Reveling with Ravenel

I’d grown quite a few eryngiums…49 different ones, in fact, before Patrick shared Eryngium ravenelii with us in 2015. Who knew we were missing one of the best eryngiums in the entire genus! Today, Eryngium ravenelii holds several places of honor in our garden, where we can watch the myriad of pollinators who regularly stop by for a nectar snack during flowering season (mid-August to late September).

Eryngium ravenelii was named for American botanist, Henry William¬†Ravenel¬†(1814-1887). In the wild, Eryngium ravenelii grows in standing water in flooded ditches, alongside sarracenias (see bottom photo). We’ve now seen them in the wild in both North Florida and South Carolina, where they grow in calcareous-formed soils. In the garden, they thrive in an array of slightly acidic soils as long as the soil is reasonably moist.

Eryngium ravenelii
Eryngium ravenelii
Eryngium ravenelii

Big Blues

Looking fabulous in the garden now is the perennial Salvia ‘Big Blue’. This amazing sage has been in flower since spring, and has yet to slow down. It’s also a favorite of the native bumblebees.

Salvia ‘Big Blue’

Suckin’ Daphnes

I’ve been surprised to see the black swallowtails regularly enjoying the nectar of the summer-flowering daphnes…in this case, Daphne x napolitana ‘Bramdream’. Our plants are thriving, growing in our full sun rock garden.

Monarch Bait

As gardeners around the country are encouraged to plant more asclepias to encourage monarch butterflies, many folks are finding out that not all species of asclepias make good garden plants. As a genus, asclepias consists of running and clump forming species. There are number of horribly weedy garden plants like Asclepias speciosa, Asclepias syriaca, and Asclepias fasicularis. These plants are fine in a prairie garden, but are disastrous in more controlled home gardens.

One of our favorite clumping species is the easy-to-grow, Arizona-native Asclepias angustifolia ‘Sonoita’. This superb species was shared by plantsman Patrick McMillan. It has proven to be an amazing garden specimen, thriving for years, despite our heat and humidity. Did I mention it flowers from spring through summer?

Curvy Mountain Mint

Gardeners interesting in attracting pollinators to the garden have no doubt experimented with one of the 20 native species of Pycnanthemum (mountain mint). While they are all lovely, most are too vigorously spreading to fit in a typical home garden. Enter Pycnanthemum flexuosum…the curvy mountain mint, is native from Virginia to Alabama, where it is found on moist to damp sites. This tightly clumping species is absolutely perfect for the garden, flowering now in July. This is our collection from Beaufort County, NC. We’ll be propagating this selection for a future PDN catalog. Hardiness is Zone 5-9a.

Curvy Mountain Mint

Swallowing Stokesia

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.

Acacias don’t grow here

If you get your gardening information on-line, where everything written is a fact, you’ll know for sure that acacias aren’t growable in Zone 7b, Raleigh, NC. If that includes you, don’t look at the photo below of Acacia greggii ‘Mule Mountain’ in flower at JLBG. Acacia greggii is a native from Texas west to California. Our seven year-old specimen is from Patrick McMillan’s collection in Cochise County, Arizona.

To be nomenclaturally correct, most of the US Acacias have now been moved into the genus Senegalia, so even though the American species aren’t from anywhere near Senegal, this is now known as Senegalia greggii.

Of course, it you also read the hogwash on-line about native pollinators needed and preferring plants they evolved with, then you’ll also have to ignore the masses of native bees that cause the entire plant to buzz while they’re feeding. It’s good we don’t let our plants and insects read books or the Internet.

Awaken the Kraken

A few weeks ago, we posted images of the flower spike of our Agave ovatifolia ‘Vanzie’ just beginning to spike. Now, the giant beast is in full flower. The first photo below is the plant with its full expanded stalk in full bud, just prior to opening. After that, each image shows the progression of the flower development.

Agaves are monocarpic, so those species like Agave ovatifolia that do not make offsets will die after flowering. Agave ovatifolia is, however, one of a handful of species that usually forms baby plantlets on the tip of flowers stalk after seed set.

Agave ovatifolia ‘Vanzie’

First flowers just beginning to open

Agave ovatifolia ‘Vanzie’

We set up our Little Giant ladder, which allows us to climb up, collect pollen and to make crosses with other agaves.

The lower flower clusters open first and flowering continues to progress each day moving higher up the stalk.

Agave ovatifolia ‘Vanzie’

Climbing the ladder gives you a bird’s eye view of the amazing buds as they are ready to open…usually 200-300 per panicle.

Agave ovatifolia ‘Vanzie’

Below is a half-open flower panicle. The pollen is ripe before the stigma is ready to receive pollen, so pollen can be easily gathered without worry of self pollination.

Below is a fully open flower panicle. Each panicle weighs 5-10 pounds. No wonder the stalk needs to be so sturdy. Once the temperature warms in the morning, the flowers are abuzz with pollinators…mostly bees.

Agave ovatifolia ‘Vanzie’

Looking down from above the flower panicle makes a pretty crazy photo

Agave ovatifolia ‘Vanzie’

Our intern Zoe is working with our volunteer agave curator, Vince Schneider to gather pollen and make crosses with other previously gathered agave pollen

Agave ovatifolia ‘Vanzie’

I usually don’t climb this high…a fear of heights, but this photo opportunity was just too good to resist

Agave ovatifolia ‘Vanzie’

A Visit from the Sphinx

We caught the Nessus Sphinx moth feasting on a patch of phlox this spring. Remember that garden diversity brings more fascinating pollinators into the garden.

Redring Monarch food

One of the little-known native asclepias, milkweed, is flowering in the garden this week. Asclepias variegata, redwing milkweed, is a widespread native, ranging from Canada and Virginia south to Florida, and west to Texas. So, why is this virtually unavailable commercially? Our plants typically range from 1.5′ to 2′ tall, although 3′ is possible. For us, it performs best in part sun to light shade.

The specific epithet “variegata” which refers to two colors on the flower was certainly a poor choice, since most asclepias have multi-color flowers. Of course, Linnaeus didn’t have the benefit of the internet back in 1753.

Tiger by the Tongue

What a lovely color echo we caught this week at JLBG when the tiger swallowtails were visiting Mertensia virginiana (Virginia Bluebells). Remember that botanical diversity results in more pollinators in the garden.

Fall Fatsia Flowers

Here is the wonderful Fatsia japonica ‘Variegata’ in our garden on Oct 25. This fabulous shrub is a member of the aralia family, and a first cousin of the off-despised running ivies. Not only do we love Fatsia for its amazing bold texture and evergreen foliage, but we love it because it flowers in fall. The second photo was taken a mere four weeks later, when it had exploded in full bloom.

Fatsia japonica ‘Variegata’
Fatsia japonica ‘Variegata’

Fatsia japonica is a superb pollinator plant at a time when so little is in full bloom. Our winter low temperatures so far have been 27 degrees F, which hasn’t affected the flowers. Winter hardiness is Zone 7b and warmer.

Fatsia japonica ‘Variegata’