Sunday, September 13, 2020

Mosaic Monday #96: A Short(er) Season

Labor Day in the U.S. conjures memories of warm sunshine and family barbecues, the last hurrah before summer ends.  Labor Day 2020 in Northwest Montana brought high winds, small hail and a night-time frost.  And just like that, our already abbreviated growing season came to an abrupt halt for much of my garden.  As it is impractical to cover an entire landscape as protection from frost, I woke Tuesday morning and approached the garden with one eye open, expecting widespread damage.  Of course, I have been known to imagine the worst, so maybe I should not have been surprised to discover that more than half of the plants were unaffected.  I believe this is another benefit of native species, especially those in Montana.  Like our hardy residents, they don't shrink and wither the first time the temperature gauge dips below 32!

But even so, I got Mother Nature's message, and decided I should show you my garden before it truly goes to sleep for the winter.  Join me for a prance through my prairie!

I discovered Rocky Mountain Bee Plant last year, growing naturally.  Seeds I sowed in the fall sprouted, and the most successful plant loomed to five feet before the frost brought it down.  Aptly named, it is a magnet for bees, butterflies and hummingbirds; you could hear the incessant drone of buzzing from quite a distance.   Overnight, the pollinators have vanished from this plant.  I have already collected seed pods, and will continue to do so as more mature - I can't count on this plant to return since Bee Plant is an annual.  I look forward to continuing my experimentation with this gorgeous member of the caper family.

By mid-August, my driveway baskets were past their prime, so I augmented them with Lamium, Anemone, and Angelface Summer Snapdragon.  Despite covering them the night of the frost, the most delicate plants succumbed.  Sigh.  On the porch, the cold devastated the black susan vines that looked so pretty twining around the railings.  I don't plan to use them again, since their connection to the railing prevents me from moving them in the case of hail (or frost)! 

Aster showed no impact from the frost, and since it is a late bloomer providing welcome splashes of color in the garden right now, I am pleased.  My aster plants (I think the initial landscaping plan had four or five) have spawned innumerable volunteers, and it appears to be a favorite of the deer since many of the seedlings are nibbled before they produce flowers.  I am still occasionally surprised where I find the plants - the seeds are so small, I can only attribute it to the vagaries of the wind.  When I locate one in a particularly desirable location of the garden, I make sure to protect it!  

Speaking of welcome surprises, I have been thrilled to find paintbrush volunteers in at least five places.  Why is this significant?  Paintbrush is a hemiparasitic plant - it seeks out roots of host plants, usually grasses, and taps into them for nutrition.  So, I had concluded that it was just unlikely that my mama paintbrush would reproduce!  As it turns out, the volunteers are growing close to or underneath other plants, but none of them are grasses.  It has emboldened me to attempt planting some seeds this fall! (and the frost did not affect them- yay!)

I was also delighted to discover a coneflower with magenta florets within the boundaries of my "formal" garden.  It first appeared last summer in the prairie, and clearly some seeds found their way into the flower beds.  Its stalks and leaves are remarkably similar to those of the prairie coneflower, so I had mistakenly labeled them as such, until they bloomed.  I have studied my plant books, and perused the web, but I have been unable to make a formal identification.  Can anyone help?  Until then, I am mentally referring to them as magenta coneflower. Update: thanks to MB of Small City Scenes and Pat of Mille Fiori Favoriti for helping me identify this as Mexican Hat/Upright Prairie Coneflower.  (In general, the coneflowers are more droopy following the frost.)

Several other plants have also performed well with self-propagation, including the goldenrod.  I was amazed to locate one among the gilia and blanketflower.  I have also learned that it is easy to confuse goldenrod and fireweed, especially when they are small.  Goldenrod tends to have one stem; fireweed is likely to have multiple branches as it grows.  What they have in common is that the deer love them!   (Fireweed is an important colonizer of burned areas.  It spreads rapidly by seeds and buried rhizomes.  When bombs levelled parts of London in WWII, fireweed appeared in the heart of the city for the first time in generations.)  The goldenrod and fireweed were unfazed by the cold.

As the summer has progressed, I have also marked many spots containing what I believe to be volunteer bee balm.  If I am correct, I will be quite happy since it has been hard for me to harvest seed from this plant - as soon as it is done blooming, the whole plant turns brown, and I have been unable to identify anything that looks like a seed!  

As many of you know, bee balm is another plant that draws pollinators in droves.  Below is a video of butterflies on and around the plant.

As long as we are looking at videos, check out the hummingbird with the scarlet gilia.  For weeks, this female hummer was guarding this section of the garden by sitting on the chicken wire in between feedings. (The gilia showed no reaction to the initial cold snap.)

You may have noticed the blanketflower that is mixed in with the gilia.  This plant has a special corner of my heart - it seems to bloom continuously with that eye-catching yellow/orange combination.  Also, it was unaffected by the frost, its seeds are easy to collect, and I had great results with the seeds that I sowed in the spring.  A keeper!!!

Let's pause for a moment and talk about critters.  Deer continue to be a nuisance.  Other than chicken wire/fencing, all of my methods for deterrence have had very limited success (including the deer repeller I wrote about on 9/8/2019).  As the garden self-propagates, it is more and more impractical to protect individual plants.  I have had some success with placing chicken wire around large sections, such as the gilia and blanket flower you have seen in some of the pictures above.  I think my next plan is to move those large chicken wire enclosures from year to year, allowing a new section to get well-established.  We can only try, right?  

On July 23, I found aphids on the Norway Maple.  I consulted with the experts at Montana State University, and they recommended washing them off with insecticidal soap.  Realizing that I can't reach all the leaves, my contact reassured me that all trees have some aphids, and that there are lady beetles, lacewings and parasitoid wasps that will come in to control the aphids.  I am inclined to take their advice since I have seen a complete recovery for my sand cherries since I pruned them per their guidance (see below).  August 9, I chased a bunny from the front flower bed, and I have not seen it since.  And, as usual, the ground squirrels went into hibernation in the middle of August.  One less thing to worry about!  

Admired for its silvery gray, fragrant foliage as much as its lavender-purple flowers, Russian sage make a bold statement in a garden.  The abundant, spiky clusters of flowers only started blooming in mid-August, so I was a little chagrined to see that some spike tips were affected by the frost.  Also, the wind has weakened some of the branches and spoiled the normally symmetrical look.  Nevertheless, all three of my plants are spectacular, and I love the show.  They have also produced a number of volunteers, and I have learned NOT to water them - Russian sage likes very dry conditions.

Another implication of a short growing season is a lack of time for a second bloom.  For both Catmint and Salvia, it is suggested that shearing/deadheading can produce a second bloom.  I have been watching the Catmint carefully, and as recently as a week ago, it still had blooms frequented by bees, which makes me hesitate to shear it.  At this point in the season, it would be fruitless to try for a second bloom.  In fact, with some plants, you should stop deadheading to allow the plant to focus its resources on preparing for winter.  I deadheaded the Salvia at the beginning of August and one plant out of three has produced a few new blooms.  I think next year I will try trimming it lower on the stalks and supplementing with some additional water. (Neither the catmint or the salvia were harmed by the frost.)

I have been very pleased with the performance of the Black-eyed Susan plants, and it is a direct result of guarding.  I ran my own experiment, and most of the Susans that were not protected were nibbled, especially the flower buds!
Susans are also prolific in the prairie, as a result of the seed mix we planted in the fall of 2018.  It is hard to capture in a photo, but you can see a few of them below, among the naturally-occurring yarrow. (The tallest Susans were hard hit by the frost.  I was able to protect some of the shorter ones with a few strategically placed buckets.  These pictures were all taken before the cold snap.)

As I walk around the prairie, I keep my eyes peeled for other treasures.  I am pretty sure the daisy* and larkspur were in the seed mix, but the harebell is so plentiful in the woods around here that I am sure these seeds were already present.  And the Oceanspray is a shrub that has clearly been here for quite a few years.  It is the only one that I have seen on our 15 acres! *oxeye daisies are considered invasive in Montana, so I pull them up when I see them

I have been doing some reading about prairies, generating some ideas that are part of my garden planning for next season.  But this post is already long enough, so I will start to draw to a close with some photos of the Coreopsis that has exploded on the southeast side of the house.

The soft tissues of the Coreopsis were blackened by the frost, but some of it close to the ground is still alive.  Even before the cold snap, the plants had produced drifts of seeds visible on the stone steps.  Birds, especially pine siskins, perched delicately on the stems to pick out the miniscule morsels, and flew off in a pack when you opened the mud room door.  I suspect I will be plucking hundreds of volunteers next spring!  Before then, these beds will be subject to significant thinning/transplanting; some of these plants may find new homes in the rock garden at the front of the driveway.  By far, that bed has been my biggest disappointment this summer, but you know me -- I have MAJOR plans and HOPE springs eternal!

Dedicating my prayers today to all those suffering the impact of wildfires, hurricanes, and flooding.  

Welcome to Mosaic Monday, a weekly meme where we get together to share our photo mosaics and collages.
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  1. ...lots of wonderful color. You sure have a short growing season and here I thought that ours was short!

  2. Everything sure looks pretty and your gardening knowledge is impressive. We always like to see those Black-eyed Susans. The deer are sure thankful you have goodies for them!

  3. Love all the wildflowers. The goldenrod I’m allergic too but it is pretty.
    Dawn aka Spatulas On Parade

  4. I did enjoy your photographs, lots of lovely colour.

    "Dedicating my prayers today to all those suffering the impact of wildfires, hurricanes, and flooding."
    I will join you in these prayers.

    All the best Jan

  5. The black eyed Susan is well known... other plants never seen before. Interesting for me to walk away through your wonderful garden, Angie.
    Yes, step by step we get autumn. It's the same here. But this week the summer returns with higher degrees...

    ...thank you for hosting.

    Happy MosaicMonday

  6. I love to see native plants from other countries. So different to ours here in Australia. We have last week been to a biodiversity hotspot - 1,500 plant species in one area! amazing. And seen first hand the affect of the summer bushfires in that part of the country. WIth bushfires raging in other parts of the world right now, I worry about what this coming summer will bring. Take care and enjoy your garden and surrounds.

  7. Your pretty flower is Ratibida or Mexican Hat.
    Love all your plants and your narrative too

  8. Your mystery flower is the Upright Prairie Coneflower, Angie. They are magenta in color. We see them here too, but mainly more of the yellow ones like your first photo. Your garden is really beautiful and prolific! I have to look for the Rocky Mountain Bee Balm seeds. I get many hummingbirds visitors but they come for my roses and would probably lobe a plant like that to also visit!

  9. Lots and lots of flowers today, all so pretty.
    Happy Monday, thanks for hosting us again today


  10. So enjoyed this walk through your wild and not so wild gardens this morning. Your volunteer plants must be a lovely surprise, to quote Forrest "you never know what you are going to get".
    Happy MM, thanks for continuing to host my favourite meme.

  11. Hello Angie, I enjoyed the prance through your prairie. Gorgeous plants and flowers. It is great you have so many different volunteer plants growing, the native plants like Paintbrush are beautiful. The coneflower is one of my favorites. I love the butterflies and the hummingbird videos. I am glad you blooms are hanging in there after the frosty night. Lovely images and mosaics. I am also praying for those suffering in all the wildfire areas. Thanks for hosting MM. Have a great day and a happy new week ahead.

  12. You are so smart to research and find out what does well there. We have to be careful and buy dwarf plants here to keep from them getting to big since we have a long growing season. You have some beautiful blooms! Enjoy your week.

  13. Wonderful garden and a lovely assortment of plants, Angie.

  14. PS: Thank you for hosting and for your comments on my blogs. Much appreciated.

  15. Thank you for letting us know you are thinking of us out here in the smoke Angie! And for hosting and sharing the joy as always! (We will get back to that state eventually!). Your blog, words and pictures, is a beautiful way to keep a garden diary ... you’ll just need to refer to it to remember what worked well and what you want to change next season! (Much better than the notes I used to keep back in our gardening days.).

  16. This week, I have the butterflies and you have the flowers. Great combo.

  17. I'm impressed with all your knowledge about your plants and the wild ones and the new things you are learning. Hummingbirds really love our bee balm. I can take very little credit for anything growing in our yard and I'm just happy it seems to come back in the Spring and Summer. Maybe by next summer our back yard will be all fenced in again. We are toying with the idea of meeting up with my brother and his 5th wheeling family at Lake 5 resort north of Kalispell the end of September. Just toying with the idea mind you. :) My brother's family is RVing the USA with their 2 kids for a year. Hope this new week is going well and that the smoke is not inundating your beautiful part of the world.

  18. You are quite the gardener and very hands on and experimental. I love that. My wife dusted off her Master Gardner chops this year and planted a lot in the front and back. Some of it worked, some of it didn't and she is already thinking about next year.

  19. Thanks for the garden tour. It seems early for a wintry blast. I don't feel like we had much of a summer because we didn't travel due to the pandemic.

  20. I really enjoyed the tour of your garden, thank you very much. Your Russian Sage is amazing, I tried to grow that years ago with not much luck. I love the bee balm too, have not seen that before. It is hard when you have animals who like to come and nibble on the plants, we used to have rabbits at our last place, they could clean out a garden bed in one night! Your wire seems to be working well. Great video of the butterflies and hummingbird.

  21. Your late summer garden is beautiful and I love all the wildflowers. Your post surely brightened my day!

  22. A fabulous garden, with flowers of many growing wild, love 'em.

  23. what a haven you've made there. good idea to protect some areas since you can't keep deer from just hopping over fencing. We have a purple flowering bush I thought was russian sage but now realize it isn't, and we don't know when to prune. We've had months of wildfire smoke now... and it went away with the snowfall but came back yesterday full force darkening the skies and making a code red air quality. Our small tomato crop is at a standstill after uprooting it to take in the garage for two days... the beans given up, the lettuce eaten by some enormous worm. And we're back to 90 F days. So your vista, with it's hummers, and fields of flowers was a visual respite for me.

  24. your garden, your lovely!! i have stopped planting, except for vegetables during that season, as i just can't take proper care of my gardens anymore!!

    the colors and the variety of plantings is really so appealing!! i can see you have dedicated a lot of time and research into flowering plants, it is definitely paying off!!!

  25. What an amazing post of nature's treasure you develop on your lovely property ~ I am saddened to hear what 'nature' did with the weather ~ but yet 'Donald' says there is no climate change ~ Ha! ~ Sorry to get political but we need to protect Mother Earth or there will be no planet ~
    So glad that many plants survived and are flourishing ~ You are doing amazing gardening and research plus!
    Be Safe ~ Be Well ~

    Live each moment with love,

    A ShutterBug Explores,
    aka (A Creative Harbor)

  26. I'm bound to ask Angie but do you have professional expertise in plants or is this a skill of life learning? I am still amazed by your climate - like an extreme summer followed by a severe winter and nothing in between. Those aphids. Thought I was doing well with a decorative chilli plant grown from seeds in a single chilli brought back from Greece last year. Doing fantastic until I took my eyes off the plant and the aphids took over. Sprayed the buggers with soapy water and fingers crossed. Failing that there are chillies for seeds.

    And, we are off to Greece on Friday.

  27. It's so good when you can seed native plants. We have Oceanspray here and Mock Orange. Unfortunately my Mock Orange up at the cabin is being taken over by a fast growing cedar tree. Pretty soon it will not get any sun and die. It was a favourite for migrating Cedar Waxwings. Smoke still really bad here. Staying in town with an air purifier until it lessens. - Margy

  28. Your garden and flowers are absolutely beautiful, Angie.

  29. I suppose the real lesson here, Angie, is that native species, long adapted to local conditions, will survive the vagaries of the weather, and certainly will be there to please the eye again next spring. We hovered right against zero the other night, but we escaped the first frost - barely. It won't be long coming, however.

  30. Oh your flowers are wonderful! We are lucky and do not have too much trouble with deer. Tho one took a nap in my Globe Thistles and smooshed some stems. I am sure the smoke is also up where you are. We are really hopeful for rain tomorrow. No frost in my yard yet. And my flowers are loving the cooler temps. Take care! Kit

  31. Boa tarde Angie. DifĂ­cil escolher a mais bonita.

  32. It has been delightful prancing through your prairie filled with lovely flowers. Love the view of the garden and the house. 'Tis such a shame that soon the fosty conditions will reap havoc. Come next spring and summer just imagine how your garden will have grown. I loved reading your commentary on all your plants and flowers; so very informative and interesting.


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