Monday, August 18, 2008

Walking in the garden

Yesterday, late in the afternoon, I took a walk in the garden, just looking around, making a weekend assessment. Well, really just looking around to see how my plant friends are doing. It was the 12th anniversary of my father's death, and I was repeating a pattern I became familiar with in his life. After retirement, my father continued to work - not hard work, he helped out in the pro shop of a local golf club - but enough work to take up most of his days. Early every summer evening he would come home. The first thing he did was go out to his garden and spend a few minutes just looking around. Sometimes he would do a little work, pick some okra or tomatoes or beans. He always had a vegetable garden, grown in poor draining red Mississippi clay, but it was one of the delights of his life. Now my garden is the delight of mine. It's a very different garden, but I feel I'm carrying on a tradition I learned long ago.

At the top, a familiar combination of Joe Pye Weed (Eupatorium maculatum 'Purple Bush'), the foliage of Queen of the Prairie (Filipendula rubra 'Venusta') turning lovely golden color in the August sun, at the front, a small Iron Weed (Vernonia noveboracensis) planted from seed and in its first year, and at the far left Eupatorium perfoliatum, just coming into its own. Seeded vernonia is scattered all over the garden; I expect it to grow into large colonies that will dramatically alter the distribution of plant mass and open space in the next few years.

Next, more of the Eupatorium perfoliatum, with more Joe Pye Weed and Miscanthus 'Gracillimus' in the background, and a (now) small vernonia at front.

Below, the same combination, with addition of Sanguisorba canadensis in the foreground and a couple of flower stalks of Rudbeckia maxima out of focus in the background.

Also seeded widely throughout the garden, Great Blue Lobelia (Lobelia syphilitica) is now in full boom. I'm thinking of ordering more seed and using the lobelia as a groundcover.

Last, Cardinal flower (Lobelia cardinalis) in its second summer, a gift of a friend, from her friend, who grew it from seed. This is in an area near the deer exclusion fence, where I will eventually plant shrubs to block the view of the wire fencing.

My father didn't use binomial Latin names for his plants, but considering the possibility, even probability of total confusion otherwise, I think he would agree with the concept.


  1. That's such a wonderful kind of tribute, or more appropriately, way of seeing and being in the world your father passed on to you, and that you continue to nourish and expand. I'm really liking my several sanguisorba cultivars, my most recent one is from Japan (my first non native)--but the latin name is outside as I'm far behind in cataloguing my purchases; the school year and teaching and dissertating is upon me, and consumes all.

    How does your cardinal flower hold up in winter? I lost three last year, planted in the low part of my garden--just too much winter water and cold, I guess.

  2. Benjamin,

    When I stand in my garden, especially in late afternoon, I frequently remember my father's joy (not ever expressed openly) as he walked in his garden late in the day.

    I've had Sanguisorba canadensis for three years now, and I'm pleased with it. But it cant hold a candle to Sanguisorba ternifolia 'Alba', which I can't find at any nursery in the U.S. (but many in the UK). Last year I inherited five fully mature sanguisorba's of unknown name (the giver called them Sanguisorba japonica but I'm doubtful of that identification). They have grown to about 6 feet, putting on most of their height in the last two or three weeks. They're big plants, with tight red linear flowers, slightly curved, in a deep, dark red. (You may have noted James Alexander-Sinclair - Blogging from Blackpitts Garden - is a great admirer of sanguisorbas.)

    My cardinal flowers are planted beside a small drainage channel, so their soil gets water from the channel, but their roots are raised above the most saturated part of the soil. Since being planted last fall, they have quickly grown into large plants with multiple crowns. I've read that Lobelia cardinalis likes moist conditions, but often dies if left in very wet saturated soil throughout winter, so my theory is that mine get all the water they want but don't stand in water. I've also read that they do better when planted in soil that freezes reliably each winter; the freezing apparently protects the roots from rotting.

  3. One correction: that's Sangisorba tenuifolia 'Alba' I'm looking for, not ternifolia.

  4. Iron weed (Vernonia noveboracensis) is interesting. Look at this: "Urbs Novum Eboracum sive Neo-Eboracum (Anglice: New York City), urbs maxima in Civitatibus Foederatis Americae, iuxta fluvium Hudsonicum iacet. Malum Magnum (Anglice: Big Apple) et Urbs quae nunquam dormit (Anglice: City that never sleeps) appellatur." Is there a connection btw iron weed and NYC? - Tony P



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