Wild Senna Beats the Heat

This tall yellow wildflower loves the heat and seems to laugh at drought. Five or six feet tall on sturdy stems, Wild Senna (Senna hebecarpa) has typical pinnate Pea Family foliage but the individual flowers are more open than typical in the family. Wild Senna belongs to an early-evolved branch of the Pea family tree. The open flowers are very appealing to large bumble bees. fullsizeoutput_3f0

We have also seen hummingbirds visiting the Wild Senna flowers this year. Our hummers are foraging hard this season because so many of our cardinal flowers, the hummingbird favourite, died in the drought, and the wild Spotted Jewelweed along the seasonal stream is a fraction of its usual self.

Wild Senna does not occur in the wild in the Ottawa Valley — it hails from a little further south and occurs in southern Ontario south of Brantford. A lovely yellow butterfly whose caterpillars rely on Wild Senna — the Cloudless Sulphur — also occurs south of here. Wild Senna is an acceptable host plant for some other butterflies, including the Silver Spotted Skipper, that eat a diversity of native plants in the Pea Family, We have an abundance of Silver Spotted Skippers because we have a lot of their main host plant, Black Locust. I would never recommend planting Black Locust, which is an extremely aggressive suckering tree and thorny as all out. We are trying to beat back our Black Locusts. It is nice to know that if we ever succeed in eradicating the Black Locust (not too likely) we can still provide for the Silver Spotter Skippers with a handsome and well-behaved herbaceous flower, the Wild Senna.

Plant Wild Senna at the back of a sunny border. After the flowers finish. thin black pods remain decorative through the autumn. This plant does not need staking, fertilizing, or dividing. It consorts beautifully with tall ornamental grasses.

 

What did well in the garden this year

Cardinal Flower (Lobelia cardinalis) loves sogginess in the spring, so it’s no surprise that this was a great year for the tall, red, hummingbird favourite.

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More surprisingly, Bird’s Foot Violet (Viola pedata) was another species that did well this year, This is a violet for sun and infertile, sandy soil. That is what it gets in our rock garden and it generally does well. The extra moisture in the sandy soil this year seemed to help seedlings of this lovely violet get started.

Boreal Jacob’s Ladder (Polemonium boreale), from north of the tree-line, did very well this year. This species had had a hard time with us during the dry summer of 2016. I thought the plants were just going to be short-lived so far south of their native range. This year, they flourished in the cool, moist conditions and flowered all summer.

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What did not do well this year: Purple Prairie Clover and Wild Lupin – both flowers in the Pea family which favour warmth and well-drained conditions.

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Wild Lupins in the Rock Garden in 2016.

Bringing some Standing Cypress to market

I planted some biennial standing cypress (Ipomopsis rubra) last summer just where they would catch the eye as one drove up our driveway. And these scarlet towers of bloom certainly do catch the eye. Like other vivid red flowers, they are hummingbird pollinated. From the U.S. Rockies, they are well north and east of their native range in western Quebec, but they will overwinter most winters if given excellent drainage, and they volunteer gently.

This spring, knowing we would be on a garden tour in early August, I potted up a flat of standing cypress seedlings, figuring they would walk off the benches if the plants by the driveway were even starting to bloom in time for the tour. Well, you can guess that didn’t happen in this wettest of summers. I sold exactly one pot of standing cypress. The tardy plants are just starting into their splendid eye-catching bloom now.

We will be bringing a flat (minus one) of pots of standing cypress to the Old Chelsea Farmers’ Market on Thursday afternoon. Plant them now for hummingbird-attracting bloom next August. Full sun and well-drained soil.

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We will also have pots of this year’s seeding of Prairie Smoke (Geum triflorum) and Butterfly Milkweed (Asclepias tuberosa).

Prairie Smoke is a popular items at the spring sales and I have been sold out of older plants for some time. This years seedlings were very slow to get going; they were waiting for some sun and warmth which didn’t come. The largest among them are now up to salable size.

Butterfly milkweed is always in demand. It is the bright orange, knee-height milkweed which is such a splendid garden flower and butterfly nectar flower AND a host plant for Monarch Butterfly caterpillars. August is the best time to plant butterfly milkweeds. The seedlings wait until the soil warms up and they cannot be rushed to be ready for spring sales. They also hate being pot-bound and I always lose a high percentage of them trying to overwinter them in pots. Even though they are still small, put them in now. They will bloom next year, a little bit and a little later than established plants, and will come into their own the following year. Butterfly milkweed, even well-established plants, are very late to emerge in spring, waiting until the soil is warm, so do not give up on your plants next spring. They want full sun, although a little afternoon shade is acceptable, and well-drained soil.

Butterfly milkweed is native to the Ottawa Valley although it is quite uncommon and restricted to undisturbed areas. The seed for my plants this year came from Northumberland County, east of Rice Lake.

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