It’s been about 3 weeks since my last post. As most of you know, I’ve been grappling with chemotherapy during this time, and will continue to do so in the coming weeks. Chemotherapy doesn’t leave a lot of energy for other things.

Aromatic Aster

Nevertheless, I wanted to get in another short post, this one about Aromatic Aster (Symphyotrichum oblongifolium), definitely one of my favorite Asters. The two qualities I especially like best about Aromatic Aster are first, that it is relatively compact; and second, that the flowers tend to have a deeper blue that you will find in most asters. Also, it’s a relatively late-blooming Aster and provides color late into the season (though I should confess I took these photos over 2 weeks ago).

Back in the spring I replaced the Catmint that was growing along the western edge of the Driveway Border with Aromatic Aster, which seems to appreciate the hot afternoon sun. I think it was a good choice.

View from the front steps.

That’s about all for now. Tomorrow, I realize, is the election. Like most of you, I am in a state of intense anxiety, but frankly I don’t have anything new to say on the subject – except that if you or anyone in your household has not yet voted, for heaven sake please do so.

Otherwise, be well.

The Japanese Anemone ‘Honorine Jobert’ is one of my favorite autumn flowers. The white petals with golden centers are just so luminous and elegant. I looked in the thesaurus but couldn’t find any better words than those.

‘Honorine Jobert’

I have ‘Honorine Jobert’ growing in a border where it emerges up out of an area dominated by ‘Purple Sensation’ Alliums in May and June. The foliage of ‘Honorine’ emerges late, and isn’t noticeable until summer. This makes it a good successor plant for spring bulbs with long-lasting foliage.

More ‘Honorine Jobert’ flowers. I like the almost-rounnd unopened buds as well as the flowers.

The stems are tall, about 4′, but very upright – no staking needed. The foliage is concentrated near the base of the plant.

Here’s a more vertical look, giving you a better sense of the overall habit.

‘Honorine Jobert’ foliage

And this picture gives you a better look at the foliage, which is dark green and deeply cut.

In this spot ‘Honorine Jobert’ has established as a slowly-expanding clump. It tolerates a fair amount of shade and gets by with very little supplemental water, even during a dry summer.

In more ideal locations, I’m told that Japanese Anemones generally can get pretty aggressive. I haven’t seen that yet in my own garden. However, that’s a problem I’ll deal with when and if it arises. In the meantime, I will enjoy ‘Honorine Jobert’s’ dazzling flowers as fall settles in.

If you walk in front of our house these days you’re likely to be impressed by the masses of Aster flowers, most notably those of Short’s Aster (Symphyotrichum shortii).

View of the front door from the sidewalk.

Short’s Aster is a particularly floriferous Aster, sporting clouds of light blue flowers with golden centers. Honestly, I don’t understand why this particular Aster isn’t more popular. You can get it from native plant nurseries, but you never see it at garden centers.

Short’s Aster flowers close-up

Short’s Aster has a shrubby habit that I appreciate, with wiry stems that do not flop. Though I confess that so far I have not succeeded in shaping it into the smooth cloud-like shapes I dream of.

A lone Bluestem Goldenrod (Solidago caesia) pushes through a crowd of Short’s Aster.

Short’s Aster blooming on the Left Bank Bed

There are more masses of Short’s Aster on what I call The Left Bank Bed, on the far side of the Driveway.

Here you can see how the Left Bank Bed encompasses Brown-Eyed Susan (Rudbeckia triloba) and Starry Solomon’s Plume (Maianthemum stellatum) along with the Short’s Aster. At the far end, there is Rue (Ruta graveolens), Bronze Fennel (Foeniculum vulgare), and ‘Italian White’ Sunflower (Helianthus annuus).

One last picture highlighting the ‘Italian White’, which is my favorite annual sunflower.

I wish you a happy October, full of more aster blooms than you could possibly count!

Late summer and fall are the time when Brown-Eyed Susans, Black-Eyed Susans, and other members of the genus Rudbeckia come into their own. This year has given us a chance to consider how some of these species perform in a year of moderate drought and with no supplemental water provided.

Brown-Eyed Susan

Let me be up front with my own bias: Brown-Eyed Susan (R. triloba) is by far my favorite Susan. To my mind, nothing beats those masses of golden daisies with small, rounded rays (petals). It can grow up to 5 feet and get bare knees but if that bothers you it responds very well to being cut back for a more compact habit.

Brown-Eyed Susan close up

Anyhow, Brown-Eyed Susan stood up to our August-September drought pretty well. Flowering remained profuse and foliage looked normal. A few individual plants in exposed areas did go somewhat droopy or brown, but those were rare exceptions.

Cutleaf Coneflower still pumping out new flowers

Ask Cutleaf Coneflower (R. laciniata) about our drought, and the response you’ll get is “Drought? What drought?” This big clumping Coneflower, which showed up in the garden on its own initiative (as far as I can remember), is not easily slowed down by a lack of rainfall.

Grass path between two beds in the front garden. Brown-Eyed Susan to the left, Cutleaf Coneflower to right.

In fact, it kept pumping out blooms long after the first flush of flowers were going to seed.

Cutleaf Coneflowers

We have only three Rudbeckia species in the garden, and the last of these had the hardest time this year. It could be painful to watch the frequently droopy leaves of Black-Eyed Susan, or Orange Coneflower (R. fulgida). Sometimes the leaves or even the flowers got crispy. Black-Eyed Susan is probably the most common garden Rudbeckia, especially the popular cultivar ‘Goldsturm’. It’s relatively compact habit is, perhaps, one reason why this Susan is fairly ubiquitous.

Black-Eyed Susan had a harder time this year

Very happy to have all three of these Rudbeckias in the garden, even when they do struggle a bit. Also happy to say that we had a long, soaking rain last night. We may also get a couple days of rain later in the week. That should help with fall planting/transplanting in a week or two.

It has been my ambition to have red fruits adding to our garden’s fall and winter appeal, particularly in the shade garden in back.

Cranberrybush Viburnum fruit in the 15 seconds between turning slightly red and being eaten by squirrels.

My main plant for achieving this goal was supposed to be Cranberrybush Viburnum (Viburnum trilobum). On this score, the effort was a complete failure, mainly because squirrels eat all the fruit in late summer as soon as they get a hint of red. Apparently they have not read that the fruit is supposed to be unpalatable until after a freeze or two, though squirrels are not known for their delicate palates.

(Though I should point out that otherwise Cranberrybush Viburnum is still an admirable shrub.)

Solomon’s Plume in flower

It’s still possible to find red fruits in our garden, however. Except that you have to look down, not up.

Solomon’s Plume fruit

Most notably, we have the red berries of Solomon’s Plume (Maianthemum racemosum). This is a handsome plant with frothy white flowers in spring. My only complaint is that the arching stems tend to flop with the weight of the ripe berries, despite my attempts to provide discrete assistance.

More Solomon’s Plume fruit

This year, though we did manage to avoid total floppiness.

Starry Solomon’s Plume ruit

There’s also a close cousin of Solomon’s Plume, Starry Solomon’s Plume (Maianthemum stellatum). This is a shorter plant, not quite as elegant, but without any floppy tendencies.

Starry Solomon’s Plume in summer

Earlier in summer, Starry Solomon’s Plume berries are green with interesting dark stripes.

Starry False Solomon's Seal
Starry Solomon’s Plume flowers

The spring flowers are attractive. I should make clear that both of these plants are best in the shade garden.

Spicebush berries before eaten by songbirds.

There are some other plants with red fruits in the garden. Spicebush (Lindera benzoin) has red berries but songbirds eat them by early September, so no winter interest there. I don’t begrudge the songbirds, this is partly why I planted Spicebush. The ‘Donald Wyman’ Crabapple has long-lasting red fruits most years but this year it had almost no fruits at all.

Also, this year I added a couple of Red Chokeberries (Aronia arbutifolia). They’re still quite small, though, so I’m waiting to see how they do.

Do you have favorite plants for red fruits lasting into fall and winter?

Most people, I suspect, think of Goldenrod as a big, rangy plant. Canada Goldenrod (S. canadensis), is probably considered by many to be the typical Goldenrod. People imagine it running rampant over open fields with 6′ stems and mopheads of yellow flowers. In our garden, however, we have mainly little Goldenrods, growing not much more than 3′.

Bluestem Goldenrod with Short’s Aster.

First there’s Bluestem Goldenrod (S. caesia), with arching purplish stems featuring clusters of flowers held along the stem like little yellow bouquets. Bluestem Goldenrod does not run at the root, though it will self-sow a fair amount.

Aromatic Aster with Bluestem Goldenrod.

Then there’s Zigzag Goldenrod (S. flexicaulus). For us it grows over 3′ and tends to lean but not flop. I’ve tried cutting it back but that doesn’t seem to make much difference, so these days I leave it alone. Flowers bloom in alternating bursts most of the way up the stems.

Zigzag Goldenrod

Zigzag Goldenrod can spread aggressively by rhizome, so it is best suited to an informal woodland garden.

Zigzag Goldenrod

Both of these Goldenrods are shade tolerant and fairly adaptable. Pollinators, especially bumblebees, love these more compact wild Goldenrods just as much they love the taller members of the genus.

Bumblebee on Zigzag Goldenrod

You don’t need sunny, open spaces and room for 6′ plants in order to provide the pollinators in your garden with the benefits of Goldenrod. These two modestly-sized Goldenrods are a good fit for a variety of garden settings.

Years ago, I gave a friend some Calico Aster (Symphyotrichum lateriflorum) volunteers, along with a number of other natives. A few months later she confessed to me that she had pulled it out of her garden because it looked too weedy.

Calico Aster

Not too long after that, I came to the conclusion that she was right. Not only was it kind of weedy, it was absolutely rampant in my garden. It seeded everywhere, and grew to the size of a small shrub, so I decided to replace it.

Which is too bad, because Calico Aster has many virtues. It is absolutely LOVED by many native bees and other pollinators (including a couple of butterflies for whom it is a host plant). The number of stings I got trying to remove this plant was, I suspect, good evidence of pollinator devotion. (In place of Calico Aster I planted other pollinator-friendly native Asters, so I did not feel guilty about this. I mean that.)

Calico Aster from more of a distance, looking more floriferous than usual.

I think the reason Calico Aster strikes some people as weedy is that the flowers are quite small, though they are enhanced by a mix of maroon and yellow centers. My understanding is that there are a number of showier cultivars, but I haven’t tried them.

Anyhow, my attempted removal of Calico Aster set the stage for an annual struggle whereby I was constantly spotting and pulling new volunteers. Like I said, it seeds like crazy, and it just wasn’t ready to say goodbye to my garden.

Calico Aster up close

After this year’s dry summer, I noticed that Calico Aster was actually the dominant Aster in the Parkway Bed, which gets absolutely no supplemental water.

At this point, something clicked.

So I hereby give notice: Calico Aster, you can have the Parkway Bed. Honestly, you’ve earned it. And while you might be a little weedy, you’re still kind of cute. However, I maintain the right to cut back your flowers before they go to seed.

A few days ago I got a delivery of 3 Wild Columbine (Aquilegia canadensis) from Bluestone Perennials. This was a fine thing, as I love Wild Columbine. However, I couldn’t remember making this order, nor could I remember where I had intended to put the plants.

Columbine, Aquilegia canadensis
Columbine in the front foundation bed.

But I was not about to look some gift plants in the mouth. Well, not really gift plants, but unexpected. Most likely these were back-ordered during the Great Covid Garden Panic when sellers of seeds and plants were running out of practically everything. Better to show up now than never.

However, this still left me with the problem of location. Whatever I had originally intended was long forgotten. And one thing about Wild Columbine, at least in my experience: you never know where it’s going to make itself at home. (I’m talking here about the eastern, red-and-yellow Wild Columbine. Perhaps other species are more predictable.)

Columbine close up.

Over the years I’ve planted Wild Columbine in several places which seemed to meet their basic requirements: part shade to shade with medium moisture. In each of these locations, they tend to thrive, but only for a couple of years. Then they disappear – only to pop up in some other unexpected place. But even in places of their own choosing, they are short-lived. At this point the garden is, sadly, a Columbine-free zone.

Why is this? I’ve read that this Columbine prefers alkaline soil, which is certainly not a problem here. Also that they prefer soil that leans to dry, which is actually not consistent with what I’ve observed. The Ladybird Johnson Wildlife Center says that they prefer soil that is not too rich. Maybe that’s the problem. When WIld Columbine grows in our garden, it tends to grow big, up to 3 or 4 feet – but it doesn’t stick around in subsequent years.

Columbine, Aquilegia canadensis
Wild Columbine

In any case, my solution to not remembering where to put the Columbines was to split them up. One went to a place that was a little shadier, one to a spot that was a little drier, and one to a spot that was more wet. And now we’ll see what happens.

Botany for the Willfully Ignorant: Why I Don’t Grow Succulents

Today is my second chemo treatment, so I thought this might be a good time to reblog some old posts. I hope you find this one entertaining. Incidentally, I apologize for not commenting consistently on your blogs, but as you can imagine my energy is not what it was. Anyhow, I hope you enjoy this post from November, 2014.


Let me start with a few acknowledgments. First, I know almost nothing about succulent plants. However, this does not prevent me from exercising my rights as an American to have opinions about them.

2013-06-30 13.46.08

These opinions may not be based on fact. However, I feel that they are true. Therefore, while they may not be accurate, they have (to use the phrase coined by Stephen Colbert) truthiness. And that’s good enough for me.

That said, I don’t grow succulents for the same reason I wouldn’t have a lizard or snake as a pet. Succulents strike me as cold-blooded plants.

The spines are really leaves and the leaves are really stems, or possibly the other way round. Ruth Bancroft Garden. The spines are really leaves and the leaves are really stems, or possibly the other way round. Ruth Bancroft Garden.

I like plants that are more like golden retrievers or maybe a well-behaved cat, Plants that would cuddle up to you as you watch TV on the couch. Plants that are warm…

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Right now I’m liking the Helenium ‘Mardi Gras’ blooming in the Lamp Post Bed. This is a cultivar of the native Helenium autumnale, also known as Sneezeweed. As a general rule I plant straight species native plants, but now and then I feel like something different. This is one of those times.

Helenium ‘Mardi Gras’

It’s just that at this time of year I’d like a bit more in the red-orange color range, and there are a number of Helenium cultivars that fit the bill. Sneezeweed is yellow, thought it does have an unusual shape.

Photo from

People familiar with my garden know that I have many, many, many yellow native wildflowers – what some botanists call the DYCs (Damn Yellow Composites) – Rudbeckias, Silphiums, Ratibidas, Coreopsis, etc. So I feel I’ve done my bit on that front.

Tithonia (Mexican Sunflower)

We used to have a Helenium cultivar called ‘Short’n’Sassy’. It had orange flowers that bloomed for months, starting in June. Sadly it was short-lived. ‘Mardi Gras’ is more typical of Heleniums in that it starts blooming in late summer and into fall, but it also has been more durable.

Helenium ‘Short’n’Sassy’

Soon the blue-purple of the former asters will make themselves felt, and I am looking forward to that. But even then, I’d like some color contrast in addition to the yellow of the Goldenrods. Of course, this is one reason why I grow Mexican Sunflower (Tithonia rotundifolia) with its deep orange daisies. But the Heleniums provide a touch of red-orange more at mid-height.

Anyhow, as I peruse the online catalogs, that’s why I keep going back to various Helenium cultivars. Do you grow Heleniums in your garden? Do they make you happy?

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