Natural Variation in Rose or Swamp Milkweed

I noticed last year that the rose or swamp milkweed (Asclepias incarnata) I planted had significant natural variation in the leaves. The photo below shows three different plants – note the variation in color and size as well as the shape, size and texture of the leaves:

The plant to the left has fuzzy rounded leaves:

The middle plant has longer, paler and less fuzzy leaves:

And the right-most plant has long and narrow leaves that are not at all fuzzy. It also is significantly taller than the other two plants, and has not yet begun to bud:

I find the natural variation fascinating and would love to learn more about it. For example, if I knew more about botany would I know that one of these plants would be better adapted to drier soil based on its characteristics?


New Gardens

It has been a busy gardening year so far. Back in January and February I ordered three bare root Paw-Paw trees from Twisted Tree Farm, a nursery in New York state, plus more bare root trees and shrubs from the New Hampshire State Nursery.  We picked up the trees from New Hampshire in April and planted them in about a week. Most of them have done spectacularly well since, and I will need to add a separate post with photos. I ordered 10 each paper bark birch and alternate-leaf or pagoda dogwood trees, both of which already grow on our property. Unfortunately their crop of dogwood failed, but we received the birch and they all look great. I also ordered their songbird shrub package, 5 each of 5 different shrubs including service berry, american cranberry viburnum, hazelnut, elderberry and beach plum. When we were picking up our order they also had spicebush, so I snapped up 10 of those as well. These were all little sticks going in, so I’ve been impressed. Here is a birch tree:

Paper Bark Birch

I also ordered a pre-planned “shade garden” from Prairie Moon Nursery, and attended the 2018 Grow Native Mass Plant sale in Waltham, Massachusetts. The Grow Native Plant Sale is where I bought the majority of the plants for my garden last year, so I knew the plants were great quality and a great value, and bulked up again.

I had to create a small new garden for the 3 “Green & Gold” or Chrysogonum virginianum I found at the Grow Native Plant sale. They like shade so I grouped them under the Japanese maple in front of our house. I left the existing ferns but covered the rest of the grass and plants with newspaper and mulch to give the plants a chance to establish. Only the plant on the right is blooming, but the other two look healthy:

Three Green & Gold, 2 varieties of fern, and bird bath

The bird bath in the photo above doesn’t have gradually sloping sides, as a bird bath should, and so was essentially ignored by the birds in favor of puddles in nearby tarps. I added a few flat stones and a piece of tile this spring, and it has since been popular with the birds, chipmunks and squirrels for drinking, and even as a bath by a brave few! I hope to replace it eventually with a small pond.

I prepared another new garden bed under a crabapple tree for the preplanned shade garden I ordered in February. Since the plants were late arriving, I used some of the space for other plants I picked up at the native plant sale, including fringed bleeding heart, creeping phlox, foamflower, white turtlehead, and two gorgeous maidenhair fern:

The maidenhair fern looks so delicate I never would have thought to plant it, but in the wonderful new book Native Plants for New England Gardens (published by the New England Wildflower Society), I read that it is a surprisingly tough plant. It is easily one of my new favorite native garden plants!

If you are not ready for a book, this is a helpful list of Native Plants that Attract Pollinators. You may have noticed that I’ve linked to the Missouri Botanical Garden Plant Finder for plant details above – I have found their information more helpful for gardeners than some of the more local resources – I especially love the Comments section and “Plant of Merit” designations.

Why I Love Gardening

I am always amazed by how quickly a new garden fills in. Year one is always difficult – the garden is so sparse that I freely admit to over-planting. But the reward comes in year two.

Here is my foundation garden last year at about this time:

June 15, 2017

And here it is this year:

In foreground starting from back left: Cranesbill Geranium ‘Rozanne,Penstemon digitalis ‘Husker’s Red,Viburnum Nudum ‘Brandywine,‘ then three New Jersey Tea in front, and a Butterfly Weed in the bottom left corner. The background has wild strawberry groundcover, Summersweet Clethra ‘Ruby Spice’ on the left, and Winterberry on the right

So rewarding! Everything has filled in so nicely. The red Beardtongue (Penstemon digitalis) above looks so much better than last year, when it just flopped over onto the ground. I suppose it didn’t take the stress of planting well, though it has clearly recovered. Another view:

Wild strawberry, Penstemon and Cranesbill

I only lost two plants, both of them butterfly weed, though I don’t think butterfly weed is a difficult plant. One of them looked sickly almost from the time I planted it last year – I didn’t expect it to survive the winter and it didn’t.  The other I planted too close to the bird feeder – I think it was trampled by squirrels and I know it was stepped on by garden visitors. I would have given up as well.

Blooming now are blue-eyed grass, mouse-ear coreopsis, and the cranesbill, beardtongue and viburnum in the photos above. The blue-eyed grass and coreopsis started blooming at the end of May/beginning of June and are still at it, the others just began blooming in the last week. A friend gave me the coreopsis last year, so this is the first time I’ve seen it in bloom and it is a stunner. I love the rich gold flowers, and will need a few more for some much needed late spring/early summer color:

Mouse-ear Coreopsis and Blue-Eyed Grass in early June

The blue-eyed grass is one of my favorites. I purchased three of the variety ‘Lucerne’ last year and they bloomed just about all summer long. Blue-eyed grass is a type of iris, and I’ve actually spotted two or three of the native plant elsewhere on our property! I moved one to our garden to see how it does since it was lost in the grass of our yard. I believe the species has a much shorter blooming period than ‘Lucerne,’ but reseed more readily.

The butterfly weed and New Jersey tea are getting close to blooming – next week will be colorful:

Butterfly Weed and New Jersey Tea ready to bloom