Little Bluestem in Autumn

Little Bluestem (Schizachyrium scoparium) is at its best in autumn when the slanting autumn light burnishes its warm coppery colour and catches the small but fluffy white awns on the seeds. This clump of little bluestem is growing in a perennial bed with clumps of evergreen foliage of alumroot (Heuchera spp.) and prairie smoke (Geum triflorum) and the deep scarlet basal leaves of foxglove beardtongue (Penstemon digitalis).

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Last of Summer: in bloom this week

Mexican sunflower, Tithonia.
Mexican sunflower, or Tithonia.

Two very different tall annuals are at their best now, the blazing orange Mexican sunflowers and the elegant, fragrant woodland tobacco.

Woodland Tobacco, Nicotiana sylvestris.
Woodland Tobacco, Nicotiana sylvestris.

A native annual which volunteered in the rock garden, sweet everlasting, is now in bloom, when almost nothing else is: a few late harebells and some rebloom on the bird’s foot violets accompany the everlasting.

Sweet everlasting.
Sweet everlasting, Gnaphalium obtusifolium.

The bright yellow daisy of old fields and roadsides, black-eyed Susan, is either an annual, a biennial or a short-lived perennial. A few seedlings which volunteered in the gardens have now come into bloom.

Black-eyed Susan, Rudbeckia hirta.
Black-eyed Susan, Rudbeckia hirta.

Sweet black-eyed Susan is perennial and, in fact, rather slow to get going from seed. It is supposed to be fragrant but I cannot perceive any sweetness from mine.

Sweet Black-eyed Susan, Rudbeckia subtomentosa.
Sweet Black-eyed Susan, Rudbeckia subtomentosa.
Tall Sunflower, Helianthus
Tall Sunflower, Helianthus giganteus, blooming in front of prairie blazing star (Liatris pycnostachya) in the nursery.

One pot of tall sunflower was planted, not too long ago, in some rough grass, and it is blooming lustily. Not bad for a seedling!

Tall sunflower, Helianthus
Tall sunflower, Helianthus
Kankakee mallow, Illamna remota
Kankakee mallow, Illamna remota.
Royal catchfly, Silene regia.
Royal catchfly, Silene regia.

Two species from further south which are new to me: Kankakee mallow and royal catchfly. Kankakee mallow has delicately pink hollyhock-like flowers, set off with a darker red centre, and maple-like leaves on a tall plant. It is indigenous to a single site in Illinois but seems to be easy to grow in gardens. We shall see how hardy it is in western Quebec.

Because the butterfly milkweed got off to such a late start this year, it is still in bloom in mid-September.

Butterfly milkweed, Asclepias tuberosa.
Butterfly milkweed, Asclepias tuberosa.
Great blue lobelia, Lobelia siphilitica.
Great blue lobelia, Lobelia siphilitica.

Virginia mountain mint is finishing up, but the grey leaved short-toothed mountain mint is still in bloom and attracting lots and lots of large bumblebees. (As are the two blazing stars, spike and prairie, whose tall spires are turning brown at the top but still blazing at their bottoms.)

Mountain mint, Pycnanthemum nontanum
Short-toothed mountain mint, Pycnanthemum muticum.
Heart-.leaved aster.
Heart-.leaved aster.

aster2

 

Heart-leaved aster occurs naturally under shrubs and trees around the farmhouse. It makes a very pretty, billowy blue ruff at the base of shrubs and is also nice as a cut flower to lighten bouquets of yellow and orange daisies.

 

Blazing Stars

 

Two blazing star species in our garden are blooming now: Spike Blazing Star (Liatris spicata) and Prairie Blazing Star (L. pycnostachya).

The shorter spike blazing star was the first to bloom. We had put some spike blazing star in our tall-grass prairie planting at the base of the bank. Another name I have seen for spike blazing star in American literature is marsh blazing star, reflecting its distribution in areas with ample moisture. The base of the bank can be quite wet in spring, while the top of the bank can be very dry by mid-summer.

Spike blazing star (Liatris spicata), planted last September, starts to bloom in our tall grass planting.
Spike blazing star (Liatris spicata), planted last September, starts to bloom in our tall grass planting.

Spike blazing star occurs as a wildflower in southwestern Ontario. Probably the best place to see it in the wild is Ojibway Nature Preserve in Windsor, which is where I took this photo a few years ago.

A wild stand of spike blazing star, blooming in Ojibway Prairie Nature Preserve in Windsor, Ontario.
A wild stand of spike blazing star, blooming in Ojibway Prairie Nature Preserve in Windsor, Ontario.

Both species are very attractive to butterflies and large bumble bees.

White admiral on prairie blazing star in the swale garden.
White admiral on spike blazing star.

 

In bloom this week.

Harebells (Campanula rotundifolia) have been blooming continuously since the beginning of July in the rock garden.
Harebells (Campanula rotundifolia) have been blooming continuously since the beginning of July in the rock garden.

Some of the plants of boreal Jacob’s ladder in the rock garden, which were cut back hard earlier in the summer when they were going to seed, have rebloomed. Not as showy as their first flush of flowers but still welcome colour in the rock garden, which is primarily a spring garden.

Boreal Jacob's ladder (polemonium boreale).
Boreal Jacob’s ladder (Polemonium boreale).

I cannot recommend showy tick-trefoil for borders or small gardens: it is too lanky and in bloom for too short a period to justify it, and its sticky seed pods are a nuisance if you or a pet comes too close. However, it is a lovely component of meadows and naturalization projects. It is a favoured host plant for the caterpillars of Eastern Tailed Blue butterflies.

Showy tick-trefoil (Desmodium canadense)
Showy tick-trefoil (Desmodium canadense).

The first yellow daisies of late summer – sneezeweed and grey-headed coneflower – have been joined by cup plant (Silphium perfoliatum), a robust and quick-to-flower giant which can easily reach to the eaves of a single storey house. The seeds of cup plant are nutritious and sought out by goldfinches and other seed-eating birds over the winter, so the natural impulse is to let the plant go to seed. However, be warned. Cup plant seeds itself generously in gardens and, unless the seedling cup plants are recognized and removed, a natural garden can be replaced by a cup plant plantation. Cup plant’s close relatives from the tall grass prairie, prairie dock (Silphium terebinthinaceum) and compass plant (S. laciniatum) are both so slow to get going they need to be coddled by the gardener for their first couple of years.

Cup plant (Silphium perfoliatum)
Cup plant (Silphium perfoliatum)

Butterfly milkweed is finally in bloom. It has been very late to develop this year. Its bloom is overlapping with the first of the swamp asters, which is just weird.

Butterfly milkweed (Asclepias tuberosa): bright orange flowers and a medium height make it ideal for a sunny border.
Butterfly milkweed (Asclepias tuberosa): bright orange flowers and a medium height make it ideal for a sunny border.
Swamp aster or purple-stemmed aster in the swale garden.
Swamp aster or purple-stemmed aster (Symphyotrichum puniceum) in the swale garden.

Our oldest plant of Culver’s root flowered in July and has now gone to seed. Two-year old plants of this slow-to-mature prairie species are flowering for their first time and are in bloom now. They are shorter than they will be when fully mature; their elegant white candelabra are tucked in among their neighbours. When happily settled in, the tips of the long spires of this lovely plant can reach six feet high or even more.

Culver's root (Veronicastrum virgini_.
Culver’s root (Veronicastrum virginicum).

Cardinal flower. What else can I say. Except they are hard to get a good photo of. Intense reds and oranges are not handled well by my digital camera – the intense orange of Mexican sunflower also comes out as a fluorescent blob of colour.

carddinal
Cardinal Flower (Lobelia cardinalis).

Cardinal flower’s close relative, great blue lobelia, is also in bloom right now.

Great blue lobelia (Lobelia siphilitica).
Great blue lobelia (Lobelia siphilitica).

I don’t fuss with annuals too much but I like my Mexican sunflowers and I also sowed some seeds of love-in-a-mist. (Nigella). They are an amazing true blue and their seed pods are silly – a combination of striped balloon and jester’s hat.).

Love-in-a-mist (Nigella).
Love-in-a-mist (Nigella).

The Allegheny fringe is still extending its delicate tendril and blooming. It has reached the eaves of the studio, climbing some jute twine I provided for it, and has now started to drape downwards rather elegantly. I do love this native biennial.

Allegheny fringe or climbing bleeding heart (Adlumia fungosa).
Allegheny fringe or climbing bleeding heart (Adlumia fungosa).