Tag Archives: butterfly plants

Growing Biennial Angelica

One of the stars of our late summer pollinator garden is Angelica, whose umbels of tiny flowers invite insect and butterfly activity galore.  Angelica are biennials, and most of you know this  means that seed sown this year grow roots and foliage, with flowers appearing in year two. The hope is that once planted, the Angelica will self sow, providing progeny for years to come. Hmm, sounds good, but….

Angelica germinates best after the seed has been exposed to cold temperatures. If plants are allowed to self sow in the garden, the seed naturally gets a long winter chill, and wakes up with the spring rains. When this works, it’s wonderful! In our experience this is not always something to be counted on. What if the seed germinates but then a dry spell settles in and you are too busy to observe and water?

We choose not leave our supply up to chance. After collecting seed in the fall, we store it envelopes in a cool dry space. In February we sow the seed in a slightly dampened germinating mix and let it sit for 2 weeks at room temperature (60-72F). We then transfer the seed flat, enclosed with a sealed baggie, into the refrigerator (35-40F) for 4-6 weeks (you could also try leaving the flat in a safe spot outdoors). In April, we transfer the seed flat out to germinate under 60-70F conditions. Once the seedlings have developed first true leaves, we transplant them into deep 2” tubes (Angelica do develop a taproot). When plants are established enough they can be transplanted into the garden, or in our case, into deep nursery quart pots for retail sales.

garden angelica flowerstalk and buds

There are numerous species; here are a few of our favorites. Angelica gigas, native to Korea has bolder foliage with dense deep wine globular umbels. Angelica stricta ‘Purpurea’. (aka A. sylvestris purpurea) hails from northern Europe and has dark tinted stems and foliage, with 4’ stems bearing dark purple flower buds opening maturing to lavender-pink, followed by attractive seed heads. There is a species native to parts of the US, including New England, Angelica atropurpurea, (Purple angelica) which has medicinal uses, plus it is quite ornamental with tall  red tinted stems and green to white umbels.

If you want to grow Angelica in large swaths of your garden, why not order seed and sow this winter. You’ll have to wait a year for blossoms, but you’ll have dozens of plants. Or, compromise. Purchase a few established first year plants and get them in the ground this year for color and activity next, but still sow seed next winter for your endless supply.

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Best Vine for Shade: Schizophragma hydrangeoides ‘Moonlight’

Japanese hydrangea vine

For an easy and fast growing woody vine for partial or rather  shady spots, consider Japanese Hydrangea Vine, aka  Schizophragma hydrangeoides ‘Moonlight’.  Similar but visually different (and IMHO more lovely) than its cousin Climbing Hydrangea (Hydrangea anomela petiolares), the cultivar ‘Moonlight’ has faint silvery mottling on it’s dark blue-green heart shaped foliage. In July and August, it bears large (up to 9″) white “lacecap” flowers that are composed of teardrop shaped sepals attached to the tiny fertile flower clusters.  Although it is not native, the fertile flowers do invite pollinators. Plants come into bloom more quickly than do Hydrangea anomela petiolares, plus its flowers last longer and can be controlled to 10-15′ tall, although it can get taller with age.

Grow Schizophragma hydrangeoides ‘Moonlight’  espaliered up walls, pergolas and arbors or even over stonewalls. It enjoys  a rich evenly moist well-drained soil for quickest growth. and plants are hardy in zones 5b-9.

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The Late Asters that should be in your Garden

Symphyotrichum x Bill’s Big Blue’

Years ago, the only fall asters that were commonly available at nurseries were cultivars of New England Asters: ‘Purple Dome’,  ‘Alma Potschke’  and ‘Wood’s Blue’. I have to say they have regularly disappointed me…by the time they came into flower their lower leaves would turn brown and look so tarnished.  I learned that their “ugly legs” could be disguised by planting behind another plant so you only viewed the flower heads. These New England Asters bloomed in early-mid September and by this time of year (mid October) the show was over.

Over the years, I have discovered there were so many other showy asters to try,  including many other native species.  Some didn’t begin their show until mid October,  plus they did not suffer the “ugly legs” syndrome. (Light frosts were not a problem.) Let me talk up a few.

Symphyotrichum ‘Bill’s Big Blue’

Consider Symphyotrichum (Aster) Bill’s Big Blue’, a “nativar” selected by a CA nurseryman years ago.  It may take a year or two to achieve its capable height of 5′, but here it is in the latter half of October, billowing forth over a stone wall. (Blue is sometimes tricky to capture in photos, and it is actually more blue in person). The bumbles and honey bees are enjoying its late display.

Aster ageratoides ‘Ezo Murasaki’

I’ve written about Aster ageratoides ‘Ezo Murasaki’, a small flowered October into November bloomer, in an early post.  1″ violet blue flowers appear in profusion on 18-24″ tall plants and please the bees too! Take note that this Aster spreads, so use it where a useful, late blooming groundcover will complement some brilliant fall foliage.

Aster tartaricus ‘Jindaii’

Aster tartaricus ‘Jindai’  is another late bloomer that reaches a 3-4′ height. Distinctive large tobacco-like basal leaves give rise to tall sturdy stems bearing clusters of periwinkle blue  flowers with abundant pollen. Plants do spread where happy, so pair with sturdy partner plants.

Symphyotrichum ‘October Skies’

The native Aromatic Asters, Symphyotricum oblongifolius ‘October Skies’, and the slightly taller  ‘Raydon’s Favorite’  are becoming better known. One would easily overlook them in the nursery yard in spring as their foliage doesn’t command attention.  Come October, however, and look again…the plants are literally covered with 1 1/2″ blue flowers.  They also have good drought tolerance and are pollinator friendly.

Are you growing any late blooming Asters that should be in everyone’s garden?

Vitex agnus-castus ‘Shoal Creek’

Why plant Buddleia when you can grow Vitex?  Mid summer blue-lavender fragrant spires begin in July and carry on through August on bushy plants with attractive palmate foliage. Here in the northeast, our colder winters don’t allow plants to become as large (10-15′) as the data says, since they  do get some  winter die back.  Vitex blooms on new growth, so it can be cut back hard each spring to grow into a perfectly sized 5-6′ flowering shrub.  And yes,  it is a great addition to a pollinator garden as it is a favorite of butterflies and bees.

The fruits of Vitex agnus-castus resemble peppercorns and have medicinal properties. It has been used to treat women’s health issues such fertility and menstrual problems. In the middle ages it was used to reduce the male libido (heaven’s no!) hence its common name, Chaste Tree. Grow Vitex in full sun in well drained soil in zones (5, with protection) 6-9.

Phlox paniculata ‘Jeana’

I’ll give you 3 reasons why you should have ‘Jeana’, a Summer Panicle Phlox, in your garden.

1. Long-blooming tresses of many small lilac sized florets, on 4-5′ stems, adorn this plant from mid July-September.

2. The foliage is highly resistant to mildew.

3. Butterflies favored ‘Jeana’  over all other Phlox paniculata selections  in the trial gardens at the Mt. Cuba Center.

Phlox paniculata ‘Jeana’ is  hardy in zones 4-8 and enjoys full sun. For a pleasing midsummer vignette, combine with white coneflowers or the yellow daisies of tall Rudbeckia nitida ‘Autumn Sun’, as well as the blue spires of mid-sized Agastache ‘Blue Fortune’ and  for the front of the border airy and pollinator friendly Calamintha nepeta ssp nepeta.

A Versatile Fall Aster

Heath Aster planted itself in the dappled shade of our oak tree.

I take no credit for planting the occasional surprise of native Symphyotrichum ericoides (heath aster) in our gardens…they just appear and often in just the right spot. Unobtrusive all summer, but a delightful accent when flowers form in mid-September, Heath Aster presents 1-2′ stems bearing hundreds of tiny white daisies with yellow centers, creating a frothy foam in both sunny and even somewhat shady areas.

Synphyotrichum ‘Bridal Veil’…a Chicago Botanic Garden Introduction. ( image courtesy of CBC)

There are selected forms out there….‘Snow Flurry’ stays quite low at  6-8″ with 2′ branches that hug the earth, making it a useful native ground cover for the edge of a border or in the rock garden. A new selection ‘Bridal Veil’, introduced by the Chicago Botanic Garden, is believed to be a naturally occurring cross of ericoides and “?”. It produces strong 2′ arching stems with copious amounts of blossoms and forms vigorous clumps.

All forms of Heath Aster prefer well-drained soil and are quite drought tolerant once established. As I mentioned we’ve had plants pop up in even shady situations, but I think you get more flower power with full sun. Deer resistant and pollinator-friendly and hardy in zones 5-8…yay!

Heptacodium miconoides

Our theory is, if a plant looks fantastic in the September garden, it merits attention. And if it is attractive to pollinators, has winter interest, grows quickly to a reasonable size and is easy to keep happy, then you should absolutely consider finding a spot for it. As I was driving though our little town of Dartmouth the other day, I had to pull over when I saw a picture perfect candidate of such a plant, Heptacodium miconoides, gracing a small streetside garden.

Heptacodium miconoides, or “Seven Son Flower” is relatively new in cultivation here in the US, having come ashore from China in the 1980’s. It bears attractive green foliage, resembling peach leaves, and finally in late summer and early fall, it produces panicles of fragrant, jasmine scented white flowers, which last for a couple of weeks, after which showy rosy red bracts remain. The common name “Seven Son Flower” refers to the 7 branches of blossoms of each panicle. We acquired our first specimen as a plant dividend at the Arnold Arboretum’s Fall Plant Sale in 1989. To our delight, it grew quite quickly, putting on as much as 3′ in a season. We learned after a bit that Heptacodium wants to be a multi stemmed shrub, unless pruned to one or several strong leaders. Our preference was to show off the handsome exfoliating bark, so we removed all but the strongest 3 trunks. If you would prefer to have a single trunk, select a young plant and stake one stem for straight growth.

Heptacodium merits attention for its adaptability to a variety of soil conditions, including soils that remain dry for some time, although occasional supplemental watering wouldn’t hurt. It is tolerant of salt spray, making it useful near the seashore. Other big plusses: Heptacodium is deer resistant, and the butterflies and bees absolutely love the blossoms. Provide it with lots of sunshine. Pruned as a small tree it can be the focal point of a small garden, or planted en masse it would make a showy hedge. It’s perfectly hardy in zones 5-8.

 

Planting for Honey Bees

Lindera benzoin, blooming in March,  is an early source of nectar.

We are about to begin our 4th season as beekeepers, and it has been fascinating, heartwarming and at times, devastating. It’s too early to be assured of our hives’ winter survival but there was a whole lot of action around all 3 hives during the recent 2-day warm spell. Off “the girls” went in search of food to replenish their winter stores. This brought up the question: which specific plants would the bees find around our property that might provide pollen and nectar? I knew our Witch Hazels (Hamamelis) were just beginning to open. What other plants could we introduce to ensure an early and sustained supply of bee nourishment in our northern climate?

Hamamelis ‘Arnold’s Promise’

There is much information for attracting pollinators, (a great source is Margaret Roach’s A Way to Garden blog and podcast) but not so much specifically for the honey bee, Apis mellifica. I was able to get bits of info here and there, and finally found an online document, Gardening for Honey Bees by Kathleen M. Prough for the Indiana Department of Natural Resources, which was quite thorough and easy to follow.  It provided a lengthy list of trees, shrubs, perennials and annuals, notating their bloom period and whether they provided nectar  (for energy and honey production) or pollen (for protein) or both. Note to non-beekeepers: only certain plants provide nectar for bees, and when these begin to flower, beekeepers get ready for what we call the Honey Flow, a busy time for foraging bees to collect nectar to bring back to the hives. 

Salix chaenomeloides ‘Mt Aso’

Here in the northeast, honeybees can forage from February through November, as warm temperatures permit. It is important for bees to have a steady supply of flowers to forage, and for the beekeeper to take note of when there is a dearth in her/his area. After referring to Kathleen Prough’s list, I checked off which plants we already had on or near our property and noted which bloom periods I needed to supplement with the right plants to fill the voids. It is important to plant groupings of pollen and nectar-producing perennials and shrubs.  Honeybees scout for sources and concentrate their efforts where there are ample stores. “Flower fidelity” is the phrase describing how honeybees focus collection efforts on one type of flower, as they single-mindedly collect pollen and nectar from one type of plant, ensuring good plant pollination.

Snowdrops (Galanthus nivalis) in late February

Crocus tommasinianus ‘Ruby Giant’ with Iris ‘Kathryn Hodgkin’

I definitely knew I needed to add more late winter/early spring pollen and nectar sources. In the woodland behind our hives we have room to add Spicebush, Lindera benzoin and in our low wet area,  space for more Willows, Salix spp.  The early flowers of species Snowdrops (Galanthus) are sources of pollen. We already have a nice little stand of Crocus which provides pollen, but why not plant more?  Siberian Squill  (Scilla siberica) is another early bulb loved by bees and it has amazing blue pollen  Last year I noticed some honeybees on the early blooming  Helleborus niger, although I did not see it on the bee plant list. Hopefully, the nearby swamp maples and alders will provide a good supply of pollen in early April.

Pieris japonica

Enkianthus sikokianus

During April-May our gardens have a decent supply of bee loving flowering trees and shrubs: Apples (Malus)  Blueberries, (Vaccinium), Aronia,  Pieris, Enkianthus,  Hollies (Ilex) and Boxwood (Buxus).  Late spring/early summer perennial selections that offer pollen and nectar include  Baptisia, Crambe, Nepeta, Monarda, Phlox divaricata and stolonifera, Periscaria polymorpha and more.

Calamintha nepeta (Calamint)

Caryopteris x clandonensis Blue Empire

High summer into fall plants include Agastache, AlliumAsclepias, Calamintha, Echinacea, the perennial sunflowers Heliopsis and Helianthus, Lavender, Mountain Mint (Pycnanthemum), Penstemon, Persicaria amplexicaulis, Rudbeckia, Salvia, Teucrium, Verbena, Vernonia and Veronicastrum. Oakleaf Hydrangea (H. quercifolia), Smooth Hydrangea (H. arborescens) and Blue Mist Shrub (Caryopteris) are summer blooming shrubs that I’ve noticed lots of bees visiting. We are fortunate to have a stand of Summersweet (Clethra alnifolia) right near our hives, and its nectar makes the most delicate honey. I’m told the honey derived from the nectar of Sourwood (Oxydendron arboretum) is also to die for. In case you are unfamiliar with Sourwood it’s a native tree with drooping panicles of white bell flowers in mid-late summer with outstanding fall foliage color. 

Cerinthe purpurescens aka Honeywort

Honeybee visiting Salvia vanhoutii

Planting annuals favored by honey bees will give quick results and offer food this season, well into autumn.  Early flowering annuals such as Honeywort (Cerintheand Calendula can start your season. Top honeybee choices for summer are Alyssum, Basil, Borage, Cleome, Cosmos, Salvia, Sunflowers, Tithonia and Zinnias to name a few. These annuals, along with fall blooming perennials such as the various Asters, Goldenrod (Solidago), Sedum and Chrysanthemum will provide more end of the season pollen sources.

very late blooming Aster ageratoides ‘Ezo Murasaki’

Chrysanthemum ‘Sheffield’ in early November

You don’t have to keep bees to support the honey bee population, but do consider planting more bee-friendly plants in your gardens. Please refrain from using harmful pesticides (neo-nicotinoids, once thought safe, are very bad!), herbicides (no Roundup!) and fungicides in your gardens. Allow wildflowers to establish and flourish on your property. Let those Dandelions, one of the first flowers that honey bees gather pollen and nectar from, bloom away in your lawn. In the fall, native asters and goldenrod are valuable late season food sources.

Above is a little clip of bee activity on the Mountain Mint. I plan to take more notes on which plants honey bees visit. Feel free to share which plants you have noticed honey bees on.

Vernonia x ‘Southern Cross’

Do you have room in your garden for a late summer/early fall blooming perennial that attracts butterflies galore? This Ironweed has dreamy clouds of composite purple flower clusters on sturdy stems 3-4’ tall beginning in August and its handsome narrow foliage looks fresh all season long. Discovered by Brent Horvath of Intrinsic Perennials, ‘Southern Cross’ obviously has the species lettermannii in its heritage. This selection combines beautifully with ornamental grasses such as Sorghastrum, Schizachyrium and Eragrostis.

‘Southern Cross’ appears to like extra moisture the first season but becomes more drought tolerant once it is established. Plants are hardy in zones 4-8 and should be deer resistant.

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Glows in the Shade: Tricyrtis ‘Autumn Glow’

We are always looking for summer blooming perennials for shade, and here’s one you should consider. Many of us notice plants when their blossoms present themselves , and indeed Tricyrtis ‘Autumn Glow’ does captivate with its purple-blue orchid like flowers. I say that this form of Toad Lily deserves attention for its large and bold golden edged foliage. Ovate leaves grow to 6″ long and 3” wide and plants enjoy a rich, somewhat moist but well drained soil. Plants spread by stolons and clump up quite quickly, growing to 2’ tall and up to 3’ wide in dappled shade. ‘Autumn Glow’  is reliably winter hardy in zones 5-8.

Tricyrtis ‘Autumn Glow’ still showing off in early October

The flowers, born in sprays from late July into early October, are lovely as cut flowers and do attract butterflies. Pair Tricyrtis ‘Autumn Glow’ with ferns, such as Athyrium otophorumor golden leaved Hosta for a nice shady vignette.

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