Wednesday, September 26, 2012

Native Chaos

Mountain mint, milkweed foliage, goldenrod, and asters
Day 222
The Daily DuBrule
I walked around my garden today and just broke into a great big smile. The only creatures around to see me were my cat Bella, the monarch and painted lady butterflies, and tons of bees who were pollinating the crazy, chaotic native border that are exploding from my shrub borders. I have a very relaxed method for establishing native perennials. I harvest paper bags filled with seed pods in the fall and simply toss them where I want them. Ahead of time I dig out the non-native thugs that are trying to establish themselves. If I get energetic I step on the dried seeds and mash them into the ground. The second key element to this passive sowing technique is to NEVER weed out ANYTHING that you don't recognize. This makes you a much better gardener, by the way.

Not every native plant in my crazy, mixed up border was tossed in. I planted divisions of mountain mint, Pycnanthemum muticum. I love the way this plant smells, I cut the silver bracts to make the bases for herbal wreaths, but most of all I just love to stand and watch the literally thousand of pollinators work this plant all summer and fall. It's a real action plant.
Milkweed foliage and New England asters
Milkweed and New England asters land right in the stands of mountain mint and create a colorful collage. If you really look at milkweed this week, the leaves are turning yellow, they are full of holes, the stems are covered with black sooty mold from all the aphids that have been feasting on it for's not something you want to look at up close and personal. Yet, look at it coming up through a stand of purple asters and it adds the colorful "punch" the garden needs.

Asclepias incarnata seed pods with Itea 'Merlot'
 My Asclepias incarnata (swamp milkweed) is now going to seed. It's easy to tell this really pretty, ornamental pink or white, 5' tall perennial is a milkweed relative: just look at the pods. The fluffy seed heads float everywhere (yeah!) and landed today on the foliage of a wonderful native shrub I planted in pure mucky clay- Itea virginica 'Merlot', Virginia sweetspire. This plant doesn't move me when it flowers, it has plain green leaves and long, cascading white flowers that look like dangling squirmy worms. Well, actually, they are interesting, their form is different, and they contrast nicely with all the other flowers in bloom nearby in June, to offer you proper garden design-speak. But now Itea is the star of the show. Just look at that foliage! I literally dug these plants into the lower border in late November, grubbing out sodden, dripping clods of thick clay (think pottery-making). I never thought they would live. They have THRIVED! I must plant more.

Vernonia (Ironweed) seedpods with Itea
Even the New York ironweed (Vernonia noveborincensis) gets into the act, with fuzzy clusters of seeds bending downward from stately 6' tall stems. Lest these native perennials land in places I don't want them I also snap them off and transport them elsewhere to new places in my yard. So far this has worked really well for me. I have tons of native perennials weaving in amongst my pines, pussywillows, Iteas, and winterberries. They get along pretty well and slowly but surely the nasty invasives are disappearing. No wonder all those butterflies and bees and pollinators make my yard their home. If I was flying overhead I buzz down to check it out myself!

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