Tag Archive: Wildflowers

  1. Gorgeous Garden Goldenrods

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    Canada goldenrod (Solidago canadensis) is one of the most common field species in North America. (Photo by Jessie Keith)

    It is hard to think of goldenrod (Solidago spp.), as something precious and special when it is so extraordinarily ubiquitous.  Native to all of North America, it bursts into bloom in late summer and early fall, lining field edges, roadsides and just about every sunny space where it can gain a foothold.  In its native land it is often damned with faint or non-existent praise.  Even worse, it is unjustly damned as the source of pesky, end-of-summer hay fever attacks.

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    The compact ‘Little Lemon’ is a tidy, small goldenrod fit for border edges and containers. (Photo by Jessie Keith)

    Ragweed, goldenrod’s seasonal fellow traveler, is the true cause of most late-season allergies.  Ragweed is a stealth allergen. It’s so visually nondescript with its humdrum green flowers that people overlook it in their quest to point accusing fingers at goldenrod’s bright plumes.  Like many hay-fever-trigger plants, ragweed is wind pollinated. It relies on the breeze to complete its pollinating chores, sending tiny pollen granules flying through the air where they meet up with sensitive human beings.  Goldenrod, on the other hand, is pollinated by bees and other insects, meaning its pollen never becomes airborne and causes us no harm.

    Common and condemned, goldenrod had to go all the way to Europe to lose its bad reputation.  Europeans, untroubled by hay-fever concerns, common origins, and supposed coarse appearances, fell in love.  When plant people on the other side of the Atlantic got hold of the winsome field flower, that love translated into hybridizing.  The result of international travel and human-initiated plant hanky-panky is that gardeners have the option of getting their goldenrod two ways—wild or bred into garden-worthy forms.

    Solidago 'Crown of Rays' is a tidier cultivated form for the garden. (Photo by Jessie Keith)

    Solidago ‘Crown of Rays’ is a tidier cultivated form for the garden. (Photo by Jessie Keith)

    Goldenrod’s lineage makes it a natural for the home garden.  At first glance the resemblance is hard to see, but Solidago is in the daisy family, Asteraceae.  Each lush flower panicle is made of up of many miniature golden daisies that can be seen up close. Loaded with pollen, they attract bees, butterflies, and many other insects.  If you have ever eaten wildflower honey collected in fall, you have most likely tasted the autumnal richness of goldenrod.

    In the garden, these hardy perennials ask for little. Established plants can tolerate dry spells in fine fashion, and some species are tolerant of moist soils. Sunny space is ideal for the plants, although some will also prosper in light shade, sporting somewhat fewer flowers per stem.  Anyone familiar with field goldenrod, which is frequently, but not always, Solidago canadensis, knows that it can grow 3 to 6 feet high and forms large clumps due to its vigorous, spreading root systems.  Clearly this is not ideal for all gardens.  Fortunately, breeders have come up with more civilized, compact garden goldenrods that are perfect for small spaces or containers.

    2209Fafard N&O Potting_3D-1cu RESILIENCE front WEBOne of those compact varieties is Solidago ‘Little Lemon’, which reaches only 12 to 18 inches tall. It looks cute in seasonal containers, but this perennial should be replanted along a border edge before frost descends.  The popular ‘Crown of Rays’, which grows 18 to 24 inches tall, is another compact form to consider. For a medium-tall variety, try the popular Solidago rugosa ‘Fireworks’, which grows 3 to 4 feet tall and spreads less aggressively than some wild forms. The winter seed heads of all goldenrod add garden beauty by attracting the lovely, yellow-feathered goldfinch.

    To make potted goldenrod thrive, fill your chosen container with Fafard Natural and Organic Potting Soil. This premium mix is full of the kind of rich organic materials that a goldenrod would chose for itself, if it were able. Amend garden soils with Fafard Premium Natural and Organic Compost before planting.

    The word “Solidago” comprises two Latin words that mean “to make whole”.  “Solidago” shares a common root with the English word “solidarity”.  This seems perfect for goldenrod, which finds solidarity with a variety of plants that bloom at the same time.  The most prominent of them is the blue-purple Symphiotrichum novae-angliae (New England aster).  Mums, especially those in burnt orange or dark red shades, also make good companions.  In the fields, the waving golden wands harmonize with the last of summer’s true blue chicory, not to mention purple ironweed (Vernonia spp.) and lots of airy native grasses.

    Goldenrod is a great garden plant, but it also makes an excellent cut flower.  Best of all, since no one has ever been inclined to pick ragweed and add it to a vase, you can enjoy goldenrod’s sunny fall flowers indoors without resorting to allergy medicine or the tissue box.

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    Strands of Solidago rugosa ‘Fireworks’ intermingle with a fall planting of red dahlias and Salvia elegans ‘Golden Delicious’. (Photo by Jessie Keith)

  2. “Spur” on Pollinators with Columbine Flowers

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    Eastern columbine flowers in late spring.

    The elegant spurs of columbine (Aquilegia spp.) trail behind the spring blooms like the tail of a comet. Each projected spur is in fact an elongated, tubular nectary filled with nectar for a variety of visiting pollinators, from hummingbirds to bees to hawkmoths.

    Columbine are unique in that many of the 60+ species are just as pretty as the many hybrids offered at garden centers. Aquilegia comes from the Latin name, Aquila, which translates to “eagle” and refers directly to the flower’s talon-like spurs. All species in the genus hail from the North Temperate regions of the world and most bloom in late spring or early summer. All attract pollinators of one variety or another, but many of the species are specially adapted to certain groups of pollinators—making them very desirable for pollinator gardens.

    Their delicate, spurred flowers come in several colors that tend to dictate the primary pollinators they attract, though spur length, nectar sweetness and levels, among other factors, also influence pollinator attraction.

    Hummingbirds: Red- and Orange-flowered Columbine

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    Eastern red columbine

    As a rule, red flowers attract hummingbirds; research as shown that this is also the case with columbine flowers. Beautiful wildflowers, such as the eastern red columbine (Aquilegia canadensis, 2’), with its tall stems of nodding red flowers, or the western red columbine (A. elegantula, 1-3’), with its more linear nodding, shooting-star flowers of fire orange-red, are sure to draw hummingbirds in spring and early summer. Hummingbirds flying through western desert regions will likely visit the blooms of the Arizona columbine (A. desertorum, 1-2’) with its many small, red flowers with shorter spurs. All of these flowers have spurs that hold lots of extra sweet nectar to fulfill the needs of visiting hummingbirds.

    Hawkmoths & Bees-Violet-blue-flowered Columbine

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    Colorado blue columbine (image by Zenhaus)

    Many columbine species have flowers that come in combinations of violet-blue and white. These flowers tend to be most attractive to both hawkmoths and native bees. (Hawkmoths are a group of moths easily distinguished by their hummingbird-like hovering flight patterns and long tongues adapted for nectar gathering.) Columbine with long spurs, such as the Colorado blue columbine (A. coerulea, 1-3’), are most attractive to long-tongued hawkmoths. Smaller-flowered species, such as the alpine Utah columbine (A. scopulorum, 6-8”) and small-flowered columbine (A. brevistyla, 1-3’) with their blue and white blooms, are better adapted to bee pollinators.

    Hawkmoths- Yellow-flowered Columbine

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    Long-spurred columbine (image by Cstubben)

    Some of the most impressively long spurs are found on columbine with ethereal yellow flowers that glow in the evening light. Most are adapted to hawkmoth pollination. One of the prettiest for the garden is the southwestern golden columbine (A. chrysantha, 3’) with its big starry flowers and long, long spurs of gold. When in full bloom, from spring to summer, the plants literally glow with beautiful blossoms. Another big-spurred beauty from the southwest is the long-spurred columbine (A. longissima, 1-3’) with its 4-6” long spurs. The upward-facing blooms are paler yellow than A chrysantha and bloom from mid to late summer. Both species look delicate but are surprisingly well-adapted to arid weather conditions.

    As a rule, columbine grow best in full to partial sun and soil with good to moderate fertility and sharp drainage. Fafard® Premium Natural & Organic Compost is a great soil addition for these garden flowers. They don’t require heavy fertilization and should be protected from sun during the hottest times of the day. After flowers, plants often die back or develop a ragged look, so be sure to surround them by other full perennials with attractive foliage and flowers that will fill the visual gaps left by these plants. Good compliments are tall phlox, coneflowers, bluestar, and milkweeds.

    Columbine are great choices for pollinator gardens, so it’s no wonder that sourcing species is surprisingly easy. High Country Garden sells a western species collection, in addition to the dwarf eastern columbine, and many others. Moreover, columbine self-sow and naturally hybridize-making them truly enjoyable garden flowers for gardeners we well as our favorite pollinators.

  3. Native Spring Wildflowers for the Garden

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    The vibrant blooms of Hepatica acutiloba peer up from the forest floor.

    Eastern U.S. gardeners in search of spring color can find plenty of inspiration and possibilities right here at home. Many of the wildflowers that brighten our fields and forests in spring also make wonderful and easy garden plants (and quite a few of them are available from reputable plant and seed merchants).

    Among the earliest and most exquisite wildflowers are the hepaticas, two of which occur in woodlands throughout eastern and central North America. Both round-lobed hepatica (Hepatica americana) and sharp-leaved hepatica (Hepatica acutiloba) grow into dainty clumps of leathery, semi-evergreen, three-lobed leaves that are often strikingly marbled with contrasting hues. The blue (or sometimes pink or white), starry flowers face up from erect, somewhat furry stems in earliest spring. Hepaticas are lovely Natural and Organicin a partly shaded garden niche protected from the encroachment of larger, more rampant plants. If they’re in a place where passersby can easily admire their early-season display, so much the better. Some botanists place all hepaticas in the genus Anemone, but horticulturists and gardeners will no doubt continue to use the traditional name.

    The delicate white flowers and broad, lobed, bluish green leaves of bloodroot (Sanguinaria canadensis) arise soon after the hepaticas come into bloom, with the flowers usually shattering seemingly hours after opening. The spellbinding double blooms of the cultivar ‘Multiplex’, however, keep their exotic beauty for a week or more, looking for all the world like ruffled waterlilies. This is one of those plants that once seen, must be possessed. Native to moist woodlands over much of North America, bloodroot does best in humus-rich soil and partial shade. For this, and many other spring wildflowers, we suggest amending wooded beds with Fafard® Premium Natural & Organic Compost.

    Phlox stolonifera 'Home Fires'

    The pinkish rose Phlox stolonifera ‘Home Fires’.

    For mid-spring display, almost any garden planting could benefit from a few native Phlox. Wild sweet William, Phlox divaricata, is among the most essential. Its sprays of five-petaled, lilac-blue (but occasionally white, purple, or pink) flowers on foot-tall stems spangle woodlands from Quebec to Texas in early or mid-spring. Plants self-sow readily in partly shaded, moist habitats, both in the wild and in the garden. Another eastern U.S. woodlander, Phlox stolonifera, lifts its flower clusters on 8-inch stems about a week after Phlox divaricata commences bloom. Flowers vary in hue, with ‘Bruce’s White’, ‘Blue Ridge’, ‘Sherwood Purple’, and the lilac-pink ‘Home Fires’ representing some of the color range. The species’ common name, creeping phlox, refers to the ground-hugging mats of spoon-shaped, evergreen leaves, which spread rather rapidly in moist acid soil and partial shade.

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    Phlox divaricata spreads across the forest floor to create a sweep of blooms.

    Other phlox, including the Eastern and Midwestern native Phlox subulata, favor harsher, sunnier niches. Moss phlox’s adaptability to arid, sun-parched sites has made it something of a cliché in challenging suburban habitats such as traffic medians and gas station islands. It’s equally well suited, however, for naturalistic “habitat garden” plantings, where its needle-like foliage and colorful early spring blooms combine splendidly with other tough, sun-loving U.S. natives such as bearberry, little bluestem, Missouri primrose, lowbush blueberry, prickly pear, and purple lovegrass. Numerous cultivars of moss phlox are available, flowering in a rainbow of colors from lavender to pink to white. Gardeners looking for a less ubiquitous needle-leaved species might want to consider sand phlox (Phlox bifida), a Plains native whose petals are elegantly cleft into narrow lobes.

    Phlox stolonifera 'Sherwood Purple'

    Phlox stolonifera ‘Sherwood Purple’ is an attractive variety for the garden.

    Among the best companions for woodland phlox is celandine poppy, Stylophorum diphyllum, which inhabits fertile woodlands throughout much of the East and Midwest. Its bright yellow, mid-spring “poppies” on 15-inch plants provide a splashy contrast to the blues of Phlox divaricata and Phlox stolonifera, and its bold, deeply lobed leaves complement their relatively dainty foliage. Both celandine poppy and Phlox divaricata self-sow moderately in partial shade, making them a perfect pair for naturalizing together.

    Sanguinaria canadensis 'Multiplex'

    The double flowers if bloodroot ‘Multiplex’ last for nearly a week!

    They also form a perfect trio with Virginia bluebells, Mertensia virginica, named for its baby-blue flowers (opening from soft pink buds) that indeed resemble tiny hand bells. The flowers are borne in coiled clusters that elongate on 16-inch stems in late April and May. Prolific self-sowing can occur in moist, partly shaded sites. The large, tongue shaped leaves of this New York to Kansas native die back early summer, as does celandine poppy’s foliage.

    All the above, and many more native plants besides, offer both beautiful blooms and a connection to this place we call home, with little or no fuss involved. What more could a North American gardener want?

  4. Native Wildflowers for the Garden

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    Spring Virginia bluebells blanket a woodland garden floor.

     

    America’s native plants are a national treasure.  They also offer a wealth of material for American gardens.  This is perhaps most evident in spring, when many of the most beautiful native wildflowers strut their stuff in our fields, forests, and perennial borders.

    Celandine poppies add a golden glow to the spring wildflower garden.

    Celandine poppies add a golden glow to the spring wildflower garden.

    Among the first of these to bloom is one of the queens of the Eastern forest, bloodroot (Sanguinaria canadensis).  Its broad, scalloped, kidney-shaped leaves unfurl in early spring, sending forth dainty, white, short-stemmed flowers that shatter within a few days of opening .  Far longer lasting, however, are the breathtaking double blooms of the cultivar ‘Multiplex’, whose sublime form would do the finest waterlily proud.  In whatever form, bloodroot makes a wonderful subject for massing and naturalizing in dappled shade.  A moist, relatively coarse soil suits it best (amend heavy or sandy soils with a good compost such as Fafard Premium Natural & Organic Compost).

    Another first-rate naturalizer for moist shade, Virginia bluebells (Mertensia virginica) sends up clusters of nodding, long-necked bell-flowers that morph from pale pink to summer-sky-blue upon opening in early- to mid-spring.  The 15- to 18-inch-tall plants are well furnished with broad, blue-dusted leaves that tone prettily with the flowers.  As bloom fades, so does the rest of the plant, yellowing and dwindling to a thick fleshy rootstock in late spring.  Colonies of seedlings often follow.  Wild-collected roots and plants of Virginia bluebell are sometimes sold by disreputable dealers, so buyer beware.

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    Virginia bluebells have great color and naturalize effortlessly.

    With its sunny yellow mid-spring flowers and penchant for self-sowing, celandine poppy (Stylophorum diphyllum) makes an excellent shade-garden companion for Virginia bluebells.  The 2-inch-wide, crepe-textured, four-petaled poppies are borne atop 18-inch clumps of bold foliage with oakleaf-shaped lobes.  Bristly seedpods resembling miniature gourds ripen in late spring, with dormancy (and enthusiastic self-sowing) ensuing.  Both celandine poppy and Virginia bluebells work well with other, more persistent woodlanders (such as ferns and Solomon’s seal) that fill the gaps left by their early exit.

    Although many native woodland perennials die back after blooming in spring, some stay around for the long haul.  These include two species of Phlox that make excellent subjects for borders or naturalistic plantings.  Woodland phlox (Phlox divaricarta) produces drifts of fragrant, five-petaled blooms on wiry, foot-tall stems with paired, pointed leaves. The flowers are typically periwinkle-blue, but white, violet, and other colors occur in the wild and in cultivation.  Their form and hue combine effectively with Virginia bluebells, celandine poppy, white trilliums, wild geraniums, and other wildflowers that bloom in mid-spring.  After flowering, plants persist through the growing season and beyond as low semi-evergreen hummocks.

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    Pretty starry flowers decorate Phlox divaricata ‘in spring.

    Named for its low spreading mats of rounded evergreen leaves, creeping phlox (Phlox stolonifera) produces compact clusters of blue, purple, or white flowers about a week after woodland phlox commences bloom.   Although best in partial shade, it does well in full sun in cool moist sites, and makes a great “knitter” for interplanting with taller perennials.

    Also excelling as a mat-forming spreader is barren strawberry (Waldsteinia fragarioides).  Its low, weed-smothering carpets of three-lobed, semi-evergreen leaves do indeed suggest strawberry foliage, but of a more refined nature.  Yellow, five-lobed buttercups nestle in the leafage in mid-spring, maturing to dry, inedible fruit capsules.  An outstanding but little-known ground cover for partial shade, it tolerates considerable drought once established.

    The delicate wood geranium (Geranium maculatum) blooms towards late spring.

    The delicate wood geranium (Geranium maculatum) blooms towards late spring.

    Yet another splendid spreader for partial shade, crested iris (Iris cristata) grows from knobbly rhizomes that walk along the soil surface, like a bearded iris in miniature.  Fanned tufts of arching, 6-inch, blade-shaped leaves give rise to proportionately large blooms that slightly over top the foliage in mid-spring.  Flower color ranges from violet-blue to white, with contrasting yellow and white markings.   Several cultivars are available.  A lightly shaded site with moist, fertile, relatively porous soil is ideal.

    All of these – and many more besides (including Geranium maculatum, Hepatica acutiloba, Trillium grandiflorum, Delphinium tricorne, Tiarella cordifolia, Polemonium reptans, and Uvularia grandiflora) – are essential plants for any eastern North American garden that seeks to embody a sense of place.

  5. 10 Terrific Flowers for Honey Bees

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    Rudbeckia lacinata ‘Autumn Sun’ is a late-summer bloomer that bees love.

    The decline in honey bees (Apis mellifera) has heightened the popularity of honey bee plants. Many favorite flowers for honey bees, like sweetclover, thistle, alfalfa and dandelion, are Eurasian plants too weedy for flower beds. Thankfully, there are some beautiful summer garden flowers, many being  North American natives, which are also great nectar and pollen plants favored by these Old World native bees. Regional natives are also superb forage plants for regional bees.

    Work compost into the soil around your flowers in spring and fall for great results

    Work Fafard Premium Natural & Organic Compost Blend into the soil around your flowers in spring and fall for great results.

    The best honey bee plants provide a good supply of both sugary nectar and protein-rich pollen sought after by these and other long-tongued bees. Lots of beautiful garden flowers provide both in high quantities. Here are our top 10 favorites organized by bloom time. Choose one for each blooming period and you’ll have great bee blooms throughout the growing season! All are sun-loving and grow best in good soils with regular to good drainage. Amend with Fafard Premium Natural & Organic Compost Blend and feed with a fertilizer for flowers, such as Black Gold Rose & Flower Fertilizer, for best results.

     

    Early Summer Bee Flowers

    Echinacea pallidaPale Purple Coneflower (Echinacea pallida, perennial): An elegant beauty with fine, drooping petals, the pale purple coneflower is a bee favorite that also produces seeds much loved by finches. A native of grasslands and savannahs across the Eastern United States, this tough coneflower will bloom for up to three weeks from June to July. When in bloom, its flowers will feed lots of bees. You might even see a few butterflies on them as well.

     

    Achillea millefolium 'Strawberry Seduction' PP18401Common yarrow (Achillea millefolium, perennial): The bright, flattened heads of common yarrow are covered with tiny daisy flowers that bees really favor. Native to both Eurasia and North America, this plant attracts loads of pollinators no matter where it’s planted. There are many beautiful varieties for the garden; two of the better variants are the rich red ‘Strawberry Seduction’ (image left) and ‘Wonderful Wampee’, which has pink flowers that fade to nearly white. 

     

     

    Summer Bee Flowers

    IMG_8181Sunflowers (Helianthus annuus, annual): Nothing attracts and feeds bees like good old sunflowers. Their massive and prolific blooms come in shades of yellow, gold, red and orange and give way to lots of oil-rich seeds enjoyed by seed-eating birds and humans alike. There are literally hundreds of varieties to choose with various flower colors, heights and flower sizes. The dwarf varieties ‘Little Becka‘ (image left; 3-4’ tall with gold and brown flowers) and ‘Big Smile’ (1-2′ tall with classic golden flowers with black centers) are choice selections for any garden.

    Agastache_Blue_Boa_4Blue Giant Hyssop (Agastache foeniculum, perennial): The pretty spires of purple flowers produced by the giant hyssop become simply covered with bees. A native across the northern regions of North America, this fragrant perennial in the mint family it tough and very hardy. The hybrid Agastache ‘Blue Boa’ (image left by Terra Nova Nurseries) is an exceptional variety from Terra Nova Nursery that is exceptionally beautiful.

     

    Monarda punctata and Salvia coccinea JaKMPMHorsemint (Monarda punctata, perennial): Few garden perennials draw bees as efficiently as the long-blooming horsemint. A native of much of the United States, this sun-lover produces tiers of unique pink to white bracted flowers through much of summer and into fall. The blooms of these fragrant plants last a long time and become completely covered with pollinators. Plant in very well-drained soil for best performance.

     

    Echinacea_Dixie_Belle_1Purple Coneflower (Echinacea purpurea, perennial): The popularity of purple coneflowers and their many hybrids serves as a testament to their beauty and resilience. All are a favorite of bees, and like the pale purple coneflower, seed-eating birds enjoy the seedheads that follow. The purple-pink daisy flowers begin blooming in summer and will easily continue into late summer and even fall if the old flowers are removed. Some of the better new variants for big, long-blooming flowers include ‘Dixie Belle’ (left, image by Terra Nova Nurseries) and the super heavy blooming ‘Pica Bella’

    019Black-eyed Susan (Rudbeckia spp., annual or perennial): Nothing says summer like a beautiful black-eyed Susan, and bees appreciate their prolific flowers just as much as we do. One to seek out is the heavy blooming dwarf ‘Little Goldstar’ (Rudbeckia fulgida var. sullivantii ‘Little Goldstar’).

     

     

     

    Late-Summer and Fall Bee Flowers

    Aster oblongifolius 'October Skies'Asters (Symphotrichum spp., perennial): The pinks, blues and purples of late-summer and fall aster flowers are a delight to all bees. There are so many wonderful varieties to choose from it’s hard to know where to start. The classic ‘October Skies’ (image left, Symphyotrichum oblongifolium ‘October Skies’) is a wonderful late bloomer with lavender-blue flowers and orange centers, and the dusty sky blue ‘Bluebird’  (Symphyotrichum laeve ‘Bluebird’) is an earlier bloomer with prolific flowers.

     

    Eupatorium purpureum 2Joe-Pye Weeds (Eutrochium spp., perennial): This group of mid-to late-summer bloomers produces big, fuzzy heads of purplish-red flowers filled with nectar and pollen. Native across North America, many of the sun-loving perennials are adapted to moist ground. One of the finest garden varieties is Eutrochium purpureum ‘Little Red’ with its 4′ tall stature and pretty reddish-purple flowers.

     

    SolidagoGoldenrods (Solidago spp., perennial): Lauded as one of the best bee flowers for late summer and fall, goldenrods become a buzzing mass when they open. In fact, goldenrod honey is a delicacy, known to be darker with a distinctive bite. Excellent garden-worthy goldenrods include the dwarf forms ‘Golden Fleece’ (Solidago sphacelata ‘Golden Fleece’) and ‘Baby Gold’ (Solidago ‘Baby Gold’).

    With just a few of these garden beauties, feeding the bees all summer long is easy.