beebalm and coneflowers seemed to bloom forever.  Through most of July they were still going strong.

During July the orange butterfly weed bloomed for a second time and the purple liatris 'Kobold' chimed in.

A first sighting of a plant is always exciting.  This year I had the first blooms on the shiny coneflower (Rudbeckia nitida).  I planted it 3 years ago and had seen foliage but no blooms.

Rudbeckia nitida glows in the bee meadow with native switch grass and a mass of beebalm.

The finger false dragonhead (Physostegia digitalis) had bloomed before but this year with all the rain it was spectacular.  This species is native to Louisiana and Texas but not to Mississippi.  The plant was given to me by Jessie Johnson.  She dug a small start for me from the meadow at Briarwood.  So, of course, the plant is very special from an aesthetic point of view as well as an emotional one.

 

The physostegia is one of those rare plants that is as beautiful in bud as it is in flower.

I will say that the buds are very intriguing – like beautiful rows of niblet corn.  But … the flowers are not too shabby.

Physostegia flowers are strking!

And this brings us up to date.  It is now August.  The grasses are robust and the yellow daisies are in full bloom.  The whiteleaf mountain mint is frosty in spite of the heat.

I don’t think I have ever gotten so much enjoyment from a gardening effort with so little work!

An August update will be forthcoming.

Foundation Fundamentals

I learned the term “foundation planting” in my first landscape design class.

To me, the term seemed almost mystical.   A foundation, after all, should be the basis of everything.

I was a bit disappointed to find that a foundation planting simply referred to the plants located around the foundation of a house.  In many cases the plants were used to camouflage unsightly things that might be lying on the ground under a house.  So… many foundations were just like the skirt of a double-wide trailer.

Since most houses now are built on slabs, a foundation planting is not absolutely necessary.  I choose to use one in front of my house because it helps the building blend in with the rest of the garden and softens the box-like appearance of the structure.

I had some difficulty selecting plants for the site.  My front yard is very small and as I have previously disclosed, the soil is terrible compacted clay.  I was determined to use as many plants as possible from my tiny overgrown nursery.  This was a great idea because some wonderfully interesting plants lurked there.  But here was a definite possibility that the resulting beds might look more like a hodge podge than a carefully conceived design.

Four years down the road, I am very happy with my planting choices.   I repeated enough plants that the design is not totally busy.  I arranged the plants so that the texture of each would play well off the others.  This gives me an interesting planting year round.

The area in front of my “picture window” is my favorite part of the planing.  Here, a trio of ‘Miss Patricia’ hollies provide evergreen leaves and red winter fruit.   The window is framed on the other side by a ‘Tamukeyama’ threadleaf Japanese maple.  The maple is beautiful in all seasons but particularly so in autumn when foliage turns brilliant orange-red.

The front layers of this bed include a mounding ‘Taylor’s Rudolph’ yaupon holly.  This selection is supposed to bear glossy red fruit and hopefully will do so this winter for the first time.  A dwarf huckleberry (Vacinium darrowii) was planted too close behind the yaupon and so it seems to erupt from the center of the holly.

My front foundation planting is a study in texture with 'Miss Patricia' holly, dwarf huckleberry, 'Taylor's Rudolph' yaupon, 'Tamukeyama' Japanese maple and 'Peachie's Pick' stokes aster.

Right now the huckleberry has tiny tasty blue fruit.  For the rest of the year, I admire the fine textured foliage particularly when the lovely pastel new leaves are present.

 

What a treat to be able to linger and graze on sweet little huckleberries on my way to work!

Of course every landscape bed needs some herbaceous groundcovers.   I chose to use ‘Peachie’s Pick’ stokes aster (Stokesia laevis ‘Peachie’s Pick’) throughout my foundation beds.  Many years ago we procured this plant from my friend Peachie Saxon and sold it at our old nursery Flowerplace Plant Farm.  After the nursery closed we shared our stock with Kim Hawks at Niche Gardens and the plant entered into the nursery mainstream.  I love this selection because it has sturdy stems that seldom flop.  It will rebloom if deadheaded.  And since it is evergreen, it functions somewhat like monkeygrass in the winter.  Pollinators love it too.

St Francis loves the fact that 'Peachie's Pick' attracts all sorts of pollinators.

I love my foundation planting.  It has an abundance of evergreens, plants with beautiful foliage, wildflowers and tasty berries.   There is always something interesting to see – no matter what the season.

As a result, the Rules for Foundation Plantings that I have devised go something like this:

  1. Use plenty of texture.
  2. Plan for seasonal interest.
  3. Use repetition to keep things from being too busy.
  4. Plant things that you love because you are likely to walk past every day.
  5. Stop to smell the flowers, admire the butterflies or eat the berries.

The bed, by the way, is adjacent to my gravel drive.  The petrified wood border that separated the bed from the gravel is a nice touch as well.

 

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.

 

 

It’s Incomparable!

This "Incomparabilis" type daffodil sparkles in Thera Lou Adams' field.

A few of the plants that came with my house are extremely precious to me.

Of course, there is the 100′ tall white oak, the turk’s cap mallow and the beautyberry that had been allowed to seed in from the woods.

The only daffodil that I recall from the early days is a lovely star shaped thing with creamy petals and a lemon yellow cup.  When I first encountered her, she had been planted in a circle around a flowering peach.  After the peach died, the circle of daffodils looked much like a ringworm.

Not a good first impression.

I craved other daffodils that were brighter, larger and that had recognizable names.

I was curious, so I asked around and met someone locally who called my “found” daffodil ‘Texas Star’.

I queried and searched but never heard that name again.

My daffodil friends, though, did speak in reverence of the hybrid Narcissus x incomparabilis.  This old school daf is a naturally occurring cross between the Lent lily (Narcissus pseudacorus) and the poets’s narcissus (Narcissus poeticus).

'Sir Watkin' is a very successful cultivar.

They say that over 100 named varieties came from this coupling including the famous ‘Sir Watkin’.

The incomparabilis part translates to “none can compare”.  The name was bequeathed early before Linnaeus devised the binomial nomenclature system.  The incomparable name was due to the large size of the flower compared with both the wild parents.

We now would consider it a medium or even a small flowered hybrid.

But – I have found several internet sources that list the common name as the star daffodil.  Not the Texas Star Daffodil, mind you, but pretty close!

A Measure of Respect

My Mama - Vivian Price Barton - Thanksgiving 2012

My Mama turned 90 today.

I will go to the family birthday party tomorrow rearranged for a Saturday so that the working folks can attend.

But… today on her actual birthday, I’ve been remembering Mama’s flowers, her tomatoes, the compost, the daffodils and how gardening became a passion that we shared.

You see, I come from a long line of gardeners but was too lazy to be one when I was young.  I craved the escape and chose to bury my nose in a book.

Meanwhile Mama and Sister, her elder sibling, planted flowers in the beds in the baking western exposure in front of the house.  

There were flowers along the south side of the house and in the back yard.  

The damp dark north side of the house was adorned with mophead hydrangeas.  

She begged sprigs from everyone she knew and established a lush St. Augustine lawn.  We had roses and a ‘Festiva Maxima’ peony from the old home place.  Mama seeded cutting zinnias every year and in her later years became obsessed with growing butterfly weed and black eyed Susans.

These flowers were never referred to as the “garden” though.  The “garden” was our food plot in the back yard.  And as much as Mama loved her flowers, she loved her tomatoes even more.

I grew up and went to college in my home town.  I lollygagged around in the College of Liberal Arts for a while but when all was said and done I graduated with a Horticulture degree.

In the years that followed I thought I knew everything about plants and my Mama thought I knew nothing.  It didn’t help matters that my Mama lived on the busiest street in my small home town.  So my friends were always marveling at her colorful plantings as they drove past.

She was legendary in our little town and often referred to by those who did not know her as “the lady on Jackson Street who grows such pretty flowers”.

I doggedly tried to teach her things that I had learned in college and from my motley crowd of plant buds.  I witnessed to her about composting and about antique roses, about wildflowers and my favorite daffodils.

One day she said to me “I wish someone had told me years ago that you could take leaves and make dirt.”  I think that was as close to an apology as I ever heard from her.   I had convinced her to make compost and she loved it!

And so we came to a sort of truce – she offered me a grudging measure of respect for a while.  At least until the fateful day that I took too many cuttings off her giant ‘Tuscan Blue’ rosemary and killed it.

But meanwhile – I had learned to cut her some slack.  Because, you see, I tried my hand at gardening in the heavy mucky black belt prairie soils that Starkville had to offer.

My attempts were pathetic and I realized the level of knowledge and extreme perseverence it had taken for her to grow those flowers in inhospitable clay and baking western Mississippi sun.

So even though I had killed her ‘Tuscan Blue’ rosemary she respected me for introducing her to ‘Mr. Lincoln’ her favorite rose.

We shared daffodil bulbs and she reminded me that I had first encountered black eyed Susans as we drove  the dusty gravel roads  to her old home place.  Maybe that’s when she planted the seed that led me to the green world.

Tomorrow I will go to see her on the day after her birthday and I will bring the biggest boldest most fragrant daffodil bouquet that I can muster.

Inspiration

Inspired by a pair of visiting friends I spent a rainy Sunday afternoon perusing a junk store.

This vase of winter blossoms reminds me of Icey, who taught me to love flowers.

Inspired by the color of my Professor Sargent camellia, I bought a red vase.

Inspired by the new vase and the waning Japanese apricot flowers I decided to make a flower arrangement.

Inspired by the flower arrangement, I cleared a place for the vase on my table.

My wet muddy dogs enjoyed helping me gather the flowers from the gloomy garden.

We found quite a few blooms on this cold rainy day.  Included in the vase are: white daphne (Daphne odora ‘Alba’), Professor Sargent camellia, an unknown pink camellia, Japanese apricot (Prunus mume ‘Peggy Clarke’), sweet olive (Osmanthus fragrans), star magnolia (Magnolia stellata) and several clusters of bunch dafffodils (Narcissus tazetta).

I placed a stem of Michelia maudiae in the front center of the arrangement.  This Chinese banana shrub relative has blooms that look like a white Yulan magnolia.  Unlike the Yulan, this plant is evergreens with leaves similar to a sweetbay magnolia.   I searched high and low and could not find a common name for this uncommon plant.

I set the vase on the table and realized the arrangement needed just one more thing.

And so… I added a picture of the woman who raised me to love flowers.

In the photo, Miss Elise Price (a.k.a Icey or Sister) poses with my sisters circa 1966.  That was forty-six years ago and I am still inspired daily by the things I learned from her and by the love of green things that she bequeathed me.

Honeybee

'Honeybee' mingles with 'Autumn Pearl', 'Peggy Clarke' Japanese apricot and the final roses of the season.

We’ve barely had any winter yet – just a few nights in the mid-20’s and I already have spring fever.

I’m fairly certain that ‘Honeybee’ is the cause of my dilemma.

A couple of months ago I splurged on some daffodil bulbs from Bill the Bulb Baron.  Many of the Bulb Baron’s hybrids have been selected for their early bloom time.  I planted two of these very early bloomers – ‘Autumn Pearl’ and ‘Honeybee’  in the front driveway bed where I could not fail to notice their first flowers.

‘Autumn Pearl’ bloomed first.   I have really enjoyed her wonderful bunches of cream and white blossoms that are reminiscent of ‘Grand Primo’.     ‘Autumn Pearl’ has appeared in several bouquets.  She has also inspired me to pause and watch the wild bees and sulfur butterflies that forage in her nether regions.  That is quite a gift for the hectic holiday season.

When ‘Honeybee’ came along just last week though,  I was even more smitten.  Both these hybrids have one tazetta or bunch daffodil parent.  ‘Honeybee’, however has a wild jonquil (Narcissus jonquilla) or “Little Sweetie” as the other parent.  This means that my sweet little ‘Honeybee’ is golden yellow and full of that delicious jonquil fragrance that I cherish.

I’m pretty sure that i t was not just the appearance of the first yellow narcissus of the season that sent me longing for spring.  I think the scent sent me!

Now I’m not saying that I want to cut the winter short… I love that season too.  I’m just saying that sweet little ‘Honeybee’ with her precocious golden delightfully aromatic flowers makes me smile with thoughts of things to come.

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