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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How High’s the Temperature Papa?

She said it’s 8° and Rise’n

A cold, but sunny, New Year’s Eve.  A temperature of 8° with some overnight snow .. the morning sun, low in the winter sky, made everything glisten.  A good day for hot chocolate and a couple of Johnny Cash albums on the turntable.


A scattering of tree trimmings, drying out for a future bonfire



Tree trimmings ready for a spring project – what to construct with these?


An organic art installation – eat your heart out Morton Arboretum


‘Annabelle’ Hydrangea, a native cultivar adding interest to the winter garden


Wild Quinine still standing strong with caps of snow


Rudbecka laciniata – Golden Glow, the finches love the seeds, I love their drama


Switchgrass – still young, but looking good and catching some rays



The birds are not hungry enough to eat the asparagus berries yet


Some winterized Woodland Sunflower, Helianthus strumosus


Oh my, Pennisetum ‘Hameln’ .. a non-native charmer


Bits of unearthed construction debris stacked for a future project


Granite cobbles, as art, until needed for some other use


Neptune does not look happy – he never does, but he still makes me smile


White Pines and Cup-plant – lovely in winter too

When nature surrounds your home, there is always something that inspires awe – a kiss of winter sunbeams and a dusting of snow makes it all a bit more magical.


Happy New Year copy

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Out in the Yard in November – Beautiful


Milkweed pods catch the rays of a setting sun in my backyard meadow.

“If you’ve got just lawn grass, you’ve got nothing,” said Mace Vaughan of the Xerces Society, a leading organization in insect conservation. But as soon as you create a front yard wildflower meadow you go from an occasional honeybee to a lawn that might be full of 20 or 30 species of bees and butterflies and monarchs.”  New York Times, Jim Robbins, 22 November 2013

When I first moved into my home in the fall of 2005, I was excited about having a big yard, but the yard, as it was, was all mowed lawn – not very exciting at all.  When I read the article, The Year the Monarch Didn’t Appear, by Jim Robbins last week, about the decline in Monarch butterfly populations, it made me think of my yard, both how it was, barren, and how, when I look out my windows now,  I see variety and life, activity, beauty, nature.

The Front Yard


My home, in the winter of 2006, shortly after I moved in.

My housewarming present from my father was a small seedling oak that he had dug from his yard, my first planting in my yard.   And so it began.  During the first spring in my home, I started marking out planting beds, laid out my vegetable garden, and planted more seedling oaks and other trees native to my region.  All the trees were started from seed collected on, or adjacent to, my parent’s property, a remnant of second growth oak woods.


Today, the fall of 2013

Those small trees grew fast – I was really amazed.  After a few years of putting roots deep into the ground, they started growing at two to three feet a year.  The American Hophornbeams, shown below with their leaves still intact, were only thirty inches tall three years ago.  When I look at photos from past years, I am amazed at how short a time is needed to transform a yard from a sterile no-man’s-land, to something that makes one breathe deep in awe – a landscape full of beauty and wonder.  A classroom, a sacred place.



A young Red Oak (Quercus rubra), in the foreground, will take over as the short lived Silver Maples decline.


January of 2006


Today, November of 2013

The narrow strip of land between my driveway and my neighbor’s driveway receives plenty of sun, why mow grass when our native prairie grasses and flowers are so incredibly beautiful and would do so well in this location?  This garden has evolved quickly from a prairie flower garden with Black-eyed Susans, Pale Purple Coneflowers, Prairie Dock, Orange Milkweed, and Prairie Dropseed, to a more mature garden of mostly Midwest native grasses and trees, including Winged Sumac, Red Oak, and Hawthorn.  Prairie Dropseed grass (Sporobolis heterolepis) and a young Hawthorn (Crataegus sp.) can be seen in the above photo, with a ‘Twilite Prairie Blues’ Prairie Indigo just behind.  The larger scale of these plants works well for this open space.

The Back Yard


Shortly after I moved in, January 2006. The one foot tall caged oak (a gift from my father) to the right of the clothesline was my first planting.

“Around the world people have replaced diverse natural habitat with the biological deserts that are roads, parking lots and bluegrass lawns. Meanwhile, the plants people choose for their yards are appealing for showy colors or shapes, not for their ecological role. Studies show that native oak trees in the mid-Atlantic states host as many as 537 species of caterpillars, which are important food for birds and other insects. Willows come in second with 456 species. Ginkgo, on the other hand, which is not native, supports three species, and zelkova, an exotic plant used to replace elm trees that died from disease, supports none. So the shelves are nearly bare for bugs and birds.”  New York Times, Jim Robbins, 22 November 2013


That little oak is now over ten feet tall and it has the company of over thirty other young oaks.

I do still have plenty of turf grass, too much, some of my friends tell me, some of it is aesthetics, as a landscape architect, I like long views, and some of the turf is practical, including the area around the clothesline and over the septic field.  But the aerial photos, shown below, hopefully help show how greatly the yard has changed over the past few years.  Now its a joy to take a stroll through the gardens and explore the changes year to year, even day to day.

My Yard in March of 2006:

cr 2006 Mar w Labels

My Yard in September of 2013:

2013 summer w labels


Old Chicago street pavers stacked as sculpture until they are needed in the garden for another purpose.

Found objects play a big role in the design process.  The granite street pavers were salvaged by me after they were removed from an abandoned roadbed in Chicago.  Knowing their history, what street they came from, makes them even more interesting as repurposed objects in the landscape.


More granite pavers waiting to be artfully stacked


Some of the 100 year old granite pavers were used to create a retaining wall. The Maindengrass (Miscanthus sp.) while not native, creates an effective living screen.


A trilobite fossil was found in a piece of salvaged limestone while building a low retaining wall.


The remaining granite pavers may be used to replace the badly settled walkway along the garage.


It’s not hard to tell where my property stops.  Eight years ago both sides of the photo looked the same.


Salvaged building materials can make for interesting garden art.


This garden chair was found in a creek bed, now it’s sculpture under the branches of the old apple tree.


Other found objects were assembled to create a steampunk effect in the garden


Stacked bits of driftwood show the passing of time.


Rocks are my favorite form of sculpture, stacked, they show a human presence, evoking ancient rituals.


Souvenirs from vacations do not have to be T-shirts and ceramic mugs, this Deborah Silver sculpture reminds me of my visit with her at her Detroit Garden Works.


Silhouettes on the winter sky.





Mowed lawn for fifty years, now a prairie meadow, mowed once a year in March.


One of Illinois’ native Opuntia cactus showing this season’s fruit, “prickly pear”



Standing in an oasis, I see the desert beyond


The remnants of Stiff Goldenrod seedheads – the flowers may be gone, but the beauty has not.



Little six foot oak, grew two feet this season. Reach for the sky mighty oak.


Pasture rose shows off its seasonal decorations


Mounded Prairie Dropseed grass surrounded by taller Little Bluestem grass in my backyard meadow


Poverty Oats grass, how beautiful you are.




Orange Milkweed pods spreading seeds and giving hope to future Monarch visitors


Solomon Seal fruits, understated beauty


Mountain Mint, seed heads


American Hazelnut catkins in November, ready for a warm spring day to release their pollen.


‘Annabelle’ Hydrangea, with Serviceberry trees, combine well with a few non-native evergreens including the groundcover Epimedium and Japanese yew shrubs .. makes a nice winter garden composition.



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