Sunday, June 28, 2020

From Seed

Oenothera fruticosa
I was surprised by a bloom on this sundrops plant (Oenothera fruticosa) this week. I wasn’t expecting that it would bloom given that it was grown from seed this year. This is planted by my front walk and is in an area that I cleared out and replanted recently and it shares the space with a number of other plants grown from seed. Growing plants from seed is a topic that I think is worthy of some attention.

Growing plants from seeds provide some important benefits, particularly to the plant community at large but also to gardeners. My reworked bed actually has mostly plants that were started from seed even though I didn’t plan it that way (and none of them were started by me either!).  A number of local native plant growers use seeds for their plants and for a variety of reasons:

  1. Seed grown plants allow us to keep and promote genetic diversity of plant material. Just like our own human siblings, plants from seed have differences even though they came from the same parents. Plants propagated from cuttings and tissue culture (often the method of propagation for named cultivars) pass along identical genes every time. 

    Genetic diversity is what gives us robust genes to keep plants thriving; weak ones will die out and strong ones will survive.

  2. Seed grown plants allow us to preserve local heritage. Small growers and gardeners might gather seeds from local populations, maybe even populations that are shrinking due to development, and create plants to carry on those genes.  Think about much you enjoy having some of Grandma’s old black-eyed Susans. In a similar way, we can have a bit of local flora heritage spread among our gardens. 

  3. I am especially proud of the work that the nearby Chattahoochee Nature Center—often in partnership with the GeorgiaPlant Conservation Alliance (GPCA)—is doing to acquire seeds from Georgia populations, grow them, and make plants available to the general public through their sales. Rare plants that they grow go back into conservation sites, so support of CNC plant sales helps conservation in the state.

  4. Speaking of Grandma’s plants, growing from seed is a great way to share special things with friends. They are easy to mail! Back to my blooming sundrops, these are particularly special. The seeds were gathered from one friend’s garden, grown by my very talented friend Sheri (that girl has magic in her fingers), and are now growing in my garden. How doubly-special is that? I have several other seed-grown plants from Sheri in that garden plus plants grown from seed at several small nurseries (Night Song and Plant Life Nursery), other friends, as well as some of my own seedlings. The place is packed!
Details of some plants below

So the next time you have a chance to get some seed grown plants, I encourage you to consider yourself lucky. Not everyone takes the time to do it, but the rewards can be great.

American bellflower
Campanulastrum americanum
Swamp milkweed (Asclepias perennis)
Grown from seed by Sheri

Purple coneflower (Echinacea purpurea)
A seedling from my friend Richard
Scarlet sage (Salvia coccinea)
in adorable red wheelbarrow from Sheri

Sunday, June 21, 2020

Small Nursery Feature – Night Song Native Plant Nursery

I like to occasionally profile small nurseries that sell native plants. This week is a relatively new one—it was started in 2014—and it has been steadily increasing its selection of plants. Night Song Native Plant Nursery is located in Canton, GA in a fairly rural area with lots of room to grow.

Katy Ross started the nursery after returning to Georgia from Arizona where she was inspired by their native plant ordinances. She previously worked for other nurseries, and always planned to have her own one day. A love of being outdoors and a childhood of listening to the night songs of cicadas, tree frogs, owls, and other creatures were her inspirations. Reading Doug Tallamy’s book solidified that it would be a native plant nursery. Habitat is more than what we see when we look at plants for beauty alone; without native plants, we might not have the critters that make magical night songs.

Night Song is actually my closest native nursery and I have enjoyed visiting it in Canton since the beginning. It has really grown a lot as they added more types of plants and more growing space. I like that it is both a production and a retail nursery. In browsing what is for sale, you walk past what is sprouting from seed.  Under a large canopy, you might see people potting up plants to the next size.

Two of the sun and shade hoop houses
Pots with natives help display them

I also enjoy stopping by the large pollinator garden next to the growing area. A collection of sun-loving plants bloom there throughout the seasons, showing customers what to expect of these plants and giving ideas on how to combine them. Butterflies, bees, and other pollinators are there in abundance. Katy feels that pollinator plants are their specialty. She enjoys growing plants from seed—some of it as local as her own garden—and using organic practices to stock unique and healthy plants for North Georgia gardens. They carry species plants and some cultivars, helping both gardeners and folks involved in restoration find the plants they seek. This year, one of the things I got was some seed-grown sneezeweed (Helenium autumnale) for the front bed that I updated at my house.

One view of the pollinator garden 

Seasonal stars pop up in the pollinator garden

Today the nursery carries a variety of perennials, ferns, shrubs, trees, and vines. They enjoy stocking native edible plants and might be one of the few places you can find mulberry (Morus rubra), black chokeberry (Aronia melanocarpa), and paw paw (Asimina triloba). Last year I teamed up with Katy on a talk about native edibles and the plants she brought to sell flew out the door.

In addition to selling plants, Katy and the nursery staff help to provide educational opportunities. Katy gives local talks, they’ve implemented seasonal programs like Bee Happy Hour (one is coming up next week), nature camp, plus spring and fall festivals to get people closer to nature. One year they had a paw paw festival and served tastings (they have a natural paw paw grove on the property). Get on their mailing list and follow them on Facebook to keep up with what’s going on at the nursery.

For other nursery profiles or to find specific topics on this blog, use the small search box in the upper left corner of the desktop version of the blog page.

Sunday, June 14, 2020

The Queen Who Came to Visit

Butterfly population records are full of occasional strays. In the last few years, I’ve had stray Zebra longwings and American painted ladies visit my garden. This year, a Queen butterfly visited a nursery not far from me (about 6 miles as the butterfly flies) and laid a few eggs. I had the opportunity to raise a few of them at my house using milkweed.

Female Queen butterfly

The Queen (Danaus gilippus) is a member of the Danainae subfamily, the more familiar member of which is the Monarch. These are known as the milkweed butterflies and include in the U.S. the Monarch, the Queen, and the Soldier. The Queen looks most similar to the Monarch when its wings are closed. When the wings are open, the chestnut brown coloring and the lack of black lines makes it more distinguishable.

Queen caterpillar
Queen chrysalis, darkening

In the caterpillar stage, they also look similar until you realize it is has 3 sets of what appear to be tentacles; the Monarch has only two. The Queen is not as large as the Monarch and the chrysalis, while very similar, was noticeably smaller. Like the Monarch, the male of the species has unique marks on the hindwings. An earlier blog of mine has detailed Monarch pictures.

The chrysalis bulges just before opening
The newly emerged male

In researching this butterfly, one of the things mentioned was that adults roost communally.  Of the four caterpillars that I raised, one was released on Wednesday, two on Thursday, and the last one on Friday. On both Thursday and Friday, as the new ones were hardening their wings, an adult flew up to visit.

Whether the Queen butterfly continues to expand from south Georgia northward on a regular basis remains to be seen. Slight increases in temperature may contribute. Having people report their sightings would help. I reported this one at BAMONA; the last report near me was June 2017 in Eatonton. As for this time – we enjoyed the visit with her and her family very much.

Male Queen butterfly, showing markings

The returning Queen (female) waited on purple coneflower

Sunday, June 7, 2020

Still Hanging Out in the Yard

All of my time is still being spent at my house these days, safely avoiding crowds and hanging out with our grandson. While I’d love to be going on field trips and other plant-related activities, I’m getting some things done here and continuing to enjoy the happenings here. Bloom-wise, this is a fairly modest period with small (but special) plants flowering here and there.

I upgraded my phone a couple months ago so here are a few photos from around the garden and a trip out to drop off some plants at a local small nursery, many of them from the phone. I’m a huge fan of finding and appreciating roadside plants so having a better camera on the phone will help take quick pics.

Asclepias tuberosa with Glandularia canadensis 'Homestead Purple'
at Night Song Native Plant Nursery display bed

Coreopsis tinctoria on roadside (wildflower planting)

Monarda didyma at Night Song
Phlox carolina in a pot on my porch

Yard projects include redoing the perennial area at the front sidewalk and thinning out some of the overgrown shrubs and tree growth. Plants grow and we can’t expect areas to remain the same. In a managed landscape, it is up to the gardener to reevaluate areas and correct as needed. I’ve written about cutting trees to open up more light. I’m not doing that this year but next year will be 5 years since and I might consider again.

Much of my redo effort consists of potting up what I’m removing; these are good plants and they deserve good homes but it makes for a longer project. In particular, I potted up 12 summersweet (Clethra alnifolia) and gave 6 to my neighbor and 6 to another friend. In the newly cleared space, I planted Asclepias perennis, sundrops (Oenothera fruticosa), spotted beebalm (Monarda punctata), purple coneflower (Echinacea purpurea), sneezeweed (Helenium autumnale), and Zizia. These plants were grown from seed (my friend Sheri is so talented and the seed for the sundrops came from another friend’s garden, even more special!) or were gifts from friends. I am happy for them to have a new place front and center! Did I overplant? Probably … so I get to do this again in about 4-5 years!!

Amianthium muscaetoxicum in back yard
Ruellia carolinensis volunteers a lot

Second flush on Lonicera sempervirens
Chimaphila maculata is quite small

Other areas are getting a little more attention as well, and I got a batch of tree trimmings from the utility contractor in the area so the paths and some beds are getting a layer of shreds. I know some of my friends are also using the extra time at home to get some garden projects done too. Several of us are making a concentrated effort to reduce the pots of rescued and propagated plants (one neighbor asked me if I was a part-time nursery—I am not!) either by planting them or donating them to friends and good causes.

Asclepias purpurascens
Sisyrinchium angustfolium

The butterfly season is pretty slow this year - perhaps another too wet spring. A friend gave me Monarch eggs and Queen caterpillars so we have been growing those. I finally found some Spicebush caterpillars this week in the yard.

Newly emerged Monarch
Queen chrysalis