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

It’s A Jungle Out There!

Whether you’re in the US, the UK, or Europe, you are undoubtedly suffering through a heat wave. Here in the Southern US, we’re used to hot muggy summers, but this has been ridiculous! My backyard feels like a rain forest! The humidity has also been extreme, which can make for some dangerous conditions. Fellow gardeners (and others), here are some very helpful hints from the Old Farmer’s Almanac to deal with gardening and your own wellbeing in this weather: “Tips for Gardening in Extreme Heat.”

Gardener wearing hat in hot weather
Gardening in extreme heat

As for your plants, there are many good resources with guidance for keeping them alive during hot spells, like this guidance from British Columbia. In the US, every state has an agricultural “Cooperative Extension Service”, coordinated by the US Dept. of Agriculture, and many individual counties have their own branches. Your local extension service will be able to provide guidance specific to your particular area and local conditions. Stay safe and green!

Cultivating One’s Garden

In last Friday’s Perfume Chat Room, I posted this: Perfume Chat Room, March 11. Despite this weekend’s sudden freeze, the flowers that were already blooming have survived nicely, except (of course) the camellia blossoms. I rescued several of the pink “Debutante” blooms yesterday to bring indoors before the frost got them.

My garden is about to enter its most glorious season, when the Coral Bells azaleas burst forth, the hellebores are still in bloom, and the dogwoods begin to flower. It is also before the weeds get going, and I can still imagine myself as having some control over them!

Hellebores – to leave or unleaf? — GardenRant

A timely piece by Anne Wareham, about the hellebores that are starting to bloom.

We probably all love hellebores, but some people seem to like them leafy and some people like them naked. And sometimes the plants themselves seem to come kind of in-between.  Aren’t they glorious? So why de-leaf? The biggest reason may be Leaf Spot. I really know nothing about this – we may have it, or…

Hellebores – to leave or unleaf? — GardenRant

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 Snippet: The Scent of Extinct Flowers

Botanical print of extinct flower Leucadendron grandiflorum

Well, this is just fascinating: Guerilla Artist Daisy Ginsberg Recreates Scent of Extinct Flowers.

Where others might seek to reconstruct a woolly mammoth from centuries-old sequences, Alexandra Daisy Ginsberg is part of an interdisciplinary project to recreate the scents of plant species lost to human colonial destruction of their habitat.

But wait, it gets better! Dr. Ginsberg is also working on a plant-based art installation at The Eden Project:

I am creating an artwork not for humans, but for pollinators, whose numbers are in global jeopardy. In September 2021, we are planting a 52-meter-long garden at the Eden Project in Cornwall [UK], designed by an algorithm to optimize ‘empathy’ for other species. I’ve defined that as planting to support the maximum diversity of pollinators, using carefully developed regional planting lists that the algo selects and optimizes from. Hopefully, this garden will look strange to human tastes—with every color and size and shape of flower included, plus patterning to support different foraging strategies. It is an unnatural garden designed for nature. I want to challenge what we think of as a garden and who it’s planted for. The algorithm will be online so anyone can create their own artwork for pollinators which we invite them to plant.

You can learn more about the installation, and even use the same algorithm to create your own planting scheme (it’s designed for UK plants, pollinators, and climates), here: The Pollinator Commission.

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.