Cardinal Flower

The brightest star of our late summer garden is Cardinal Flower (Lobelia cardinalis). Intensely red, elegantly spired, and abuzz with happy hummingbirds, cardinal flower is the most visually arresting wildflower imaginable. With at least fifty plants in bloom or coming into bloom, the hummingbirds and I are in agreement that we finally have an adequate number of cardinal flower plants. I am going to plant more, though, many more, as we extend the planting along the shore of the pond, and (perhaps next year) along the seasonal stream that flows into the pond.

The locations I have just mentioned give you a clue why cardinal flower is not in every garden – it is unlikely to be perennial unless it is planted in a situation that is moist and even soggy in the spring. Urban and suburban gardens are short on soggy spots unless an effort has been made to construct a pond with a planted edge, or a rain garden, or something similar.

The other fussy thing about cardinal flower is its absolute refusal to winter over in a pot. Actually, these two restrictions both stem from the manner in which cardinal flower renews itself every spring. Last year’s centre dies, and the plant regrows in the spring on offshoots, which need that spring wet to get going. An established colony of cardinal flower, growing, for example, at the edge of a pond with high water in the spring, is perfectly hardy and perennial.

The seeds of cardinal flower are like dust: very, very tiny. And so it follows that the seedlings are tiny too. They are quite robust and tough growers, but they have to get to the third set of leaves before they are even as large as the head of a quilting pin. Sown in the spring, they just are not going to be a marketable size in time for spring planting. When I have year-old plants available in the spring, I have had to plant them out in a wetland  in early fall and then dig up the new rosettes when they are ready in mid spring.. They are still small, but with all that digging in and digging up and repotting, they have to be more expensive than other plants.

If you want cardinal flowers at a good price, buy young plants now to flower next August. I have a special on cardinal flowers this month: they are planted in 5 oz. paper cups to remind you to get them into the ground quickly. If you have a spot that is damp in the spring, perhaps because it collects snowmelt, try growing the hummingbirds’ favourite flower, and spice up your garden with a vivid and elegant wildflower.

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Summer Flowers: Blooming in our garden this week

I have been away from my computer for over a week – first I had a power cord issue, then our service provider wasn’t – so I have been unable to post pictures of some very nice flowers blooming in our garden. I will make up for it by posting a whole bunch of Plants of the Week at once.

Starting with a sundrop trailing over the rock wall:

Oenothera fremontii
Oenothera fremontii

 

Sunset anise-hyssop (Agastache rupestris) isn’t native to eastern North American, but it has proven to be hardy in western Quebec through at least one vicious winter. I put a mass of seedlings in front of a few plants of wild lupin to hide them from a foraging groundhog with a taste for my best plants. I thought the strong odour of the Agastache would mask the lupins and it seems to be working. I have come to appreciate the massed planting of the Agastache for their strong summer colour and tolerance for very dry soil.

Sunset anise-hyssop (Agastache rupestris) in the rock garden.
Sunset anise-hyssop (Agastache rupestris) in the rock garden.

The pale buds of Virginia mountain mint are present for a long time before the flowers open. Perhaps because of the mass of unopened buds, I always think of these flowers as white. Looking more closely, I can see that the opened flowers are actually covered with small purple spots. This is quite an aggressive spreader and I can already see where I will have to intervene where I have placed Virginia mountain mint too close to mid-sized neighbours. The minty smell is lovely where the plant has been placed next to rough country lawn – makes mowing a pleasure.

Virginia mountain mint (Pycnanthemum virginiensis)
Virginia mountain mint (Pycnanthemum virginiensis).

The crescendo of tall late-summer yellow daisies is building with the jaunty flowers of sneezeweed. I have put rather too many sneezeweeds into the swale garden – just rammed a bunch of left-overs in late last year and they all survived. I plan to transplant several of them to locations uphill as I develop the swale garden. I like sneezeweed (it doesn’t deserve its dreadful common name) but there are more tall yellow daisies to come in that part of the garden and I do not want it to be all yellow.

Sneezeweed (Helenium autumnale)
Sneezeweed (Helenium autumnale)

No monarch caterpillars on our swamp milkweeds yet this year. Two of the many plants of swamp milkweed which I planted last year have white flowers. They are not a cultivar, as I sowed all the plants from wild-collected seeds. White flowers just happen from time to time in many species where the flowers are usually coloured. Seems unusual to get two white-flowered plants in one batch, but randomness is random. Both pink and white swamp milkweeds have been attracting great spangled fritillaries.

A white-flowered swamp milkweed (Asc;e[oas omcarnata_
A white-flowered swamp milkweed (Asclepias incarnata).
A vibrantly coloured clustered poppy mallow (Callirhoe triangulata) was very slow to get going but worth the wait. We lost all the winecups, the trailing species, Callirhoe involucrata, that were growing on top of the rock wall. They didn’t survive last winter. I suspect they aren’t a long-lived plant. Plants which flower non-stop all summer are seldom long-lived. I am hoping this shier, more upright cousin will bloom for many summers. It is growing up beside, and being supported by, a clump of little bluestem grass.

Poppy mallow.
Clustered poppy mallow (Callirhoe triangulata).

The great star of the summer in the swale garden is cardinal flower. It deserves a post of its own….