Seven reasons to grow Agastache

by Sandy Swegel

The number one reason, of course, is because hummingbirds love Agastache.  I was trying to pull a few weeds yesterday and at least three different hummingbirds were dining on the Agastache blooms…with one dive-bombing me to get me out of “their” territory.

As I enjoyed the late afternoon sun amid the buzzing I thought six more reasons I REALLY love Agastache.

Startling beautiful flowers

Complex blossoms in multi colors with long tubes.  Mine are orange and red.  Agastaches come in several colors in red-orange-apricot sunset colors.  Another Agastache (Lavender Hyssop) is blue. The Agastache stems make for an interesting addition in a cut flower arrangement.

Interesting Foliage

This Agastache (Agastache rupestris) has thin airy leaves that look quite blue.  An interesting texture when planted en masse.

 

Divine Fragrance

My little patch smells like root beer.  There’s a whole series of Agastaches named after the bubble gums they smell like.

Great in a Mixed Border

This little patch grows in the lavender bed.  When the lavender is in full display, the Agastaches are still small.  Then as the Agastache come into play, the lavenders are still putting out a few complementary purple flowers.  Orange butterfly weed is planted next to the Agastache making both look more interesting.  The Agastache reseed gently throughout the border.

Attract bees and all kinds of pollinators

Yesterday I saw hummingbird moths, native bees, honey bees, a huge bumblebee and some tiny flies…in addition to the hummingbirds.  Butterflies were there earlier in the day.

 

Photos:

monarchbutterflygarden.net/5-butterfly-flowers-attract-monarchs-and-hummingbirds/

 

Bird Baths

Eight critters you can find in your bird baths

by Sandy Swegel

Cute little birds hatched out of a nest in my roof eaves this spring so I decided to put a bird bath in the front yard so I could watch strategically from the window. I didn’t have traditional bird baths so shallow stone bowls on the ground had to make do. It’s been a couple of months and I have yet to see the birds in the bath although they may splash about when I’m not home. I have discovered lots of critters need water in the heat of summer. Here’s who shows up if you have a water source in your yard.
8. Wasps
OK, so they’re not my favorite although they have an important role in the garden. Wasps aren’t just insatiably thirsty, the water is crucial for keeping their nests cool.

7. Mosquito Larvae
Duh…standing water attracts mosquitoes. Since West Nile is prevalent around here, I empty out the water whenever I see the tiny larvae swimming around.

6. Raccoons
Fortunately, we don’t have too many raccoons in my yard, but if the birdbath is all muddy or knocked over, it’s a sign the raccoons were there.

 

 

5. Bunnies
We have a bunny overpopulation this year. Officially, I hate them. They chow down on young garden plants and my favorite flowers. Secretly they are so cute. It’s been so hot and dry who could deny a baby rabbit a sip of water. I guess the baby squirrels can drink too.

4. Bees
I always make sure there are rocks in my bird bath for the bees to stand on so they don’t drown. Bees need lots of water for digestion and to cool the hive.

 

3. Butterflies
Be sure to have nice shallow water to attract butterflies. These are so delightful! Even the cabbage moths are cute.

 

2. All the other mammals
Neighborhood dogs, deer taking a break from eating your flowers. If it’s a big enough bird bath, you might get a bear or two in bear country. My friends used a motion detector night camera to catch a bobcat drinking from their little water pond.

1. And finally birds!

Photos:

http://www.scoontemplations.com/2012/06/bunny-with-death-wish.html
http://hillsidegardencenter.com

http://animalwall.xyz/bird-bath-fun-water-hd-background/

Nurse Rock

Nurse Rock

by Sandy Swegel

Sometimes there’s a difficult spot in a garden when plants just keep failing. Or sometimes there’s a plant you really want in your garden (you know who you are butterfly weed) that keeps dying even though you think you are giving it perfect conditions. The easy thing to do is give up and plant a different plant or in a different place. But the determined gardener can reach into her magic toolbox of helpers for a Nurse Rock to give her plant the extra edge.

What is a nurse rock? Basically, it’s just a rock…most any old rock…that you strategically plant with your new plant. In hot arid Colorado, I usually plant on the north side of the rock so there’s just a bit more water and shade for the young plant. I learned about nurse rocks from a gardening friend who liked to grow the native plants she saw when she was out hiking. In nature, you’ll often see that plants are more likely to be growing near rocks rather than out in the open field. Even in your own suburban garden, you’ll see the edges of your beds or even your sidewalks have more robust plants.

There have been many scientific studies about why plants do better with nurse rocks. The obvious speculations are improved water, improved drainage, protection from sun, space from other plants, protection from wildlife, less evaporation, better soil nutrients under rocks and even more mycorrhizae. Old garden folklore highlights the image of the rock as a protector of the young plant from the big world.

 

I encourage you to give it a try. In the wild, nurse rocks are often large rocks a foot or more high. In the home garden, I’ve found even a small rock that fits easily in my hand gives a plant an edge. I’m trying this week with a spot in a narrow garden bed that just has had several different plants die out despite our ministrations. We’ve come up with reasons why the plants die…that one spot gets a little more sun and it a tiny bit higher than surrounding soil, or it’s a good hiding place for the bunny who ate the beautiful fall anemone down to stubs. We’re going to try again with an adorable small upright clematis, Sugar Bowl, and a good baseball sized nurse rock planted at its base. Thank you nurse rock.

 

Photos:
http://www.highcountrygardens.com/perennial-plants/unique-plants/clematis-scottii
http://www.laspilitas.com/classes/native_planting_guide.html
http://eachlittleworld.typepad.com/each_little_world/2008/12/

Baby’s Breath

Baby’s Breath…growing for whimsy

by Sandy Swegel

Some plants aren’t the most efficient plants to grow, but you have to do it just because it’s fun.  Annual baby’s breath fits that category for me this week.  I visited a lovely garden where the perennial baby’s breath was allowed to grow and fall where it may and the rest of the flowers just grew up among them.   Very nice looking.  But the baby’s breath I’m interested in is the annual variety because it blooms very fast from seed and I don’t have a lot of time left this season to start new flower from seed. I want some fun and whimsy in my garden before the garden turns into Fall mums.

 

Gypsophilia elegans (annual baby’s breath) is a very short-lived plant.  Growing guides advise sowing every two weeks if you want the tiny white flowers all season.  That’s more work and irrigation than I need for the full season…but a fast-blooming flower sounds great for the end of the season.

So just for fun, I’m sowing some annual baby’s breath between the roses and hoping they end up looking just like flower arrangements.  I’m also sowing some in the “moon garden” where most of the flowers are white because what could more whimsical than baby’s breath under a full moon!

Have some fun and grow some flowers just for fun.

 

Photo:

www.sarahraven.com/gypsophila_elegans_covent_garden.htm

Squash Bee

Peponapis: A Squash Lovin’ BeeSquash Bee

Jul 19, 2016 04:54 pm | thebeeswaggle

by Jessica Goldstrohm

Did you know some bees are very dependent on particular species of flowers?

This lovely bee is the squash bee, and I was fortunate enough to discover her, along with may others nestled inside squash flowers of a good friend’s garden! This was a very healthy and thriving collection of squash bees, and they are very specific to squash plant reproduction.

Squash bees are quite predictable in the flower preference they have; squash flowers, any type of squash flower, but it must be a squash flower.  They fly very early in the morning, sometimes before dawn seeking the opening squash flowers.  The females will spend much of the morning nestled inside squash flowers, circling the stamen of the flower, collecting nectar and pollen for their nests.  In fact, you will often find groups of squash bees within each squash bloom, absent of any conflict among them.

07.29.16 SquashBee2

Squash Bee

My photos too!

Squash bees are solitary nesters, meaning they work independently to build her nest, lay eggs, and collect all resources for the eggs they lay.  However, they may nest in aggregations of hundreds, kind of like apartment buildings are to humans. We live next to each other, but we all lead separate lives.

Squash bees prefer to nest VERY close to their favorite flowering plants, so you will most often find their nesting holes in the ground under squash plants.  Females will retreat to he nest come rundown, while males find a nice squash flower to sleep in until morning.

This activity continues throughout the summer, and partway into fall, then all the existing bees die, leaving behind the next season’s generation nestled all in a row of egg cells containing adult bees.  This new generation of bees will hibernate until the following spring or early summer when the squash plants are flowering.  Squash bees are so particular about the flowers they feed on, that their lifecycle revolves around squash plants!

I’m sure you may have already arrived at the question of what does that mean for them when we go to clear the dead squash plants at the end of the season?  Well, too much deep tilling can lead to complete destruction of a mother bee’s hard work.  Squash bees nest approximately 1.5 feet straight down into the ground, so only rigorous tilling harms nests. Leaving some of the plant behind can serve as insulation to the hibernating bees through the winter.

Next time you see a squash plant, take a peek inside to see a group of squash bees, and look under the squash plant for any holes in the ground that might be a squash bee’s nest.

There you have it! Another native bee we depend on to get resources we all enjoy in the fall!  I can’t wait to have some zucchini from my plants, and pumpkin too!  So many things occurring right beneath our noses, and we miss them when we don’t stop and observe.

Cheers to joining the movement to save our bees!

Two Tough flowers of Summer

Two Tough flowers of Summer

by Sandy Swegel

The humans are drooping in the summer heat, but if you look at gardens and containers you’ll see that some flowers are absolutely thriving in July. Take a walk around your neighborhood one cool evening to see what is vigorously growing and that you have to try growing yourself.

Salvias
Salvias are real winners now. Tall spikes of flowers rise above the garden attracting our attention and lots of hummingbirds. Now that it is warm, the Salvia have grown tall and strong. Some deadheading and they’ll still be blooming at frost. Two favorites are the Scarlet Sage (Salvia coccinea), most often seen with hummingbirds, and black and blue Sage Salvia guaranitica also known as hummingbird plant.

Rudbeckia
The other big happy flowers in the heat are Rudbeckia of many varieties. Stands of Black-eyed Susans thrill us, reminding us of childhood summers. In meadows and wilder backyards, you’ll find the Rudbeckia hirta that is the Black-eyed Susan we grew up with. Most urban landscapes have the sturdy Rudbeckia fulgida ‘Goldsturm’ that looks like the hirta but is very well-behaved.

Other dazzling Rudbeckia are the green-headed, often very tall, Rudbeckia laciniata.

And there is the “Brown-eyed Susan” Rudbeckia triloba that is short lived but selfshort-livedf in the same spot every year.

If you want a stunning summer garden that looks great in the heat, are somewhat drought tolerant, and provides lots of food for hummingbirds and bees and other pollinators, be sure to include Salvia and Rudbeckia.

Photos:

www.gardenerdirect.com
https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Rudbeckia_laciniata
https://www.gardenia.net/plant/rudbeckia-hirta-prairie-sun
https://www.pinterest.com/pin/514817801129456934/
https://www.anniesannuals.com/plants/view/?id=901

A Working Garden Club

by Sandy Swegel

There are lots of garden clubs around. I personally belong to three and follow another two email-only groups online. When I first started gardening as an adult, I didn’t think I’d ever be a garden-club-kinda girl. Growing up in a Southern Big City, garden clubs to me meant you had to wear your best dress and go to a lovely tea with people of a certain social class in a beautifully manicured rose garden. That was just my own prejudices showing through because the love of gardening knows no class lines. However, I didn’t think I’d ever get my fingernails clean enough to go to one of those parties. With age and experience comes some wisdom and now I do go to one of those formal groups with officers and Robert’s Rules of order and I admire the community of members who have known each other for decades and who are so wise about local gardening.

I belong to another scruffier group that is especially interested in “culinary gardening” – gardens with lots of edibles. We mostly meet through email because there are quite a few market farmers and community garden volunteers so people don’t have time to meet with all the work they have to do…but any questions you ever have can be answered on our email list. We also order seeds and roots and greenhouse supplies together in bulk to save a lot of money. Every once in a while I meet someone who says they belong to this group and I have to ask their email address before I recognize them. We do have a heck of a delicious holiday party once the season ends.

A third occasional club I meet with has one primary task…to maintain a public rose garden a few times a year. So we are a kind of working group. We don’t all know each other well, but we know and love our roses.

I was at a small town garden tour yesterday and met people from a different kind of gardening club. They are a small (fewer than ten members) club who is a real WORKING group. No sitting around chatting about plants or looking at slide shows for them. Regularly they meet in one member’s garden and work for a good two hours on a garden project of the member’s choice. Naturally, this is followed by cold drinks and good food. They have met for years and welcome anyone…as long as they are willing to work to their ability. I admire this group because their gardens and knowledge have steadily improved over the years but they have also become a close-knit community based on their love of the earth and growing plants. They share in each other’s lives too and tend each others’ gardens or bring supper if someone is sick. They freely welcome newcomers to their group…if they’re willing to work.

 

 

I’m fond of saying that gardening is like the new church. Good people with shared values coming together and supporting one another in many ways and having a good time. Everyone clearly loves plants but there’s not a lot of doctrine. (well not counting opinions on pesticides.)

If I ever moved to a new town, the first thing I’d do is join a garden club. That’s the way to make true blue friends AND get more free plants.

Photo credits
http://www.dailyherald.com/article/20160204/entlife/160209489/
http://www.shorelinetimes.com/articles/2013/04/09/opinion/doc516475b154574110166725.txt
https://vitalandwell.files.wordpress.com/2012/04/garden-club-kids-2012.jpg

Lupines

by Sandy Swegel

One way to design your garden is to plan ahead, make sketches and get all of your seeds started indoors 8 weeks before frost.  Another way, for those of us not quite so organized, is to add a plant you absolutely fall in love with, no matter what the time of year.  Lupines fit this latter category for me.  Until I see them bloom, I forget how amazing they are. When they come into bloom, I am awestruck.  They are so unusual and big and beautiful and colorful.  I envy those in New Hampshire who went last week to the Sugar Hill Lupine Festival where you could ride horse-drawn wagons through fields of lupine.  The festival continues this weekend if you live nearby.  Friends sent photos of lupines against the sea in Cape Cod and I knew it was time to get the packets of seeds of lupine that I’ve had unopened since February.

 

June is probably a little late to get flowers for this year from seed, but it is perfect timing for growing big plants that will put out big flowers next June.  Even if you already have some lupine growing, it is a good time to start some more.  Lupines are biennial or short-lived perennials so you need to keep starting new plants if they aren’t seeding themselves around.  They germinate pretty easily especially if you give them a cold stratification or just soak them overnight in warm water before seeding.  Lupines are easy to grow.  They like moist areas but tolerate drought.

 

There are good reasons to grow lupine other than their drop-dead gorgeousness.  Permaculturists value lupine as nitrogen fixers and phosphorus accumulators.  Bees and other nectar-eating pollinators value the abundant nectar from lupines.  Lacewings like to lay eggs on them. Birds eat their seeds. And we feast on their beauty.

Photo Credit

Lupines of Cape Cod, L Fulton, 2016

Perched Among the Lupines, Michael Carr of Somersworth, NH 2013

Garden Delight

I have new neighbors: the birds moved in.

Flowers, butterflies, lush landscapes under shady trees, and vegetable gardens full of organic heirlooms are what we hope for when we put so much of our time and work into creating our little habitats. Today I noticed a delight I don’t always think about: the birds have moved into the yard. This garden has lots of native plants and trees and a little pond, but I was thinking more about pollinators and bees. But it’s the mating season in the bird kingdom and looking around with an experienced birder I discovered a world I didn’t really notice before because I was busy looking at plants.

Downy woodpecker

One sad part of the yard was the cherry trees mostly dead from harsh frosts the last two years. But a couple of weeks ago, this tiny (less than four inches high) little guy started to whittle a nest from a dead part of the tree trunk. It took quite a while for him to make a perfect round 1/8th inch deep hole but now all I see are his little tail feathers as he pecks and then kicks all the sawdust from his nest that is about three inches deep now. He is the hardest worker and whittles industriously from dawn to dusk. His girlfriend is seen flittering in the neighboring trees but he’s doing all the home building.

Chickadees
Long resident in the neighborhood, a mating pair of chickadees has moved into an abandoned bird house hanging in view of the kitchen window. I’m not sure if mating has happened yet…there’s a lot of coming and going by both the male and female. But they are adorable and their classic “chick-a-dee” song is delightful over morning coffee

 

House wrens

Our city lost many trees from climate fluctuations the last couple of winters so a free Spring Cleanup weekend was announced so everyone cut put all the dead trees and branches in the street and the city would pick them up. The town was looking a little scrappy so we were happy about this. The birds weren’t so happy. About twenty little house wrens were living in the mountain of downed limbs that waited for pick up. I guess these trees had been their homes. Several of them decided to quite literally become my house wrens. They have moved into the eaves of my wooden house, delighting me and entertaining my cats (who have to stay indoors in Spring.) Wrens make their nests from sticks and debris so they collect lots of little sticks and tiny piles of dropped or rejected sticks end up on the walkway from time to time. Next year I’ll put a proper wren house there.

Now I see birds everywhere. Doves (non-native noisy ones) congregate in the neighbor’s tall trees. Little broken robin eggs post-hatching are deposited in the lawn. Hummingbirds flitter around the neighbor’s flowering horse-chestnut tree. A neighbor spotted a bright oriole but I have to figure out how to lure them here. The morning mating calls are beautiful and loud….there’s a lot of mating going on in my neighborhood.

I’m so happy to live in my bird community. Thank you to my native plants, shrubs and trees who help support them. Thanks to the insect pests that I tolerated that now feed the baby birds.

Hummingbird Love

By Sandy Swegel

We, humans, are crazy in love with hummingbirds. I received so many emails and messages about hummingbirds this week, I have to pass on the things I’m learning.

Spring migration is happening all over the US and there are hundreds of citizen scientists who report their sightings. You can check your area to see if Ruby-throated hummingbirds have arrived. http://www.hummingbirds.net/map.html  This week they are showing up in Canada and at higher elevations. Hummingbirds showed up in Colorado about three weeks ago.

I learned we should keep an eye out for hummingbird nests. They are so tiny. The eggs are the size of jellybeans. The Denver Post newspaper had a whole article on how to recognize the nests so you don’t hurt the eggs when you are doing spring pruning.

Most hummingbird lovers find one feeder isn’t nearly enough. You should have more than one feeder so the birds don’t have to fight over it. Or a big feeder with multiple feeding stations. Some people go totally crazy and fill their yard with feeders. Sugar water isn’t the only food hummingbirds rely on in spring. They eat lots of nectar from flowers, pollen, bugs including mosquitoes, and even tree sap. But their metabolism is so high, they need to eat constantly.

The most important thing I learned about hummingbirds this week is that you have to wash out the feeders and change the water every few days. Old sugar-water grows mold which can kill the hummingbirds. Our neighborhood feeders get drained pretty quickly…but it’s still a good idea to rinse the feeder with vinegar water before refilling.

The most fun hummingbird thing I did this week was watching YouTube videos on hummingbird babies. Cuteness overload. I have quite a few flowers planted that hummingbirds like, but now I see that I need some feeders outside the window by the breakfast table!

The oddest thing I did for hummingbirds this week is to buy a new garden hat. My old hat was a bright orange-pink color, and hummingbirds would dive bomb my head thinking I guess that I was a big flower. I have a more subdued lavender hat now…and so far I’m safe.

I recommend highly putting up a few feeders yourself so you can enjoy the show!

Photo credits

Photo credit: http://www.thedenverchannel.com/news/local-news/hummingbirds-have-arrived-in-colorado-check-your-trees-and-shrubs-before-trimming

http://voices.nationalgeographic.com/2014/05/16/animals-nests-weird-animal-questions-science-birds/