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Got Milkweed?

If you are reading this, doubtless you know the Golden Rule of Biodiversity: plant milkweed. Please. No, I take back the “please”. Just do it. Even if you garden on only a balcony, grow some milkweed in a clay pot. However you manage it (ie “float” its diaphanous seed in the parkway or the alley), be a guerrilla biodiversifier and…plant milkweed.

You know why I am pushy about this plant: because its leaves are the only thing that Monarch butterflies can eat. As noted entomologist Doug Tallamy says, “To have butterflies, we need to make butterflies. To make butterflies, you must use a native species that serve as a host for butterfly larvae [Ed: that’s a caterpillar] as well as a supply of nectar for adult butterflies. Butterflies do not lay their eggs on any old plant. They lay their eggs only on the plant species to which their larvae are adapted”. And that means…Milkweed.

You even have choices when it comes to which milkweed, but three species are commonly available in garden centers or via seed packets:

The Common milkweed [Asclepias syriaca], which has husky leaves, roots that grow to China, and a handsome dusty rose globe of a flower. [If you are worried about this being too aggressive, look for its cousin, Sullivant’s milkweed, which grows slowly, albeit by rhizomes, which means its good in tough-to-grow-anything-else spots. Nonetheless, I like the Common milkweed in gardens–it provides a tall, solid, almost tropical contrast although you might have to tie it up with a strong shoelace.]

 

Common-milkweed-

Common Milkweed

The Butterfly weed [Asclepias tuberosa], which has flowers the extravagant color of a Navel orange, does well in dry, “crappy” soils, and makes a great bouquet;

1-P1060073 butterfly weed

 

 

The Red or Swamp milkweed [Asclepias incarnata] has a two-toned pink flower, narrow leaves, and a pleasing way of gracing a moist spot–especially nice en masse if you have a lake edge to landscape.

Swamp milkweed [Asclepias incarnata]

Swamp milkweed [Asclepias incarnata]

And if Monarch’s weren’t good enough for you, at least 11 other species of butterflies and moths reproduce on milkweed as well. Goldfinches eat the insects that get trapped in the flowers and also use milkweed seed “down” for nesting material, and you may see (good) beetles on the plants as well. Biodiversity can be easy if you try!

Milkweed pods and the seeds that float on the air...

Milkweed pods and the seeds that float on the air…

Okay, I’ll be nice again. PLEASE plant milkweed someplace on your property. Or your balcony. And now I won’t be nice: if you work for a municipality, we gardeners expect to see milkweed growing everywhere around town. It’s the law.#

A Gardener’s April Musings

This is the way my mind works, on fertilizer…

  • Dream of the day when I whip out my wallet and plunk down $20,000 so we can go on a garden tour of England. Scotland, too. H’mmm…maybe the kid’s life-saving operation could wait…
  • Regret that I bought 1,000 daffodil bulbs and planted only 5 before the hard frost arrived. They woulda looked nice.
  • Consider if this year the tomatoes will have time to ripen, unlike last year. And the year before that. Or will it be 100 degrees for 60 days and it’s too hot to go outside and pick the damn things?
  • Send in a seed order from one catalog, then another. And another. Later realize that I ordered the same seeds over and over. I sure love basil.
  • Variation on above: Order $300 worth of seed after looking at all the pretty pictures. Plant only the marigolds.
  • Congratulate myself on planting 1,000 tulip bulbs. Ponder whether the insanity defense will apply after the deer eat every last one, the day before they bloomed.
  • Vow I will weed every week this year no matter what. Then learn to spell h-e-r-b-i-c-i-d-e. [Just kidding, don’t send hate mail.]
  • Part 1: Resolve that this year I will hire a landscape designer.
  • Part 2: Finally get around to calling several landscape designers only to find out that all are completely booked until 2016.
  • Part 3: Decide to design the garden myself. Then realized it’s an awful lot of trouble to measure everything and find a big piece of paper to draw on. Much easier to buy the plants and then decide what to do.
  • Think about calling an arborist and having him prune that BIG limb hanging over the roof. (What was it I heard about ash trees?) While writing “tree guy” on my to-do list, hear a loud crash.
  • Wish that I had built a coldframe for growing seedlings instead of growing them on the windowsill, which is sagging from rot caused by watering the seedlings. While wishing, watch the seedlings wilt from too much watering.
  • Invest big bucks in lights, plant stands, trays, soilless mix, seeds, i.d. tags, and heating mats. Later realize that that itsy-bitsy head of lettuce set me back $840.
  • Haul out the dirt, the trays, the water, and the ever-so-carefully transplanted seedlings. Next day, come downstairs to find the cat is very happy and the floor is very messy.
  • Decide to replace the lawn with wildflowers. Buy a big bag of seeds and after killing the grass and sowing the seeds, be told it’s full of wildflowers that won’t survive in Chicago. The ones that will survive are noxious weeds.
  • Wonder why I didn’t manage to go on even one garden walk last year. Vow to do better this year. Hope that no one EVER wants my garden on their walk.
  • Wonder if 85 degrees on May 1st is “climate change” and we’d better get used to it. Feel overwhelming fatigue coming on…better go inside and sit down. Thank God for ice cubes–which count as gardening because they involve “water” and “hoses”. And vodka is made from a garden product, right? ##

Today’s Favorite Flower: Bloodroot

Bloodroot 4-27-2013 1-57-54 PM 4320x3240 I know each of you is walking around outside in this 80 degree weather–it’s actually HOT, almost unpleasant (it got really unpleasant when the Lawn Guy got me good with the leafblower. Was that deliberate or an accident?). Anyway, the bloodroot [Sanguinaria canadensis] have s-t-r-e-t-c-h-e-d their little faces to the sun and are delightful delightful. Do you have them in your woods? Or in your garden? Yes, of course you do or you will be driven out of the coven… Love, Rommy

That Little Blue Flower From Siberia. Or Not.

scilla-siberica

Isn’t this a lovely spring scene? And in looking at it, the “Queen of the Arcane” (as my friend Patti calls me) thought, “Ah, Scilla siberica”. Great name—fun to say—but I wonder. Did  it really originate in Siberia as its name implies?

This ridiculous question led me straight to Wikipedia, which let me know that I was barking up the wrong tree, so to speak, by thinking “Siberia”. Not even close. This little blue beauty is Persian, wouldn’t you know, with forays north into Turkey, Armenia, Azerbaijan, Georgia, Belarus, and Ukraine. Which means it comes from a slice of the world north and south along the Volga River. Check it out—nothing to do with Siberia whatsoever.

map-siberia

But wait, there’s more! The Queen of the Arcane has an additional geography lesson based on that cute blue flower.  According to Wikipedia, there are 80 different species of Scilla. In addition to our little Siberian impersonator, several others have confusing geographies. For example, there’s Scilla mesopotamica, which seems geographically this.close to Siberica. This.close means they’re probably the same damn plant. And even more confusing? Scilla peruviana.  From Peru, right? Except that it’s called the Portugese squill by some and the Cuban Lily by others. Peru? Portugal? Cuba? Which is it? Maybe these Scilla botanists are simply as geographically challenged as most Americans.

But then there are my personal favorite species: the Scilla flaccidula and even better, Scilla haemorrhoidalis. So what countries do they come from? Or, put another way, what countries actually want to claim those two as natives?

SEND ME GREAT PHOTOS OF LARGE CARPETS OF SCILLA and don’t forget to say WHERE you took the photo… presumably not in Siberia!