No garden is complete without at least one rudbeckia. Looking good in the garden now is the lovely Rudbeckia umbrosa. Formerly recognized as a a subspecies of the more commonly grown Rudbeckia fulgida, this is a very different plant that’s taller, and with very hairy foliage. For us, this moist woodland native tops out between 30″ and 36″, with a much more open habit. Although it’s little known in gardens, it’s actually native from the Carolinas west to Missouri. Zone 5a to 8b.
Elliott’s aster (Symphyotrichum elliottii) is the absolute last of our asters to flower at JLBG. It doesn’t begin to flower until the first of November and withstands the mild frosts of October like they didn’t even happen. It is naturally found in tidal freshwater marshes and other moist open sites from the Virginia and Carolina coastal plain south to Florida and west to Louisiana. Though it hails from moist environments it thrives under general garden conditions if the soil isn’t allowed to become too droughty.
The plant has a lot to recommend it besides the time of flower. It forms stiff stems rising 5-6’ tall crowned with a dense pyramidal arrangement of inflorescences of pale pink with a hint bluish-purple ray flowers and bright yellow disk flowers. The lack of lanky branches allows this tall aster to display its flowers without flopping all over the rest of your garden in the manner typical of asters. It spreads via rhizomes, so you need to be sure to give it space to roam a bit. It provides a dramatic impact when planted at the back of borders. Though it spreads, it doesn’t roam far from the parent plant and can be easily kept in place by yearly thinning of the outer edges of the clumps.
The most outstanding feature of this beautiful aster to me is the number and diversity of pollinators it supports. I don’t think I’ve ever seen a plant that attracted more. In addition to swarms of honeybees, bumblebees, carpenter, and solitary bees the flowers draw in numerous pollinating flies, halictids, moths and skippers. I love plants that extend the color season and though we all think about early spring, we really should also plant to extend our love affair with color into the leafless season and Elliott’s aster does this is a big way.
Our clump of the native, Sabatia kennedyana just finished another amazing floral show. This fabulous, but easy-to-grow perennial has a truly odd native distribution on the coastal border of North and South Carolina, on the coastal border of Massachusetts and Rhode Island, and in Nova Scotia! I don’t think I’ve ever seen such an odd, disjunct range. Sabatia kennedyana is best suited for a sunny, slightly acidic bog, but regular garden soil will work fine, if it’s kept moist. I have no idea why this isn’t grown in every garden that has the correct conditions. Winter Hardiness is Zone 6-8, at least.
Another of our favorite early summer plants is the amazing southeast US native Dichromena colorata (aka: Rhynchospora colorata). Known by the common name, white-top star grass/sedge, this tough-as-nails groundcover can be found inhabiting moist ditches from NC to Texas. The floral show last for 1-2 months, depending on weather. Here, we have it growing in regular garden soil (sandy loam) amended with compost, and irrigated regularly. White-top sedge does spread, but not aggressively. Regardless, we’d recommend keeping away from nearby wimpy growers, which would be quickly consumed. Hardiness is Zone 7a and warmer.
This is the time of year when the tiger swallowtails feast on our many patches of the amazing native Stokes aster. Our favorite clone is the upright growing Stokesia laevis ‘Peachie’s Pick’. Moist soils are best, but stokesia tolerates some dry conditions on a short term basis as long as it has 2-6 hours of sun.
Even when the sun isn’t out, the golden willow, Salix sachalinensis ‘Golden Sunshine’ provides a bright spot in the garden. We love this amazing tree. I see quite a few sources who list this on-line as maturing at 18′ tall x 7′ wide. Well, that’s not quite accurate. The five year old specimen pictured below is now 25′ tall x 25′ wide. Growth is much faster in moist, rich soils, but it seems someone needs to trade in their tape measure.