September 27, 2017

Plant of the Month: Purple Coneflower

echinacea 2

Yes, I know Purple Coneflower (Echinacea purpurea) is a common North American perennial found in many gardens. Perhaps that's why I haven't featured it as "plant of the month" until now. Maybe I take it for granted.

echinacea 1

Though most of us are familiar with this beautiful, tough, flowering plant, many probably aren't aware how well it will grow in dappled or partial shade conditions. I've had it growing in the latter for many years--in my west-facing potager, where it gets bright sun for half the day. The initial plants have reliably regenerated every year for nearly two decades.

coneflowers and asters

I introduced Purple Coneflower to the Oak-shaded back garden only a couple of years ago. It's taken a bit longer to get established there, but it's beginning to fill out and add its own special magic to its new location. With the south-facing back garden in dappled shade, the plants receive little glints of light throughout the day. When the sun's rays hit it just right, the plants' glowing-orb seed heads appear to be ablaze.

In shade, the blooms last longer, too, which is another pleasant discovery. So from bud in late May through final bloom in late September and seed heads in winter, this plant has staying power in dappled shade!


If you don't have any Echinaceas in your garden, you might want to consider them for their ease of care, drought-tolerance, beauty, and long life. They're also great cut flowers, they attract butterflies and hummingbirds, and they provide special value to native bees. In autumn and winter, the seeds offer nourishment to hungry birds.

A few more specifics about Purple Coneflower from the Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center:

  • Native to most of Eastern and Central North America;
  • Tolerates a wide range of soil types and moisture conditions;
  • Height: 2-5 ft.; Width: 1-3 ft.; and
  • Flowers are pink to purple, (I've found the hues are softer when grown in shade).

This common beauty is hardy in zones 3 to 10. The name Echinacea comes from the Greek "echino," meaning hedgehog--referring to the spiky cone disk at the center.

I find the stages of the flower development beautiful to watch as they transition through the growing season.


echinacea 6

echinacea 8

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echinacea 5

echinacea 3

coneflower autumn 2

coneflower autumn 1

seed head

Definitely a great plant for sun, partial shade, or even dappled shade.

echinacea 10

I'm linking this post to Gail's Wildflower Wednesday celebration. Head on over to learn about other wildflowers blooming around the world.

September 15, 2017

Flower and Foliage Vignettes

sunny mix

It's been a funny growing season: different than others I've experienced in ways I'm having trouble describing in words. I'll save the introspection for a cold day in November, but for now I'll focus on the pleasant plant combinations I'm noticing in the garden. Some were planned, others were happy accidents.

The sunny west-facing garden was mostly planned. The Zinnias are going strong, and though the Echinaceas and the Salvias are fading, the Blue Mistflower (Conoclinium coelestinum) is adding a pretty river of blue. Most of the plants blooming now will continue until the first killing frost. They should provide plenty of pollen and nectar for bees, butterflies, and other pollinators. Many of the plants will provide seeds for birds into the winter, and I'll harvest the Milkweed seeds for friends' gardens, and for next year.

ball bearings

Speaking of seeds (within nuts) we've had an amazing acorn drop this year. There are so many nuts on the ground, the squirrels and chipmunks are barely bothering to bury them. Walking across the backyard is like walking on ball bearings--I've nearly fallen several times!

Anyway, back to the pleasant plant combinations. Here are a few I noticed recently, in no particular order:

zowie and mistflower

I like the complementary--opposite sides of the colorwheel--effect of Zinnia 'Zowie Yellow Flame' framed by Blue Mistflower.

citrus and zahara

Lantana 'Landmark Citrus' and Zinnia 'Sahara Sunburst' line the front part of the sunny border.

tapestry coleus and speedy sonnet

In dappled shade, Caladium 'Tapestry' plays nice with various Coleus varieties and 'Speedy Sonnet Mix' Snapdragons.

hosta ferns and viburnum

Late-blooming Hostas layer nicely with ferns and Cranberrybush Viburnum (V. trilobum).

fuchsia and foliage

An unknown Fuchsia hybrid that snuck in with an overwintering group looks full and lush under the foliage canopy of other potted plants.

kale and sea oats

Ornamental Kale is expanding to its autumn bulk. I like it with a fancy hat of Northern Sea Oats (Chasmanthium latifolium).

figaro and tropical

This is myy first year with Dahlias, believe it or not! 'Figaro Yellow Shades' is a nice companion with Tropical Milkweed (Asclepias curassavica) in a pot.

coneflowers and asters

A couple of years ago, I added Purple Coneflower (Echinacea purpurea) to the dappled shade garden. It's taking time to establish, but golly it looks lovely in oblique autumn light. I just added two pots of Aster 'Kickin Lilac Blue' to the garden a couple of days ago, because baby rabbits ate my other Asters down to the ground--even though they were caged. I see more potted native plants and cultivars in my future.

bubblegum and sedums

Petunia 'Vista Bubblegum' and several trailing Sedum cultivars are pretty in a hanging pot.

aster and fern

Finally, the Asters backlit by senescing Ostrich Ferns (Matteuccia struthiopteris) and more Blue Mistflowers cheerfully capture the golden early autumn light.

What flower and foliage combinations take the stage in your garden? Check out other options at Carol's Garden Bloggers' Bloom Day and Pam's Foliage Follow-Up.

September 05, 2017

Gardeners' Delight at Niagara Falls

np falls

Happy September! It seems like just yesterday I was in Buffalo, New York, and after that, at Niagara Falls, Ontario, Canada. The Association for Garden Communicators (GWA) held its Annual Conference and Expo in Buffalo, Aug. 4-7, and the full-day, post-conference story tour on Aug. 8 took us to Niagara Falls.

I was a "new-bee" for this conference, and I must say it didn't disappoint. The organization's leadership and the other attendees were friendly and welcoming. I even reconnected with "old" friends--garden bloggers and writers I'd met at other events.

I think my favorite "event" was the Niagara trip. The gardens were amazing, the Canadians were welcoming, and of course the Falls (which I'd never seen before) were spectacular and more powerful than I'd imagined.

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We started the day at Niagara Parks' Floral Showhouse, where bright plants and blooms wove through the grounds.

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I realized later that most of my photos here were from the exterior grounds, but this indoor display was hard to miss. All the statues on the grounds were lovely. I searched and searched online for an explanation of this sculpture and couldn't find a thing. It appears to depict three children playing on top of a Corpse Flower (Amorphophallus titanum).

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Outdoors, a "Life in the Garden" display featured lush arrangements of annuals and perennials, alongside whimsical miniatures of homes, buildings, and modes of transportation.

np house

np mini train

np treehouses

np mini church

np trading post

I've always enjoyed miniatures, and their placement in the gardens was joyful and inspiring.

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The greenhouse was handsomely bordered by vines and shrubs.

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I spent as much time outdoors as I could on that beautiful day.

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The borders and planting beds included many pollinator-friendly and strikingly beautiful blooming plants.

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Another statue for which I can't find a name was this lovely piece rising out of a fountain--the woman depicted is lovingly holding a simple bouquet of flowers.

np freedom

Fortunately, I did record the story behind these sculptures. The collection of bronze figures titled, "Freedom," depicts children playing with wildlife in a pond.

The next photos include artful arrangements in pots, along rock walls, and in borders at various Niagara Parks locations--the grounds of the Floral Showhouse, Oakes Garden Theatre, and Niagara Parks Botanical Gardens.

parks pots

parks planting

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np planters

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np botanical display

I could have spent hours around the Botanical Garden's European-style hedged garden, where Hydrangeas mixed with Joe Pye Weed and flowering annuals in pots.

hort school border

hort school plantings 1

hort school plantings 2

The School of Horticulture had some attractive and utilitarian displays, too.

butterfly outside

We also visited the Butterfly Conservatory, where Monarchs on Butterfly Bushes (Buddleia spp.) greeted us near the entrance.

butterfly 1

butterfly 4

butterfly 2

butterfly 3

butterfly triplets

Butterflies of more than 2,000 species fly free in the enclosed, rainforest-style conservatory.

falls boat ride 2

Of course, any trip to the Niagara area must include spectacular views of the falls.

parks falls

parks falls 2

They greeted us from various angles throughout the day.

falls gwaers

The highlight was when we donned the yellow plastic slickers and toured the "Journey Behind the Falls."

falls lookout

falls under

falls boat ride

falls close

The sheer power of all that water is truly impossible to depict in a drawing or a photograph. I'd have to say it exceeded my expectations.

o canada

Thank you, Canada, for your hospitality!

More highlights from the GWA event to come in future posts.