Wednesday, July 29, 2015

Clematis Time

My garden is a combination of two worlds: native plants and aliens.  It's a purposeful garden, the native plants providing some degree of regional diversity to my little spot on earth.

But not completely purposeful.  There are also, in my garden, some very well-loved plants,  aliens from another part of the world or from some hybridizer's lab, left-overs from of a time when I was a collector of the unique and a connoisseur of trendy cultivars. These remnants of my collecting years are so well-loved that they continue to have a spot in my garden no matter what my ecological mood of the moment.

Perle d'Azur & Gravetye Beauty
One such group of aliens are the clematis vines.  Not edible either for humans or for bees (although fair game for earwigs), growing along a high fence in my garden, the clematis bloom from mid-June until early August.  First come the big-flowered varieties, the showy clematis that as a rule don't grow so tall.  They're the opening act for the other varieties of clematis with smaller but more profuse flowers that grow several feet before blooming. Usually the flowers of the showy first-bloomers are at a eye-level, big and bold. The smaller varieties like Ville de Lyon and Mme Julie Courevon grow taller and have blooms from low down to heights of 6 to 8 feet.

Pictured above is a favourite combo:  Perle d'Azur, along with its companion, Gravetye Beauty.  Both grow over 8 feet on the fence with smallish but plentiful flowers. Gravetye Beauty is red and Perle d'Azur, a purplish blue.  These two plants bloom and bloom and bloom in July and continue to sport the occasional bloom well into August.  Once upon a few years ago there was a white Summer Snow growing with these two, giving a patriotic tone of red, white and blue to the fence in July.  Summer Snow is gone now; that's another story.

bee on Veronicastrum

The native plants in the garden blend well with the aliens.  Natives plants are not to be sneered at nor called "weeds."  They have their own aesthetic.  Besides being helpful to beneficial invertebrates, they have a  carefree beauty like a group of gypsies settling for a while in my garden.

The native plants I grow are sources of nectar and pollen for the native bees that call my garden home.  Pictured to the side is a bee on Culver's Root, a favourite of bees.   On warm summer days any time between early morning and late afternoon you can find native bees on the Culver's Root, busy collecting pollen and nectar stored in the tiny flowers.  Culver's Root and the flowers of other native plants are there to entice and to feed bees: tiny sweat bees, big hairy bumblebees, and all sizes in between.

My garden displays the duality of my gardening philosophy:  in one space/time, are the natives I have chosen to support the biodiversity of the land I control; in another space, are those aliens I can't live without. I'll never be a native plant purist; some aliens will always have a spot and will continue to grow among the natives. But in one small way, in one small garden, I am securing the native biodiversity of the land that I control and providing sustenance for some of our native bees.

Sunday, July 12, 2015

Milkweed Patch

I grow milkweed in a smallish patch at the front of the house, just 5 or 6 stems -- waiting for a Monarch.

The Milkweed Patch in the Front Garden

 The milkweed has been in the front yard for several years now, and each year the original clump endeavors to expand its influence further and further afield. Ditch milkweed (Asclepias syriaca) produces a humongous root system with one goal in mind -- to establish new plants in as many spots as its root system can reach.  Little shoots spring from the main root system all over my yard 10 or 15 feet away from the mother clump -- but they are easy to manage. A slight tug on the shoot will dislodge it from its root segment. In that way I manage the spread of my milkweed, but the roots grow on. 

This year was different. The news from environmentalists about Monarch health was horrible.  Loss of habitat and food sources were cited as causes of Monarch decline.  Gardeners were called upon to plant milkweed for local Monarchs, so instead of limiting my patch to 5 or 6 plants in the garden, I allowed most of the pop-up shoots to stand.  I had a forest of milkweed plants in my front yard, a sea of milkweed that would surely be irresistible to Monarchs.

And all the plants grew and bloomed. Ah, the blooms! Milkweeds in full bloom smell divine, so divine in fact, that it's impossible to walk past them in a hurry.  Savoring each step redolent with the aroma of milkweed blossoms is an experience to remember.  And savoring is what the bees and wasps did, too.  The whole patch, the whole front yard, was abuzz with insect life, but no Monarchs.

My son-in-law says there was a Monarch in the garden a while back but I didn't see it.  In fact I didn't see one Monarch in my milkweed yard all season, but I did have the aroma.