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Grey Days and Scarlet Sage

It’s a grey day in the garden, and it’s beautiful.

Why this particular grey day is beautiful, and the last handful just made me want to sleep for a week, I will leave for the reader—either you know the difference in greys or you don’t, and there’s not much point in explaining it. Possibly it has to do with the thunderstorm that is wandering around, scraping ions together. I don’t know, I just work here.

I got up and drank coffee and had some oatmeal and went outside and said “Crap, it’s cold!” and decided that I absolutely positively had to get the last two Aristolochia vines in the ground today, since those are A) not cheap and B) not common, even though once you get one firmly established it’s approximately as delicate as a cinderblock.  (Also known as Hairy Dutchman’s Pipe. Larval host for Pipevine Swallowtail butterfly. We hatched one solitary butterfly out on my one vine this summer, and I am bound and determined, if the swallowtails are here, to give them as many meals as I can manage. Also I’m hoping it’ll cover the fence.)

What with one thing and another, though, I spent upwards of an hour puttering around, planted a Japanese roof iris (not native, obviously, but a glorious foliage plant and apparently made of iron.) planted a discount pansy that had been sitting around for awhile, and finally potted up a Mammilaria cactus. (Yes. Exactly why you think.) The cactus has been sitting there being ignored in its plastic pot for five months, healthy as a horse, and now that I have finally put it in dirt, I expect it to die instantly and with extreme prejudice.

I also divided the southern stonecrop. There are a few—very few—sedums native to my neck of the woods, and I have all three. So far the Sedum nevii has done fairly well (although looking at photos, I am becoming less and less certain that what I have is actually S. nevii and not something mislabeled.) S. ternatum, woodland stonecrop, is quite marvelous in the shade, and the jury is still out on my newly acquired S. glaucophyllum, which has only been in the ground for a month.

I also yanked up some of the Salvia coccinea. Oof. That’s…quite a plant. Native from Texas to South Carolina, which is good enough for my occasionally somewhat lackadaisical form of native gardening (particularly given our recent zone shift, it’d be creeping this way anyhow.) Also known as “blood sage.” It’s supposed to be an annual. Perhaps it will be. There’s a good chance it could be a tender perennial as well. Either way, I expect that I will never be without it again, because it re-seeds like nothing I have ever seen in my life.

Don’t get me wrong, it’s a gorgeous plant, it grows fast, it has blazing scarlet trumpets of a clear, pure, shocking red, and I am perfectly happy to have it on my painfully dry hillside. It was undoubtedly found in the Piedmont Prairie back in the day (at least that stretch of it south of here) so it’s welcome in mine. But holy crap, it’s EVERYWHERE. One plant, and I have probably fifty babies seeded all over the hillside, and I have a grim premonition that those little tiny green leaflets spread across the path there are not going to turn out to be chickweed.

It’s one of those plants where if you chop off a flower stalk and leave it on the ground, you’ll come back and find a line of seedlings started up where it touched the ground. (Agastache foeniculum will do this, too.)  I’m hoping a fair number of the seeds will fail to overwinter, because otherwise I’m going to have the All Blood Sage, All The Time garden.

That’s not as bad as it could be, honestly. While it’s sometimes called “hummingbird sage,” the hummingbirds are fairly neutral on it. The sulphur butterflies think this stuff is the Best Thing Ever, though, as do those native bees who can manage trumpets and lots of tiny little flitty butterflies that I can’t get close enough to identify.

What I will probably end up doing, if they do overwinter, is tear the stuff up now and again and lug it out to the field out front, where nothing much is going on and I have not bothered to do much in the way of planting. I expect the blood sage would probably manage to sink roots in there. I’ll throw some of the A. foeniculum too, and see if it doesn’t take as well, since lord knows, I’ve got plenty of that, too.

Originally published at Squash's Garden. You can comment here or there.


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The cactus has a roundup supersoaker uzi and will go out in a blaze of glory, taking scores of innocents with him.

Sounds like a plan -- I love Darwinian gardening.

We are having a glorious gray day here, as well, with a light, crisp breeze and layer upon layer of fascinating clouds.

It's grey, cold, and promising damp here. Tomorrow I'm off, and tomorrow I'll plant. Yay!

Not, All the Blood Sage, All the Thyme? *ducks*

I also spent the day puttering away outside. Anyone have a suggestion for a good NC native flower that can survive full sun but doesn't get huge? I want to put in a bed around the mailbox, because it is a pain to mow.

What's the moisture like? And define "huge" in this context. *grin*


It's at the top of a hill, so it has good drainage (or at least as good as it can be, on clay).

It needs to stay below the level of the box. We have a snarky mailman who writes DO NOT BLOCK BOX on the mail if anything is even close to it.

Hmm, fair amount of options. A compact aster might not be bad, though you'd want to keep it clipped occasionally. If it's genuinely well drained, you can do a coreopsis, which wouldn't get too tall (as long as you don't get, y'know, Tall Tickseed or something.) Black-eyed susans are pretty well unkillable. Tradescantia--spiderwort--would probably be my choice, since they have tough, day-lily like foliage, don't get over-tall (though they'll expand out) and have attractive purple flowers in spring and occasional fall, plus being extremely tough. (A really murderous summer will send them dormant, in which case you'd want to plug in petunias or something until they revive.)

A lot of tall flowers will do all right if you chop them off early in the summer - they'll grow back and bloom, just not so high. (I have asters that tend to flop over if I don't do this.)

I'd be cautious if you do plant spiderwort. It's pretty, but it will take over a flowerbed and try to make inroads into a lawn. I've got some one of the other tenants planted before they moved out, and I'm going to have to rip it out before it kills the rosebush -- and the hedge.

At least it's not as bad of the mint, of which there was 10 square feet of. In a flowerbed!

You might look into getting local flowers that butterflies like -- lots of asters are fairly pretty, not too tall, and good for nectarivorous insects.

Thanks; I think I'll try an aster. I am always happy to have more bees and butterflies.

Am I the only person in the world who actually can't grow mint? I've tried in ground and in a pot, and it always dies on me.

Okay, one was strangled to death by the rosemary. The others were mystery deaths, though.

Varieties have differing hardiness. I've found chocolate mint to be a little fragile (though nifty enough to keep buying small pots until I was able to get a patch established). The "Kentucky Colonel" and Applemint varieties seemed particularly hardy. Peppermint and spearmint were in between. I've heard lemon and pinapple mints are less vigorous.

Enough shade can have it struggling. So can too-small pots plus under-watering. Or really bad drainage. Trying to grow in ground that's underwater more than one 24-day in seven also leaves it unhappy, but that's most garden plants. In-ground, a few weeks initial watering helps.

I suppose there could be soil with too extreme a pH for mint, but I think that would probably show up on other plants.

I frequently kill "unkillable" plants. Passionflower, for example. Everybody talks about what a screaming weed it is, how once you've got it, it's everywhere. I've killed four of the damn things, and if this last one doesn't make it, I'm done.

I expect the blood sage would probably manage to sink roots in there This phrase conjures up images of vampiric plants with very long and sharp fangs roots.

I don't have a real yard of my own (we live in a condo) but I'm thinking I might slowly work on planting natives in a nearby area of the power company's land bordering ours. They don't take care of it. It's just a belt of land with power lines. Some of it is overgrown with blackberries, but one enterprising elderly couple opened up a trail into the blackberries and just inside opened up a large area that they now use for a hidden vegetable garden! I love it! I don't know how they manage to keep everything watered, though. They must haul it out there, because even a 100' hose wouldn't be long enough.

I will be talking to our nursery this winter about what options we have for hearty natives. Right now, that area is lots of grass with two trees and bushes at the base of the trees. Not much habitat there. I'm trying to encourage more wildlife, in part so our cats have more to watch from the windows. ;)

We've asked our condo gardener about replacing dying plants with natives. He'll see what he can do. It's not much, but we'll do what we can.

I planted up some daffodil and crocus bulbs today. I'm hoping in pots, they'll be one of the few things to survive the rigors of my teeny balcony full-sun VERY-generously-termed 'garden'.

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