Archive for July, 2009

Rudbeckia Review

Orange coneflower

Black-eyed Susans (Rudbeckia hirta) have become very popular in gardens, but I’d like to point out a couple of cousins that work particularly well in my shady clay-filled garden.  Above is orange coneflower (Rudbeckia fulgida), an enthusiastic grower and bloomer in several parts of the backyard.  It needs some sun, but it seems to do well even with only a couple of hours a day.  It’s very unfussy – I never touch the plants at all, just admire them.

Sweet black-eyed Susan

Sweet black-eyed Susan (Rudbeckia subtomentosa) is a newer addition to the front-yard rain garden.  It’s not as exuberant (yet) as the R. fulgida, but it’s doing great in an extremely rainy year.  The soil in the rain garden has not been amended much, but that doesn’t seem to stop it.  I’m guessing that next year it will look even better.

Wild bergamot

Wild bergamot

Wild bergamot (Monarda fistulosa) is a native Illinois plant, and a good substitute for bee balm (M. didyma), which is not a local native. And bees and other flying critters are definitely loving my bergamot, which is blooming for the first time I’ve seen. I planted it a couple of years ago, and had about given up on it.  Just like I’ve seen with several different native perennials (sweet Joe Pye last year, and pale purple coneflower this year), this plant needed a couple of years to get settled before it bloomed.

Wild bergamot stem

Check out that purple stem!

Raccoon party in the pond

I can stop blaming the baby raccoons now.  Last night, the spouse and I were awoken by loud squealing and chattering coming from the back yard.  With the help of a flashlight, we found at least 6 full-grown raccoons having a party or a fight in and around our pond.  They were deterred only slowly by the light and our yelling.  Here’s some fun facts I learned:

  • Raccoons are not afraid of the water.  We saw a couple cannonball into the deepest part of the pond from our patio.
  • Raccoons don’t need the shallow areas to get out of the pond – they just climbed right up the rocks when they were done in the pond.
  • We couldn’t hear them getting in and out of the pond over the sound of the waterfall.  They may jump right in, but either they’re graceful divers or their small bodies don’t splash louder than the waterfall.  This explains why we never heard them in the pond before – if they’re not yelling, they’re quiet.

The pickerel weed is almost gone now, and the lizard’s tail and water lily are pretty torn up as well.  I didn’t have the heart to do a goldfish headcount this morning.  I’m grateful that this happened after our pond tour day, and that we don’t have expensive koi!

UPDATE: I think most, if not all, of the fish survived the raccoon party.  There’s one shubunkin that I didn’t find, but it’s mostly black, and my walking through the pond to pick up pieces of lizard’s tail, pickerel weed, and water lily root made the water pretty murky.

Floppy Annabelles and little visitors

Lazy Annabelle

When you have record rainfall, even self-staking can’t keep the Annabelle hydrangeas upright! The self-staking (cutting the outer ring of stems in half in May, per my garden guru Kim) did keep them looking good much longer, but the huge flowerheads plus the unending rain finally knocked them down.

Raccoons on the roof

The waterlily is still getting disturbed on a regular basis.  We think we’ve found the culprits: after wrestling and eating crabapples on our porch roof, these baby raccoons met up with an adult raccoon who showed them around the pond.  The adults aren’t so cute because they’re huge, but the babies are awfully sweet (although they provoke some severe agitation among our cats).  I’ll have things straightened out for the pond tour on Sunday, so please stop by if you are in the area!

Bloom Day – July 2009

Annabelle hydrangea and red baneberry
Midsummer means showy blooms and berries, like Annabelle hydrangeas and red baneberry:

  • Lizard tail (Saururus cernuus)
  • Pickerel weed (Pontederia cordata)
  • Water lily
  • Annabelle hydrangea
  • Oakleaf hydrangeas

  • Oakleaf hydrangea
  • Echinacea

  • Purple coneflower (Echinacea purpurea)
  • Pale purple coneflower (Echinacea pallida)
  • Culver's root

  • Culver’s root (Veronicastrum virginicum)
  • Celandine poppy (Stylophorum diphyllum)
  • Indian pink (Spigelia marilandica)
  • Marsh phlox

  • Marsh phlox (Phlox glaberrima)
  • Snapdragon
  • Petunia
  • Calendula
  • Hosta blooms

  • Hosta
  • Daylily
  • Lavender “Blue Cushion”
  • Oregano
  • Thyme
  • Cucumber
  • Raspberry


  • Raspberry
  • Baby cukes

  • Cucumber
  • Red baneberry (Actaea rubrea)
  • Solomon's plume berries

  • Solomon’s plume (Maianthemum racemosum)
  • Blue false indigo (Baptisia australis)
  • Oriental bittersweet (Celastrus orbiculatus)

Pond Tour ’09

Lizardtail and pickerel weed

Pond tour time is rapidly approaching! The MPKS 2009 pond tour starts this Saturday (July 18) and runs both this weekend and next.  You can buy a tour guide and map for $15 at several gardening locations in the greater Chicago area.  My pond will be on the tour on Sunday the 19th – feel free to stop by and say hi.

The Aquascape Chicago pond tour is July 25-26 and is primarily ponds  in the far western suburbs.  The MPKS tour covers the same region on the same weekend, so you can easily go on both tours at the same time.

Both tours are self-guided, and the ponds are open all day long.  It’s a lot of fun to drive around and see how different people’s ponds and yards can be!