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Tuesday, June 19, 2007

To Bee or not to Bee

(The garden as it looked last night. Lots of pollen and nectar to be had.)

Bumble bees have always been like jewels in my garden.

Luckily, I'm not allergic to any stings. In fact, two years ago I stepped on a wasps nest and was stung 12 to 15 times on my legs. Although I was in severe pain, I only experienced some shakiness for the first few hours and that was most likely due to shock.

When my daughters were little my dad would come over and show them how to pet a bumble bee. He'd look for the tall stalks of Liatris. Sure enough by late afternoon they'd be studded with drunken bees and you could gently take your finger and stroke their back.

(Bees aren't all that like Liatris. Every garden should have waves and waves of this plant.)

The only time anybody has been stung by a bumble bee here is when they were walking barefoot over the clover.

(Besides on clover, I always find bees on the bloom stalks of lambs ears (Stachys byzantine)

Our local paper has carried a number of articles this year about the sudden collapse of bee hives. This is a huge problem for the entire world and I hope they figure out what is causing this disaster. That being said, yesterday I found a nest of bumble bees!

(Can you say "Cheese" little bee?)

Our sprinkler system is all on one zone but there's a strip of pop up heads along the driveway that needs to be turned on with this little valve. The valve is in a nice neat hole in the ground with a good hard cover. Many times I keep that cover off because that hole seems to be the perfect hole for every creature in the garden. Two years I found chipmunks in there, this past winter there was a family of mice or voles in there and now, there's a ground nest of bees.

I wasn't sure if they were bees until I read about them at These guys fit the profile perfectly. Since the nest is an annual event, I'm going to leave it bee (ha!). There are no tours coming through the garden this year and if people come over I'll just cover the hole so nobody disturbs the bees. I tried like crazy to get their picture yesterday as they buzzed across the tops of my Spirea but they just wouldn't hold still and pose for the camera.

Off to water,

Monday, June 18, 2007

Plant Profile - Baptisia (false Lupine)

Happy Monday all,

Although my first inclination was to write a post about garden furniture, I thought it's been a while since I actually focused on plant material.

The first Baptisia plant I bought was the standard blue variety. We were living in a different house, on a 1/4 acre piece of property and I was truly a novice gardener. That Baptisia grew quickly and made a wonderful statement in one of my perfectly square beds. But, when it came time for us to move, I dug half-way to China and still didn't get to the bottom of it's roots. I left it behind, only to find out a year later that the new owners removed that garden to extend the driveway.

Since Baptisias aren't all that expensive, I just picked up another blue one and put it in my garden here. It wasn't a named variety, at least it didn't come with a name. As before, it quickly grew to the size of a shrub. Unfortunately this time I hadn't placed it correctly and I ended up having to remove it two years ago.

Baptisia 'Purple Smoke' is a variety that's been on the market for a number of years now. It too was planted in a temporary location. Oops! If you haven't guessed yet, Baptisia's do not transplant well. I tried pretty hard to get as much of 'Purple Smoke' as possible. Since it had only been in that spot a few years it was still pretty small but two years later it still looks awful in it's new home.(Hopefully you can see the size of the whole Baptisia plant in this photo. Remember, they don't like to be moved so think carefully before you plant one of these lovely creatures.)
About 5 years ago I was lecturing in Mississippi when I saw a white Baptisia. It was love at first sight! It took a while but I finally found one and planted it in the garden here. I'm guessing that we're at it's northern most growing zone, this crazy winter gave it a run for the money but it's blooming right now (a bit smaller than last year) and I just adore it. Reading about it on line here I found out that I can collect the seeds and grow them on. It does have wonderful seed pods and I usually let seeds sow on their own but I've never noticed a seedling growing around this beauty.
Another Baptisia I have in my back yard is the wonderful yellow variety 'Screaming Yellow'. As you can see by the photo, the name is quite apropos. My one mistake here was planting it next to a Physocarpus 'Diablo'. The color combination is quite smashing but the nine-bark out grows it so quickly that it blocks all the sun. This time though I've learned my lesson. As soon as the Physocarpus finished blooming I cut it back hard and I plan on moving it as soon as I can figure out where the heck I can fit it in.

Last year I cut the Physocarpus back very hard before it leafed out. Although I lost all the bloom that year, it still gave me a wonderful dark purple backdrop. In this photo you can see the beautiful white Alliums that I have planted in that same spot. This year not one single allium bloomed although there is some sickly looking foliage there. It's a mystery to me what happened, could it be our lousy winter or was it just too much shade? I always thought those nibbling creatures stay away from alliums.

I wish I had a photo of a blue or purple Baptisia to share but the ones I have are slides and I still haven't figured out how to get them here.

By the way, if you are looking for more information on Baptisias, I found the most wonderful write up at Now I don't know why that's not highlighted the way a link usually is but hopefully when I post this it will come through correctly. If not, google 'plantdelights baptisia' and I'm sure you'll find it.

Off to hunt for more garden furniture. I'll take some pictures late this afternoon so you can see what I'm looking for.