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It’s Hard to Be Ecologically Correct with the Spoiler Around

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You may remember this post from my discussion of pollinators. I said it was a native pollinator garden, no planting required–and that’s absolutely true.

These native plants “planted” themselves and they are now blooming, providing late season nectar for butterflies and other pollinators.

But last week, the Spoiler says, “Hey, what’s happening down there by the road. We never had all those weeds. Do we have to have it looking like that?” Sigh.

So I explained–again–as I do every time he has our helper come over, why he can’t “weed” all this stuff out, that these are native plants and that they are providing food for our butterflies.

“But we never had them before, ” he groused.

“We did, ” I reminded him. “They have just migrated from the edge of our lot to under this tree to get more sun.”

And then we had an interesting discussion of “which” edge, since technically our lot has 4 edges (although if he were paying attention to my statement, and what we had done in the yard, he would know that there is only 1 place they could have come from–but that’s another whole story that I’m not going to bore you with!)

Back in the pollinator post, I put in an offhand reference to Larry Weaner and his idea of succession habitats. One of these plants, the white snakeroot (or tall boneset, if you prefer) is a short lived native that does migrate around. Its botanical is eupatorium altissimum for those who like to know these things.

It may stay here, under my magnolia for a few seasons and then be gone–but chances are, it will crop up across the street in my neighbor’s tree line. That’s what it does. Still, I am grateful to have it when I do. Once it’s gone, I hope the wood asters (another native) will fill in, as they are doing on the edges of my woods.

I am fighting off the pokeweed, which would also like to fill in. That I would prefer not to fill in!

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Composed Flowers

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We hear a lot about “composite flowers” as being great for our pollinators. When they talk about composites, they often talk about things like daisies, cone flowers, sunflower and other flowers with a central disk and a ray of petals radiating from that disk.

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Even these lovely “weeds”–fleabane is the correct name for them and they are in the aster family so you might want to leave them for your pollinators because the tiny little bees adore them–are a fabulous little composite flower. Such a tiny miracle of nature.

I’m here to propose a totally different sort of “composite”–or perhaps I mean “composed”–type of flower that is excellent for our pollinators.

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This photo above is of a great, underused native called veronicastrum. Maybe it’s the name the puts everyone off. The common name is Culver’s root, which isn’t much better. It is native to my part of the country, the eastern seaboard, basically. And normally, it is quite tall, towering over my head. This year it’s stunted–probably only 3′ or so. That’s what 2 1/2 years of drought will do to a native perennial.

What’s great about it is that all these individual spikelets bloom for weeks on end–and sometimes secondary spikelets will form further down the stem, prolonging the bloom time. I have seen several types of bees and solitary wasps all at the same time on this one perennial.

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This of course is our native milkweed, asclepias syriacus. It’s great for our monarchs but what a lot of folks don’t realize is that many bees like it too.

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Finally here is oregano. Notice all the tiny florets. Mine is constantly covered with bumblebees all summer long.

Obviously I don’t use this for cooking or I wouldn’t let it flower. I have some oregano that I use for culinary purposes (meaning that I don’t let it flower) in my vegetable garden. But from what I understand, these flowers are edible too. I would just hate to disturb the bees!

Found Plants

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If you have been following me for a long time,  you know how much I love these plants. I am talking about the grey, tall, felty spikes that you see sort of evenly spaced along this otherwise weedy edge of the garden.  (And, yes, I know some of you think that these plants are weeds!)

I don’t happen to think of them that way. I think of them as native plants.

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Here’s another spot they popped up.  They are bi-enniels so I knew last year that they were growing. I had nice low felty rosettes.

Their proper name is verbascum, but they have lots of common names like miner’s candle, common mullein and big taper.

I just really like them and the bumblebees do too. I’ll let them set seed so that ideally the cycle will continue again next year with more rosettes.

 

Wordless Wednesday–Beach Vacation

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Just so you didn’t think I spent my entire vacation at the library! These photos are from a nature walk we took. This was in front of a store just before the trail head.

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This is the lighthouse, Barnegat Lighthouse, or Ol’ Barney, in the state park. It is decommissioned.

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And here is just one view from the walk. It was a glorious–and very warm day, in the 90s.  But it was still a lovely walk!

A Seaside Mystery

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This innocuous little plant drove my sister and me nuts on our beach vacation two weeks ago. Both of us remembered it from our childhood when we grew up on Long Beach Island, New Jersey (one of those islands that didn’t fare too well in storm Sandy 5 years ago. There have been books written about how badly the Island was damaged–and just last weekend the New York Times had an article about how some of the New Jersey shore towns were recovering and Long Beach Island was one of the places featured.)

But I digress. Clearly this plant was faring well because it was all over the beach where we were staying. So we starting “googling” around, trying to find out what it might be, since neither of our brains could come up with a name.

After 3 days of googling, we went to the library. We pulled out every book they had about New Jersey beach flora, including one written by the local garden club and one dating back to 1918 that was a local survey of the area. Nothing.

You might think that we are a bit obsessive–or this is how to ruin a beach vacation. I can assure you we had a lot of fun despite our quest. Every year when we go down there, we “quest” about something. Last year it was a particular type of skate’s egg case that washed up on the shore. I had to come back to Connecticut and pull out my childhood books about the beach to get our answer on that one.

In any event, I won’t leave you all guessing. This plant is called sea rocket (cakile edentulata) and we finally found our answer on the Clemson University Extension service blog. It is a native plant, native to the east coast of the United State, and as far west as Louisiana to our south and Illinois to our north. You can find out more from the USDA database here.

So this summer, as you go off on vacation, where ever it may take you, look around, and take some time to learn something about a plant that might be new–or familiar but you just can’t quite place it. You’ll have some fun doing it, and you might just save yourself a bad sunburn in the process!

Wordless Wednesday–Accidental Pollinator Habitats

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There’s a lot of talk these days about “post-wild” planting. And while I haven’t read that particular book, I have read Larry Weaner’s books and been to a couple of his talks on habitat plantings and succession plantings. From what I can glean from interviews with the “post-wild” author, he has made habitat and succession planting just a whole lot more complicated than it needs to be! But maybe I need to read his book–perhaps I do him a disservice.

Take a look here. These are two native plants that have sprung up under my star magnolia. The Spoiler keeps wanting to “pull out the weeds.” I keep telling him that he’d better not, on pain of death (besides, good luck getting out the goldenrod. Its roots are incredibly deep!)

The taller, darker one on the end with the lance shaped leaves is goldenrod. The one in the foreground is a shorter lived succession plant called either white snakeroot, or boneset, depending on which common name you prefer. It actually migrated here from the edge of our woodlands. There is still a little bit there, but it obviously prefers this sunnier spot. Both of these are pollinator magnets, as I will show you later this summer.

What’s left in the woods? White wood aster, also a pollinator magnet.

And what was under this tree? Nothing. We keep limbing it up to let the plants grow in.

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Here’s another “accidental” habitat that most people never see because they use 4-step programs and those programs kill clover. Clover is prime habitat for butterflies and bees. I am always amazed when I see folks walking barefoot on their lawns. I wouldn’t dare–and not because I’ve poisoned it with pesticides either!  I don’t want to accidentally step on all my precious bees!

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Finally, don’t over look habitat in the most unlikely places. This is an overly broad crack between the slates on my walk. Yes, there are too many weeds here that I need to address. But there’s lovely moss, a fern and some violets. Those get to stay.

If nature is doing your “planting” for you, why fight it?

 

Support Pollinator Friendly Businesses

Readers and shoppers, this one is for you! This is free rein to go out and support those businesses that engage in pollinator friendly practices.

Now, how does one measure that? As with everything, one has to be sure that there isn’t “green-washing” going on. If a retailer is selling plants, or seeds, make sure they are appropriate for your area.

You remember I talked about knowing how to read a plant tag and knowing what was “perennial” back in March when I was discussing plant shopping. Just because a plant is labeled “perennial” at a large national retailer, it does not mean that it will necessarily be “perennial” for your area.

So one way to avoid those issues is to definitely shop local. Another way is to look for plants that are locally grown. Many of the plants will have their place of origin–or a grower–listed on them. At least at some of my garden centers, some of the plants will say “Connecticut grown” right on them. Even some of the national retailers sell some of these.

But “Connecticut” (or where ever) grown does not indicate that the plants are pesticide free, of course, and if you want a pollinator garden, that’s what you should hope for. Many retailers have started phasing out the neonicotinoids, which are believed to be harmful to bees, but they still may use other pesticides.

You will see some seeds now labeled as “organic” but it’s still rare to see a plant labeled as organic, even plants that we regularly buy for our vegetable gardens. I wonder what it’s going to take to get to that?

And of course, these smaller retailers often have a selection of gardening books. So even if you don’t want to necessarily go out and garden, you can often find interesting books on their shelves. You can perhaps help support the cause in that manner by buying a book–or two. As an avid reader myself, I know that I rarely buy just one (sort of like the old Lays potato chip commercial–no one can eat just one?)

So it’s just about plant shopping time in my area. This year, when you’re out shopping, please consider those garden centers and retailers that engage in pollinator friendly practices. I am not going to tell you what they are–but if you get there and don’t see a lot of local plants, native plants, or any organic plants, then I think I might find a different place to shop!