In the garden today

Here are some new pictures you might enjoy:


Berries of cranberrybush viburnum, V. trilobum, look almost too beautiful to be real. Soon they’ll be bright red, but despite that attractive color, birds don’t eat them until winter.


A detail of the flower of nodding pink onion, Allium cernuum.


And a view of several flower heads. This is a great front-of-the-border plant, only about 18″ tall.


As orange butterfly weed (Asclepias tuberosa) finishes blooming, the Rudbeckias take over for the rest of the summer. This is R. subtomentosa, an indomitable plant if there ever was one.


Wild petunia, Ruellia humilis, is another great front-of-the-border plant. It’s perennial and well-adapted to poor, dry soil.


And let’s not forget about shade plants for summer color. Great blue lobelia, Lobelia siphilitica, blooms throughout the month of August and into September.


Rudbeckia (a.k.a. black-eyed susan)

Rudbeckias, also known as black-eyed susans and sometimes coneflowers (which is why it’s always best to use correct species names) are the star of my garden right now. I grow two species: R. subtomentosa and R. triloba. You could consider them as variations on a black-eyed-susan theme.


R. submentosa, or sweet black-eyed susan, is a tough (you might say assertive) perennial that grows up to about 6′ high and blooms from July through first frost. Individual flowers are large–about 4″–and there are gazillions of them. This plant is completely pest- and disease free and the deer and rabbits mostly leave it alone. Like all native prairie flowers, it is a magnet for pollinators, although Rudbeckias do not seem to attract butterflies except for the occasional hairstreak.


R. triloba, or brown-eyed susan, can only be described as adorable. The flowers are fairly small, about 2″ across, and a brilliant Crayola yellow-orange. This plant is smaller overall than R. submentosum, reaching about 3-4′. It does not spread underground like R. submentosum and is not truly perennial. Individual plants seem to last 3-4 years, but it self-seeds in my garden, so I always have seedlings. It is also pest- and disease-free, but it tends to be eaten by deer and rabbits. (I spread the plants around so the critters don’t find all of them.)

Members of this genus may be perennials, annuals, biennials, or triennials. The common black-eyed susan (R. hirta) is a biennial. In my experience, they take two years to bloom from seed or after being moved, as is true for most prairie plants. they need time to develop large root systems.

All Rudbeckias are native to North America., The genus belongs to the aster family (Asteraceae), and all species have flowers that botanists call composites. (Sometimes the family name Compositae is used instead.) That’s because all the plants in this family have flower heads made up of many tiny individual flowers. The brightly colored petals are actually rays, and the actual flowers make up the center disk. In all composite flowers, the individual flowers actually bloom in rows from the outside of the disk inward. You can often see pollinators working their way around the circle going from tiny flower to flower. Here’s a picture that clearly shows a flower head with the outer circle of flowers in bloom:


The Asteraceae is a huge plant family that includes many native perennials (asters, echinacea, sunflowers), many familiar, though nonnative, garden plants (yarrow, marigolds, daisies), and many important food plants (artichokes, lettuce, sunflower seeds and oil). The many native perennials in this huge, happy family help bring variety, beauty, and sustainability to the garden. Plant some for yourself, and enjoy them for many years to come.

7/12/13: In the garden this week

The first Rudbeckia opens--summer is really here!

Okay, I’m cheating–this picture was taken almost a week ago, and it was taken by my husband, a much better photographer than I will ever be. But it makes the point about what’s happening in the garden better than any picture I’ll ever take. It emphatically states, “The Rudbeckias are opening! It’s summer!”

Summer, for me, is the time to walk slowly around the garden, in a zenlike state, observing the changes that take place every day, watching the pollinators at work, starting to make plans for next year. It’s certainly not the time to do any heavy garden work, especially to plant.

– keep the grass long (3″ or more) to reduce mowing times. There is no need to fertilize or water. In hot weather the grass wants to go dormant, so let it.

– as perennials finish blooming, leave the dead flowers on the plants. Collect seeds as they ripen throughout the season; let most remain to feed the birds next winter. I deadhead only when all seeds have ripened

– continue to plant beans, kale, chard, and other members of the brassica clan if you have room; harvest squash and beans before they get large and tough. Pull up bean plants when they stop producing.

– continue to stake tomato plants firmly as they grow and to remove all suckers. As plants begin to produce fruit, cut back on watering to prevent cracking.

– monitor the garden carefully for pests and diseases; high rainfall in June and high humidity in July are leading to fungal diseases, although most are not severe enough to threaten a plant’s health (more on that in a future post)

Technically, it’s OK to prune now, but I don’t do that in summer unless absolutely necessary. It’s hard work in the heat.

The photo above shows Rudbeckia subtomentosa, a tall, aggressive plant that would take over my whole perennial garden if I didn’t dig some up every year in early spring.  In spite of its thuglike behavior, it’s hard not to love this plant,  because it’s not a particular favorite of deer or rabbits, it’s carefree, and it blooms from July through October. I grow another Rudbeckia, R. triloba, which will start to bloom in another week or so and that that I think is much prettier. Photos to come.

Enjoy your garden this weekend.