I Changed My Mind

One of the benefits of time and experience is that you can change your mind about things and change your actions relative to your new perspective. When I began creating the gardens at Brakewynde nearly three decades ago I knew little to nothing of native plants and their value in the landscape. I undertook a “Me vs. The World” approach of planting and nurturing what I liked and ruthlessly weeding out what I hadn’t planted myself or didn’t recognize as contributing to my efforts.

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For years I waged a futile battle against the blue wave of Scilla that bloomed every spring, choking out the smaller plants I was trying to nurture. Then, when I began to appreciate the value of these obnoxious aliens to pollinators, I softened my view of them. Now they provide a reliable attractant for stalking bees in my own back yard. I no longer waste time trying to eradicate them or to grow plants I know they’ll outcompete. But I don’t feel particularly bad when I unearth and probably kill their abundant bulbs when I’m digging and planting as I was last weekend.

Ageratina altissima (2)

Another plant I tore out every time it dared to pop up was White Snakeroot, Ageratina altissima. The leaves are boring, the flowers are small, white and boring, and most importantly, I hadn’t planted it. Then, this year I did a little project. I made a chart of all the flowering plants in the gardens at least to genus level and dutifully checked off which ones were in bloom each week of the growing season. I wanted to see where the flowering gaps were that I could fill to make my garden more pollinator friendly. The first revelation was that after the riot of spring bloom there wasn’t much going on until the Hosta kicked in later in the summer. The second revelation was that there were only a few species that trooped on blooming through October, Ageratina being the most conspicuous one.

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The Snakeroot first got my attention when the Monarchs we were rearing in the house started to emerge and I looked for flowers to place them on outdoors in case they needed a nectar snack before heading off to Mexico. They were the tallest plants still in bloom and seemed like a logical choice. It was then that I decided that in the future instead of ripping them out when they appeared where I didn’t want them I will transplant them to more appropriate spots and cultivate them as valuable members of the pollinator garden.

Curious about the ecology of Ageratina altissima I turned to one of my new favorite resources, HOSTS. It’s a database of lepidopteran caterpillar host plants around the world.

In HOSTS I found that the caterpillars of the Clymene Moth, Haploa clymene, live on Ageratina. Above is a pretty specimen of that species I found in the garden. I’m going to keep my eyes open now for caterpillars on the plants and perhaps try to rear some if I discover any.

Another resource I consulted was the list of insect visitors to this species at Illinois Wildflowers. It’s extensive! I’ll be staking out its blooms in coming seasons as I work to add to the list of pollinators in the garden.

Finally, the grim side of White Snakeroot—it’s poisonous to grazing animals. What’s more, the toxin can be passed on through milk and meat to humans who consume it and it’s even suspected to be what killed Abraham Lincoln’s mother! Good thing I’m not planning on pasturing cattle in the gardens any time soon.

Precious Gold

My Cypripedium parviflorum var. pubescens, a beautiful golden yellow lady slipper orchid bloomed today. I say “my,” but in reality I feel I’ve only been given charge of its care for a while and that eventually it will pass on to someone else–a family member, I hope–who can keep it long enough to pass on yet again. And I also hope they have better luck with it. As its current steward I think I’m letting it down.
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This particular plant came to my garden by way of my maternal grandmother. It grew at the side of her cozy bungalow where the family gathered for major holidays for decades. The house was painted the same shade of yellow, come to think of it. As best as we can piece together the history, she would have planted it there about the time they moved off the farm and into town in the early 1950s. That would make this plant sixty years old.

When Grandma sold her house and moved my mother dug up the orchid and divided it into five clumps she transplanted to her own garden. When I became interested in growing orchids she gave one of the divisions to me. The plant thrived in my garden for years and increased in size. At its prime it held over thirty blooming growths.
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Then, seven years ago it was struck with a fungal infection. Desperate to save it I dug it up, divided it and cleaned it off. I moved the divisions to different areas of the garden to avoid reinfection and to give it a variety of microclimates with the thought that at least one would suit it well and it would recover. Today only two divisions still live, one is the single growth that’s blooming and the other has two stems that haven’t bloomed yet.

In its happier times Grandma’s lady slipper was strong and healthy enough to produce viable seed capsules. I sent the seed to a lab where they were grown and propagated into new plants that, to the best of my knowledge, are out there growing somewhere in other people’s gardens. One of the greatest causes of suffering is attachment. While I like to think the little plants I have will stay in the family somehow, I’m becoming more at peace with the notion that they might not. And if they don’t, at least there’s a chance that this heirloom’s genetic legacy is living on and bringing happiness to another gardener.

This post was prompted by You Grow Girl for the Grow Write Guild on the theme of “Loss, Attachment & Letting Go.”

Trilliums

This is my favorite time of the year and it coincides with the blooming of one of my favorite genera of wildflowers, the Trilliums.  Over the years I’ve gathered a diverse collection of these beauties and right now they’re all flowering beautifully.

T cuneatum

Trillium cuneatum, a.k.a Whippoor-Will Flower, Cuneate Trillium, Large Toadshade, Purple Toadshade, Bloody Butcher and Sweet Betsy is the largest of the eastern sessile species. Mine is being invaded by some Bloodroot that needs to be pushed back a bit.

T erectum

Trillium erectum, a.k.a. Red Trillium, Wake-Robin, Stinking Benjamin, Stinking Willie, Purple Trillium, Squawroot, Birthwort and American True Love can have very distinct local populations and a high degree of variability. For example…

Trillium erectum var. album is a white form of the species which when I purchased it the seller was calling it a “beige” variety.

This Trillium erectum var. album is more distinctly yellow. See the Buddha watching over the beehives in the background? I haven’t noticed if the honeybees visit Trilliums.

T flexipes

Trillium flexipes, a.k.a. Bent Trillium or White Trillium can look enough like T. erectum var. album that I need to key this one out to see if I really got what I was paying for.

T grandiflorum

Trillium grandiflorum, a.k.a. White Trillium, Great White Trillium, Large-flowered White Trillium and White Wake-Robin is probably the best known and loved species. Some of the forests around here have patches carpeted with their white blooms each spring. I have several plants throughout my garden and they show a range of size in the plants and flowers.

T luteum

Trillium luteum, a.k.a. Yellow Trillium, Yellow Toadshade and Wax Trillium is another large species with upright flowers. This species hybridizes with T. cuneatum in the wild so I’ve been thinking about trying to cross them on my own and see what I get.

T recurvatum

Trillium recurvatum, a.k.a. Prairie Trillium, Toadshade or Bloody Noses (!) was the only species in the garden when we moved here way back when. The flowers are nice but I think I’d grow it even if it didn’t bloom just for that fantastic mottled leaf.

T sessile

Trillium sessile, a.k.a. Sessile Trillium, Toad Trillium or Toadshade usually has darker flowers than this but the other characteristics are right so I think it might just be a paler variety.

When I started collecting Trillium I purchased Frederick and Roberta Case’s excellent monograph on the genus. That is where I got some of the information, especially the different common names above. If you’re growing Trilliums or thinking of getting some I highly recommend it as a reference. It helped me, for example, save myself the heartbreak of trying to grow the incomparable Painted Trillium, T. undulatum here where conditions are completely unsuitable.

Do you have Trilliums in your garden? I can’t say enough good things about them if you’ve got a shady, woodland setting.