Sunday, December 31, 2006

Beneficial Insects and Native Plants.

I found a great research project website at the University of Michigan. It is about enhancing biological predator controls in gardens and on farms using native plants. It started in 2002 and has results for 2005. There are graphs showing numbers of insects found on the plants at peak flowering time. The plants are named including some exotics and there is a grass control area.
Beneficial insect pages give information. Plant pages give pictures and graphs.This is of course of interest mainly to midwestern growers, but I think give a good idea of how natives to an area can be of benefit.

Spend some time going through the pages it is very interesting.

we wanted to determine if a succession of flowering species could be found that provide pollen and nectar resources over much of the growing season. We selected 43 native Michigan plants based on their reported bloom period and ability to survive in agricultural habitats. All of the species selected historically grew in prairie or savanna habitats (scattered trees with an understory of prairie species). These habitats have been largely replaced by agriculture in Michigan and share similar soil, climatic, and structural conditions as field and orchard/vineyard crops.

What do "small," "medium" and "large" numbers mean? They refer to how many insects were collected per meter square in a 30 second sample. Small means less than 2 insects; medium indicates 2 to 10 insects, and large suggests greater than 10 insects.

About project...

Plant list...

Yellow coneflower
Ratibida pinnata

Grows in moist to slightly dry black soil prairies, clay prairies, thickets, woodland borders, limestone glades, and areas along railroads, particularly where remnant prairies occur. Yellow Coneflower tends to colonize the more disturbed areas of these habitats

It tends to grow rather tall and flop in gardens unless cut back a couple of times in early summer. I have not yet had to perform this duty as the rabbits and their young do an admirable job of munching the tender new growth to various heights. Then seem to move on in time for the flowers to form and flower. Later in the season if a storm makes ratty looking just clip most away leaving a few that look good still for late flowers and seeds. It will return.

I have a spot where the yellow cone flowers have been mixed in amid the tall straight grass and tall large flowered sunflowers. In another place they are mixed with liatris and asters.
The bloom period is very long allowing a mix with several other plants over the summer and early fall. The flowers sway on long delicate stems in each passing breeze. An interesting sight even before the flowers open full as the native bees will hang on sipping oozing nectar already drawing pollinators. The bees are so tame while so engaged that I have often picked the bees up and held them. The little yellow faced native bees are most often found in this state.

Other bees, include Epeoline Cuckoo bees, large Leaf-Cutting bees, Green Metallic bees, and other Halictine bees.
Other insect visitors include wasps, flies, small butterflies, and beetles.
The bees also collect pollen and some beetles feed on pollen. The caterpillars of the butterfly Chlosyne nycteis (Silvery Checkerspot) feeds on the foliage, as well as the caterpillars of the moths Eynchlora acida (Wavy-Lined Emerald) and Eupithecia miserulata (Common Eupithecia).
Gold Finches occasionally eat the seeds, rabbits, groundhogs and livestock will eat foliage and flowering stems.

Thursday, December 28, 2006

'My Favorite Plant' writers and gardeners on the plants they love.
Jamaica kincaid

December's Garden Book Club Choice

One of my least favorite plants is Delphiniums.It is one of those irrational dislikes born of preconceived ideas and developed prejudices that occur when one simply can not like everything.It just sounds way to Pollyanna don't you think, to like everything I mean.So prejudging plants that need staking, perennials that are short lived and nursing a general dislike of ruffles there was no chance of getting to know this entire group, personally. And so I read this piece with interest.
I have never read any of Karl Foerster's work. Thomas Fisher's praise has me looking for translated to English volumes. His writing is discribed (by Fisher) as quasi-mystical and High Rhapsodic, an almost religious invocation of the color blue as an all pervading cosmic energy.Even the names of his books draw one to read.Well, me anyway...

Delphiniums from Thomas Fisher
excerpt...And yet my early attemps with them (Delphiniums) were disastrous. The Pacific Giants,which are the only Delphiniums widely available in the United States, behaved like spoiled, sickly aristocrats. They sulked. They mildewed. They demanded to be trussed up. They languished in the July heat. When they died usually after only a single season, I was secretly glad.

At first I thought my slovenly gardening skills were to blame. But then an afternoon spent with some old issues of the bulletin of the American Delphinium Society turned up some interesting facts.

As many delphinium fanciers know, the Pacific Giants were developed by Frank Reinelt, a Czech gardener who emigrated to the United States in 1925 and soon thereafter helped found the firm of Vetterle & Reinelt in Capitola, California. What is not so well known is that Reinelt used the short lived, red flowered American species Delphinium cardinale in his breeding program, both to produce pink-flowered hybrids and to intensify the color of his blues, which he found "rather cold" without the D. cardinale genetic admixture but "brillant,alive, and warm" with it.
The fact that his Pacific Giants also tended to behave like annuals bothered him not at all. In 1944 he wrote: "Here [in the U.S.] hardly any plant lives longer than two years...True perennialism is not as important as the color, size of spike,and habit."

The legacy of this rather airy dismissal has been generations of frustrated, delphinium-phobic gardeners.

Here, here....

Of course he goes on to praise Delphiniums developed by Karl Foerster.

another excerpt...
In his book (The Garden As A Magic Key ), Foerster wrote: "In every zone of the world and every month of the year, somewhere or other the blue fire is blooming forth."
If he's watching, up there in some delphinium-blue gardener's Valhalla, I hope he knows I'm keeping the flame burning

Monday, December 25, 2006


May you have moments of Peace and Happiness.

Today at
Garden Rant Guess Who is the guest writer? If you find the time to check it out in the next few days please let me know... Gloria

Friday, December 15, 2006

December's Garden Book Club


"Pretty they are not,but a garden can labor under a surfeit of prettiness,be too sweet or cheerful for its own good."

This book 'My Favorite Plant' is said in the introduction to be a garden like the author would create. Beautiful flowers, exotic plants,comforting memories, sweet dreams and harsh reality.
Enclosed in a book that resembles a diary or journal.

Every garden has a dark side, this one of words no exception.
Michael Pollan talks about castor bean being the slightly evil twin of sunflowers.
"The sunflowers seed tasty and nourishing,the castor bean poisonous.
The sunflower open and familar the castor flower dark and of a sinister beauty."

In Marigold even the beauty is abandoned while confusion and ugly reality hide behind the commonness.

This can be natures way.
A fuzzy baby rabbit is often caught and ripped to bloody shreds for a bird of preys dinner.
A rose carries weapons,bees sting,disease smells bad and is ugly,rats are wildlife.
The gardener often uses herbicides and pesticides with labels that must carry warnings of possible dangers.
We to have our darkness.

Of course the book only briefly touches on this idea.
For as gardeners we accept that the garden is a living system. There is work and adversity.Not every day is happy or easy.
As with our family,our pets, our lives the caring and enjoyment of a garden is deepened by the complex nature of our interaction.

'My Favorite Plant' took me by suprise. I was thinking cotton candy and received dark chocolate.
Never judge a book before its read...

Wednesday, December 13, 2006


Eryngium yuccifolium
Rattlesnake Master

I plan on reading the December selection for the Gardener's Book Club but thought I would also give a personal answer to the query.

While Rattlesnake Master might not seem much of a choice when seen alone, its merits become apparent when seen amid other plants.

In spring the yucca shaped leaves bring strength and structure to the emerging foliage of ornamental grass and blooming wildflowers like the baptisia,zizia,amsonia,lithrum,allium,and prairie dropseed pictured.

In full sun Eryngium yuccifolium grows tall and flowers stand high giving easy access to nectar and pollen for long-tongued bees, short-tongued bees, wasps, flies, butterflies, skippers, moths, beetles, and plant bugs.

The groups of darkened golf ball shaped seed heads and thick stems against dried grass, snow and winter skies carry the drama through fall into winter.

An abundant self seeder Rattlesnake master's many seedlings perish without ample sunlight beneath the heavy meadow like or natural style planting rarely dominating. In garden beds the many seedlings are easily removed with a hoe or hand cultivator.

Rattlesnake master is a large dramatic plant that demands attention. People stop and ask about this plant, curious as to why one would grow such a thing. I tell them it is a welcome flag for the pollinators and I am a sucker for good theater.

Garden Book Club

Saturday, December 02, 2006

Fireflies are wonderful mystical creatures. Creating light within their own bodies. Flashing for a mate or to warn predators away they twinkle and sparkle through the dusk on warm summer nights.Children love to chase them. Adults sit and watch the show as fascinated as the kids. At least this is so around here.

We live and garden in Chicago. As a perk of habitat gardening our firefly population has increased each summer. I have looked into why this might be so.

First I have eliminated much lawn. Large areas of the garden have spaces of soil between the plantings which is covered only with decaying organic matter.
Wood piles and stumps are placed here and there to decompose. Abundant leaf mold and much compost is incorporated into shrub and woodland edge type planting areas. Most dormant plants are left intact for the winter and cut back only in spring.

We do not use any pesticides,herbicides or chemical fertilizers.
Most areas are dug once to prepare for planting then left undisturbed.

Mulches, low ground covers, shrubby areas creating shaded ground, lush overall greenery and a small pond increase the moisture and humidity levels.

Interesting info found about the beetle Lampyridae-commonly- Firefly...lightning bug...glow worm.

The fireflies pay rent for reproductive space in gardens with service rendered. The larvae eat slugs and snails. Is that cool or what? They can follow a slug slime trail and inject an anesthetic which immobilizes dinner. Several larvae may work together to incapacitate larger prey.
Adult fireflies especially females (they produce little of the chemical that lights up and may need to ingest it from males) are suspected of eating other species of firefly on occasion but overall energy is acquired from nectar sources.
Actually the entertainment value alone would assure them space in our garden.

On several sites there were places to report firefly sightings. What a great idea. I think come warm weather again, I will report the first sighting and ask others to chime in.

In Japan where fireflies lay eggs in low water rather than moist soil, raising fireflies is in vogue. They have celebrations when emerging starts. Japanese are always good for ideas to party.
genji firefly

Light bulbs expend 90% of energy as heat with only 10% as light.
A firefly lights up without wasting energy and produces no heat.
Many deep sea creatures use the same light producing body chemicals.

One other interesting finding, the grandchildren were watching some silly show on tv where home movies are sent in. Someone fed many fireflies to a frog then recorded the flashing frog, gross...

Search google for[ fireflies ] or [beetle Lampyridae]

Firefly Facts...

Mark Branham's firefly graphic

Friday, December 01, 2006

To rake or not rake? That seems to be the question.
Whether to leave natures gift untouched or aid in dispersal.
What to do?
Do the leaves left untended really smother the grass?
Is mulch mowing enough?
Are curling drying leaves attractive as mulch?

I tried to address this question at Garden Rant but was unable to post a comment for reasons unknown. So since this blog could use an entry...

Hello Susan,
Many of the gardens on our street have only needle type evergreens. Oh yes and lots of lawn. Easy maintainance, monotonous,time consuming but simple care. Rake the leaves in autumn add a few flowers (maybe) in spring. You have your basic urban garden look.Pretty much the same year round unless it snows.

There are 4 distinct seasons in the Chicago area where I garden.
Contrary to popular belief, leaves will not kill your lawn. I know this from personal experience.Just running the mower over the leaves breaks them up enough, along with the grass clippings, to help the breakdown along.
The leaves that are collected(often from others curbside)and added to the planting areas,surround any perennials that do not die back to mush. While these leaves are still there in early spring it seems to me that the leaf mulch way to quickly disappear as the days lengthen and the temperatures warm.
As for the leaves blowing away, the standing stems and ground covers keep the wind from blowing all away.Not so on the lawn. If we are not quick enough to mow after leaf fall, all leaves blow down the street and gather at the house with all the great deciduous trees and shrubs.

I like the look of curling drying leaves about my garden. Even in the groundcovers.
From the pictures you have posted your garden is wonderful and you seem an experienced gardener that knows what she wants. This is not to say that you are wrong. Only that for this garden there is another answer... sincerely Gloria