Early July Blooms in the Native Garden


In early to Mid-July some of the more showy flowers come into bloom.  In early spring, the shorter plants, including the violets, Yellow Star Grass, Sand Phlox, and the woodland wildflowers, such as Great White Trillium, and Sharp Lobed Hepatica are blooming.  As the season progresses, it seems the plants that are in bloom are just a bit taller, on average, than the ones blooming just a few weeks before. 

In a walk around my yard, I snapped some photos of the garden worthy native plants showing off a rainbow of colors, and one of the brightest is always Orange Milkweed (Asclepias tuberosa).  The intense orange flowers, are a magnet to butterflies, including the endangered Monarch butterfly, which rely on milkweeds to lay their eggs; Monarch caterpillars (larvae) will only eat the leaves of milkweed plants, without milkweed, there can be no Monarch butterflies.


Orange Milkweed reaches a height and spread of approximately 18 inches, and blooms from the end of June until Mid-July.  The bright orange flowers can also appear in shades of yellow or reddish orange – uncommon.  In the photo above, the milkweed in planted in combination with Blue Mist Flower, which will be covered in blue fuzzy blooms come September (you read more about that plant <here>). Behind the milkweed is Pale Purple Coneflower (Echinacea pallida), which provides nectar to butterflies and seed for Goldfinches and other seed eating birds.


Here, Orange Milkweed is show in combination with Wild Quinine (Parthenium integrifolium)

In the meadow, the Orange Milkweed is also quit showy, but will go dormant, as the asters and goldenrods begin to grow taller, as their later bloom time approaches.


Also in the meadow, is a purple tinged Big Bluestem grass (Andropogon gerardii).  This one has a bit more color than is typical, ‘Red October’ is a cultivar grown in the nursery trade specifically for this purple accent and its red fall color – I planted a specimen of ‘Red October’ in another part of the garden and will compare the two specimens for ornamental qualities. The specimen below is approximately three feet across in width.


A great looking Big Bluestem grass in the backyard meadow

Another milkweed, just about to bloom, is the Red, or Swamp Milkweed (Asclepias incarnata):


A closeup of the Red Milkweed blooms, just about to open

It’s another butterfly favorite, and as its common name indicates, can take wet soils, but will grow fine in typical well-drained garden soils, attaining heights of three to four feet on average.  Neither the Red or Orange Milkweeds spread aggressively, but may come up from seed if bare soil is near the parent plant.


The Common Milkweed (Asclepias syriaca), however, while a great attractor of butterflies, will spread by randomly by wandering underground roots, so while the flowers are sweet smelling, it would be best to plant a less aggressive milkweed in a small garden – the milkweed shown below is in the meadow, and is quite happy – as are the Monarch Butterflies that laid their eggs on this plant this spring!


One of the prairie shrubs blooming around the 4th of July is the purple flowered Lead Plant (Amorpha canescens), with accents of bright orange anthers.  This 18 inch, to three foot tall, sprawling shrub is attractive even when not in flower – the grey finely divided leaves are a nice contrast to nearby flowers.



Leadplant shown in combination with Black-Eyed-Susan, Rudbeckia hirta.

Buttonbush (Cephalanthus occidentalis), is another shrub bloom at this time of year, and in this case the flowers look like exploding fireworks – one inch around.  This plant is typically found in wet soils, but seems to do fine in the garden with morning sun – hot sun and dry soil is not what this plant wants.  attaining heights of six to eight feet plus, it can be pruned if necessary, but it would be best to plant it where is can grow to its full size.



Buttonbush growing with the vining Wild Yam (Ipomoea pandurata) – soon to have three white morning glory like blooms.

Native shrubs such as the naturally occurring cultivar ‘Annabelle’ Hydrangea and the multi-stemmed Serviceberry shrub, shown below, mix well with other garden plants such as (from left to right) ‘Biokovo’ Geranium, variegated Pulmonaria, ‘Palace Purple’ Coral Bells, and Pink flowered Japanese Anemone.  At the base of the Serviceberry tree/shrub is growing Jack-in-the-Pulpit – which will have showy red fruit at the end to summer.


The Illinois Rose (Rosa setigera) is a rambler and needs a trellis to grow on if planted in a small garden.  It can be cut back to the ground in spring, as the one below is, to keep it managable.  It’s quite nice when in bloom, has nice red/orange/yellow fall color, and its fruit (hips) are a valuable food source for over wintering birds.


New Jersey Tea (Ceanonthus americanus), is a low shrub, growing to a maximum height of about three feet high and wide.  In July it is covered in fuzzy, two inch long blooms.  Hummingbirds come by to pick off the pollinated insects, rather than for its nectar.  New Jersey Tea does not have great fall color, so its snow white blooms in July are what give this plant its ornamental interest.  This woody plant can also be cut back to the ground during its winter dormancy to keep its growth more compact, as the plant shown is, every March.



New Jersey Tea growing in a meadow setting

On the other hand, Smooth Sumac (Rhus glabra) has great fall color – mostly bright red, and its pinnately divided leaves inspired many a Frank Lloyd Wright window panel.  Sprouts coming up from the roots will need to be kept cut back in June, but it is otherwise carefree, attaining heights of eight to twelve feet tall and equally wide.


Smooth Sumac growing with Beebalm (Monarda fistulosa), another great butterfly plant, in the foreground.

Mountain Mint (Pynanthemum) is also in flower, not a true mint (mentha) it does not spread wildly by its roots, it does however have a pleasant wintergreen scent to its leaves – very strong when crushed.  In the herb garden, I cut it back by half at the end of June to keep it shorter (16 inches), it can get two to three feet tall.


The flowers of Mountain Mint attract many pollinators to the garden.



Mountain Mint just coming into bloom

The Wood Sage (Teucrium canadense), also planted in the meadow is looking great.  Growing in somewhat drier ground than it might prefer in the wild, the plants are only about four feet tall – topped by masses of spire shaped lavender flowers.  A good plant for larger gardens that can take its tendency to slowly spread.


Wood Sage, or Germander, is commonly found in moist/wet meadows, but can be grown in average garden soil.

Prairie Coreopsis (C. palmata), is an attractive plant for the garden.  Growing to about three feet in height, it would make a good flower for the rear of a planting, with shorter plants in front.  As with all the coreopsis, the Goldfinches love the seeds that the plants provide.  The shorter Sand Coreopsis (C. lanceolata) bloomed earlier, and the Tall Coreopsis (C. tripteris) will bloom in a few weeks time.


Finally, Purple Prairie Clover (Dalea purpurea, Petalostemum purpureum)) is a real show stopper.  The bright purple/pink blooms flower in rings, starting at the base of the flower structure, opposite that of liatris, which blooms from the top down.  Forming nice bushy eighteen inch to two foot tall plants, Purple Prairie Clover is a great addition to any garden.




While this photo of Purple Prairie Clover was taken in a backyard meadow setting, it looks great in a more formal planting as well.

Finally on my backyard walk, I noticed the aptly named Nodding Onion (Allium cernuum) was just starting to set out its flower buds.   Its 1.25 inch round puffs of pink bloom will be taking center stage soon.  As the buds begin to open, the stems will have straightened out, and the flowers will rise at the top of eighteen inch tall wiry stems.


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Usher in Autumn with These Three Perennials That Provide a Punch of Color



What is the first thing that comes to mind when someone mentions “fall color?”  Trees?  Yes, fantastic fall color.  Many Trees have great fall color, from the gold of the much maligned Cottonwood to the red, oranges, and yellows of the mighty Sugar Maple and the more petite Ironwood.  But what about perennials?  Mums you say?  Sure, but this isn’t 1956, let’s think a bit more creatively, when we think of fall perennials.  Here are three great ones:

‘Iron Butterfly’ Vernonia


The dwarf cultivar of Narrow Leaf Ironweed (Vernonia lettermanii) known as ‘Iron Butterfly’ is a recent introduction by Allan Armatage of the University of Georgia.  Growing to 18″ to 24″ in height and width, this late summer blooming has outstanding purple color, not unlike many asters, but unlike asters, this one does not look like a weed when not in bloom.  The finely cut foliage has the appearance of Amsonia hubrichtii and meshes well with other perennials, waiting its turn to enter the autumn spotlight. 

This butterfly magnet prefers full sun and well drained soil, but can handle part sun and periods of wet soil, making it a great plant for rain gardens.



Sedum ‘Autumn Joy’

Admittedly Hylotelephium ‘Herbstfreude’  aka. Sedum ‘Autumn Joy’ has been around since Georg Arends of Germany introduced it to American gardeners in the early 1950’s, and is certainly not underused.  It is however, too often misused.  Planted in rings around the base of Silver Maple trees, or massed with daylilies and purple coneflowers, ‘Autumn Joy’ seems a bit joyless – especially when it flops over due to an over zealous irrigation system.  However, planted as single accents throughout a garden, in full sun with ornamental grasses such as Switchgrass, Prairie Dropseed, or Little Bluestem it is a late season standout.  The butterfly attracting flowers start out green, turning pink, then burgundy, and finally a rich rusty brown that stay upright all winter long – a feat other large flowered sedums simply can not match.


Sedum ‘Autumn Joy’ growing with Amsonia hubrichtii. The bright gold foliage of Amsonia will complement the seedheads of the sedum later in autumn.



‘Blue Twist’ Allium (lower left) is just fading, as Sedum ‘Autumn Joy’ and Vernonia ‘Iron Butterfly’ take center stage in the late summer garden.


Blue-stemmed Goldenrod


For a more shady location (or full sun), Blue-stemmed Goldenrod (Solidago caesia) is a real charmer.  This Midwestern native goldenrod can be found growing in woodlands under oaks and Sugar Maples.  Clusters of petite golden yellow flowers form along its arching stems, creating a bold mass of color in the late summer landscape.  Blue-stemmed Goldenrod grows in neat clumps, 18″ to 24″ high, allowing it to be placed among other plants without fear of is forming a massive unruly colony, unlike the stoloniferous ‘Fireworks’ Goldenrod (Solidago rugosa) often seen in garden centers.


While Blue-stemmed Goldenrod may reseed, the plants grow in tight clumps, rather than forming aggressive colonies in the garden.

Placed where afternoon sun will fall on its bright yellow flowers, this plant can be spectacular under the open shade of large trees, brightening an otherwise dark corner of the landscape.  Plant in well drained soil with Drummond’s Aster (Aster sagittifolius) and Solomon’s Beard (Smilacina racemosa) for a pleasing fall display.



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The Late Summer Landscape Can Be Lively With These Native Plants



Every day that I walk around my yard or simply look out of a window, I see something that brings a smile to my face.  Just today, I stood still, as I watched a hummingbird sip the last bits of nectar from an Anise Hyssop (Agastache foeniculum) growing in the herb garden, just off my patio.  The Monarch butterflies have been busy also, but they seem to prefer the late blooming Savanna Blazingstar (Liatris scariosa).  And the Soldier Beetles seem to swarm just about everything. 

One corner of my yard has particularly caught my eye the past few weeks.  This garden did not exist just three years ago, but began when I found a seedling Staghorn Sumac (Rhus typhina)growing in my shade garden – I moved it to where it would get more sun and have room to grow – three years later, it’s at least 15 feet tall and its produced it first clusters of deep red seed heads this year – especially interesting in the winter garden.


Its fuzzy branches give Staghorn Sumac its common name. It has great fall color.

While the Sumac is dramatic, especially in fall, with leaves that turn shades of red, orange, and yellow, the other plants in this garden certainly hold their own, as well.  The Prairie Dropseed (Sporobolis heterolepis) along the front edge of the garden starts to send up their seed heads in August, and can be quite dramatic as they catch the light of the setting sun or the dew of a cool autumn morning.  A showy grass from spring until early winter, Prairie Dropseed only asks to be cut back in late winter, just before new growth appears in spring.


The low stature, soft texture, easy nature of Prairie Dropseed make it a great transition plant for the front of the landscape bed.

The ‘Annabelle’ Hydrangeas got a bit burned in the drought, but still look fine as their green flower heads start to turn a golden straw color as summer turns to autumn.   These seed heads hold fast, and give the winter garden much needed interest.


The 7 foot tall plants covered in golden yellow flowers are Golden Glow (Rudbeckia laciniata), a late season bloomer, most loved by the non-migrating Goldfinches as they produce oil rich seed late into the season.  While Golden Glow can be found growing along sunny streamsides, it does quite well in the average garden.  In fact, since its tendency is to spread by underground runners, drier soil helps to keep them in bounds.  The Silphiums, such as Prairie Dock and Cup-plant are also tall late season bloomers, but as mentioned in an earlier post, in a garden setting their tall flower stalks tend to flop over, Golden Glow does not flop, in fact the stems stay upright throughout winter and look quite interesting as the seed head remnants wear caps of winter snow.


Cup-plant (Silphium perfoliatum) can flop over with it exuberant growth in a garden setting – Golden Glow would have been a better choice here (as seen at the Morton Arboretum)



The flowers of Golden Glow, really do seem to glow in early evening light.

The big bold leaves of Wild Quinine (Parthenium integrifolium) form a basal rosette from which the flower stems emerge in mid-summer.  And, while it is actually past its bloom period, its waxy seed heads still appear showy late into the growing season, slowly turning turning a gray brown on top of stems that stay upright straight through winter, creating beautiful silhouettes against the fresh fallen snow.


I came across a new plant to try out this year, when I attended a native plant sale, held by the Will County Forest Preserve.  Blue Mistflower (Eupatorium coelestinum) is not native to my northern Illinois region, but can be found growing along streamsides, in both sun and part shade as far south as Texas.  It’s been blooming in my garden since June, but has really started to put on color now, in September.  The Missouri Botanical Garden considers it a bit of an aggressive spreader – but in the well drained soil that I have it growing in, rather than its preferred moist soil, I am optimistic that it will not be a problem plant – an in fact with those late season blue flowers on two foot tall plants, I am hoping it does spread – a bit.


This late season bloomer looks fantastic – even with the drought. This plant is growing in morning sun, which may help explain its happy attitude.

As mentioned earlier, the Monarch butterflies have been going nuts over the last of the blazingstars to bloom, the Savanna Blazingstar (Liatris scariosa).   As its name indicates, this flower can be found growing with oaks in its native surroundings – and it does, in fact, do quite well with limited sun – unlike most other blazing stars which prefer full sun.  Shown here, growing amongst a gray leaved Switchgrass (Panicum virgatum).  The flowering stems of the three foot tall blazingstars combine well with the four foot tall Switchgrass, seeming to float just below the airy seed heads of the grass.



A few morning glories reseed themselves every year in this garden, climbing over the hydrangeas and the the grasses, they create bright pops of color throughout.

With a bit a planning, and some experimentation of plant combinations, the late summer garden can be truly stunning, full of color and drama. 



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