After the Rain

Last week we received a much needed, nearly two-inches of rain. At times it came straight down, a heavy veil that blurred the colors of the garden below. Once ceased, tree branches still dripped. It was late day and fireflies added sparkle. They seemed drawn to me, but alighted on a yew, not a me.

I sought out those flowers that had succumbed to the long duration of rainfall and these three did not disappoint. Nor do they ever.

Sprays of Culver’s root flowers lay heavy with moisture, a terra firma Milky Way. One of the loveliest plants, a true native to our Great Plains, Veronicastrum virginicum is a sun seeker and drought tolerant. Normally it is strongly vertical, graceful pointed spires providing an old fashioned, understated elegance that many new plant introductions can’t match. Leaves whorl around the stems, which is one way to differentiate it from the Veronica genus.

veronicastrum virginicum_3231

Veronicastrum virginicum (Culver’s Root)

Another sun lover, also drought tolerant, Callirhoe digitata, native to more-southern Plains, think Kansas, has been hardy in one garden assigned to native plants. Glowing flowers brightened the dull atmosphere. The saturated fuchsia seemed attached by mere threads to tangled long stems now weighted down from stormy weather. Fringed poppy mallow self sows modestly and I dig their taproots to share with friends.

Callirhoe digitata

Callirhoe digitata (Fringed Poppy Mallow)

Thalictrum ‘Splendens’ is among the most elegant plants in our garden, a cultivar of common meadowrue. They’d bloomed by late July and will continue to show flowers till autumn. These are tall plants, requiring staking soon after they emerge in spring in order to later steady them from gangly weight of leaves, flowers and myriad pollinators. I have it growing in both partial sun and bright shade.

At first the puffy clusters emerge abundantly from much-branched stem tips. They glimmer. They shimmer. They are tiny Japanese lanterns. The flowers have no true petals and are actually “naked flowers.” Sepals open downward, bravely exposing private parts, a tuft of golden pistils. I’m voyeur in a nudist colony.

On sunny mornings, normally docile bumblebees compete for the nectar and their rear leg panniers are heavy with gold. Since there are no large petals to present as landing stations, the bees dangle beneath the flowers as they ravage them.

Thalictrum 'Splendens'

Thalictrum ‘Splendens’

The above three desirables are very tall but not bodacious. Flowers are lovely, subtle, not readily noticed; they wait in the wings until discovered. Once you have, you will, again and again.

If you enjoy observing bees, I recommend a treasure of a novel, The Bees by Laline Paull. The characters are bees and you will follow Flora 717 throughout her life in the hive, her movement through the caste system, and her defiance of presumed order. Once you read this you will forever think of bees as sisters, as well we should. New York Times review:

And if you are serious about saving bees, avoid with all your intent the pesticide nicotinamides or any trade-named products that contain them. (copyright Mary Ellen Connelly, August 12, 2014)



Purple Coneflower, Echinacea

There are so many “flower happenings” in July; it’s an inspirational overload. Mesmerized, I stumble around taking hasty notes, deep into ideas that come over my boots. There is sufficient soil beneath my nails; my head is in the clouds – of blossoms, that is; and it’s hard to settle down to terra firma and get to writing.

For a few days every growing season, each hardy and virile shrub, tree, and perennial allows us to peek into their private worlds. Magnetic forms and colors are what attracts us to these plants, but their beauteous flowers are not for us, you know, though human involvement does give plants a measure of perpetuity – some people even choose them over Kentucky bluegrass.

Flowers are the sexual parts of plants and only occur to attract the insects that have evolved along with them, pollinating and perpetuating them as they’ve done for millions of years. Flowering plants managed just fine, thank you, before we joined them on the face of the earth, and would still if we hadn’t.

As if the colorful macro parts of flowers that pop out from across a street aren’t enough, the near-microscopic intricacy of pistil and stamen arrangements could drive one to distraction. But as soon as pollen grains meet pistils and gametes slide down to meet ova – it’s over, and flowers fade. “Spent” we say, an understatement. There has to be a better word.

A specific goldenrod, ‘Crown of Rays’, and feather reed grass, ‘Karl Foerster’, are sterile cultivars that are fostered by humans, and keep blooming because they don’t set seed. They wouldn’t be around long without our hands to propagate them by division or cuttings.

Here’s an attempt to sort out some of the July abundance:

After a boost from a low metal fence, volunteer (plants that grow up from seed scattered by previous plants) morning glory vines tie together the stems of bugbane, also known as fairy candles, and lilies. The flowers of bugbane are like strings of pearls stiffened on eight-foot stems, the tips of which go limp in the heat but are erect again in the mornings. The glossy leaves of true lilies radiate like stair steps up the sturdy upright stems. Lily pollen is a thick orange blur at the tips of stamens.

Lithe and lacy fennel seedlings volunteer smack out of the middle of a patch of darkest purple drumstick alliums – yum, drumsticks and fennel.

My eyes still dart here, then there. I’m unable to carry on a conversation. Sympathizing with the huge pink, white and yellow blobs of rose petals that are barely able to peek from the crush of purple poppy mallow (their flowers aren’t actually purple, but even better, a brilliantly saturated rose), I tear their tangled stems away from the rose foliage and let the sun get in.

Purple coneflowers anchor every color combination at this time of year. It is the wow of their centers that send me over the fence. These hedgehog cone-heads blend together a penetrating orange, rust and red. With the mauve (purple coneflowers are also not actually purple) of the petals we have a couture no-no, but the color faux pas works here brilliantly.

A dozen or more different species and cultivars of purple coneflower were planted in the Perennial Passion garden over the years. The species, tennessensis, has petals that radiate horizontally or are slightly turned up from the center, while more-familiar purpurea’s wider petals hang pendant. Pallida has extremely long and narrow petals that dangle from high willowy stems. In fluid wind, the colors flutter as would sea anemone appendages in fluid water.

Coneflower pollen has been busy. It moves around the garden while attached to bees’ pouches until plunked down and dragged over the pistils of another. Eventually new seedlings of coneflower plants show a combination of attributes. These are called “interspecific” crosses, a plant that grows from a cross of two different species. Lately there have been many interspecific coneflower cultivars introduced to the perennial market. They edge into the orange and yellow realms, but I’ve not had long-term success with them. I’d like to know if anyone has.

All these masses of coneflowers nonchalantly provide several must-have combos. The first is a hot color scheme that takes one by surprise at an abrupt curve of the path where purple coneflowers are eyelevel with the giant orange daylily, ‘Rocket City’. They are growing from the base and in the minimal shade of a large p. g. hydrangea shrub that is just beginning to send out clusters of creamy buds – a sure indication of summer’s peak. These three plants offer desirable shade to the roots of non-climbing Clematis ‘Petit Faucon’. Their inverted, intense blue cups trail over the fieldstone border there, and golden leaf meadowsweet provides sparkle where the sun can’t reach. To this hot scheme, one could add the beebalm, ‘Raspberry Wine’, and the spritz of purple spiked Veronica ‘Eveline’.

Coneflowers also greet one in a cool scheme where it self sows with equally prolific sea holly and miniature hollyhock. We added purple leafed and white flowered Penstemon ‘Husker Red’ to extend the seasonal interest back to June and anise hyssop ‘Blue Fortune’ for August and September. All thrive with no supplemental rainfall, a true xeriscape.

The point of all this? Diversity. Creation continues to create itself. Nature has a million times more to offer us, as we stand here on the sidelines watching the swarms at work.


If words were easy to arrange, then maybe I could interpret the mystery of the garden and the magic of growing things. Furthermore, I could explain how it could ever be that tiny seeds, miraculous sunlight, carbon dioxide and a bit of supporting soil can together explode into magnificent, diverse, dynamic pieces of chorophyll, not to mention their colorful, compelling, blousy and sexy reproductive parts!

But for me and most of you out there, this inspiration of plants, the love mixture that we cannot live without, is really beyond our grasp, a bonafide mind-twister. I think maybe the ultimate miracle is that our shared bemusement brings us together in a spiritual-like connection, regardless of our religious beliefs. Be it the Holy Spirit, the Great Spirit, Pan or other gods and goddesses, leprechauns or magic pollen, something big has gotten to us with which we all single-mindedly unite.

Though I cannot explain this elusive mystery we share, I feel it clearly through your on-going encouragement of listening and questioning. Your ever-ready permission for me to dig, study and share back with you is the most meaningful. You allow my continued feeding-of-habit and give justification to continue this lifelong pursuit. And then…..YOU REWARD ME!!….for doing what I cannot help but do! Thankyou for lending a helpful green hand to a meaningful life! Copyright 5/2002 Image