Saving Seeds

One of the things I tried this year that worked well, was starting dahlias from seed. In most of my gardening years, catalogs didn’t sell them, and the advice on dahlias made them seem fussy. You had to dig the tubers, preserve them in sand or peat, or a plain paper bag, spritz them occasionally with water so they wouldn’t dry out, but not let them get wet… Or just buy new tubers every spring. 

In the metal tray above are dahlia seeds collected from my garden. The spent flowers are slimy, and need extra attention—but not too much—to extract the seeds. Lay them where they get sun, and when they’re halfway dry, spread the heads apart. As you can see, the seeds above are exposed and can now be separated from the chaff. 



All the prepared seeds I’ve collected so far, neatly stored in their envelopes. I concentrate on perennials; most that are helpful to nature and unappealing to deer are in the daisy family, coneflowers and rudbeckias. I’ve also collected verbascum, achillea, monarda, and annuals centaurea and scabiosa.



The seeds drying out in my garage. For this work you can take several plastic containers out of the environment by saving them for use. Put flower heads upside-down and leave them for a few weeks, add a label (I use wooden popsicle sticks). When they’ve dried, using fingers or a butter knife, depending on how stickery the flowerhead is, loosen the seeds, envelope them, and write the name.



I’ve been misidentifying what I wanted (wishful thinking) to be a mountain laurel. It looked promising as a small plant, but I’ve learned after a few such errors, not to ID too early. Seeing the ridges developing along the stem, I was afraid it was only a burning bush euonymus. I would have pulled it (they are invasive), but it seems to be something else. It has leathery leaves that stayed on all last winter. They show no sign of being other than evergreen this year. I’ll just have to wait and see what characteristics it develops over time.




This pearlescent white jelly is probably rarely seen. It made an ephemeral appearance after the heavy rains from Ida, on the side of the dead ash tree, and when the weather dried up, it disappeared.



These shelf mushrooms were especially golden, saturated with rain. Using logs to edge beds does more than give you a chance to see how many types of fungus can sprout in your area. The life that exists in this dead wood also helps sustain a mini-climate. The ground under and just around the logs won’t freeze (unless winter temps are severe). Under every little shelf is a place for an insect or spider to hide.



A new rose I bought, called Cinco de Mayo. Its flowers are coral with areas of dusty purple. And it puts out new leaves in this bright red hue.


I said in an earlier post that my yard habitat lacked any reptile or amphibian species (that I had seen), and that these creatures migrating to your yard is a real proof of progress. After Ida, I got a little frog in one of my bog tubs. That’s how pond frogs move from place to place, traveling when rain is falling and their skin stays wet.



This grass, probably a sort of pennisetum, makes a great show in late summer and fall. 



End of August Odds and Ends

This photo composed itself nicely, with the bright sun and strong shadow, and the swirl of fern-leaf and liriope. The two plants were making a pretty woodland look, so I wanted to show a highlight of my garden at this time of year, when several things are finished.



They say you should cut the flowers off your coleus. It’s true, they add a rangy, unkempt quality, but they are popular with bumble bees, and this year I’ve seen two hummingbirds, while last year, I saw only one—and it was the coleus flowers they were feeding on. These flower stalks by the bog tubs are about two feet long.

In the background is a four o’clock, a better container plant than I would have thought. I didn’t buy them on purpose, but they came as part of a seed mix. I’m not usually outdoors when four o’ clocks bloom, and even when I am, I haven’t been able to detect the famous scent. But even so, the foliage is lush, and the little beginning flowers are so numerous they make spots of color everywhere. Altogether, four o’ clocks in pots are one of this year’s good discoveries.



These are a kind of pepper called Jimmy Nardello. They aren’t chilies, but taste a lot like bell peppers. But they have the advantage, being thin, that the plants produce lots of them, and they ripen quickly. I like sweet peppers raw on a sandwich, and these Jimmys are abundant for sandwich peppers. Another good discovery.



The cactus fully bloomed out. The flowers took on a pink tone after starting peach. I didn’t realize cactus flowers are waxy-textured. I tried finger-pollinating them, but I don’t know if that will make a fruit I can use for seeds.



The alternanthera, that I mentioned also as a new discovery this year. So far, they’re super—beautiful foliage, even prettier with the new blue-green leaves against the older burgundy, than this picture shows. And they’ve grown to a small shrub size, much needed in this new planting area, where the other things have barely taken off. A rabbit, or a groundhog nibbled on them, but hasn’t done much harm to their looks. 



The pin oaks this year have been shedding lots of tiny, poorly formed acorns. The flowering was off, and I could tell early, because I get showers of catkins to sweep up most years, but hardly any for 2021. If my trees are in sync with the rest of the forest locally, the winter will be a little sparse for the wildlife.



Cactus Flower

My poor old cactus, that I’ve had for more than a decade.

Among its sufferings, I was keeping it in a too-small pot, without realizing, because at some point I’d set the small pot inside a larger one. I gave it a new home this year, after finding the lower half was a colorless, squeezed-together chunk. I’ve always put it out on the patio in summertime, and it’s done fine, not bothered by the heavy rains. What bothers it is rodents, squirrels and chipmunks, which is why it has those unsightly gnawed places.

An interesting thing is that the chipmunks will bite the ends off all the needles, then climb up to perch on the cactus, just as their cousins the ground squirrels might do in the west, where cactuses actually grow. There may be a shared evolutionary memory, mostly dormant in the chipmunk.

The other thing the chipmunks do is bite off the flower buds. This cactus has been trying for a few years to flower, so this time I’ve brought it inside before the buds vanish.


The above paragraphs were started as a post a couple of weeks ago. Now the cactus is opening its flowers, and as you can see, they are a beautiful peach. That’s what the poor thing has been harboring inside itself all this time.


For something cheerful, a sunny yellow daylily, and a tiger swallowtail. And my annual reminder that the Monarch butterflies, of which I don’t see many, arrive at this time of year, latish mid-summer. I see them feed almost exclusively on Tithonia flowers (so plant them!) It doesn’t appear Monarchs visit southeastern Ohio in the early season, to lay eggs…maybe there aren’t enough of them to sustain a local population anymore. So all the milkweed I have in my garden doesn’t help much. But they do stop for nectar as they migrate.



Drainage Project

This is the slope from my patio, past the bird feeders, and coming down to the garage door. It’s steepish, and the area has a washing problem due to compacted soil, and nothing growing there. That’s because birds, lightweight as they are, are milling constantly after seed. And squirrels run up and down here all day; deer come to forage at night.

I’ve put in this little wall of concrete cobblestones (with gaps to shelter toads and salamanders), which is making the dirt behind it level off, while the angle at the patio edge gets sharper. That’s a miniature version of the same erosion patterns that eventually form waterfalls. The water rushes over the edge, but is slowed as it spreads across the “flatlands”. Erosion is concentrated at the higher elevation, in effect the rock shelf, because there’s a boundary being created by the two rates of flow.

But slowing the flow is what’s wanted, to control drainage, to keep dirt from being carried into the storm sewers, and to keep the garden from losing its topsoil and mulch. The next step is to dig out a space for steppingstones, down from the patio, and to plant some good anchoring plants, limiting the creature traffic to the center. Then I’ll fill that part in with pea gravel to filter the water downwards.



The next phase. Black hardwood mulch is the only kind I was able to buy. Gardening supplies are off this year, presumably affected by the pandemic. The black mulch looks good, but it will decompose faster than pine nuggets. In the way of things, I bought less pea gravel than I need, so that will take more filling in. 



Mostly done. At the upper level is a strobilanthes plant, two Blue Rug junipers, two Japanese painted ferns, and one heuchera whose roots were all in among one of the ferns, so I had to dig them both. The lower level has four divisions of a fern I lifted from another of my beds. I bought the junipers and the strobilanthes, and shopped my garden for the rest.



Sometimes your garden gives you bouquets. This pretty combo made itself: yellow feverfew and centaurea, white with a pink center.


One of the super-dark burgundy scabiosas, a budded flower getting ready to open.



These bright yellow mushrooms popped up in several places. Of ones in my guidebook, they most resemble chanterelles. 



Along the Pathway

This Is my backyard border, a little collapsed at the center where daffodil leaves used to be, keeping me from planting densely there in the spring. The bamboo stakes are deer-discouragers. The mulched path on the right, I filled in with free wood chips and twigs that form naturally at the bottom of my brush heap. Windfalls from my trees are the edging. Mature logs taken from the heap can be light as paper, reduced to a crumbly texture by the fungi that feed on them. As edging, logs and sticks look nice; they also create microclimates and mini-habitats. So far, I have never seen a reptile or amphibian in my yard, but I’ve added water, stones, and rotting wood, all of which are are important to toads and turtles, etc.

Stands of mint-family plants can make great summer hedges. They tend to grow in a medium-tall upright clump; they flower generously, and are loved by pollinators. The lemon balm pictured defines the path edge, and is easily trimmed backed if it encroaches.

The Alaska nasturtiums blooming, with all their color range. 

This annual phlox is not only lovely, but seems strongly deer resistant. In this patch of garden, I have coneflower and black-eyed Susan, of which the deer have bitten off the flowerheads. But the phlox blooming next to them has been left alone.

An achillea bloom in terra cotta. Also, a tiny wasp, and several of what look like little beetles.

A second Paw Paw seedling. The first gift Paw Paw is about three feet tall now. I read up on them to learn when I might see it bloom, and found out it’s just as well I have another. Paw Paws, apparently, besides being fly-pollinated, are shy to make fruit, and need to have genetic input from another individual. Somewhere in the woods nearby, though, there is a fruiting Paw Paw, making these deposits in my yard possible.

Likewise for the parent mountain laurel. I found a new one, potted it up, and will think about where to plant it. I just ordered a buttonbush, and a steeplebush, and I want to put in a highbush cranberry. The Black Cherry is a superfood for native northeastern and midwestern wildlife, and I always get seedlings sprouting in my yard, since they are not rare in southeastern Ohio. But whole trees are hard to accommodate. 

This one, that I thought was a birch, and then thought was a beech, I’m beginning to think is a hornbeam. Its characteristics don’t really fit either of the others. It’s a great favorite with everything that feeds on leaves. The skeletonization is caused by Japanese beetles. The larvae of Japanese beetles thrive in sunny expanses of lawn, while their best predator, fellow foreigner the European Starling, like most warm-blooded creatures, likes to forage (grub) in the shade. Starlings have done good work for me in keeping this particular pest under control, so I don’t worry about them…even though they are awfully noisy birds. 

Joe Pye weed is a North American native, and its flowers are loved by butterflies. This leaf damage is a good sign that some insects, aside from Japanese beetles, are being fed. The Joe Pye is not a noted host for butterfly larvae, but feeds the adults and attracts them, so that if you have Paw Paw, a host for the Zebra swallowtail, or milkweed, for Monarchs, or pipevines, which have a swallowtail of their own, etc., your yard can help keep butterflies from disappearing—a genuine possibility these days.

By the way, I’ve walked in the woods many times in my life, and I’ve never actually seen a pipevine growing anywhere. The only one I could find to order was a Brazilian species. Of volunteer vines, I get Chinese bittersweet and Japanese honeysuckle, invasives that need pulling (the bittersweet has thorns, so wear gloves). I get poison ivy, which isn’t civilized, though in the forest it’s good for wildlife. I get lots of Virginia Creeper, which is just too abundant to have in the yard (and capable of damaging masonry), English ivy and wintergreen euonymus, nonnatives, also worth pulling, and lots of campsis radicans, the trumpet vine, which is native, and hosts a sphinx moth caterpillar.

Campsis is also tricky, like other vines, because it grows heavy and woody in time, and crawls all over things, shading them out. It probably wants a pergola, and I don’t have enough sunny parts in my yard for that.

A robber fly. I didn’t even know there were such things, but I photographed this one and looked up types of flies. It’s not really a friend or an enemy, because it’s a hunting insect that carries off grasshoppers and bumblebees alike. I just saw the first hummingbird moth I’ve ever seen in my yard, so I hope it can keep safe from the robber flies. 



A cute-as-can-be little spider on my Brandywine tomato. It looks like he’s trying to pass himself off as a tiny tomato hornworm. Maybe this spider preys on the braconid wasps that prey on the hornworm.

Old and New Ways of Gardening for Nature

This year I’m getting a great display from this fancy daylily, the variety name of which I’ve never noted down. Now that I’m writing about the garden, I’ll have to be more meticulous in labeling, so I can share that information. 

I made this watering place with the first intention of keeping deer away from the bog tubs. I don’t mind if they drink out of them, but they do some clumsy damage wending through my container plantings, knocking pots over. What I have is a ceramic tub, with an upside-down 12-pk of planting cells, such as are used to start seeds, and then a concrete paver on top. One thing I hadn’t expected is that the concrete would saturate. Tiny insects have been landing on top of the paver and drinking from the surface. With an arrangement like this, mosquito larvae can be dumped and the tub refilled.

With the bog tubs, and their mini-ecosystems, I don’t do anything about mosquitoes. The tubs only support about two inches of water above the accumulated soil mass, and the sparrows pick the larvae out of the shallows to feed on. Birds we like, swifts, martins, our endangered migrants, orioles and warblers, etc., eat mosquitoes, either adults, larvae, or both, and depend on them to a degree.

Did you know that honeybees and wasps drink water? So do several other beneficials.

Now, going back to the 90s, when I started gardening, the organic world still touted pest control as an unquestionable thing. If you saw caterpillars, you wanted them gone—as you were taught. The magazines featured pests of the month and how to eradicate them; the catalogs that sold organic supplies offered poisons to kill insects, chemicals to destroy fungi…in those days, even glyphosate was sometimes recommended as a herbicide. Little rings containing Bt, bacillus thuringiensis, were and are sold to place in tubs and ponds. Bt is fatal to moth and butterfly larvae; there is not much evidence that it kills bees, though adults drinking water from Bt-containing ponds must be thought to carry it back to the hive. [From Bee Culture magazine, a good survey article on mosquito control and threats to bees.]

Aside from changes of water, duckweed is another poison-free method for controlling mosquitoes. If you wonder what’s wrong with duckweed, other than aesthetics (I think it looks fine, myself), it consumes oxygen at night, and can deplete a pond where fish are kept (but in rare circumstances). On the other hand, goldfish and koi will eat duckweed. If you have a large pond, an aerator will keep the surface too choppy for the mosquitoes to lay eggs, and aerators that run on solar are easy to find. 

And since we don’t know what’s drinking out of our water features, and we want to supply water to as many creatures as need it, no kill methods, leaving out even treatments said to be organic, are best.

A book I’m reading, and recommend, if you want to make your backyard a habitat. The author explains both why and how to design a native planting scheme, which you can adapt to your preferences and inherited plants. (I’ve written about my callery pear, its good, bad, and weird points. But it belongs to the yard, and the wildlife gets a lot of use out of it; the huge oaks, however, are the real anchors to my patch of the natural world.)

Tallamy’s contention is chiefly this: that each of us who has a piece of this land is already empowered to link it to a national habitat, each little patch doing its work to sustain what America no longer has the human-free areas to guarantee without our help.





Bargain Time

I have a Baptisia australis in my front border that has bloomed only once, and sparsely. It needs to come out, but not until fall, when I can dig without trampling good flowers. I also have some lilies in containers that are in their second year, and will have to be moved because they’ll have used up the fertility of the soil. So what do we do in June, when we anticipate gaps to be filled in October? Shop the sales!

Don’t get bargain fever, but snap up anything you know you’ll want. Above are two rudbeckias, a meadow sage, a foxglove, a papyrus, two balloon flowers, and a campanula, that in total I paid $37.98 for. The rudbeckias and foxglove (which appears to be three individuals in one pot, anyway) can be divided into threes, and the sage looks like it can make two. Wherever I choose to plant them for summer growth, I can later move any of them into the front border, or my larger containers. 

You’ve probably seen various techniques for dividing plants, but let me share the easiest. Get a bucket of water, unpot your perennial, and swirl it in the water until the roots are clear of soil. Cutting it apart with scissors can be done then with precision, and the roots are well conditioned to spread in their new location. 


This is always the fate of Hibiscus. It looks like there are enough good leaves for the plant to overcome being eaten and flower. Hibiscus are easy to grow from seed, so let the caterpillars thrive for the songbirds, and start some new ones when you need to.


A section of border flowers (and some of the deer netting, that needs tweaking up every day, so it doesn’t stop the blooms from opening). The yarrows are coming out naturally in this suite of pinks.


Fantastic nicotiana that can’t really be captured by the camera. It has this brick red on the outside, and purple on the inside, so that from the right angle the two colors together make a neon effect.


Petunias seem perfectly symmetrical, but they do have a right-side-up. At the base of the fused lower right petal is an extended marking to guide the bees.


Alaska nasturtiums doing what I want them to, spilling over the block edging, which looks very distant thanks to the camera’s forced perspective. 


A close view of a tiny wildflower, abundant in my lawn, Blue-eyed grass (a type of iris).


Wild garlic, one of the natural arrivals in my deer area. The new plants are all ready to go, as soon as the seedhead breaks up.


Mid-June Blooms

An annual I’m trying this year, Clarkia, related to fuchsias, that blooms in shades of pink. This variety I grew from seed is spacier in petal/sepal configuration than the cup-shaped flowers usually seen. The leaves and stems have a little of the succulent appearance of impatiens. 


The combinations above are really pretty in person, though the camera didn’t quite get the colors true. Feverfew’s ferny leaves and pale yellow buttons seem to accent any planting well, especially contrasting with magenta. And then the blue of ageratum—bluer than the photo suggests—is the perfect match to salmon pink.


A delicate Shirley poppy, with a small grasshopper sneaking into the picture.


A nice effect of petunias and geraniums. Petunias grow most happily in pots, because slugs love them so much,  petunias as bedding plants are likely to be tattered to death.


Coreopsis in its second year, after being started last year from seed. I’ve never had much luck with coreopsis, when I’ve bought it as a plant. It blooms the first year, but perennial label notwithstanding, it usually disappears by the next spring. So seed is probably the way to go.


A design tip from nature. This grass, that my cats like to eat when I walk them on their harness, has come up in a collar of violets. I can see possibilities: blue fescue surrounded by primroses, red pennisetum surrounded by forget-me-nots…