Coneflowers and Goldfinches

Goldfinch on purple coneflower

Here we are in mid-August, and between my two-week absence to visit my dear father-in-law in New England and the plentiful rain and heat, the weeds are running rampant in my garden. However, the same conditions mean the several coneflowers I added to a flowerbed this spring and summer are also flourishing, and this weekend I spotted a pair of goldfinches among them, feeding on the seeds! Although I’ve had a few coneflowers in the same bed for a while, I’ve never seen goldfinches visiting, so this was a real treat.

Like many bird-lovers, I took down feeders this spring at the advice of various organizations, because of the current outbreak of avian flu that is having a particularly bad impact on wild birds. The more they are encouraged to congregate (like at a feeder), the easier it is for them to become infected. I’ve missed the colorful presence of the usual cardinals, wrens, and others, so you can imagine my delight when a goldfinch couple appeared: the vividly yellow male, and the yellowish brown female. I hope they stay around!

I’ve been planting more and more flowers and other plants that appeal to birds and pollinators. They are also beautiful — the bed where I’ve added coneflowers has a soft sunset/twilight color scheme, because it catches the late afternoon sun, and coneflowers now come in many pretty shades of pink, coral, purple, etc. that blend beautifully with the daylilies I have there. The ruby-colored monarda I planted years ago seems to have come into its own this year, and is spreading nicely; it has been visited regularly by hummingbirds and butterflies, who also appreciated the flowering vines I had in my vegetable garden last summer. (I planted fewer this year, because last summer’s bean vines took over the whole bed!). Our small back yard already has many bird-and-bug-friendly features, like plenty of tree cover and areas where leaf litter is undisturbed. Sadly, though, we no longer see fireflies in the back of our garden as we used to. I blame the ubiquitous mosquito-spraying in our area.

We drove up almost the entire Eastern seaboard to visit my FIL in New Hampshire, and the whole way up and back, I couldn’t help wondering WHY so few interstates include plantings of native wildflowers, in spite of the Federal Highway Administration’s wildflower programs. I saw hundreds of miles of grass along the sides and up the middle of highways. Imagine if more, even most, of those miles were planted with native milkweeds and other highway-tolerant wildflowers for the endangered monarch butterflies and other pollinators! I know there is a partnership among several states to plant monarch-friendly flowers along the “Monarch Highway”, Interstate 35 — I wish there was a similar partnership along Interstates 95 and 85. If there is one, I didn’t see any evidence of it, though I appreciate the wildflower plantings on Interstate 16, the highway that leads to the coast.

Does your area actively cultivate wildflowers along public rights of way?

Goldfinch on purple coneflower
Goldfinch on purple coneflower; image by Will Stuart, from audubon.org

Winter Vegetable Garden

My replanted winter vegetable garden! Some of you may recall that I had high ambitions, last summer, of posting regular snapshots of my summer vegetable garden in the new raised beds I had built for my garden last spring. Alas! Between summer trips to see family, and a long, hot, wet summer, plus planting too many bean vines, my summer vegetable garden turned into a veritable jungle, complete with aggressive mosquitoes.

So this fall, we cleared the whole thing out, pulled hyacinth bean vines off everything (seriously, they went everywhere!), and started over with cool season vegetables and flowers. I have beets with gorgeous maroon leaves; Swiss chard with brightly colored stems; red mustard; curly kale; broccoli; cauliflower; parsley; and, of course, pansies. 

Among my containers, I still have lots of herbs that are flourishing; and several roses that have decided to embark on a third or even fourth flush of bloom. Yes, we’ve had unseasonably warm weather; and on Boxing Day, yesterday, it was in the mid-70s! No wonder my poor roses are confused. But the warm weather will help my vegetables get a good start rooting, I think, before it turns cold as expected in January and February.

Are you able to garden at this time of year? What will you grow? Happy New Year to all, and may 2022 bring us increases in health and happiness.

My renovated winter vegetable garden

Saturday Snapshot, May 8

My Saturday Snapshots mostly focus on the vegetable garden, which you can barely see in this photo in the back left corner, but I couldn’t resist sharing this photo of my Louisiana iris in full bloom, with the late afternoon sun lighting them up at a slant.

Saturday Snapshots

I have a new vegetable garden! Last spring, at the outset of pandemic lockdown, I planted two temporary raised beds of vegetables, partly to make sure my family had fresh produce in case of store shortages, and partly as a mindful, calm activity to soothe myself and get outside. It was very successful but it quickly overran the limited space I had and became more of a vegetable jungle than garden! It was also awkwardly positioned near the site of a huge tree stump that we hadn’t yet removed, which limited my ability to reach into the beds.

So this spring, we hired a local group that specializes in “edible landcapes”, who removed the temporary beds and the massive stump, and built two long, narrow raised beds with a path between them, and a trellis arch made from cattle fencing to support squash, melons, and maybe some runner beans. Here it is, with only a few plants in place yet:

New raised beds, April 2021

My goal is to post a snapshot weekly of the vegetable garden’s progress. Wish me luck! And please share in the comments any advice you may have, or any updates you’d like to share about your own gardening adventures!

“The Invisible Garden of Scent”

Noted gardener and garden writer Ken Druse has published a delightful piece in The New York Times this week on incorporating scent and fragrance into one’s garden. It follows the publication of his latest book, ““The Scentual Garden: Exploring the World of Botanical Fragrance,” which won the top honor of the American Horticultural Society for writing, in March. He calls the scent dimension of horticulture the “invisible garden” — not seen, but sensed as a key element of any garden’s appeal and design.

My garden holds many of the plants he mentions; right now, the most fragrant ones in bloom are the roses and gardenias. I also grow rosemary, mint, and basil — all very aromatic, and useful in the kitchen.

I have so many gardening books that I haven’t bought a new one in years, but I may have to make an exception for this one, given how much I love both gardening and fragrance!

Have you read it? Plan to read it? What are your favorite fragrant flowers, and which do you grow at home?

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