Tuesday, May 8, 2012

Can I Look at Your Lawn?

Back in the days when I had a nice lawn (organically maintained, of course), no one ever asked if they could look at my lawn. I guess there was no point. With a lawn, you can pretty much see all there is to see from the street. There is no need to get out of the car for an up close look. A blade of grass at the street looks just like a blade of grass near the house.

That all changed after I removed the lawn and planted native prairie plants. This year, especially, there have been a surprising number of people that drive up to my property, stop and ask if they can look at my garden or ask if I can identify plants for them. I have not asked, but I think people are more interested in water conserving landscape options after last year’s drought (and the drought that may be shaping up for this year?). Besides that, I think my plants are more interesting than the plants in a typical suburban landscape.

Many of the visitors tracked me down as a result of this blog. (Even readers from Singapore!) Others live nearby or were passing through the neighborhood when the colorful wildflowers that fill my prairie caught their attention. I could make it easier for future visitors to find my prairie by giving my address or at least my street name like Scott at Rhone Street Gardens, but where would be the challenge and fun of the hunt if I made it so easy? I give the city in my blog name, so that should be enough.

Wildflowers are arguably the most important feature of my prairie. Not only because they are attractive, but they provide an oasis for the native wildlife in the lawn desert of my neighborhood. Many varieties of butterflies and bees visit the flowers for nectar. Some butterflies select specific wildflowers to lay their eggs (think of monarchs and milkweed as one example). Wildflowers also attract other insects, which will attract lizards and birds. Birds will also feed on the seed of the dried flowers. And I can’t forget the hummingbirds that drink nectar from many of the flowers. No plastic hummingbird feeders with sugar water are needed here. Every year I “discover” new birds, butterflies, and bees in my prairie garden that I have never seen before. And here I am in the middle of a sterile neighborhood in the ninth largest city in Texas.

This week, May 7 through May 13, is National Wildflower Week. In celebration, here are photos of just a few of the wildflowers blooming in my prairie garden.

Standing on the sidewalk in front of my house and looking to the left, a number of wildflowers are in full bloom. Beginning at the top center are the flower spikes of Red Yucca, Hesperaloe parviflora. These flowers always have a hummingbird nearby, but I have not seen many yet this year. The blue flowers to the right are Mealycup Sage, Salvia farinacea. The larger yellow flowers on the right are a Coreopsis that appeared in the prairie after a two year absence. The smaller and more numerous yellow flowers are Four Nerve Daisy, Tetraneuris scaposa. The Four Nerve bloomed all through the mild winter and need a little dead heading to clean up the dried flowers. Off to the left is Salvia greggii and nearby are several similarly colored Rock Penstemon, Penstemon baccharifolius. Purple Winecup, Callirhoe involucrata, flowers are scattered throughout.

Here is a close up of the Rock Penstemon.

Looking to the right from the same spot on the sidewalk are more wildflowers. Clockwise from the upper left corner is a flower of the Black Sampson or Narrow Leaf Coneflower, Echinacea angustifolia. There are several Coneflower plants just outside the left frame of the photo. Next to the Coneflower is a naturally occurring white seedling of the purple Mealycup Sage. To the lady that is a caretaker of a cemetery in Plano: I forgot to mention that this variety of Mealycup Sage was found growing wild in an unwatered  cemetery in Texas on the graves of Henry and Augusta Duelberg. The purple variety is sold as Henry Duelberg Salvia and the white variety is sold as Augusta Duelberg Salvia. If you only plant the purple flowered plant, I think you will eventually have some white flowered plants as well. Continuing on the right side of the photo and in front of the Salvias are more Four Nerve Daisies, the Mexican native Pink Skullcap, Scutellaria suffrutescens, Indian Blanket, Gaillardia pulchella, on the left side of the photo and more Winecup in the center of the photo.

Here is a close up of the Black Sampson Echinacea with an accompanying Painted Lady butterfly. 

Here is another shot. I like how the petals gradually get longer as the flower ages and droop down like a hula skirt. My plants came from two different sources. Assuming they were correctly labeled, I have two variations of Black Sampson because the flowers of two plants are almost white, while the flowers of another plant are a darker pink.

Here is a close up of the Mealycup sage with Painted Lady butterfly.

A honeybee collects pollen on an Indian Blanket.

This is American Basket flower, Centaurea americana. I don't have as many plants as I would like because this is an annual and I have to rely on the plants reseeding each year. I only have two plants this year. Birds are supposed to like the seeds.

Asclepias tuberosa is one of three types of native milkweed that I have growing in my prairie. I also have a Mexican milkweed variety. Milkweed is the host plant for the caterpillars of monarch butterflies. 

If you let the caterpillars munch on a few leaves, you may be able to observe the metamorphosis from caterpillar to butterfly, as I did this year.  Monarchs are never far away when the Gregg's Mistflower, Conoclinium greggii, is in bloom. Monarch and Queen butterflies love Gregg's Mistflower.

Horsemint, Monarda citriodora, is another annual wildflower in my prairie. Horsemint is pretty and attracts bees and butterflies, but, unlike the American Basketflower, its numerous seeds sprout everywhere. The extra seedlings are easy to remove and the leaves have an interesting fragrance.

This is a variety of Gaura that I acquired from a vacant lot a couple of years ago. The original plant died after the first season and this new plant appeared nearby two years later.

The flowers of Chocolate Daisy, Berlandiera lyrata, smell like a chocolate perfume. The scent fills the air around the plants on still mornings. An Orange Sulphur butterfly (looks yellow to me) enjoys the nectar of the flowers.

Mexican Hat, Ratibida columnaris, grows large in my garden. Maybe a bit too large. It also reseeds easily. It is also another great bee and butterfly plant.

Aquilegia canadensis, Eastern Red Columbine, is wrapping up its blooming season for the spring.

Meanwhile, Symphyotrichum oblongifolium, a fall aster is blooming a few months early. A skipper enjoys the nectar of the flowers.

This is Snake Herb, Dyschoriste linearis. It is the one plant that every visitor to my prairie was most interested in this year. It is drought tolerant groundcover that grows in full sunlight in the parkway between the street and sidewalk. I will share more about this plant in a dedicated post soon. 

This is a Question Mark butterfly. One of the many butterflies found in my garden thanks to the wildflowers.


  1. Lots of great blooms going on in your garden!! I have both Henry and Augusta. Augusta seems to just show up in the middle of Henry (not where she was originally planted). I am wondering if Henry just reseeded and came back as Augusta out at the original cemetery where Greg Grant found them. Interesting. I love them both. Prolific bloomers and butterfly and bee attractors for sure!! Whenever they get "leggy" I just whack them back down to about an inch or two above the ground, and they come back in just a few weeks blooming again but more compact and full.

    1. Toni, I never planted Augusta, but here she is haunting my prairie. It must be true love between Henry and Augusta. They just can't stay apart. I use the same whacking technique. It works like a charm. By the way, did you click the Henry Duelberg link above? There is a photo of the Duelberg's headstone with Henry (the salvia) growing on the grave.

  2. LOVE THIS POST! You have a great variety of natives. So Wonderful! You have reminded me of what I’m missing. A few of my natives did not return this year. I will need to purchase seed packets this fall and start them again. I totally get what you are saying about folks wanting to visit a garden…BUT NOT A LAWN! Happy Gardening!

    1. Thanks Lucy. It is strange how some of the native wildflowers grow in cycles. I did not have any Coreopsis or Gaura last year and this year they popped up in several locations. I think something with last year's heat and drought or this spring's rain caused the seeds to sprout. Who knows. Your missing natives may return another year. It is funny about lawns. Most people want a nice one and then they never use it.

  3. So glad that you're getting people interested about your landscaping, not upset about it! As I read, I found myself wondering how you started - primarily with seeds or with small plants?

    When does aromatic aster usually start blooming for you? This seems incredibly early to have it blooming to me - mine doesn't usually show any sign of bloom until mid September.

    You've got me researching a few plants this morning too. Dyschoriste, unfortunately, seems to be a bit tender for us, based on its native range.

    Thanks for a wonderful post!

    1. Gaia Gardener, most of the plants started as small transplants and I never get more than a couple to try out. Often, I only get one plant. If it survives and does not try to take over the prairie, I will root cuttings or start seedlings from that plant if I want more. Then there are some like the horsemint that don't need any help except to thin them out.

      The aster usually begins blooming in September or October. This one is a little confused about the months.

      My guess is that the Dyschoriste (snake herb) is a zone 7 plant. Probably a little too tender for Kansas.

  4. This is a great post.
    Being too far away to walk up and ask questions, this gave me some names of some of these plants.
    The Snake Herb and the Echinacea are now on my list of must haves.
    Thanks for the info.
    It's all beautiful!

    1. Thanks Linda. The Snake Herb and Echinacea are great plants, although I am not certain that the Echinacea is actually Echinacea augustifolia. It was sold as Black Sampson coneflower, but I have wondered if it could be Echinacea pallida. Good luck finding the plants.

  5. Oh definitely! I can certainly understand why. When we decided to visit family in Plano later this month, your garden was first on my list of sights to see. It's such a contrast to the sea of sameness and conformity that is the norm in Plano.

    Breathtaking! Your photos and variety of flowers are just beautiful and I am totally looking forward to the experience.

  6. Thanks Shirley. I hope you are not disappointed when you see it all in real life. The photos on the blog are carefully framed. We seem to be moving quickly into the summer dormancy period too.
    I potted some gayfeather for you.

  7. Beautiful post! I love ratibida pinnata, shame it is very difficult to find seeds on sale here in Italy! I had it just once and it didn't set seeds.
    Those chocolate daisies are very charming, I wish I could smell some chocolate in my garden too! :)

    1. Thanks Alberto. Ratibida pinnata almost looks like a larger version of my Ratibida columnaris. The chocolate daisies are interesting plants. The chocolate scent from the yellow flowers is unexpected.

  8. Another great post. It's so good of you to take time to tell us about your plants as well as grow them for the wildlife. But I'm soo disappointed that I can't just find the coordinates of your house in Google Earth and point my car that way when I start south this fall. :) Have to do a little research.

    I have found that gardens bring us together and native gardens bring us together with both people and animals.

    1. I bet you can find me if you try hard enough, Marilyn. Everything is on the internet! Let me know if you need help.

  9. Garden looks superb. The Kansas wildflower society calls the balck simpson our native Echinacea also. I've been amazed by the native plants flowering this sping in the roadsides and plains. Many Baptisas, Alchillea, Mimosa (cat-claw), primose, and of course tuberoius milkweed. I scoped out some ravaged ecavated land next the plant I work out of and many of the natives were repopulating the soil. I have discoverd many cat-claw mimosa's in a flood prevention pond area. I'm sure they won't miss a few ..

  10. greggo, The cat-claw mimosa looks like an interesting plant. I have been known to "rescue" a few plants from the wild. Most were in areas that are now under concrete.

  11. I love the basketflower and I have thousands of plants in a huge swath across my 4 acre prairie. Fragrance is so fresh smelling and they are 5 feet so butterfly watching is at eye level. Glad to send you some seeds.


    1. Thanks for the offer Kathy. Five feet tall may be a little too tall for my garden. Mine only get about three feet tall. In what part of the world is your four acre prairie?

    2. Brenham. 4' is the usual but it has been a wet year. In Houston my basket flowers are 7 feet and I had to stake them. I pinch them back sometimes and they branch out and of course are a lot shorter. The seeds are mostly native to Brenham but I also bought seeds from Native American Seed in Junction.

  12. I can't imagine anyone not being blown away by your garden...especially with all the surrounding monoculture lawns as a contrast! The Black Sampson Echinacea is kind of amazing...I love how the reduced petals really draw attention to the vibrantly-colored cone...really striking!


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