Wednesday, July 23, 2014

Swamp Verbena

Out behind our house we have a detention pond.  Being a detention pond, as opposed to a retention pond, sometimes there's several inches of standing water in it, while other times it's dry.  Lots of people probably think of this as unusable space, but I see it as potential for something I'd love to have in my garden - a meadow!

It doesn't know it yet, but this detention pond is going to be a meadow.
Right now it's not really quite my ideal meadow (or as Mr. Red House calls it, my 'mud-dow', since it's usually muddy there.)  It's mostly full of cattails, ferns, and grasses;  however the large majority of flowering plants in the pond are comprised of the terribly invasive Purple Loosestrife.

the beautiful, but highly invasive Purple Loosestrife
On the upside there are some Goldenrods and Asters in my meadow/muddow, and I've even spotted some Joe-Pye Weed and Common Milkweed growing wild on the banks.  Then last week I saw this:


Swamp Verbena, or Verbena hastata, is a nice, native perennial that likes, well, swampy areas (if you couldn't tell from the name.)  It likes full or partial sun and grows between 2 to 5 feet tall.  The sunnier the site, the taller it gets. It is supposed to be a great substitute for invasive species like Purple Loosestrife since it likes similar conditions. (Hurry up, little Verbena!  So far the Loosestrife is winning!)

Swamp Verbena flowers
Swamp Verbena is also known as Blue Verbena, Blue Vervain, and Simpler's Joy.  Why the nickname 'Simpler's Joy', you wonder?  (I also wondered!)  Apparently back in the day this plant was very easy for Simplers - aka Herbalists - to sell, since people used it as a folk remedy for quite a number of ailments.  (There is a similar Verbena native to Europe with the same nickname that was thought to cure all sorts of stuff, as well as have supernatural properties.)

When the little flowers get old, they fall, making little purple piles on the leaves.
This native plant is great for wildlife.  The flowers attract a number of bees, including Bumblebees and the specialized Verbena bee (Calliopsis subgenus Verbenapis), and birds eat its seeds.  It is also a host for the Verbena Moth and the Common Buckeye butterfly.


I think by itself Swamp Verbena is kind of a funny-looking plant with all its little candlesticks of flowers, but I'll bet it would look great in a mass at the back of a border...


...or en masse in a meadow!


See other native wildflowers over at the site Clay and Limestone for Wildflower Wednesday.

Tuesday, July 15, 2014

Around the July Garden

Well, my garden is still quite new, so it's still working on filling out. Back in June the Salvia and Alliums bloomed and looked marvelous, but then petered out, so between that and the raggedy-looking spring bulb leaves, my garden looked quite sad.  But thankfully some plants have finally come to a summer garden rescue...


Purple Coneflowers!

'Magnus' Purple Coneflower
The Purple Coneflowers, Bachelor Buttons, Nicotiana, Alyssum, and 'The Fairy' Rose have all started blooming, making it look like there is, indeed, a deliberate garden in the front yard again.


The plantings in the whiskey barrels up by the driveway are doing quite well.  In fact, Mr. Red House thought that the Nicotiana in the barrels looked like weeds, they grew so big.

My 'weedy' flowers and my 'flowering' lawn
I had to explain that, yes, normally only weeds do grow that big in my garden, but these containers have a special magic quality called 'good dirt'.  

my other whiskey barrel with slightly smaller Nicotianas
On the side yard, the Daylilies are blooming.


I have a nice lot of Daylilies sprinkled around the edges of my yard, thanks to other gardeners who were more than happy to have me dig out some of their extras.

'Ditch Lilies' brightening up the edge of my patch of woods
The native Culver's Root I planted last fall is also starting to bloom.  I thought I had gotten a pink blooming variety... but apparently not.

Culver's Root
(Veronicastrum Virginicum)
In the same bed, I had a plant growing that I didn't remember planting. (Since it's a new garden, I actually still usually remember most of what I've planted.)  It kept growing and getting taller, and I kept racking my brain as to what it was.  Finally, these appeared:


Surprise, I planted Balloon Flower last year!


Of course, the big thing this year has been the new Veggie Garden.  We've been eating tons of Snow Peas, but I am eagerly awaiting the first Tomatoes.

unripe heirloom 'Chocolate Pear' Tomatoes
Tomatillos, carrots, leeks, eggplant, and zucchini are all doing their thing, albeit slowly for this impatient gardener and kitchen master (mistress?).  I'm hungry just thinking about it!

Zucchini blossoms
And that's what's going on in my new Red House Garden.  Not too shabby for a brand new baby garden, right?  It will grow..

sweet-smelling Scentsation Mix Nicotiana 
To see what else is growing in the gardens of garden bloggers around the world, visit Garden Bloggers' Bloom Day at May Dreams Gardens blog site.

Thursday, July 10, 2014

The Local Characters

This is Norman, our local groundhog (aka R.O.U.S.).


Norman thinks that our front yard is his own little private kingdom.


I'm honestly okay with that, as long as he sticks with the clover field (aka lawn) in the front and stays away from the garden.  Hopefully, Norman never realizes there is a veggie garden in the back yard...


The local deer do not get names.
I'm hoping they are just passing through.


The bunnies do not get names either.
They do not deserve it.

Stop eating my poor little Aster!!
Mr. and Mrs. Wren have taken up residence at the Red House Garden.  They are an adventurous sort.  Instead of going with the oh-so-nice, hand built luxury birdhouses we put out for them, they decided to raise their young in the top of our propane tank.


They have successfully raised and fledged three baby Wrens.  I found this out when I was out watering the garden, and Mr. and Mrs. Wren started furiously chattering at me.  I looked down and realized I was watering their three little babies.  (Oops, sorry!)

one of the baby wrens in the top of our propane tank
I just hope they don't run into George.  George is our 6-foot-long Black Racer Snake. I don't have a picture of him - thankfully he does, indeed, race away from us.  The moment we met George (sunning himself on our garage door step), we realized why we have never seen a single solitary frog or lizard in our yard.

The same day we met George, we met Harry the Spider.  Harry was in our garage at the time.  If you listen to Mr. Red House's version, Harry looks something like this, just hairier:

photo source
I assure you, he was a tad smaller.

Living in our yard, we also have Chester the chipmunk.  He usually hangs out in a drainpipe under our rain barrel.


I think Chester likes that spot because it is close to the garage.  And if the garage is open for any length of time, you can pretty much bet on finding a scene like this:

a chipmunk very guiltily sitting on a bag of birdseed
So there you go, that's the round-up of local characters here at the Red House Garden, other than a motley assortment of birds that hang out near the bird feeder.


Let's not talk about the squirrel.

Thursday, July 3, 2014

Common Milkweed

With the great migration of Monarch butterflies in serious danger of becoming extinct, I knew I needed to have milkweed in my new garden.  I started seeds, ordered seedlings, and ended up with a few dozen milkweed plants clustered around the garden.   Apparently I didn't need to worry so much about planting milkweed - while exploring the back wild edge of our property, I found that Mother Nature had beaten me to the punch!

cluster of milkweed flowers, starting to bloom
I found an entire stand of Asclepias syriaca, otherwise known as Common Milkweed, in my back yard.


The pollinators were in love.

I'm just going to lie here and drink some nectar...
I had never smelled Common Milkweed flowers before.  Beautifully fragrant, they smell like lilacs to me.


The nickname of Common Milkweed shows how plentiful it used to be.  This plant was considered a terribly fast-growing, hard-to-control weed by farmers (and still is, oftentimes).  


One of the few herbicides that works on it is glyphosate (known often under the brand Roundup), which one of the reasons why Roundup-ready crops were so welcome by farmers.  Finally this weed and many others could be easily gotten rid of with what (at the time) seemed like minimal impact on the environment...


In 1996, 3% of corn and 7.4% of soybeans grown in the US were herbicide-tolerant.  By 2013, 85% of corn and 93% of soybeans were herbicide-tolerant, much of it grown in the Midwest, the corridor of Monarch migration.  Of course, the increase in herbicides led to a sharp decline of milkweed...


...which led to a sharp decline in the population of Monarch butterflies.  I'm sure other wildlife populations are affected, as well (and we won't even go into the evolution of Roundup-resistant weeds that are now spreading.)

Skipper butterfly on Milkweed
It is interesting how many plants we think of as weeds, really turn out to be important in the ecosystem.


A noxious weed to farmers that invades their crops and can affect their livelihood?  A necessary plant to survival for a butterfly?  It is hard to strike balance when talking about this one small but impactful plant, but it certainly can't be healthy to lose such large numbers of wildlife.


So I will do a little gardener's dance at the fact that I have Common Milkweed weeding it up in the back yard and plant a few more milkweed seedlings in the front.  I haven't seen any Monarchs yet..


...but I want to be ready for them and any other native wildlife that might need a helping hand.

Thursday, June 26, 2014

Where Have All the Bees Gone?

In my last garden, I remember stepping out into my backyard and hearing a hum rising up from all the bees enjoying the clover and other flowers.

honeybee on clover
Two years later, I now have a new garden and a nice big patch of clover, but...


where are all the bees?

are the bees hiding from me?
Oh yes, if I search I can find a few bees..

Bumble bee on salvia
But it is worrisome.  
Is it because so many bees died off after the hard winter?
Am I seeing the effects of Colony Collapse Disorder?
Or is it because my garden isn't as established yet and hasn't been 'discovered'?

a tiny sweat bee, covered in pollen
There seem to be a lot of factors affecting bee numbers.  It is a perfect storm for bees and other pollinators out there - pesticides, pathogens, parasites, loss of habitat, and a harsh winter on top of that.

label on a bottle of Tree & Shrub 'Protect & Feed' granules
Imidacloprid and Clothianidin are Neonicotinoids, pesticides that absorbed into the plant and are suspected of being harmful to bees
In good news, though, the topic has been getting so much attention that pressure is being put on law makers.  Last week, during National Pollinator Week, the White House announced a Presidential Memorandum to address the loss of bees, monarchs, and other pollinators.  The memorandum established a task force to look into the problem and come up with a plan.  It also ordered pollinator-friendly practices to be put into effect on federal lands in order to build up habitat.

Bumble bee on holly
Well, we all know government, so we'll see how effective this will be, but at least it is a step in the right direction.

miner bee on clover
As my rather empty patch of clover knows,
the pollinators need all the help they can get!

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