Trading One Problem For Another


What’s happening to this cone flower? Lots of things, really. On the unopened flower, you can see evidence of a chewed leaf–more four lined plant bug damage–so by eliminating the black-eyed susans, I have not solved that problem. They’ve just found something else to chew. Joy.

But that’s not what concerns me. Look at the center of the open flower. It’s not forming the nice “cone” that the plants are know for. Why is that?

Sadly it’s because the sunflower moth larva are at work deep inside the cone. You can’t see them except by dissecting the cone and digging the little worms out.

To read more about the larva, and to see some photos, (on sunflowers, where they are a serious pest!) you can go here.

As for me, I think I’ll just cut off the infected heads and dispose of them. Sadly they won’t be good for wildlife. And they’re not even pretty. But perhaps I’ll be able to get the pest out of my garden this way!

Refreshing A Garden for the Pollinators

perennials in pots

A week or so ago I showed some annuals and tropicals that I had for my pollinators. I also mentioned that I was re-planting a portion of my garden that had succumbed to weather.

I say “weather” because I don’t believe it succumbed to our harsh winter–at least not entirely. These were hardy perennials well suited for my zone (I always chose plants for zone 5 even though, according to the charts I’m at least a zone 6, just because of the difficult conditions of wind and heavy wet clay). Further, most of them had been in that particular garden for 10 years or more. A few of the milkweeds (yes, I lost 3 different varieties of milkweed–none of them tropical–I know better–one of which had been there for 20 years!) were recent additions but most of the garden was very well established.

So what do I think happened? You heard me say it. The garden was very well established. You also know that at my house, the garden get tough love. No additional water, no nothing. Last summer, we had 4 inches of rain in a four month period–and 2 of those inches fell on 1 day in July so it was a very dry summer. That garden was wilting a significant portion of the time.

Couple that with an exceptionally cold winter–the earlier portion of which was snowless–and I think that’s why I lost so much.  Sad, yes, but not a total shock. That’s the only garden where I lost plants–and of course, I didn’t lose all the plants. And interestingly enough, I didn’t lose the ridiculously thirsty hydrangeas. Go figure.

So now I have an opportunity to re-plant. And with the exception of the one variegated plant in the photo (it’s a catmint and I know for a fact that catmint is a bee magnet!), all of the plants in the photo are natives.

From left to right in the photo are: cone flower (I am adding a total of 6. The variety is Cheyenne Spirit so who knows what colors I’ll have and that’s fine. I can see one blooming in yellow and another is blooming in orange in the garden already. They should be great for the bees and butterflies. It was an AAS Winner in 2013.)

Next to that are two asters–the variety escapes me at the moment but they are deep purple and dwarf.

Then milkweed, of course. One is already in the garden. This one is here because I’m taking it to a lecture Monday. Then it will go in beside it.

Then more echinacea (the yellow) with some agastache ‘blue fortune’ near it, as well as the variegated cat mint I mentioned earlier.

Finally, all the way on the right, in the white Proven Winners pot is a native bush honeysuckle (diervilla) Kodiak Black. Behind it is a goldenrod.

I have lots of goldenrod elsewhere in the yard planted by who knows what but I thought I should actually plant some myself as well!

The pollinators should be happy. I know I will be!

Wordless Wednesday–Hydrangeas

Nikko Blue

It’s hydrangea time at my house.  This is my favorite time in the garden because these are my favorite plants (although sadly they are not native.) But they are mostly reliable bloomers (except this one–‘Nikko Blue’) and they are very long lasting so I love them for that.

I have an abundance of them thanks to being a “shrub tester” for Proven Winners.

rose & hydrangea

These are two “test” shrubs. The rose is OsoEasy Cherry Pie and the hydrangea is Invincibelle Spirit. I think they’re lovely together and I just happened to plant them this way by accident!

pink & blue hydrangeas

Here are more “test” Invincibelle Spirits along with some Endless Summer hydrangeas, I’m not a huge fan of the color of Endless Summer but I do love the fact that it blooms no matter what the winter does!

endless summer blue

Here’s a close-up of the Endless Summer blue. I’d prefer a little more purple in it. This sky blue is not for me. But they fade to purple as they age so it’s okay.


Here’s another “test” hydrangea, Incrediball. This one is incredibly hardy in my garden. It was one of the only two that didn’t suffer severe dieback last winter. The other was Invincibelle Spirit!

Lady in Red

In a different place in my yard altogether is this hydrangea, Lady in Red. Its name comes from the stems, not the flowers.

Lady in Red flower

While no one is ever going to argue that hydrangeas are great plants for bees, someone forgot to tell this cute little sweat bee! I do find all sorts of bees on the hydrangeas, although I’m sure it’s partly because they’re in my yard visiting other things.

Pia or Forever Pink

Finally this is a true dwarf called ‘Pia.’ It’s sometimes sold as ‘Forever Pink.’  The name is fairly good because it’s pretty true even in my pH 3 soil! If a plant can remain pink (sometimes it’s a little more purple-y but still) in soil that acidic, they’ve got it right!

What’s Happening To This House?

Abandoned house?

Over the years, as I drive back and forth on my very short drive to work, I’ve seen a few houses like this. One was definitely in foreclosure. I watched as the roof nearly rotted off. It was 2-3 years before it became occupied again. And the house has a brand new roof now and great new plantings (a gardener would notice these things).

Then earlier this year, a very elderly lady died. Her lawn became like this one, but amazingly, the gardens around the house look great. First some great iris bloomed and now she has some lovely climbing roses that are just finishing up. I actually featured a tree from her property last fall–readers may remember the weeping willow.

I’m always reluctant to go around taking photos of strangers’ homes but it was very clear that this house is unoccupied. If I were a little bolder I would have walked up and looked in the windows but even from where I stood I could see that it was probably empty. This is a corner lot and as I drove around the corner I could see some abandoned things propped against the back of the house as well.

The long view


From here it’s easier to see the grass. Hard to believe suburban grass can get like this! I’m not entirely sure how long the house has stood like this. I started to notice its “abandoned” looking state about a month ago.

One other thing about this house: It used to have a funky cool wrought iron gazebo in the side yard (if I’m remembering the correct house.) That’s now gone. So someone came and dismantled it. I can only hope it was heirs and not someone who sold it for scrap!


Water Wars and Woes?

A week or so ago I was talking to a colleague about climate change and drought. I said that one of my experiences with drought and how poorly the climate scientists model drought and how long it takes to recover from drought I had witnessed first hand in Colorado. I distinctly recall on one of my many happy cycling trips there cycling around a reservoir and being told that, due to drought, the reservoir would need something like 70 or more years to fill to capacity.

Well, sure enough, a year or two later, it was back up to capacity due to record snows in the region. This same thing is going on in Texas right now. Drought that was thought to be as severe as the dust bowl was literally wiped out in one month. Yes, it was one horrific month of flooding, but it was one month, and more rain is coming. So unfortunately, climate modeling is just that, yet–modeling.

A whole different sort of craziness was brought to my attention by an article in the New York Times last week. It said that it was illegal to have rain barrels in Colorado. Whoa!

You can read the article for yourself at the above link but basically the gist is that water rights are carefully deeded and controlled and that every drop is owned. Therefore, even the raindrops that fall on your roof are not your own and therefore may not be captured to water whatever you want on your own property–plants, vegetables or in one case, greenhouse plants.

Obviously this is a totally foreign concept to those of us back East. The only reason I even bring it up is to perhaps make some of my eastern readers–the same ones whose lawn sprinklers are still watering away merrily in the rain all the time–aware of what our western neighbors face. Perhaps it really isn’t too much trouble to get a rain sensor after all, is it? Please?

Wordless Wednesday–For the Pollinators


When I was planting my containers this year, I made a conscious decision that I would plant with pollinators in mind. So I chose colors that would attract them, shapes that would attract them, plants that would attract them–you get the idea.


My perennial gardens are already pretty pollinator friendly so what I really wanted to do was to add some annuals and tropicals with a big punch of color that were also good for the pollinators.


You can see my electric color scheme. Here part of the whole thing. It’s pretty vibrant!


What’s nice is that I am attracting pollinators I didn’t even expect–like my beloved ants! If you see that citrus–a Meyer lemon–in the darker colored pot (it’s not the one not immediately visible in the front left of the photo, but the one behind it), I found the cutest, tiniest ants in the blossoms. I can only imagine that they were feeding on the pollen–there was no evidence that they were doing anything like harvesting aphids or feasting on honeydew or anything like that.

Finally, I’ve had to re-plant part of my wildlife garden too. I’ve gotten some great plants for that. But that’s a post for another day.


Black Eyed Susan Leaf Damage

Chewed leaves

Every time I do a post about insect damage on my black-eyed susan leaves, I get comments:

“Don’t you know they get a fungus?”

“That’s not insect damage; it’s a fungus and they’re all going to die.”

So this time, before the leaves all turned black, as they do, making it indeed look as if they have the common fungus that infects the black-eyed susans, I thought I would post a few photos of the chewed up leaves.  I still haven’t gotten any photos of the culprit doing this, but I’m pretty sure it’s the four-lined plant bug, a tiny green and black insect that is–gee, what do you know,–not very particular to the plants it likes to chomp on. Black eyed susans are one of its favorites.

chewed leaves

Here are some more chewed leaves. You can clearly see chewing and holes, not fungus.

chewed leaf

And one last photo, just in case there’s any doubt about whether this is chewing.

So if you have black-eyed susans, take a closer look, early in the season. That “fungus” you think you may have may actually be insect damage.