Wildflowers Work!

The wildflowers in my central Texas garden are screaming SPRING, and this week, May 1-7, is National Wildflower Week, so claimed with the purpose of celebrating the beauty and practicality of planting and nourishing native wildflowers alongside roads and in home and commercial gardens.  Wildflowers define place, as they are specific to region, and besides the beauty that wildflowers add to the world, they serve another noble purpose:  to provide food and cover for endemic wildlife.

Gulf Fritillary butterfly (Agraulis vanillae) nectaring at a Purple coneflower (Echinacea purpurea). Yellow Zexmenia (Wedelia acapulcensis var. hispida) pops in the background, while Mexican feathergrass (Nassella tenuissima) waves in the breeze behind.

Wildflowers are easy to grow because they belong where they grow. Encroaching urbanization, modern agricultural practices, and the use of non-native, invasive plants threaten native wildflowers and the spaces where they thrive.  You can help lessen that threat to North America’s bountiful natural legacy by growing wildflowers in your garden. They are simple, elegant, and practical plant choices for home gardeners. Most wildflowers germinate easily by seed and many locally owned nurseries carry container grown wildflowers.  If you want to grow wildflowers by seed, use seed packets that contain specifically named seeds that are native to your region. Not only will you get the best results for your seedy efforts, but you’ll be a partner in the restoration of the magnificent endemic flora–wherever you may live in North America.

Red Admiral (Vanessa atalanta) at Purple coneflower.

Check out the Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center’s website  for excellent information on wildflowers and native plants.  Good native wildflower seed sources include, but are not limited to: Native American Seed, Prairie Moon Nursery, and Wildseed Farm.

I’ve grown native plants and wildflowers in my modest urban garden for more than 20 years.  Conditions have changed and interests evolved, but I’ve never regretted the transition from a garden of turf and non-native plants to one utilizing native Texas plants and wildflowers. They’re a snap to grow and fetching to behold. Unlike many non-native plants, natives are tough and stand up to the challenging soil and capricious weather patterns of Central Texas.

The following is a smattering of wildflowers and native shrubs that are currently abloom in my garden this 2017 National Wildflower Week.

This perennial wildflower,  Engelmann’s daisy, Engelmannia peristenia, blossoms in clusters, complementing its deeply lobed foliage.

A prolific spring to early summer bloomer, it’s also a favorite for many native bees like this metallic sweat bee.

 

A gloriously re-seeding annual wildflower, the Clasping coneflowerDracopis amplexicaulis, blooms precariously by the pond.

These cheery wildflowers mingle with other spring beauties.  Another Clasping coneflower cuddles with a solar lamp, while creamy-bloomed native Autumn sage, Salvia greggii sparkles in the background.

 

Here, the Clasping accompanies the Purple.  Further afield, red Autumn sage blooms.

 

Henry Duelberg sage, Salvia farinacea ‘Henry Duelberg’, cools a hot wildflower color combo of Purple and Clasping coneflowers.  Henry the wildflower was found in an old Texas cemetery by plantsman, Greg Grant.  It’s easily propagated by seed and readily available in various sized containers in nurseries.

 

Other spring wild things, like dainty, shade-loving White avensGeum canadense,

…and the aftermath of its blooms, quiet the garden.

 

Toward the end of its spring show, wildflower Wild red columbineAquilegia canadensis.

…and its spring partner, Gulf penstemonPenstemon tenuis, are fading and will make way for those who enjoy the heat of summer.

 

Just beginning its long summer-fall bloom period is the Tropical sageSalvia coccinea.

Red blooming

White blooming

 

Favoring late summer and fall when it blooms in earnest for multitudes of busy butterflies, this Gregg’s mistflower, Conoclinium greggii, displaying its blooming fuzz in a season not its own, shows it has contracted wildflower spring fever.

 

More wildflower blues in the garden– another Henry Duelberg sage,

…and lavender-blue Heartleaf skullcapScutellaria ovata.

Here, the Heartleaf fronts a late summer flowering wildflower, Drummond’s ruellia, Ruellia drummondiana,

 

…and here, it fronts Purple coneflower and another fall blooming wildflower, Plateau Goldeneye, Viguiera dentata.

Heartleaf is a wildflower perennial which acts as a winter, spring and early summer groundcover.  It fills the garden with drifts of grey foliage topped with striking, lavender-hued, pollinator-friendly bloom spikes.  Heartleaf skullcap is an excellent landscape plant.

 

Native plants and wildflowers certainly combine well with hardy non-natives like iris, day lilies and roses.   Though this post is to remind and encourage gardeners to grow local, that doesn’t mean that beloved non-natives are necessarily poor choices as long as they’re not damaging, by being invasive, to the local environment.

The sweet Caldwell pink roses (at right) are the only non-natives in this shot.

 

These spring examples are a few of the North American native plants and wildflowers that I grow.  The trickiest aspect of having these lovelies in my garden is deciding what to do with the many seedlings they produce.  No worries–I’ve given scads away and they’re propagating happily in new homes, giving joy to their gardeners and sustenance to their fauna!

You too can grow wildflowers–they work, they’re beautiful, they’re easy.

Happy National Wildflower Week–buy some, trade some, plant some!

Goldfish: Breakfast of Champions

So this is where the goldfish went:

Against the early morning sky, the heron is regal.

I knew there was a Great Blue Heron,  Ardea herodias, fishing at our pond as a neighbor alerted me weeks ago that she’d spotted it on the roof of my house early one morning.  Indeed, that same morning, one landed, practically on top of my head, though fortunately the patio cover was between my head and the heron.  I spooked him with my excitement and after that morning, over time, the four remaining goldfish disappeared from the pond, though no human in this house witnessed  a hunting heron.

Intent upon his goal: the pond and its fishy gifts.

There are gambusia, native mosquito fish, in the pond and they’re valuable assets for that ecosystem, but I like having a few goldfish in the pond because, well, they’re pretty.  But this guy or gal has other ideas.

This morning he landed when the cats and I were making our morning rounds in the garden.

I scooped up the cats, made my way indoors and waited for him to act.  He sat on the top of the chimney for about 15 minutes and then, slowly and cautiously, made his way to the pond.

No goldfish, buddy, but plenty of little gambusia.

Before he could complete his fishing expedition, he was frightened by a noise and loped off, spreading those wings wide.

The poor little fish are always vulnerable to heron hunting after I separate the pond lilies.  This year, I’ve waited weeks for one of the lilies to return and send up its pads, but that hasn’t happened.  I realized that the lily died (no clue why) and just this past weekend, purchased another.  Soon, the lily pads will cover most of the water surface, keeping the water temperature cool and acting as a cover for the fish.  But until then, the Great Blue will be back for more easy pickings from “his” pond.

A Corner Full of Foliage

With the blossoms of blooms that spring inevitably gifts our gardens, it’s  easy to overlook the foliage of spring.  New foliage emerges from winter-dormant perennials, evergreen plants flush fresh foliage distinct from older leafy brethren, and gardeners take notice at the greening of their space.  In one corner of my garden, there’s little floral interest at the moment, but plenty of foliage fanfare.

The focal point of this part-shade garden rests on a blue pot full of an eye-catching silver-green American century plant, Agave americana.

Garlic chives (bottom left), Pale-leaf yucca (center), and Autumn sage (bottom right) round out the perennial plants in this garden.

Hugging the fence line is a large clump of emerging-from-winter native Turkscap, Malvaviscus arboreus.   I like the bright green leaves and softer form of Turkscap neighboring the spiky, silvery agave.  Another North American green-grey foliaged native, Heartleaf skullcap, Scutellaria ovata, accompanies the agave and fronts the Turkscap, as well as filling in other spots of this garden.

 

The leaves of Turkscap are wide and mallow-like, which makes sense because Turkscap is in the mallow, Malvaceae, family.

A closer look at Heartleaf leaves and bloom spikes against the Turkscap leaves.

 

Heartleaf skullcap is an aggressive, but easily controllable perennial sporting beautiful, soft-to-touch foliage.

Heartleaf also flowers lovely blue/blue-violet bloom spikes from spring to early summer. The plant is at the beginning of its flowering season and in fact, there are some blooming in other parts of my garden.

Oops–I meant to talk only about foliage for this post!

Blue-grey in color and barb-sharp in form is this Pale-leaf yuccaYucca pallida, sitting alongside the Heartleaf skullcap,

…and photobombed here by the same plant.

I like this yucca: tidy, hardy, and attractive year round, it’s also one of the few yucca plants that is happy growing in shade and part-shade–and that’s a win for my sun-limited garden.

An emerging Big muhlyMuhlenbergia lindheimeri, just in front of the silly bird, tolerates the Heartleaf buddying-up to it.

The Big muhly complements both agave plants with its similar shape and slender, grass-like foliage.  Unfortunately, this specimen struggles a bit and doesn’t grow as large or as full as it should; it would thrive with more sun.

Shy, retiring muhly is nearly hidden and definitely overshadowed by the garish Turkscap and the elegant Heartleaf skullcap and Pale-leaf yucca.  The bird shows well though, don’t you think?

Like the juxtaposition of the the silver foliaged agave with the brilliant green Turkscap, Turkscap and Heartleaf (and Pale-leaf yucca!) are opposites which nicely pair with one another.

The Heartleaf continues–yes, there’s plenty of it in this garden– beyond the Turkscap and fronts yet one more yucca-type plant that’s actually another species of agave:  Red yuccaHesperaloe parviflora.

Garlic chives fill in the bottom right of the photo.

Red yucca’s graceful, slightly arching foliage is a genuine, deep green, rather than the silver/grey/blue greens of Heartleaf skullcap, Pale-leaf yucca, and American agave.  It’s also a gentler plant:  no sharp needles in which to poke the gardener when she’s bumbling around the garden!

Heartleaf drifts into and around three groups of Garlic chivesAllium tuberosum. The chives look spiky, but are soft and malleable. They’re a cheery green, harmonizing well with the Heartleaf, and fragrant too, when stepped on or handled.

 

At the end of this corner bed, one last vivid green foliage perennial partnering with Heartleaf is Fall asterSymphyotrichum oblongifolium.

The new aster leaves trend chartreuse, which brightens this particular combination.

There are a few blooms happening in this garden–the large volunteer sunflower and a couple of red blooms on an Autumn sage, Salvia greggii, but right now this bed is all about foliage and structural plants–both valuable assets in a garden.

Whatever foliage is gracing your garden this April, please check out Christina’s lovely Creating my own garden of the Hesperides Garden Bloggers’ Foliage Day.  Also, happy Earth Day!  Christina’s advice about planting a tree (or two or three!) is excellent; native trees are best, but trees are the life-blood of this planet. Additionally, funding for and promotion of science and research institutions will be this planet’s saving.