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.


Saturday Mornings at the Farmers Market

Beaux Arbres Native Plants' Table at the Shawville Farmers Market.
Beaux Arbres Native Plants table at the Shawville Farmers Market.

We are becoming accustomed to the task of loading the trailer with a selection of our native plants (and Michael’s basketry material) and taking them into the Shawville Farmers Market on Saturday mornings.DSCN2681

Last Saturday, I brightened our table with a big bouquet of summer blooms. The interior of the market building needs all the help it can get — it is a visually dreary space with fluorescent lighting. There are not that many options for a market space in Shawville, and this building has some good features, but, boy, oh boy, does it lack charm.

I must have been channelling my inner Martha Stewart, because Saturday was a two flower arrangements day. I love the vivid orange of Mexican sunflowers (Tithonia) but the stems are short unless you are willing to sacrifice a lot of future flowers by cutting the unopened buds. I made a little nosegay for our outdoor dining table with short-cut stems of Tithonia, dill flowers, and sprigs of marjoram. Some day I would like to have a cutting garden full of zinnias and cosmos and other cottage-garden style annuals for cutting.nosegay

Allegheny Fringe, aka Climbing Bleeding Heart

There are not many native biennials that I fuss about with, but the delicate woodlander called Allegheny fringe (Adlumia fungosa) is worth the effort it takes to keep it the garden. A true biennial, this plant makes a charming little foliage mound  in its first year,

Allegheny fringe has pretty fern-like leaves.
Allegheny fringe has pretty fern-like leaves.

and then, in its second and final year, it extends into delicate twining strands strung with dangling pale pink hearts. In the wild, I have found it in areas of cool damp mossy limestone. In the garden, it adapts to a variety of dampish, shady conditions but it probably won’t naturalize, and will need your help to propagate it from seed from year to year.

This plant is uncommon in the wild and is considered endangered or threatened in some of the States where it occurs. I first saw it on Hill’s Island, in the St. Lawrence River. I have also seen it on the Niagara Escarpment.

Allegheny fringe (Adlumia fungosa) in my garden.
Allegheny fringe (Adlumia fungosa) in my garden.

In my garden, Allegheny fringe gets more sun and less competition than any I have seen in the wild, and it becomes much more floriferous. The vines continue to grow in length, and to unfurl new clusters of pale pink hearts, over several weeks in summer. I see few insects visiting the flowers and so I wondered who pollinated them. A few days ago, I got my answer when I saw a ruby-throated hummingbird going from heart to heart.

While the flowers are not as showy as the garden bleeding heart, a Japanese species, the delightful Allegheny fringe, also known as climbing bleeding heart, is one of the most charming native woodlanders for eastern North American gardens. Easy from seed, and blooming in its second summer, it is also a native woodlander that does not require extraordinary stores of patience from the gardener.

Pane pink flowers in the shape of elongated hearts dangled from vining stems of Allegheny fringe (Adlumia fungosa).
Pane pink flowers in the shape of elongated hearts dangled from vining stems of Allegheny fringe (Adlumia fungosa).

Spring Flower: Wild Geranium

Wild geranium (Geranium maculatum)
Wild geranium (Geranium maculatum)

Wild geranium is, for a native woodlander, relatively easy to grow from seed. The seedlings are sturdy and the more robust among them will flower in their second year. Collecting the seed is the painstaking part: the seeds do not all ripen at the same time, and as soon as they are fully ripe, they are dispersed from the plant via a spring-loaded mechanism.

Although usually considered a woodland flower, wild geraniums flowers most abundantly, and the plants grow better, where they can get quite a bit of sun. Light, dappled shade under high canopy trees or the unshaded, east side of a house are good sites for this flower. In sufficient sun, the leaves may colour attractively in the fall.