When early pioneers were rolling their way across the tall grass prairies of North America, sometimes, in mid summer, they would come across a towering plant with huge basal leaves that often were oriented on a north-south axis. They called it a Compass Plant. In later years scientists speculated the leaves point that way to protect themselves from the burning sun. The plant would be labelled Silphium laciniatum – the same genus as the Cup Plant (Silphium perfoliatum) that I wrote about earlier.
It’s easy to see why – they’re both really tall (the Compass Plant can grow to 12 feet high) and both has relatively small (2″ – 4″) sunflower-like flowers. Carious types of bees love to feed in the flowers and their stalks, if left up all winter, can provide over-wintering refuge for beneficial insects as well. They differ in that the Cup Plant likes moist meadows and tolerate flooding in spring while the Compass Plant, being native to the prairie, likes it dry and can tolerate drought. (After next to no rain during last year’s spring and summer drought, they’ve back in my dry back field more vigorous than ever.)
This is likely because Compass Plants have a really long taproot (up to 16′ deep in the prairies!) that seeks out moisture, even in the rocky, decidedly non-prairie like soil of the County. This root can, unfortunately, make it really challenging to transplant – best to start seeds and plant them where they can stay for many years. They can self-seed but it’s not a fast process – my 15 year old patch has produced only three offspring that I know of, two in the gravelly rocky area where the ‘parents’ live and one in a meadow, about 30 feet away. One plant with a single flowering stalk can, however, become one plant with multiple flowering stalks.
If you can find Compass Plant for sale (perhaps at a local native plant nursery) and you have room, buy it; or, if you find seeds somewhere (Seedy Saturdays in Picton or Trenton possibly) , try starting them yourself. (Read up on how to prepare them for sowing first.)
Is it too early to start thinking about what the garden will look like next year? Sorry (I am Canadian, after all), but I just can’t help it. It’s the hottest week of the year, the garden is lush with annuals and summer blooming perennials, the veggies are starting to be harvested, pole beans and Morning Glory are climbing feet a day but I’m thinking about spring.
Likely because the last of the Narcissus (Daffodil) leaves are finally fading away and I’m remembering all the bare patches from last April, May and June. And I’m thinking – why didn’t I plan ahead. It’s all well and good to wander around in mid spring, thinking to oneself: ‘Self, I should plant more Hyacinth here – there’s lots of room,’ unless you somehow note where exactly you want to dig without damaging the existing bulbs. Can’t do that now, of course, because for the rest of the season that spot of ground is a very full Lupin and Echinacea bed – I’ve no idea where to plant new Hyacinth!
I could have taken close up photos, drawn sketches or developed a really good memory really quickly but no. This past spring, like most springs, I just enjoyed the display. Realizing the folly of my ways last week, I gathered some small stones that appear in abundance (even when I’m not looking) and, before the last of the daff leaves withered, quickly placed small cairns where it will be safe to dig when my bulb order arrives.
Here’s where I’m going to plant more Colchicum bulbs at the end of August, so that this existing patch expands to match the ever widening spread of the Cornus alternifolia (Pagoda Dogwood) on top.:
A few years ago I planted three Fritillaria persica bulbs in front of the fountain – the bulbs have multiplied so that this there there were five stems, but only one bloomed. So this fall I want to plant another 10 or so – and placed individual stones in the general area. Hopefully next April I’ll have a small forest of these purply flower stalks!
Have you started to think about spring bulbs yet? What do you want to plant?
Daylilies (Hemerocalis spp) started to bloom in early June in my back garden. Well, one lovely tall spidery lemon yellow variety of daylily anyway. The common orange ‘ditch daylily’ started to open July 1, as they do every year. Stella d’Oro about three weeks ago and the rest, large brash colourful varieties, just this past week.
I wouldn’t say I’m passionate about daylilies but I do really like them. A lot. They’ll grow almost anywhere and bloom reliably given enough sunlight. They are drought tolerant once established (long, fleshy tubourous roots helps them get through dry periods), deer and rabbits don’t find them tasty and, best of all, can be used in multiples ways.
Want a wide swath of specific colour? Have a micro garden that needs a flash of brightness? Want to savour a light fragrance in the evening? Want to surprise visitors with a bizarre shape or colour combination next to a well traveled garden path?
Daylilies can do it all.
A neighbour and I visited Bonibrae Daylilies, just north of Bloomfield, over the weekend. Next to a small grove of ancient maple trees, Barry & Margaret Matthie maintain about an acre of daylilies, carefully cultivated in well mulched rows. The maples provide welcome shade for visitors and the many varieties of Hosta they also sell. Barry hybridizes and grows from seed the daylilies in their fields and sells them either in person or via mail to aficionados across the continent – most of the plants in the field are $15 each for a very generous size clump lifted by Barry for you; a few of the more rare varieties can be $100 – a price not uncommon for collectors.
For me, the glory of this nursery is experienced wandering through the rows of daylilies, marveling at the colours and shapes, whiffing the occasional sweet scent and imagining where, in your own garden, you can add one of these beauties.
For the next few weeks the nursery is open almost every day – if you’re contemplating getting a daylily this is the place to visit. Even if you’re not a gardener, this is a place to visit – think of it as a living art gallery – a place to overload your ocular sensors on a warm summer day.
I have to confess I don’t have just one favourite plant – I have dozens. And the list changes every year depending on things as mundane as the weather (too dry to produce many flowers, or, so dry the whole plant just dies) or as esoteric as did I grow it from seed (or it was given by a friend or relative).
In mid July there are quite a few favourites – one of them is Echinacea purpurea – Purple Coneflower. It has lively purple or white (the alba variety) large daisy-like flowers, self seeds readily and transplants easily. Best of all, bees and other bugs love its pollen and nectar. If it’s happy in its location it can get quite tall so needs to be either near the back of a border or in the midst of other tallish things.
My newest heartthrob though is Echinacea pallida – Pale Purple Coneflower. I started these indoors from seed two winters ago; last year I planted them out – kinda spindly looking things with short narrow leaves.
No sign of a flower at all. They survived the drought though, with minimal watering, so that made me happy.
This year they exploded – almost literally – sending up first much larger leaves and then enormous stalks topped with a beautiful and delicate flower. Much like the Purple Coneflower, except it differs by having narrower petals that droop down instead of pointing out like a daisy.
Also, the flower stalk itself is many inches long, making it perfect for cutting.
Ti top it off, as the Missouri Botanical Garden plant page says, this native plant can: “tolerate Deer, Drought, Clay Soil, Dry Soil, Shallow-Rocky Soil.”
In other words, this perennial is perfect for my garden and also for many other gardens in the County!
Let me know if you’re interested in growing these yourself – I’ll try to harvest and save you some seeds.
As the growing season progresses I find that some plants, even amongst dozens that may be blooming, steal the show. Lilac and Lupin in spring. Sunflowers (seeds sown late to ensure autumn flowers) and Asters in the fall and, before the bright orange Rudbeckia starts, the tall and serene majesty of Hollyhocks.
They’ve just starting blooming this past week in The County and you’ll see them in ditches and gardens everywhere. In the garden, they can provide a screen for something you want to hide. They can be a dramatic focal point to a driveway entrance. They can stand alone, in a clump, at the side of the road – a colourful distraction for Sunday drivers.
My favourite Hollyhocks are the ones I start from seed collected from friends’ and neighbours’ gardens. It just means more to see them sprouting from the soil. The waiting for the second year (because Hollyhocks are biennial and don’t bloom the first year), to see what colour they are, is worth it.
This year, I’m loving the pastel shades that have appeared for the first time. The flowers appear so delicate, yet are born on the six and seven foot stalks that make you take a second glance, make you want to walk over to appreciate them better. And provide motivation to start thinking about collecting seeds for next year.
That’s a show stopper.