|Mecaphesa (?) crab spider on Echinacea|
My main priorities are as follows: plants provide forage for pollinators (particularly bees), deer are mostly uninterested, drought survivability, and lastly aesthetic quality. Each category limits the next, and books and guides are limited in their usefulness as few books focus on more than one of these things (drought tolerant plants, deer resistant plants, pollinator plants, etc.) and often they are wrong anyway. Many resources will state a plant deer resistant, but this is useless if the deer is hungry and the garden is the only green thing for miles. Same goes with pollinator plants, something I have invested a lot of time and energy (not to mention expense!) exploring and either validating by my own experience or adding an asterisk (e.g. *a good bee plant but only if such and such). Only by careful observation and casual analysis can the plants be accurately determined to be truly tolerant of challenging conditions (pests, climate) and attractiveness to beneficial fauna (pollinators, good bugs, birds, etc). This is my goal, but the paradox is that little of the information I provide to you may be accurate in your garden. That is the true lesson that we can all learn here, and I include myself because I too am always learning, a perpetual amateur (a philosophy of the late great James Krenov).
|Mecaphesa (?) crab spider on Echinacea|
One oft overlooked floral visitor are the diminutive crab spiders of the family Thomisidae. They are called crab spiders by their superficial resemblance to crabs, very distant relatives (both arthropods, particularly the Euarthropoda clade), with large front legs and crab-like movements (side-to-side). They are mostly ambush predators of other floral visitors including bees, but I imagine their role also includes capturing less favorable insects as well. I have always recognized that the presence of a strong predatory presence signals a healthy prey population, so I don't feel too bad when I find a captured bee.
|Dried Echinacea inflorescence|
|The cone of the purple coneflower|
|Nicotiana sylvestris, first flower to open|
The plant is an annual for some and short lived perennial for others. I am unsure whether it has reseeded from last year or returned from the crown. The long three inch flowers are supposedly scented, but I have detected no scent. I may not have smelled it at the right time of day, dusk is supposedly the prime time for this. Last year I watched as large carpenter bees stole nectar by biting holes at the base of the tube. This year I have seen the segments of the perianth eaten down to the tube, not sure what was to gain or if it was just a herbivorous insect.
|Nicotiana sylvestris leaves|
|Nicotiana sylvestris today|
|A small fly feeds on the florets of Coreopsis tinctoria|
Flies appear to be the most frequent and most observed visitors of the Coreopsis. Only occasionally have I seen small bees (never honeybees) visit them. A few continue to flower.
|Narcissus papyraceus leaves|
Letting the leaves continue on for a month or two, I ceased to water them at some point and let them slip into dormancy. After a long hot rest through much of Summer on the front porch, I thought to myself "Why the hell not?" and planted them out in one of the raised beds. Every source says they are hardy to USDA zone 8, I am in USDA zone 7, but Hymenocallis 'Festalis' overwintered there just fine (yet didn't flower, sadly). I am encouraged by the early leaf growth, but simultaneously weary that they can make it through Winter. In their native Mediterranean range they bloom literally anytime from Autumn to Spring, vary variable. We shall see.
Moving towards a shadier part of the garden in the bed surrounding the pump house, the deadnettle continues to produce a few flowers here and there. It probably likes the cooler daytime temperatures and would have flowered uninterrupted in a cooler climate. This is an extremely durable plant, contending with erratic watering, intense tree root competition, voles, and a recent dumping of conifer needles as strong winds have knocked every old needle out of every conifer at once just yesterday. The plants have spread out slowly, and have colonized the corners of the pump house beds well where other plants have failed.
|Lamium maculatum and others around the pump house|
The pump house bed was originally planted with a handful of inevitable failures and has since been brought to light by seed and cuttings. The coniferous tree root competition is fierce, so planting mature plants is unreasonable and doomed to disappointment. By seed and cuttings I have created a nice community. Colchicums do nicely here, as does a recent introduction of Sedum album. Cuttings of Geranium macrorrhizum have also been accepting of the situation and have settled in nicely. Many small bulbs have also been planted, but the presence of voles always has me questioning whether they will be there in the future. I am trialing vole resistance with a few genera, including Scilla, Chionodoxa, and Muscari as well as a few others in the Scilloideae.
|Antirrhinum majus seed pod|
One of the original survivors of the pump house bed are a few snapdragons. Having seen somewhere the seedpods look like skulls, I had to check, and voila! It's a bit of a stretch, but still interesting! Two interesting coincidences, the first being that the plants are toxic (where're the crossbones?), the second being that it is approaching Halloween! Appropriate indeed!
|Tall Gladiolus hybrids - breaching the surface!|
|Tall Gladiolus hybrid corms - so many offsets!|
Deer don't seem to bother them, but they serve little interest to pollinators and for most of the year remain as large floppy leaves with stems that break easily in the wind. I'm not a fan of staking, being a generally lazy gardener out of necessity, so I prefer plants that can stand up on their own.
|A lonesome and mildly pathetic flower of Colchicum 'Lilac Wonder'|
|Colchicum 'Lilac Wonder' detail|
|Cimicifuga racemosa leaf|
|Same Hemerocallis flower one day later|
|Tristagma uniflorum (syn. Ipheion uniflorum)|
|Leucojum aestivum leaves|
|Armeria pseudarmeria seed heads|
|Calendula with a skipper (Hesperiidae)|
|A plant bug on Calendula|
|Mecaphesa (?) crab spider on Calendula|
|Calendula has flowers that close at night|
|Rosmarinus officinalis 'Prostratus'|
Another "outsider" of the rock garden is a creeping rosemary, started as a cutting wedged between the blocks two or three years prior. This is the first year it has flowered! Honeybees have been working the flowers, making everyone (me and the bees, Anna couldn't care less! haha) very happy. I am reminded of the flowers of Trichostema with the arching sex organs (see the Trichostema post and compare). Rosemary lacks the gasoline scent of Trichostema, a feature that isn't the subject of many complaints.
|Rosmarinus officinalis 'Prostratus'|
In a time when drought is a major concern, adjusting the way plants are grown together can help. Close plantings conserve water by covering the soil, preventing evaporation. Close plantings also encourage microfauna in the soil to flourish, improving the soil quality and the soils ability to hold water. Dry dead soil becomes compacted and resists the penetration of water, even from rain. Live and active soil retains water well due to the many microscopic tunnels created by myriad microscopic organisms. In this way the type of soil is of little importance; even clay soil can be excellent if it is host to an active soil-dwelling community of microfauna.
Winter heath is now coming into bloom, which will last well into Winter and perhaps into Spring when the first bulbs bloom (if the voles haven't eaten them all). Bumblebees are the visitors I expect to see here, particularly the queens. My second post to this blog (January 25th, 2015 - #2) shows a queen bumblebee on the flowers of heath.
|Muscari 'Peppermint' offspring|
|Allium sp? mauve ex china 28”|
New leaf growth of what was received as Allium sp? mauve ex china 28” (see Bulbs) is encouraging. Many Alliums in my garden are leafing out now. The plants I already possess are generally hardy, something in their oniony leaves keeps them from freezing or being damaged by frost.
|Scilla latifolia (?)|
In a recent discussion the confusion of names of the genus Colchicum on the PBS list, Jane McGary had pointed out the importance of naming authorities (the name after the species that isn't in italics; i.e. Scilla latifolia Willd. ex Schult. & Schult.f.). This lesson is illustrated well here where the same epithet is used to describe two completely different species alluding to great confusion. A goodle search for 'Scilla latifolia' brings up the Pacific Bulb Society 'Prospero' page as the first result which describes Scilla autumnalis subsp. latifolia as a synonym for Prospero autumnale, hence my own confusion. Another lesson for me: do not rely on a single source for information (including a tertiary source like the Pacific Bulb Society wiki). What the PBS wiki hosts is great information, but I was misled by the confusing nomenclature of Scilla sensu lato.