Tag Archives: good for wildlife

Uncommon Pollinator Plants

As more and more of us understand the importance of beneficial  insects, we want to host plants in our gardens which welcome and provide food for all of them, plus bees, butterflies and birds. Here is a short list of lesser known plants which add varied ornamental interest as well as lure many more of the good invertebrates into your garden

ascspeCU500Asclepias speciosa

One of the earliest Butterfly Weeds to bloom, Asclepias speciosa, or Showy Milkweed ,has umbels of white to mauve pink flowers in late spring and early summer, with attractive gray linear foliage. Its flowers are a nectar source for all butterflies and its foliage is food for monarchs.  Asclepias speciosa can grow up to 3’ tall and 1-2’ wide. Native to dry uplands of western N. America, it is drought tolerant. Hardy in zones 3-8.

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Parthenium integrifolium

Wild Quinine or American Feverfew is a Missouri native with 8-10” tobacco like basal foliage, and  2-3′ stems bearing clusters of white fuzzy yarrow-like flowers in midsummer. Beneficial wasps and butterflies are often seen hovering over its blossoms. Parthenium integrifolium was grown in years past for its medicinal qualities,  and it makes a nice addition to the dry wild border. Hardy in zones 5-9.

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Pycnanthemum muticum

Mountain Mint spreads, so think of it as a ground cover for butterflies and bees. Beginning in mid summer and continuing into September,  Pycnanthemum muticum displays showy silvery bracts surrounding a central disk rimmed with tiny pale pink/white flowers. Drought tolerant once established, plants will grow 2-3’ tall and are the first pitstop for my honeybees when they leave the hive. Hardy in zones 5-9.

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Silphium perfoliatum

“Cup Plant”, so called because water is held in the reservoir created where the stems pierce through the opposite leaves, provides a watering hole for birds, bees, and butterflies. This Sunflower like plant is useful at the back of a border, where it bears yellow daisies on 4-8’ stems during July and August . I particularly like Silphium perfoliatum’s  green seed heads as cut material for fall arrangements. Hardy in zones 4-8.

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Stokesia laevis

Stokes’ Aster is a showy native with 23” double lavender blue daises on 18-24” plants. Plants begin to color in late June and early July and carries into August. Beautiful as it is as a cut flower, you may want to leave the blossoms undisturbed to enjoy the dance of the butterflies above them. Grow Stokesia laevis in average to dry soils. Note: It resents winter wetness. Hardy in zones 4-10.

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Aster ptarmicoides (formerly Solidago ptarmicoides, and NOW to be botanically correct: Oligoneuron album)

Formerly White Upland Aster or White Goldenrod depending who you askedbut with its new genus classification,  Oligoneuron,  who knows what to nickname it?  Anyway, we first saw this plant at Wave Hill 20 years ago (labeled as Aster ptarmicoides), where it looked crisp and clean on a hot August day. Years later we were finally able to hunt down a seed source for it and now have it in our garden. Tidy plants have 4-5″ dark green linear leaves, and bear sprays of small papery white asters on 15” stems  in mid-late summer through early fall. Yes to bees and butterflies, plus goldfinches love the seeds! Hardy in zones 3-8.

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Symphyotrichum (Aster) laeve

We have grown the strain ‘Bluebird’  of Smooth Aster for years, with  its 1-2” orange yellow centered, clear blue daisies born in September and October.  Symphyotrichum laeve is a plant that is very happy in our mixed borders, self seeding here and there, but is easy to relocate should it pop up somewhere where it is not wanted. Plants grow 2.5-3’ tall and are about 18” wide. Happy in average to dry soil in zones 4-9.

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From my window…

2016_nov_16outmywindow2webI love an autumn that lingers, that gently let’s go of leaf and blossom, that holds onto color made more vivid against a changing gray sky. A day or two or three of mild temperatures can make us forget that the naked garden of December and January awaits.  Right now I am enjoying this picture from my window, as it about to change, and yet will continue to offer interest in the cold months ahead.

What do you see when you look out your window? Are you pleased with your view? Does it include evergreen plants which add bold mass and keeps some color happening? Is there a nicely pruned tree whose silhouette can show off the tracings of winter snow? And do you notice branches that take on red or gold or purple pigments when temperatures drop, adding subtle hues, (but color nonetheless).

Do your plantings also invite the activity of birds? Will you catch the scarlet flash of a cardinal, who finds refuge in a dense evergreen, or the business of chickadees, who flit from one branch to the next, waiting for safe moments to descend upon the feeder.

From my window, the Hinoki Cypress, Chamaecyparis obtusa compacta, provides a dark green screen from the road, and the winterberry, Ilex verticillata, adds brilliance for at least another month. The Japanese Maple, Acer palmatum ‘Katsura’ will let go any day now, but we’ll suspend a feeder from its branches for the birds. The Forest Grass, Hakonechloa macra, will change from gold to tan. And then in late winter, the scene will flush anew reminding  me that spring is on its way, with color from early bulbs and Hellebores.

What plants are your favorites for winter interest?

Mahonia x media ‘Charity’

Mahonia x media 'Charity'

Mahonia x media ‘Charity’

What shrub has evergreen foliage resembling both holly and fern, blooms in late fall/early winter with a candelabra of fragrant primrose yellow flowers, is drought tolerant once established and not a favorite of marauding deer? Answer: Mahonia x media ‘Charity, a hybrid of the two species, M. japonica and M. lomariifolia.

Ever since I saw a form of Mahonia  blooming in winter in the Plymouth MA garden of my friend Susanne, I have wanted to have this plant in my garden. Certainly, this is pushing the hardiness limits in our neck of the woods, so I have been  scouting for a very protected spot (thinking of a clearing in our now dense grove of Yellow Groove Bamboo).  ‘Charity’ is hardy to 0 degrees F, but we usually dip below that for at least a day or two each winter.

Of course all of you who live in balmier zones 7-9 should consider giving this winter interest plant a try.  It is a broadleaf evergreen, and so it would be prudent to choose a site with protection from winter winds and strong western sun. Plants develop a vase shape and usually grow to 5-7’ tall but can reach 10’ in mild climates, with a width of 3-6’. The flowers begin forming in late October, providing unexpected color when you need it most from late November into January. The multiple upright racemes of small flowers are magnets for bees, who may venture out on mild days. Rich blue fruit follow in spring, thus the common name Grape Holly,  and these are relished by birds. Older foliage may take on reddish tones in late winter, and tarnished leaves should be pruned once fresh growth begins to unfurl.

Mahonia can be grown in full sun or dappled shade, but if grown in full sun it it may require a bit more watering in dry spells. I should also add that the foliage has rather unfriendly sharp edges, and can deliver a “look but don’t touch” message to passerby.

Do you grow any forms of Mahonia and how have they performed where you live? Please share your experience.

Calamintha nepeta ssp. nepeta

Calamintha nepeta ssp. nepeta

At last, we found an image that displays Lesser Calamint,Calamintha nepeta ssp. nepeta , in a flattering light. Perhaps that’s why more people don’t grow it: it doesn’t always photograph well, and it’s not in bloom when everyone is plant shopping in April and May. It has been one of our “go to” plants when designing sunny gardens for years. Here’s why.

Calamintha nepeta ssp. nepeta has grown well in our garden for the past 18 years. Yes, the same specimens, planted in 1995, return each year true to form. In spring they present as tidy little subshrubs (no, it does not spread by runners) with mint scented, slightly shiny leaves.  In July (June in warmer zones) sturdy 18″ stems bearing racemes of airy blue tinted white flowers appear, creating a cloud like effect for the front of the border and accenting any plant around it, and it is especially complimentary to roses. The blossoming continues into October, when the flowers take on blue tones with cooler temperatures.  Calamintha nepeta ssp. nepeta is a primo plant for attracting bees, butterflies and beneficial insects. This form of Lesser Calamint has rarely self sown in our gardens, unlike the very similar  Calamintha nepeta ‘White Cloud’, which seems to happily self sow. You might like having babies, or not. You decide.

As mentioned before, this is a reliable perennial (18 years and still going strong) for us here in southern New England. Calamintha nepeta ssp. nepeta performs well whether we  are having a hot dry summer or a cool moist one. It likes a soil that is well drained, but does not need or want lots of fertilizer. I know it will be this reliable in zones 5-7, but would be interested in hearing if folks are growing it successfully in zones 8 and 9.  Its tidy form and endless flowering means it can be combined with so many other plants, depending on your color scheme, but consider using it with Asclepias tuberosa, Sedum ‘Maestro’, Echinacea ‘Fatal Attraction’ or Caryopteris for strong summer interest.

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Viburnum dilatatum ‘Michael Dodge’

Viburnum dilatatum ‘Michael Dodge’

Meet ‘Michael Dodge‘, a golden berried hybrid of Linden Viburnum. He is a cheerful fellow,  who shows off in late spring with a bevy of white lacey flowers and then later develops clusters of showy yellow fruit, which is a sight in our garden right now. The birds are leaving the fruit alone, but that is fine with me because the fruit bearing stems are perfect additions to autumn floral arrangements.

I received a nice note from the plant’s breeder, Mr. Michael Dodge himself.  He informed me that he made a deliberate cross between V. dilatatum and V. d. Xanthocarpum in hopes of getting a larger fruited yellow form in his days working at Wintherthur in Delaware. Mr. Dodge left Winterthur not long after, but was notified that there were some very nice clones from the seedlings he planted. Harold Bruce, the garden curator at that time, named the best yellow fruited clone after him.

Viburnun dilatatum is of Asian ancestry and although it looks perfectly at home in a naturalistic border, it is not as favored by birds and wildlife (plant V. dentatum and other native viburnum species). What it does do is provide dramatic color in the  autumn landscape.  Something you should note is that in order for a good berry set you need another cultivar of V. dilatatum nearby. This may sound confusing, so I should clarify. You should plant a different clone for good cross pollination, and Mr Dodge specifically recommends Viburnum dilatatum ‘Cardinal Candy, who will put on a show of its own with bright red fruit.

Viburnum dilatatum ‘Michael Dodge will grow 8-10′ tall and wide. He is not fussy about soil, but will certainly appreciate a fertile loam and grows best in full sun or partial shade. ‘Michael Dodge  is hardy through zone 5.

Ilex verticillata

December is the perfect month to enjoy this eyecatching deciduous holly whose brilliant berries, clustered on bare branches, provide splashes of color to the early winter landscape. Commonly called Winterberry, this North American native is found in the wild from Nova Scotia to Florida, usually growing in low lying areas, since it doesn?t mind wet feet. It is nonetheless adaptable to many soil types and will be happy enough in dryer locations. A large number of clones have been selected for their eventual stature, as well as for variation in fruit color and size.

As you probably know, the genus Ilex is dioecious, meaning there are different male and female flowering plants, and they have to tango for fruit set. Take note that there are earlier and later flowering selections of Ilex verticillata and it is a good idea to plant a male counterpart that blooms at the same time as the female clone.  Some of the earlier blooming female clones such as ‘Red Sprite’, ‘Berry Heavy’ and ‘Berry Nice’ should be pollinated with the male clone ‘Jim Dandy’. Use ‘Southern Gentleman?’, a late-blooming male pollinator for ‘Winter Red’, ‘Winter Gold’, ‘Capacon’, ‘Sparkleberry’ and the other later blooming girls.

Ilex verticillata waits until fall to become a star when the berries begin to color, so it is best sited in a spot where it does not have to be commanding all season long. Remember Winterberry does sucker, but this can be useful where you want to create a screen to attract wildlife. A number of years ago, we used it in repetition behind one of our beds that borders a wet area, and the planting now provides us with a bounty of branches for cutting.  Eventual plant size is dependent on which cultivars you select, and they range from 3-4′ to 12′ or more. Plants enjoy sunny or partially shaded exposures, soil that is acid to neutral, and are hardy through zone 4.

Symphyotrichum laeve ‘Bluebird’

We’re being BC here (botanically correct). Formerly known as Aster laevis ‘Bluebird’ and commonly referred to as Smooth Aster, this native fall bloomer should be in everyone’s garden. It has remarkable attributes. The show begins early-mid September here in New England, when ‘Bluebird’provides a wealth of 1″ blue flowers on branched, quite sturdy 3-4′ stems. ‘Bluebird’ is not cursed with “ugly legs syndrome”  that afflicts New England and New York Asters selections (mildewed and brown foliage). Flowering continues happily into October.

Symphyotrichum laeve ‘Bluebird’ is hardy in zones 4-9, and is not at all fussy about soil, taking even quite dry conditions. Plant in a spot where he will receive at least a half day of sunshine, which is necessary for a colorful display. An attractive combination would match ‘Bluebird’ with tall white Boltonia , Sedum ‘Maestro’ and Ornamental Grasses.  Besides being attractive to bees, ‘Bluebird‘is a draw for migrating Monarchs on their journey south for the winter. Be aware that if you don’t deadhead after flowering you may be the beneficiary of numerous seedlings around your garden.

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Ruellia brittoniana ‘Purple Showers’

Sometimes your garden needs something tall, something blue. The abundant display of summer perennials laden with yellow daisy-like flowers begs for plant selections which offer dark contrast.

A “temperennial” here in zone 6, Tall Mexican Petunia won’t winter over outdoors for us, but it certainly will in zones 8-10. Still, we always make room for it in our gardens and also use it in container combinations where the tall 3-4′ purple stalks are clothed with narrow dark green purple tinted foliage. The continuous display of violet blue funnel shaped flowers extend on short stems from the leaf axils, and attract bees, butterflies and hummingbirds.

Ruellia ‘Purple Showers’ does enjoy evenly moist soil, and will even grow well along a pond?s edge or in low standing water, a situation that can be challenging. This does not mean it won?t grow in average soil conditions, for it will, but it does not want to fry.  Southern nursery catalogs list Ruellia as an evergreen shrub. We suspect Ruellia may become territorial in warm climates, and should be planted where its vigor is an asset.

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Sorbaria sorbifolia ‘Sem’

First, we fell in love with the foliage. The new foliar growth is a delicious shade of caramel pink, gradually becoming lime green as the summer progresses. As the July heat intensifies, 4-6″ panicles of white pearly buds burst into creamy Astilbe like plumes. Sorbaria sorbifolia ‘Sem’ is a compact growing False Spirea, growing only to 48″, unlike the species which can reach 8′ or more.  ‘Sem’ will give you moderate height without obscuring your view. Yes this form will sucker and form a thicket…but that is why you should use this shrub as a low hedge, or for filling a space that you don’t want to fuss over.

Here are the other pertinent facts: Sorbaria ‘Sem’ grows in full sun or part shade, is deer resistant and is hardy to minus 35 degrees F. Pretty and tough, don’t you think?

Meehania cordata

What has spring time blue flowers, grows 4-6″ tall, spreads by creeping runners, thrives in partial shade or shade in moist or drier soil? Meehania cordata, commonly known as Meehan’s Mint! This versatile and underused Northeast native is a good substitute groundcover for Lamium and Ajuga. It blooms in May and June with violet blue lipped tubular blossoms and would make a lovely underplanting for golden leaved Hosta and Hakonechloa (Japanese Forest Grass).

Although it is especially vigorous in moist soil, and would be a good choice for carpeting along a pond or stream, it will also grow well but more slowly in drier spots. It is hardy in zones 5-8 and would be a welcomed addition to a wildflower garden.