Weekend Notes: Goldfinches, Heavy Artillery, Right Plant Wrong Place

Seed Buffet for Goldfinches. As summer lingers on and seeds ripen, our yard is providing an all-you-can-eat buffet for goldfinches. Funny thing, earlier this year goldfinches were very scarce at my birdfeeders. Purple finches and house finches in abundance, but no goldfinches. Was there an alarming regional decline in the goldfinch population? (I always suspect there are alarming declines all over the place that no one is telling me about.) Knowledgable friends assured me that this was not so, the finches just had better stuff to eat elsewhere.

So many seeds, so little time.

Sure enough, goldfinches started popping up when the purple coneflower (Echinacea purpurea) seeds started to ripen. And now that there are ripe cup plant (Silphium perfoliatum) seeds, they are all over the yard. They also like Joe Pye weed (Eupatorium sp.) seeds, I  notice. In the near future, there will be anise hyssop (Agastache foeniculum) and sunflower (Helianthus mollis) seeds added to the menu.

Every time we open the door, a small flock of startled goldfinches bursts out from the tall pink and yellow flowers in the front yard. They fly in their odd, loopy way (which looks like they keep forgetting to maintain sufficient altitude) to safety in the nearby trees, singing their high-pitched, wistful-sounding song. I enjoy having them around.

Bringing out the Heavy Artillery. I’ve written before about the challenge of keeping my 4XL-size perennials relatively upright. It’s not that I’m a neatnik or control freak, it’s just that seeing 6-10′ flower stalks leaning at a 45 degree angle gives me an itchy feeling. At the same time, it’s become obvious that mere  6′ bamboo poles just can’t get the job done.

Tough enough to straighten out any perennial.

So I’ve taken the advice of Scott at Rhone Street Gardens and gotten the right tool for the job, namely 10′ lengths of rebar. So far, I am pleased. Stuck 2-3′ in the ground, they compel a clump of cup plant to stand up (mostly) straight. Not quite as inconspicuous as I’d like, they give a kind of rust belt aura to the perennial border. Maybe I’ll paint them green for next spring.

Another view of my front yard. I should have asked if it was American-made rebar, if there is any.

The Right Plant in the Wrong Place. I confess that I am sometimes an impulse gardener. That’s why I have downy sunflower, which likes drier soil, growing alongside Ironweed and Joe Pye Weed ‘Gateway’, both of which like a lot of moisture. I got ‘Gateway’ when I had to remove some diseased purple coneflower and suddenly had a big hole to fill in my front raised bed. I’d been wanting to grow ‘Gateway’ but hadn’t figured where to put it. Plus there was a sale at the Garden Center, so … it was meant to be!

The very first downy sunflower bloom, with many more to come. Can you see the rebar?

That was last year. This year, the  ‘Gateway’ seems happy, as does the downy sunflower. I’d say the soil they’re in is very well-drained but still normally moist (I’ve been watering during the drought). I could come to regret putting together these guys who normally prefer different habitats, but so far I haven’t suffered for flouting this particular rule. Could be the soil is at the moist end of tolerable for the sunflower (which has grown to 8′ though it’s supposed to be 4-6′), and at the dry end of tolerable for the Joe Pye Weed.

12 Comments on “Weekend Notes: Goldfinches, Heavy Artillery, Right Plant Wrong Place”

  1. Goldfinches are going crazy around here, too, along with purple finches, thrushes, black-capped chickadees, and nuthatches. I’ve never heard of using rebar before. What do you use to attach the plants to the rebar? Your plants are impressively large and healthy!

  2. The more I keep seeing your Cup Plant, the more I want to get some for myself, I also have a weakness for ‘big’ plants.

    I like the idea of rebar, long sticks of bamboo haven’t proved stiff enough for me. I have no idea how I’ll drive them in the ground though, it’s so dry the ground is like cement. Tall ladder and sledgehammer? That ought to make the neighbors chuckle.

  3. Hi Jason, the rebar sounds serious! Have you tried schemes where nettings is stretched horizontally between sets of posts and the plants grow though it? Do those work? There’s also advice on growing woody but open shrubs and having tall plants grow through them, the shrubs acting as the support too. Bamboo does get too flexible when it’s long.

  4. I also spent today trying to prop up perennials, it is disconcerting once they get to the 45 degree point as it seems that they are about to pass a crucial point in their centre of gravity. I bought some rusted iron spirals that you just twist in and I love them.

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