What’s Wrong With The “Cone” in My Cone Flower?

Cone Flower heads


Are your cone flowers starting to look like this? Are you worried that they are mutating or have some disease? Fear not!

Although they have not been good enough to pose for me, in my case, it’s the goldfinch causing mine to look like this. They perch (charmingly I might add) on the heads of the flowers and pluck at the seeds.

So the “cones” start to get this ratty, mangled, or even “mutant” sort of look.

When you see it, don’t worry. It’s just nature taking its course. If I were a little more patient, I might even have a photo of this lovely yellow finches on these flowers!




Hibiscus Heaven

Tropical hibiscus

This year I have an abundance of hibiscus at my house. In addition to the perennial shrub type hibiscus which I’ll show in a minute, I got this tropical variety (hibiscus rosa-sinensis) (which is also perennial somewhere–in Florida and Hawaii for example, but certainly not in my climate unless I bring it in and put it in a very sunny window!).

My plan was to put it near the “pollinator pots.” You see the zinnia right behind it–and to use its color to draw the insects in than for any real value to pollinators. But just last night the Spoiler was raving about how much he liked what I have done with the containers this year so he is at least pleased. The jury is still out about whether I’ve helped the pollinators.


This hibiscus ( a type of hibiscus syriacus) is my powerhouse for pollinators. You can see the pollen dripping from the center of this flower. Unfortunately, it’s a messy plant and it seeds itself everywhere. But heck, I guess I can put up with that for its wildlife value. It is, after all, in the wildlife garden.

wildlife garden

This is a segment of that garden where the hibiscus is growing. You can see a few remaining black-eyed susans that I didn’t pull out when I did the renovation and added all the echinacea. Their foliage is pretty much untouched by that insect–so far–and completely disease free, despite the over-crowding.

double variegated hibiscus

This is Sugar Tip hibiscus, the other type of hibiscus is have. It’s spectacular in every way–leaves, flowers and maybe best of all, it’s sterile so I am not forever pulling up literally hundreds of seedlings every spring from underneath it.

But of course, there’s a trade-off. Although I see lots and lots of bumble bees inside these flowers, there’s no pollen. I feel terrible. I feel as if I am “tricking” them with this plant. They could and should be other places in my yard. It makes me want to take the plant out just for that reason.

Sugar Tip flower

Here’s a close up of the flower. Notice the pretty variegated leaf as well. It’s heart-breaking.



Wordless Wednesday–Things Are Busting Out All Over!

broken pot

I was watering my plants about a week ago and I saw this broken pot shard and dirt on my window sill. My immediate thought was “What has the dog done now?” because all of my bay windows are her “squirrel hunting” perches and if I’m not careful she will throw plants right out of them in an attempt to rout the pesky critters from our yard.

When I looked closer, I realized none of the plants were disturbed, (other than this broken piece of pottery and the dirt). That’s when I realized that this snake plant had literally outgrown its pot!  See the two new shoots poking out the side? It had broken the clay pot in its attempt to get larger!

Snake plants

I’m a huge fan of snake plants. This bay window has nothing but different varieties of snake plants.

And while I “travel” with several of the smaller varieties when I lecture, those large varieties pretty much stay where they are for obvious reasons–too large and too heavy. That middle one–the one in the broken pot–was re-potted almost 2 years ago. It’s in an 8″ clay pot. Clearly I’ll need a 10″ pot. As much as I hate them, maybe I’ll use plastic. I’m not getting any younger and my arthritis is not getting any better.

The plant in the left foreground should also be re-potted at the same time, I suppose. It’s pretty tight in its pot and I don’t want to see that pot broken.

Things on this windowsill are going to get a bit tighter I think.


Hydrangea Hysteria

On Friday when I mentioned the “clematis controversy,” I also mentioned  something I called ‘hydrangea hysteria.” It was a catchy little phrase I thought up to sum up the fact that without a doubt, in my gardening career, I have answered more questions about hydrangeas than about any other plant that exists.

The growers and breeders have done more in the last 10-15 years to make hydrangea growing for vast parts of the country easier than ever. But because many of us still have older varieties of hydrangeas–or because many folks, at least in my part of the world travel to Cape Cod and the islands and see the magnificent hydrangeas that they grow there–everyone wants those lovely blue-ish purple hydrangeas that are grown “on the Cape.”

Short of moving to the Cape, or doing copious amounts of soil amendments, and making sure that folks like the Spoiler stay away from old-fashioned varieties that bloom on old wood (do you begin to see some of the issues with hydrangeas?), there’s no reason that ordinary folks can’t achieve beautiful blooms every year.

I thought about this again when I was at one of my recent garden club lectures and overheard one club member telling another–or perhaps remarking to the whole club–“remember the problems we all had with our hydrangeas last year? Well, I didn’t cut mine this year and I have beautiful blooms. So that seems to be the trick.”

I didn’t say anything–who am I to argue with success–but last year I and everyone I knew had almost no blooms at all. This year, I did exactly the same thing as last year–I pruned my dead wood out. I fact, I probably did it a little later than normal on half of them because I had a late spring cold–and I had beautiful blooms. If anything, this winter was more severe than last. And I have many varieties that bloom on old wood. Those are blooming a little less vigorously at the top but they are still blooming.

What determines whether the varieties that bloom on old wood will flower is whether there is a late frost to kill off all the buds. Clearly there wasn’t one this year and there was one last year. Varieties that bloom on old wood should be pruned after flowering in late summer or fall, if they need to be pruned at all. Only dead wood should be removed in the spring.

pink & blue hydrangeas

That’s why I and almost every gardener I know am planting the newer varieties that bloom on old and new wood, or varieties like smooth hydrangea that flower regardless of the cold (they bloom on new wood so they too can be pruned in the spring if you have die back or decide you want to shape the plant.)

My “hydrangea hedge” is made of two such varieties. Endless Summer (the blue hydrangea) is a re-blooming hydrangea that flowers on old and new wood. Invincibelle Spirit is a smooth hydrangea that flowers on new wood. And I think they look nice together too.

Cool Feet for Clematis

Type 2 clematis

One of the most mystifying sayings in gardening is “Clematis like cool feet.”

In fact, I think there’s actually a “clematis conspiracy” going on. It’s not quite as bad as the “hydrangea hysteria” but it leads to a lot of needless confusion and worry among gardeners when it just doesn’t have to.

Those of you who have been gardening for a while may have heard the silliness. I’m not sure I’ve heard it talked about for a while now. It has to do with clematis “types” or “groups” and their pruning. And while I’m absolutely convinced that there must be a kernel of wisdom to it somewhere in some part of the country, in my part of the country, where I regularly flout convention and whack that lovely Type 2 clematis in the above photo to the ground in late November so that I can put greens on that lamp post (and then remove them in late December so that they provide no insulating value whatsoever for the little buds) you can see the result: lovely blooms despite everything.

The advice for pruning Type 2 clematis, by the way, is to prune them back to a strong pair of buds in the early spring. So I am clearly and flagrantly flouting all the advice.

I do, however, make sure that they have “cool feet” since they are growing in a very sunny spot at the top of a slope where the rain water (should we be lucky enough to have any) runs off. Also, you can see the tiny little “bed” they’re in.  That edging was only put there after the Spoiler weed whacked the stems into oblivion two summers in a row. (You see how he gets his name). And it also gives me a spot to tuck in a few strawberries–yes, that’s what’s giving the clematis their “cool feet” in this instance.

Clematis on tree

Here are some other varieties–3 of them actually–growing on a nearly dead dogwood tree. Every winter the Spoiler says, “We need to take down this tree,” and every year I say the same thing: “We can’t! My clematis grow on it!” It will be my fault when the whole thing comes crashing down (like that apple tree) under the weight of these vines.

In this case, I have ‘Golden Tiara’ hosta at the “feet” of the clematis. The shade is so dense that grass pretty much refuses to grow (although violets do fine.) But the clematis climb up into the sun and everything is happy.

This dogwood is in, at most, 4″ of soil. It’s on bedrock. I think last winter I showed a photo of many of the trees and their roots, running above ground, because of all the bedrock in my yard. The Japanese maple, whose leaves are just visible in the photo above has its roots above ground. Astonishing what plants can endure!

Wordless Wednesday

downed limb

Storm damage? It can certainly look like that at first pass. But this happened on a sunny hot and humid day with almost no wind. What’s going on?

Apple tree

This larger shot tells the full story. See the fresh cut between the last two fence posts? That was made just two weeks ago. You can clearly see the heartwood rot in this tree.  The tree is literally falling apart from in inside and needs to come down, despite the presence of all the luscious-looking apples.

My neighbor is selling his house (obvious from the sign) and probably wanted the tree to remain as a focal point to be attractive to buyers.  If it continues to disintegrate in front of him, however, he’s going to have no choice but to remove it.


Native Home for Bees

home for a bee

What on earth is this mess? Well besides the clover (larval food for four different species of elfin butterfly–don’t you dare ever think of trying to remove all the clover again, now will you?)

Remember Friday’s post on the native gardens by the water? This was the sort of sickly looking pine in the first shot. As I was sitting there watching the water, I happened to notice a large bumble bee flying around. Then I saw it land and crawl right up to the pine and under it. It was going in and out of this little opening–the perfect little spot for a bee to make a home!

That shoot of crab grass coming up in the photo is just near the entrance to its nest. It would land just above there and crawl into the “cave” in the shrub.

Sometimes it’s nice to sit quietly and just watch. All sorts of things will show up!