Tuesday, August 22, 2006

Want butterflies? Try meadow blazingstar

We have a two-acre meadow that was planted from seed in spring 2000 by Wildflower Farm. It's a mixture of North American prairie natives, both flowers and grasses. Why a meadow? As I said to my husband when we were in the planning stages: there is no way we're going to mow 10 acres.

The meadow required a good deal of patience. It took three years after sowing for the plants to get blooming. Of all the garden areas we have, I enjoy the meadow most because it attracts masses of birds and butterflies and it doesn't have to be weeded.

The wildflower meadow is at its most beautiful in July (as in the picture below), but there is a meadow plant that comes into its prime in late August into September: meadow blazingstar (Liatris ligulistylus), hardy to Zone 4.

Unlike the single flower spike of most blazingstars, meadow blazingstar is branched and has numerous individual flowers that bloom over four to six weeks. The plant grows three to five feet tall and thrives in rich, loamy soils.

In Canada, you can get seeds from Wildflower Farm or buy plants from them in spring. US sources include: Prairie Nursery and High Country Gardens.

To grow meadow blazingstar from seed, follow these instructions from Wildflower Farm:
Use cold, moist stratification. Mix seed with moist but not wet, sterile growing medium. Place mixture in a labeled, sealed plastic bag and store in refrigerator for six to eight weeks. Note: Some seed may germinate in the storage bag if moist stratified too long. If sprouting occurs, plant immediately. Another method is to sow seed outdoors in late autumn so that they may overwinter.
More wildflower meadow information is here.

Friday, August 18, 2006

Photographing three sleepy bees

Sunflowers are a lot of fun to take pictures of. You can play with them in so many ways - up against the blue sky, as in my previous post, or really close up.

The other morning I saw three bees snoozing in a sunflower. They had arranged themselves neatly side by side and they looked so sweet that I just had to photograph them.

Unfortunately, it was getting a bit late for morning shooting. A breeze had started up and the sunflower was moving around too much. I knew I had to use a macro lens with an extension tube to capture any detail in the bees, and that nothing would be sharp with all that movement.

Using a flash is not one of my strengths - in my experience flash ruins most pictures - but this was definitely a time to use it. Without it there was no way of getting the shot.

Generally flash blows out all the detail, so I dialed back the flash power using the flash compensation control, and the shot worked out very well.

The beauty of digital cameras is that you can take the shot, review it and then dial in some flash or exposure compensation.

Before digital, you had to be very experienced and knowlegable about flash to get a shot like this one right. With digital, you still have to know how to make exposure corrections, but being able to see the results right away makes it so much easier.

No wonder I'll never go back to slides.

Bird-planted sunflowers

Another one of the "happy accidents" in our garden are sunflowers planted by the birds. They pop up in many spots, particularly mulched areas around trees, where birds perch to eat the seeds. It's always fun to see them show their heads and start blooming.

I've grown many different hybrid sunflowers, but when they go to seed and come up on their own, they tend to revert to giant plants with big yellow heads that produce a lot of seeds.

Before I came to my senses, I had a huge cutting/vegetable garden about 25 by 50 feet. There I would always grow about 15 or 20 sunflowers of different kinds at the back. (I gave it up because it was too much work: by June it was always the straw that broke my camel's back.)

From this start, thanks to birds dropping the seeds, we now have sunflowers in many spots on our acreage. Usually they grow where the self-sown plants were the year before, but often appear where I don't expect them.

The gorgeous one shown above popped up this summer in one of our shrub borders, which is quite a distance from where sunflowers grew the year before. It's about 9 feet tall (I went out and measured).

When I gave up the big cutting/veggie garden, I regretted losing space for sunflowers, but I need not have worried. As long as we don't weed them out, we will always have a lots of cheerful sunflowers around.

I leave the plants up well into fall until the birds have eaten most of the seeds, and that seems to ensure their spread. When they come up in late spring, I sometimes I move one or two seedlings into gaps in the garden.

If you've never grown sunflowers before, they are quite easy from seed and great for kids' gardens.

Previous happy accident posts: Gladioli - Dahlberg daisy

Sunday, August 13, 2006

My gladioli just keep coming back

I enjoy glads as cut flowers, so each season I have a few growing in the vegetable patch.

I've always read that gladiola isn't hardy for northern gardeners, and that you have to lift the corms each fall, store them in the winter and replant in spring.

That hasn't proved true in my Zone 5 (Canadian Zone 6) garden over the past five years. When I first planted my gladiola corms, I dug them up in the fall and went through the whole business of storing them in the basement and replanting.

Then one year I decided not to bother - if I wanted them again, I'd just buy them. It was a very cold winter, and so I was surprised to see glads come up where they had grown the previous season.

That particular batch kept going until we finally grassed the spot over. It was the mowing that finally did them in.

I planted the ones I have now three years ago. An apricot cultivar whose name I don't know is shown here (I've had a most enjoyable weekend playing with my camera). Each spring I wonder if they're toast, but at least so far they have just kept on keeping on. Chalk up another happy accident in the garden!

I've love to hear from northern gardeners who have had similar experiences. We don't have reliable snow cover where I live in southern Ontario, so I wonder if they're surviving because of deep planting. I dig a trench when planting, so the glad corms go in quite deep - about 8 to 10 inches. Our soil is amended clay loam that's well-drained.

By the way, I buy my glads through Vesey's Seeds. They ship to customers in Canada and the US.

More on happy accidents next time.