Monday, February 23, 2009

Old Friends Part I

Gail at Clay and Limestone asked which plants we couldn't garden without. I have to have Bearded Iris. A close second are the native plants which we've found growing wild on the farm.

The garden has a lot to compete with. At first it looked like pitiful clumps of flowers stuck in the ground with the real show of lovely green pastures and woods and more fields beyond it. The garden has developed so that it's part of the landscape now, although it is still clearly unfinished.

There are natural areas on the farm that are like a garden, especially where there's a lot of moisture. Oceans of Bidens, pools of Gerardia, streams of river oats. The peak of bloom here is in the fall, but there are beautiful spring flowers too.

We don't have common blue violets growing wild here, but we do have early blue violets (Viola palmata) and marsh violets (Viola cucullata).

Although it's not very evident in this picture, V. palmata closely resembles a bird's foot violet both in flower and leaf form. Don't let its delicate appearance fool you -- this is a very very tough plant. It thrives in hardpan subsoil clay, next to swiftly flowing water, poor soil, rich soil, sun, shade -- the only thing it can't tolerate is crowding by taller plants.

Marsh violet comes in white with blue veining, blue, lavender, and purple. Although small, even for a violet, it's very floriferous. It loves wet places.

Chokecherry (Aronia arbutifolia) grows wild by and even in the ditch that runs by the old house site. It's so tall and slender that it's practically invisible until it blooms. The dusky mauve stamens and pink buds make the single white flowers uniquely beautiful.

We have several serviceberries (Amelanchier arborea) around. The largest one was unfortunately pushed over when the original house site was cleared for construction. It survived and flowered for a few years even in that state. When it bloomed it looked like an extravagant bridal veil. The leaves, fuzzy and silvery when new, are almost as beautiful as the flowers when they emerge.

Southern black blueberry is one the earliest native shrubs to bloom here. Its only requirement seems to be acid soil with an organic component. I've seen it growing in sandy loam, clay, wet conditions, dry, sun, and shade. It gets very large here, up to 10 feet tall and over 6 feet wide, eventually suckering 20 feet from the center of the original plant. It often has amazing fall color that persists until very late in the year. There are some specimens here that turn a beautiful pure red, even with a good amount of shade.

We have a couple of mature Eastern redbuds growing wild here, very venerable trees that look to be much older than the maples and pines surrounding them. These flowers are actually from a tree from the National Arbor Day Foundation, as they were much easier to photograph.:)

Down by the creek the most common small trees are possamhaw (Ilex decidua) and hawthorns. The hawthorns look like Greens and Parsley Leafs. They line the path next to the creek and also occur in wet areas between the horse pastures. I haven't had any luck yet growing possamhaw from seeds or cuttings, but I've started both kinds of hawthorns from seed. The seedlings have been planted next to the woods that border the path from the old to the current house site.

I have found this Amsonia growing in a number of places; in shaded sloughs, open woods, and floodway fields. The beautiful blue-green foliage tends to yellow and the pale blue flowers to get lost in all-day sun, but it's amazing with some afternoon shade.

As is this delicately colored Geranium that my husband found growing next to one of the pastures. Since its fate was to be mowed if it remained there, I moved it to the garden, where it has multiplied like crazy. It's not aggressive at all, just forms big clumps that look like bouquets in the spring.


  1. Sweetbay, I am totally in love with your favorites! So many lovely and wonderful plants came with your land...Aren't we lucky people. I have often wondered what the first settlers must have thought when they saw the bounty...surely they knew what treasures they had! I am very glad you posted your favorites...can't wait for Part II! Thank you for the link.


  2. Beautiful photos of all your natives! Treasures one and all.

  3. You have finally solved a puzzle for me:
    Redbuds. Everyone talked about them last Spring and I had no idea what they meant.
    Now I know: Cercis siliquastrum. we call it "Judas Tree" over here because he is supposed to have hanged himself from one of them.

    We have a lovely mature specimen at the edge of our garden. Never been a native here though.(Am I breaking my own rules :-) - no. It was here when we came.)

    Are those violets out now? Mine are just beginning to show buds.

  4. Gail, I agree, we really do have treasures here. I heard someone say that our native spring flowers aren't as showy as the exotics -- I had to wonder where their eyes were. :) The Asian azaleas are beautiful but the grace and fragrance of the natives are not to be matched.

    Hi Shari -- you need to put some posts on your blog! :)

  5. Hi Jo,

    Those violets aren't blooming yet. Next month they should be.

    Our native Redbud is Cercis canadensis. I knew one of the common names for Cercis is Judas Tree, but that name isn't used much here, except perhaps in Appalachia.

    Now you've got me curious -- how much of your garden is native? No judgement from me in any case: as I've said, my favorite flower is Bearded Iris.

  6. Hi Sweet Bay, oh my goodness. You live in heaven!!!! Everything growing in its natural habitat, wild blueberries, even. I would love to see your place in real life! Thanks for the list, I would never leave that spot.


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