Coneflowers By Candice

Echinacea – better known as coneflower – is native to the plains of North America. It does not grow wild anywhere else in the world but is cultivated all over! There are nine species of coneflower with four of them being used medicinally. The name Echinacea comes from Greek origins: echinos (meaning hedgehog) refers to the spiny rounded seedhead. The botanist who named this plant also thought the plant reminded him of sea urchins. Well if you’ve ever grabbed the seed head you can certainly agree – it is spiny and spiky!

The above ground plant parts of Echinacea are used to treat colds, respiratory infections, and urinary track infections to name a few uses. It can also be used to help aid slow healing wounds. The root of some Echinacea can be used to treat flu-like symptoms. But do not take treatment into your own hands as high doses can cause nausea and dizziness. (If you are allergic to daisy...you may also be allergic to coneflowers.) Early settlers learned these healing properties from Native Americans back in the 17th century. Sadly – some species of coneflowers are endangered from over harvesting. It takes about 4 years for a root to be big enough to use for medicinal purposes. And some species are disappearing from the wild prairie sites where they were once plentiful.

Growing this perennial is super easy! Echinacea grows about 3 feet in height and produces beautiful daisy like flowers. These beauties love full sun and dry soil, however, you can grow them in areas that have light shade as they are very hardy. Coneflowers do best in hardiness zones 3 through 8 and they reseed heartily so that you always have coneflowers. You can leave the seed heads on your plants or cut them off and leave them on the ground to over winter as they need cold stratification to germinate. In the spring you will have many baby coneflowers that will bloom the first year!

Coneflower blooms will last about a month, adding a splash of color to your gardens. They look great in any placement and can be used in the back of your gardens to provide a vertical wall of blooms. Butterflies, honeybees, and small songbirds are attracted to this plant and if left standing over the fall and winter, the seed heads provide food and a place to rest for migrating birds. Coneflowers also make great cut flowers and are easy to dry!

Hope you plan to add coneflowers to your garden beds! Happy planting!



Save the Monarch Butterflies – please plant milkweed!

 

Milkweed plants are losing the habitat battle as we build more and use more of the land where native milkweed plants usually grow. Milkweed plants do not require anything special in the form of dirt or gardener time...they grow in the worst soils and many of the species are drought resistant! If you are interested in knowing the type of milkweed species to plant in your area – check out this page at monarchwatch.org: Milkweed Profiles

Milkweed gets a bad rep due to having the word “weed” in its name! However, don’t you be fooled! This plant is great in the garden....from its beautiful green leaves to its wonderfully fragrant flowers. You’ll love all the bees and butterflies that are attracted to it.

 

Milkweed is the only plant that monarch butterflies lay their eggs on as the leaves are what the caterpillars solely eat. This diet of milkweed leaves actually provides a lot of protection for the baby caterpillars, as all parts of the milkweed are poisonous. When the caterpillars eat the leaves, they become toxic to any animal that tries to eat them. Predators are smart and know to stay away from the green and yellow caterpillars and the orange butterflies they become.

 

Monarch butterfly populations have been dropping overtime as you can see on this graphic from monarchwatch.org. Although the year-to-year data goes up and down the overall trend is downward. Why? There are many reasons – ice storms, toxins such as round-up, and lack of host plants are just a few. Monarchs have a long way to migrate each year as they head down to Mexico to overwinter. Along the way they stop, lay eggs, die, and their babies grow up and finish the migration. We need milkweed plants all along the migration routes. Check to see where you live compared to the migration routes. Are you near a monarch butterfly fast lane? If so – consider planting their host plant – milkweed.

 

Milkweed plants are easy to start from seed. You can toss them outside in the garden in the fall after the first frost OR you can over winter them in the fridge. About 1 month before you want to plant, take your seeds out of the fridge, lay them on moist paper towels, fold the towels, place them in ziplock bags and put them back into the fridge. Wait your month, plant your seeds under grow lights, and wait for all your babies to sprout! It’s best to plant milkweed in groups so that your butterflies have the best chance of finding them! Happy Planting!

 



Masterwort – Astrantia Species By Candice

If you’re looking for a plant that will provide you with beautiful green showy leaves from spring to fall and give you some beautiful flowers – look no further! Masterwort plants are the plant for you! Although not common in many gardens, I think this should be a plant in your garden!

These wonderful plants are extremely hardy and love acidic soil. Known to grow in dappled shade where the ground stays moist, you can grow Masterworts in full sun if you’re willing to give them the water they need. Ideally, Masterwort plants love morning sun and then dappled shade for the rest of the day. If you’re looking for full shade plants – Masterworts can be planted in that area but you may see a decrease in flower production. Do not worry about that – the leaf display will keep your shade garden looking full and fantastic! Masterworts grow to be about 18”- 24” tall and about 24” wide. Their leaves are five pointed and so plentiful that they form a dome shape of lush green!

Masterwort plants are super easy to grow from seed and self-sow quite readily! My larger Masterwort plants sprout tons of babies into the lawn each year. I transplant them to other places in the gardens – wherever I need some great foliage fill in. They have a large root system – even when small – making them easy to transplant successfully. Seeds need at least 2 or 3 months of cold to germinate. So plant seeds outside in the fall or keep them in the fridge until its time to plant in the spring.

The flowers of a Masterwort plant come in many colors – however the shape of the flowers remain the same. Each flower is shaped like an upside down umbrella with starry petals flowing outward. Each flower produces about 20 – 30 seeds so if you don’t want a lot of babies, cut back dying, spent flowers. This may produce even more blooms for you! Masterworts bloom in June here in Zone 5 and blooms last well over a month. Flowers also look great in cut arrangements and as the flowers grow on long stems from the base of the plant – you’ll have no problem snipping a stalk or two for your indoor arrangements.

Masterwort has no known bug attractions and deer seem to dislike the leaves...how perfect is that? A beautiful plant with easy pest maintenance! As you can see – this plant would be a perfect addition to your gardens. Happy Planting!



Lupines by Candice

I had never heard of a lupine flower until I was a grown woman teaching first grade in NH.  My neighbor teacher was going on and on about this great child’s book called “Miss Rumphius” by Barbara Cooney.  It’s a true story about a woman who traveled the world collecting flower seeds and spread them around to make the world a more beautiful place.  And yes – she planted lupines…lots and lots of them!  I was intrigued and made it my mission to plant some of these beautiful flowers.  This was over 25 years ago – I fell in love first with the foliage and then with the stunning flower display!  And as a new gardener, this was a great plant to start with, as it needed very little support from me to look beautiful! 



Lupines (which I did actually know but I knew them as blue bonnets being originally from TX myself) are so easy to grow!  They love sandy bad soil…they actually thrive in it, which makes them the perfect plants for you to use in beds by the sides of your road in front of your house.  You will be the envy of your neighbors with this plant!  Choose a variety of colors and let them bloom and self-sow.  Lupines self-sow pretty easily and I often have anywhere from 10 – 15 new babies each year.  I let them grow where they fall and enjoy the tall spikes of color as they pop up in my gardens. 



For variety – I sometimes purchase lupines in colors I don’t have to expand the colors in my gardens.  White and yellow are great – pinks and reds are stunning – and of course my favorite is still the purple/blue of my home state.  Once the weather gets hot lupines don’t thrive, so feel free to chop down the leaves if they become wilted or brown…and soon you’ll see new leaves growing strong and ready for the sun.  The plants usually won’t re-bloom but you’ll have a stunning leaf display until fall!


Gardeners can enjoy the beauty of lupines with very little care during the growing season.  I’ve found that I do have to watch for aphids…they love lupines but a quick trip to the store for ladybugs solves that problem.  You can also use insecticidal soap or handpick them off your plants.   





Hosta by Candice

There are no easier plants to maintain in your garden than the old faithful Hostas! They love shade, need little water, and grow bigger each year putting their leaves on display for all to admire with no maintenance from the gardener.

If you don’t have any Hostas in your garden, consider this plant. It’s fun to grow many types of this plant as the plentiful shades of green combined with the variety of coloring in their leaves make shady areas of our garden pop with color. Having dark leaves next to vibrant lime green leaves creates a sea of light even in the shadiest places. And as Hostas have different shapes and sizes to their leaves, your gardens will have plenty of texture with this beautiful plant. Take a look at the Sum and Substance Hosta pictured below…you can see how Robin has brightened up a shady spot under her tree and combined two different types of Hosta varieties there for a color show.


Don’t have a lot of space...no problem! Hostas come in various sizes as well. A good friend of mine has a mini Hosta collection. Her mini garden is about 3 feet wide and 5 feet long with about 20 varieties of mini’s! It’s the cutest little shade garden and one you can easily begin in your small space. The picture below is an aerial shot of the tiny patch of dirt outside my front door – it’s about a 2’x 2’ space. As you can see – I have three mini Hosta’s growing with room for a few more.

Did I mention the flowers? Oh yes...leaf joy and then flower joy! Each stage of the Hosta growing season is filled with fun! With a wide variety of plant types...you’ll also get a wide variety of flower shades and bloom times. In my gardens I have Hosta blooms from June until September. Even my newest Hosta – the one with only 4 leaves – shoot up flower stems. My bigger Hostas (think about 3 feet in diameter) have more than 20 flower stems and each stem has many, many flowers. Hosta flowers attract bees, butterflies and hummingbirds for many hours of nature observation.

Hosta plants grow and grow...year after year...this is one hardy perennial! And once they get big enough – you can split them for more Hostas! Gardeners can’t go wrong with this plant and I am certain you’ll love it in your gardens. I’ve decided you can never have too many Hosta varieties and have made it my mission each year to find one or two new types to add to my collection. I hope you consider this perennial for your gardens!