Plants in the Spotlight

Crepe Myrtle, Canna, and Cleome in Bloom

Crepe myrtle, canna, cleome and cone flowers make a lovely splash of summer colors in the raised bed in our back yard.

The bright yellow coneflowers in the foreground attract goldfinches when the flowers go to seed. The goldfinches are fun to watch when they perch on a flower and pick at the seeds. The flowers stalks bend and sway under their weight.

A dwarf crepe myrtle tree with its dark pink blooms that are almost a purple is almost hidden by canna lilies and cleome. It should get several feet taller over the next few years and be more visible. It was a volunteer seedling from an established tree in the front yard. it really struggled the first couple years after being transplanted, but seems to have finally adapted well to it new location.

The first couple years after planting canna lily bulbs in our front yard, they did well. Then they started to die off, so last year they were moved.

blooming flowers in raised bed

A few were left in the front yard, but moved to a different area and the rest were moved to the raised bed in the back yard.

Their red flowers are not big and showy like their leaves, but they add an intense color and interesting foliage to the flower bed.

canna lilies blooming


Here they have done well so far. I think the key to success will be to dig them up every few years when they start to get crowded, and then replant them.

Another interesting feature of the cannas are their seed pods, seen in the picture below.

canna lily seed pods

The light pink blooms are cleome that reseed themselves prolifically every year. This year, there were close to a couple hundred which were thinned down to a manageable number so they would not compete with the other plants.

Cleome is another flower that deserves a close up look. The long stamens start to escape from the flowers before the flowers open, making interesting loops.








Autumn Olive

Our Autumn Olive tree, Elaeagnus umbellata, was a large specimen, 15-20 feet tall with a significant girth. At least for a plant that is classified as a shrub or a small tree, it was fairly large.

Was, not is, large. We found it laying on the ground. Probably blown over by the wind we had a several days ago.

autumn olive tree in snow

It had an interesting branching habit, which can be seen in the winter picture above.

autumn olive tree fruit

It also produced an edible fruit, for which the birds never left any for us.

autumn olive tree

Visible in the picture above, is one of several rot holes in the trunk. We knew there was rotting on the inside, but not sure of the extent of the damage.

The tree grew next to the fence, and as you can see it leaned precariously. Some major pruning helped to balance the tree better. Then a couple years ago, a friend who is in the landscaping business, used a steel cable to tie up the tree so that if it fell, it would not land on the fence. It fell a few days ago, but did not land on the fence.

fallen autumn olive

The picture below shows the base of the tree trunk where it broke.

autumn olive base of trunk

Another view of the base of the trunk shows that it is hollow. I could see through the trunk and out a rot hole.

autumn olive hollow trunk

Our once large Autumn Olive has been reduced to a couple shoots growing from what is left of the stump. It will be interesting to watch it regrow.



Bumble Bee on Tiger Lily

bumble bee on tiger lily

Bounty of Blooms


pjm rhododendron 1

This is the first of the rhododendrons to bloom in our yard this spring.

What a fabulous display of blooms the PJM rhododendron is putting on this spring. This bush is a good example of how pruning effects blooming. The poor bush has taken some abuse over the years, otherwise it would be much bigger and probably less blooms.

I know that sounds contradictory but it is not. I will explain. At least two, maybe three times, tree limbs have fallen on the bush. Each time I would despair that it was ruined, then I would get out the pruners and have a go at reshaping it, radically. The first time, half the bush had been broken off and the pruning had to be severe, cutting it way back.

Each time the bush got smashed, I would have to do major pruning, which would lead to the bush branching out and becoming more full with more branch tips for  blooming.

So, for all of the abuse it has taken, followed by pruning to reshape, it has responded with a bounty of blooms. If it weren’t for the smashing, I might never had the courage to do the severe pruning.


pjm rhododendron 2

Winter into Spring

Bare branches,

oak leaf hydrangea branches

dried flowers

oak leaf hydrange blooms

and bare ground

getting veggie garden ready

are giving way to the flowering of Spring.

jordan's pride camilia blooms

Although this camellia bloom looks to have been kissed by Jack Frost, it is my hope that since this is the first of the camellia blooms to open, that the others will fare better. It is Jordan’s Pride, which I planted about 20 years ago, and is still going strong.

pieris andromeda blooms

The blooms of the Pieris Andromeda are always a welcome sight as it is one of the first things to bloom in our yard, letting me know that Spring is really here even when the weather is deceiving. The weather forecast for our area has a mix of rain and snow in store for us tomorrow.

daffodil bloom

When our daffodils finally decided to bloom, a little late this year, they did so all at once. This is lone daffodil nodding in the sunlight that caught my eye. My grandmother, who loved her flowers, thought yellow was a cheerful color. I can see why as it is a bright splash of Spring on a chilly day when not much else in the garden offers color.

blood root blooms

I saved this picture for last as it is my favorite. These are blooms of blood root that have yet to open. When they do, they will be snow white. But for now, their delicate pale pink petals, still closed hold promise. If you don’t know, Blood Root is named for the obvious reason that the roots of the plant are blood red. It is a charming little plant that likes to reside in the shade. Here it is just under the canopy of a rhododendron bush.

Yucca Seed Pod

yucca seed pod 2

The yucca plants bloomed this year and now interesting seed pods adorn the flower stem.  Interesting is a better description than beautiful with their rough bark like exterior. But the shape of the pod is what caught my eye when wandering the yard. Before they split open, they look like large burnt peanut shells with three seams down the length.

yucca seed pod 1

When the pods split open into three wedges, the lighter colored interior with its black seeds are revealed. Looking down on the seed pod, you can see that all the seeds have settled to the bottom, creating a black pool that looks ready to spill out between the cracks. The pods split open form echoes the radial pattern of the plants leaves in the background.

Along the Front Walkway

along the front walkway

Dappled shade of hickory and oak trees pattern our front walk. The bed along the walkway is the perfect place for Impatiens plants. They thrive in humus rich soil and the shade of the trees.

This flower bed has always had Impatiens lining the path. I learned about these lovely plants from my parents-in-law many years ago.  My father-in-law would plant them in his flower bed next to their back patio every year, creating a lovely spot of bright color.

When I first planted Impatiens along the path of our home, I discovered that the chipmunks would pick the blooms off and eat them. So, I decided that I needed to fill the bed with them to have enough for him to eat and plenty left for us to enjoy looking at. Now, there are so many plants in the yard for the chipmunk to choose from, that the Impatiens are no longer in threat of stripped bare of blooms. This means I don’t have to fill the whole bed with Impatiens to have a good show of blooms.

Now that I can have other plants in the bed too, I needed to figure out what plants would work together in succession so there would be color from early spring to fall. Now they share the bed with daffodils, Columbine and Hosta.

In early spring, daffodils provide color down  the middle of the bed. Then, as the daffodils are fading and their foliage withering, the Hosta in the back and Columbine along the middle come up and put on a show.  The large variegated elliptic Hosta leaves are a nice foliage contrast to the smaller trifoliate columbine leaves. The Columbine bloom first and then the Hosta.

Both have attractive blooms but short blooming season, so it is the foliage that creates most of the interest and becomes the backdrop for Impatiens during spring and summer.

When the ground has warmed enough and our area is past danger of frost, then the Impatiens are planted along the front half of the bed. They have a long blooming season that can last past our first frost if I cover them at night. Their lovely blooms create a swath of bright color along the shady walkway.

Tiger Lilies and Butterflies

Years ago, one Tiger Lily plant was added to our garden and now there are many.

tiger lilies

tiger lilies

They self propagate nicely from bulbils that grow along the stems. I usually just let them fall to the ground where they will grow, but sometimes I collect them and redistribute them elsewhere in the yard or by giving them to another gardener for their yard. The bulbils are ready to remove from the base of the leaves when they roll off easily. Sometimes, if it has been wet for a while, the bulbils will start to grow while still on the parent plant.

bulbils on a tiger lily

bulbils on a tiger lily

I did not know that tiger lilies would attract butterflies, especially since we have other plants such as the butterfly bushes (Buddleia davidii) that are popular with the butterflies. But, yesterday when I went out with our old dog, there were butterflies dancing around, flitting from one lily bloom to the next.

A search on internet to verify the identity of the butterfly led me to a very nice website, Butterflies and Moths of North America, which has searchable image gallery. Ironically, the butterflies on the Tiger Lilies are named Eastern Tiger Swallowtail Butterflies.

It was difficult to get a decent picture of my moving target and with the bright sunlight washing out the colors and shadows obscuring the lovely  blue spots on the wings.

eastern tiger swallowtail butterfly on a tiger lily bloom

eastern tiger swallowtail butterfly on a tiger lily bloom

butterfly on tiger lily 2

eastern tiger swallowtail butterfly on tiger lily 2

There are many plants that attract butterflies to the garden and a good list can be found on University of Minnesota Extension website as well as many other websites. Many of the plants on this list work for our area even though we live in the mid-East region.

Common Orange Daylily

orange daylilies next to driveway

orange daylilies next to driveway

Large masses of orange daylilies give early summer color to our garden when not much else is in bloom.  A gift from a neighbor, these plant keep on giving- lots of blooms for us and lots of plant to share with other gardeners.

On the internet, I found the botanical name is Hemerocallis fulva, and their common name is  Common Orange Daylily, also referred to as ditch lilies and also, according to a friend, as outhouse lilies.

These hardy plants can tolerate terrible soil and total neglect and still bloom profusely.

They are called common for a reason, they are everywhere because they are tolerant. If you dig them up and throw them out, they don’t die. If you throw them in the woods with other yard debris, then that is where they will grow and spread. I have dug them up to divide, forgot to replant them, left them root bare overwinter and found them the next summer sitting on top of the ground flowering! Because they are hardy and can grow just about anywhere, they can become invasive.

orange daylily blooms

orange daylily blooms

For a beautiful plant, they have earned a bad reputation. The common orange daylily might tolerate neglect, but if you neglect to keep them under control, then they will invade and take over the garden, choking out other more desirable plants.

I usually plant them in poor soil (clay with no fertilizer, compost, or humus), where nothing else wants to grow, to slow down their spreading. In good humus rich soil, these daylilies multiply and spread too quickly for me to keep up with. I used to dig up  clumps and divide them. Now I dig up clumps and give them away but with a warning about their invasive characteristic.

Lamb’s Ear Plants- odd leaf formation

lamb's ear plants left: odd leaf formation right: normal leaf formation

lamb’s ear plants
left: odd leaf formation
right: normal leaf formation

When I was  transplanting a group of Lamb’s Ear (Stachys byzantine) plants in the back yard, one of the plants caught my attention as being different. In the pictures above, the one on the right has the normal leaf configuration of two apposing leaves, with each set alternating direction. Later,  This plant will shoot up with a flower stalk. The one on the left has two normal leaves for the first set, and then it has this odd leaf formation on the top that looks like four leaves that did not separate. I do not see how it is possible for this one to grow a flower stalk since there is no buds in the center of the formation. There were no chemicals used near the plant, so I doubt that was the cause.