Sunday, July 10, 2016

Monarch Sighting!

This weekend we had a Monarch Butterfly sighting at the Red House Garden!

Monarch butterfly on Rose Milkweed
This is a big deal here, as this is only the second Monarch I've seen in the last three years since moving up to Massachusetts.  It's also a cause for celebration, as Monarch numbers have been on the decline in recent years.  We having been fighting against the real possibility that their Great Migration, which encompasses several generations of butterflies and thousands of miles across North America, could face extinction.


Gardeners across America have been planting nectar plants and Milkweed plants, which is what their caterpillars eat, in order to help the butterflies out. We were very optimistic after reports this winter showed that the numbers of Monarchs overwintering in Mexico had increased significantly...

Graph of area covered by the Monarch overwintering population in Mexico
graph by WWF
Unfortunately, an unexpected disaster struck.  In early March, right as the Monarch butterflies were coming out of hibernation, a large winter storm hit Mexico.  Millions of Monarchs were killed.


Thus it gives me great hope to see a Monarch way up here, especially one early in the season.


This one is a female Monarch.


Here's hoping for babies!


Thursday, June 30, 2016

The Pale Purple Coneflower

Two years ago, I planted seeds for the Pale Purple Coneflower, or Echinacea pallida.  Like many perennials that are planted from seed, it's been a long wait, but I'm excited to say they are finally in bloom!

Pale Purple Coneflower
Native to the central United States, the Pale Purple Coneflower is a close relative of the well-known Purple Coneflower.  When I first saw pictures of these prairie plants, sometimes called Narrow Petal Coneflowers, I thought that their thin, drooping petals were rather odd-looking.  However, over time their airy shape really grew on me, and I decided to grow some of these wildflowers in my own garden.


With their petals gracefully dancing about in the breeze, they are actually very charming flowers. 


Echinacea pallida flowers in early summer before the regular Purple Coneflowers do, blooming when there isn't a lot of other things going on in my garden.  It is also a great nectar source for bees, butterflies, hummingbirds, and other pollinators.

bee on Pale Purple Coneflower
Pale Purple Coneflowers also attract birds who love their seeds.  Goldfinches love them so much, in fact, that they started feasting while my flowers were still in bloom.

Goldfinches on Echinacea pallida
The seeds apparently make good bird baby food, too.

Goldfinch daddy feeding his baby
Pale Purple Coneflowers prefer well-drained soil in full to partial sun.  It has a deep taproot and is very drought tolerant once established (though also hard to move).  It grows about 2 to 3 feet tall and 1 to 2 feet wide, and looks very nice growing around other plants, which also serve to give it some support.  The coneflowers do sometimes flop, especially after being used as dining tables for flocks of little birds...


Like other Echinaceas, the Pale Purple Coneflower was used by Native Americans for medicinal purposes, and its roots are still used today in herbal medicine and tonics. The states of Tennessee and Wisconsin list the Pale Purple Coneflower as threatened, due to habitat loss and over-collection of its roots for the medicinal market.


I don't usually see Echinacea pallida for sale at local nurseries, but seeds and seedlings are available at some native nurseries and online.  There is also a white/pale pink version Echinacea pallida 'Hula Dancer' available, which looks like it would be quite pretty in the garden.


The Pale Purple Coneflower is so lovely and worth the wait - though I have to admit that, being an impatient gardener, I bought some seedlings online this year so that I could have more of these flowers in the garden without waiting yet another two years.


I look forward to many more blooms! 
Happy Gardening!


Sunday, June 19, 2016

The Generosity of Gardeners

I met her at a Las Vegas nightclub, of all places.  We chatted over cocktails - and found out that, lo and behold, we were both gardeners.  She leaned over to me.  "Would you like some plants?" she asked.  "I have a bunch I can give you."

Free plants?  Somehow even I had found my drug of choice in Las Vegas!


As it turns out, the woman I had met was the wife of one of Mr. Red House's coworkers, who were in the middle of downsizing and moving to a condo.  The wife was a gardener and one of the nicest people I've met, and she was thrilled to find someone to take some of her plants.  When we got back to Massachusetts I came over and we dug dozens if not hundreds of plants.

a newly acquired Dianthus
I haven't had much time to be online lately as I have been planting non-stop the past few weeks.

Lanium, one of my newly aquired plants
I've been planting those plants,
free plants I picked up after working the local Garden Club plant sale,
other plants given to me by generous older club members with overflowing gardens,
and my own seedlings.

It's been a busy spring!

plants still awaiting planting
People probably think I spend a fortune on my garden (and Mr. Red House would probably agree with them), but they don't know just how generous the gardening community is.  Gardeners are a sharing bunch, and I highly recommend joining a local gardening club if available.

My hellstrip is filled almost exclusively with free plants or plants from seeds.
Members with mature plants will often share seeds and cuttings, and gardeners are always giving away divisions of plants that are growing too crowded in their garden. They don't call them 'pass-along plants' for nothing!

Bleeding hearts passed along to me
I would say about 80% of my plants were given to me by other gardeners or grown from cuttings or seeds.  (That percentage would be higher if it weren't for my bulb addiction...)

Bee visiting Baptisia that was passed along to me
as a little seedling by another gardener a couple years ago.
I love getting 'pass-a-long plants', and these plants are living reminders of friends and kindred spirits who so thoughtfully share bounty from their garden.

Dianthus grown from seeds given to me by my Mother-in-law from her plants
Gardeners are also generous with sharing their experience and advice with how best to grow their plants.  Older gardeners are an invaluable resource, especially for those of us who are unfamiliar with local challenges.

just one of the local 'challenges'
I love being part of the online gardening community as well, even though I haven't had much time for it this spring.  I learn so much, and get so many great ideas!

I got this idea of filling my kids' out-grown rainboots with plants somewhere online.
Now if anyone could give me some tips for how to multitask or be in two places at once, I would be very grateful.  I still have the weeding to do...

A striking iris passed along to me
...and the watering, and the edging, and the mulching, and the mowing...


It might be a busy summer in the garden, too!

Happy summer and happy gardening,
and thank you to all those generous gardeners out there!

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