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 Prairiemoon.com

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?

It’s foolish to take the weather personally, but I can’t help it. It’s especially foolish given what is going on elsewhere in the country.

Brown-Eyed Susan and Orange Coneflower, unhappy in the Parkway Bed.

Even so, I check the weather app on my phone several times a day. We haven’t had a good rain for over a month. A rainless 10-day forecast provokes exasperated sighs. What’s worse are predictions of rain a few days off. As the promised relief approaches, the likelihood starts to evaporate, so to speak – from 70% chance to 50 to 30. Then nothing.

Alternatively, we may get an hour or two of sprinkles, barely enough to moisten the surface, nothing like the good soaking that we really need.

According to the National Drought Mitigation Center’s Drought Monitor, our area has gone from Abnormally Dry to Moderate Drought. In the Parkway Bed the Orange Coneflowers (Rudbeckia fulgida) and Brown-Eyed Susans (R. triloba) are definitely droopy, and some of their flowers are crinkling up. they look better. Moisture lovers, the Monardas and Joe Pye Weeds, are looking distinctly fatigued.

Approaching the garden from the west.

On the other hand, most established summer- and fall-blooming native plants are holding their own, as are the grasses. Location matters, of course. In general, plants in the most densely planted areas are suffering the least. From a distance the garden as a whole doesn’t look too bad.

View from the front sidewalk.

I don’t have any kind of irrigation system, but a few favored plants get watered by hand. The Mexican Sunflowers (Tithonia rotundifolia) are in this privileged group, along with shrubs and perennials newly planted this year. If they are within range of the hose, I wave a water wand around for the length of a podcast, long enough to give the ground a soaking. Or I might just leave the hose trickling at the base of a woody plant.

Otherwise, I have 2-gallon watering cans. Since the chemo started, I’ve been relying on my sons David and Daniel to carry these around.

A glance at the weather app on my phone tells me that rain is predicted for Sunday and the following three days. I’m hoping for the best, but keeping the watering cans handy.

My recent life feels as if it can be divided into two periods, BC and AC (Before Chemo and After Chemo). Having been through the first round of six treatments, I have no desire to discuss chemotherapy. It’s enough to say that while many have experienced much worse than I, the modern improved version is still bad enough. For one thing, I have only the most minimal energy available for the garden.

Molly (l) has a bit of orange while Walter (r) is darker.

Fortunately, there have been other things to occupy my time. Chief among these has been our new kittens, Walter and Molly. They were brought to us last week by our good friend Joanna, who has been fostering numerous kittens for her local animal shelter.

Walter is intrigued by the internet. They both think that Judy and I make convenient climbing posts.

Walter and Molly have added a great deal of entertainment to our days, though Judy is still trying to convince them that her earrings are not cat toys, especially when she is wearing them.

Monarch on Cutleaf Coneflower (Rudbeckia lacniata)

While I don’t feel up to most gardening chores, I can still go out and take pictures of the Monarch Butterflies.

Though lord knows I’ve got enough pictures of Monarchs on Mexican Sunflower (Tithonia rotundifolia). I like this one more because of the Brown-Eyed Susan (R. triloba) in the fuzzy background.

Came across this picture of a Pearl Crescent (?) on Allium. It was taken back in July, but I’ve never used it, so I figured why not?

Aside from kittens and butterflies, Judy is constantly doing everything she can to keep me comfortable. Our son Daniel and his wife Beckee are over frequently, and our son David from Minnesota will be visiting soon. We get cards and gifts of food on a pretty regular basis (homemade quiche and marinara sauce the other day). So things are not so bad. If only it would rain.

It was way back in the fall of 2016 that I planted Wild Senna (Senna hebecarpa) in a corner of the Sidewalk Border. I was excited about this member of the Pea Family (Fabaceae) because of its unusual flowers and foliage, because it was highly attractive to bumblebees, and because it is a host plant for Sulphur butterflies.

Wild Senna flowers

Well, over the following three years it was pretty slow to establish. By last summer it featured just a sparse handful of flowers. I was worried that its location was too shady, as Wild Senna prefers full sun. While some gardeners engage in zone denial, I have a habit of convincing myself that a given spot is really sunnier than it actually is.

When I saw Late Figwort (Scrophularia marilandica) listed in one of my favorite native-plant catalogs, I was immediately intrigued.

Late Figwort

Over the past few months I’ve been bothered by a number of physical symptoms, most notably chronic abdominal pain. This is one reason why this blog has seen fewer posts over the summer and a general reduction in the level of sparkling wit.

Cup Plant, Silphium perfoliatum

Anyhow, the symptoms led to appointments with doctors which led to medical tests which led to more tests and more appointments with more doctors, all of which have led to the regrettable conclusion of a diagnosis of pancreatic cancer. I expect to start chemotherapy in about a week.

I felt that I ought to share this information with the readers of this blog, mainly because I consider so many of you to be friends. Also, I wanted to let you know that I intend to keep writing posts, but it is likely that those posts will be shorter and more infrequent.

My motivation in doing this is purely selfish. This blog has always been, for me, an effective distraction from more serious matters. Now that those serious matters have become more personal than ever, I expect that this blog will continue as a useful distraction.

Similarly, I want to be able to stay in touch with this community of gardeners and garden writers. As always I enjoy your comments, including shared experiences from your won gardens.

This will continue to be a garden blog, and not a blog about cancer or health issues generally, though I may have an occasional update on my condition.


That’s pretty much all for now. I already have several future posts taking shape in my mind, including visits to the Lurie Garden and the West Ridge Nature Center, as well as experiences with Wild Senna, Late Figwort, and my Zinnia-themed flowering pots. Until then, stay well.

Here is a discovery I made this year: Great Blue Lobelia (Lobelia siphilitica) can be planted in an outdoor container and left there all through a zone 5 winter. The following spring, it will wake up cheerful and raring to go.

Great Blue Lobelia in containers with Caladiums

There are 2 species of summer-blooming Allium growing in our garden’s Left Bank and Lamppost Beds: the native Nodding Onion (Allium cernuum) and the exotic hybrid ‘Millenium’.

Allium ‘Millenium’ blooming in the Left Bank Bed.

I went through a Daylily (Hemerocallis sp. and cvs.) phase for a year or two, then lost interest. This says more about me than it does about Daylilies – I go through frequent periods of enthusiasm for a particular species or genus of plant. In most cases the enthusiasm fades, but leaves behind a few clumps of plants here and there in the garden. Overall, I would say that the garden is better for it.

Daylily ‘Eye-yi-yi’

Just as Picasso had his blue period, our garden has its Yellow Period. Actually, there’s an Early and a Late Yellow Period. The Early Yellow Period starts in late July and is defined by 3 plants I refer to as the Jolly Yellow Giants.

Yellow Coneflower below, Cutleaf Coneflower above.

I’ve written recently about Yellow Coneflower (Ratibida pinnata), the shortest of the Jolly Giants at about 5′ tall. The middle-sized Giant grows 7-8′ in our garden and is known as Golden Glow or Cutleaf Coneflower (Rudbeckia laciniata).

Cutleaf Coneflower aka Golden Glow

You can see how R. laciniata got the common name Golden Glow.


Aside from being taller than Yellow Coneflower, Cutleaf Coneflower has wider rays colored a deeper hue. Instead of flopping down, these rays are held away from the stem. Plus, the disc flowers of the central cone ripen to yellow rather than brown (remember the Russian fur hats?).

Cup Plant

The tallest of the three giants is Cup Plant (Silphium perfoliatum), which grows to about 10′ in our garden.

Cup Plant with Wild Bergamot

Both Cutleaf Coneflower and Cup Plant go nicely with Wild Bergamot. They bloom together and have nicely contrasting colors and habits.


Here’s a picture taken from the driveway will all 3 of the Jolly Yellow Giants blooming together.


And here’s a picture taken from the sidewalk. This makes it more clear that the Yellow Coneflower and Cutleaf Coneflower are in the Driveway Border, while the Cup Plant stands at the back of the Front Island Bed.

The Late Yellow Period starts in August and features the blooms of Orange Coneflower (Rudbeckia fulgida) and Brown Eyed Susan (R. triloba).

I sometimes wonder if I’ve got too much yellow in July and August. However, the yellow is really concentrated in the Driveway Border and (during the Late Yellow Period) the Parkway Bed. . If you look at the Front Garden as a whole, the other beds and borders provide sufficient contrasting colors in summer. At least, that’s what I think at the moment.

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