Sunday, July 3, 2011

Garden Update for Independence Day Weekend

A guest post by David's Wife (David is pretty busy with his insect inventory of the garden, so I figured this is a good time for a guest post).

We stayed in town this weekend and I'm glad because the garden is extremely pleasant and interesting right now.  Here is a sampler of  some gorgeous pictures David took this morning .

It's hard to believe that we're already well past the "early" wildflowers, like sagebrush buttercups, biscuit roots, larkspur and even lupine and arrowleaf balsamroot.  The bunchgrasses are towering, the blue penstemons are fading, our chickadee family has left the nest box, and we are on to the true summer blooms, like Oregon sunshine (Eriophyllum lanatum, the bright orange) and clarkia (purple).
Clarkia are one of the only native annual wildflowers that put on a good show for the garden. They look beautiful scattered about singly, or when they pop up in huge clusters like the photo on the right.  Some people call these elk horns because of the shape of the petals. Here's a little Latin name geekery for those who might enjoy such things: clarkia's latin name is Clarkia pulchellum and was named after that one guy in the Lewis and Clark expedition.  Lewis, the other guy, had the Montana State Flower named after him, the bitterroot: Lewisia rediviva.  Of course it wasn't the state flower at the time, since Montana wasn't a state for a goodly time after the expedition, but my point is that they got some nice plants named after them.

Even though the early flowers have passed their flowering time, many of them have really stunning seeds or fruits. For example, look at this prairie smoke in the photo below. It's the pinkish one that looks like something out of a Dr. Suess book. Each flower of this plant makes dozens of seeds, and each seed has a feathery, wispy tail attached, which is how it got the common name prairie smoke. It looks like smoke.  The other common name for it it is old man's whiskers.  Check out the yarrow blooming in the background- they are starting to bloom like crazy.  By the way yarrow is a great perennial to include in your garden.  It has a bad reputation for spreading when it gets too much water, but it brings a lot to your wildlife garden (read more in this post "yarrow is not a four letter word"). 
Here's a close up of one of our serviceberry bushes- another early blooming species that is getting on with the seed formation. About a month ago serviceberry shrubs around Missoula were covered with white flowers the size of quarters.  This individual looks extra cool right now because it has some kind of rust disease growing on the leaves.  This is usually not a problem for the plants- lots of Montana shrubs have various rusts growing on them in the wild, and I've not heard of it becoming a problem (except for that situation with the blister rust and white bark pine, but that was an introduced disease). Notice the young berries hanging in the center of the photo. Don't they look like a combination of rose hips and baby apples? Serviceberries are related to both of those.  The berries are edible but usually pretty pithy, so leave them for the wax wings.

I mentioned yarrow above, and below are two more work horses of the Montana native plant and wildlife garden: showy fleabane (purple) and blanket flower (yellow and red, often with orange).  So simple and so beautiful, and so easy to grow.  They love sunny dry places, and although we never irrigate them, we always have plenty of flowers for bouquets.

A slightly more delicate plant (but not too much more delicate, it just likes a little bit of shade) is shown here growing near my backyard hammock. It's gorgeous. My hammock, that is. And the plant is nice, too. It is the mountain hollyhock, and the flowers look like they are made of porcelain or maybe the most terribly fine parchment paper you've ever seen. They hardly seem real. I like the non-native cottage garden species of hollyhock but this one is even better, almost too good to true. Fortunately for everyone it is not only true, but easy to grow and you can find starts at many of the local nurseries and Saturday markets in Missoula. Latin name is Iliamnus rivularis, just so you don't buy the wrong thing.

And another summer favorite is blooming its head off right now is mock orange (aka syringa). We have about fve of these, and the branches are bending down with the loads of flowers, which smell like citrus. This is the state flower of Idaho but that doesn't mean they are the only ones who get to enjoy it. It grows wild in Montana, too, you know. Today I snapped a picture with my cell phone of a swallowtail butterfly eating nectar from one of these. It was almost too much beauty all at once.

I've not even mentioned the scarlet gilia, golden aster, giant collomia or yellow evening primrose. Suffice it to say, the garden is off the hook. We're having an Open House Garden Party later this month, and if you are on our Butterfly Properties Constant Contact email list, you'll be getting an invitation soon. If you don't get an invitation, you are still invited. Let us know if you need the address and time.  

When you get here, you'll probably get to see the red breasted nuthatches feeding their nestlings.  However you won't be able to gain access to the nest because the parents have cleverly covered the opening in impenetrable sap.  So don't even think about it.  We, on the other hand, would welcome your visit!


  1. I’ve tried to plant clarkia but it didn’t grow perfectly. It looks dry and there are black spots on its flower. Can you give me some tips about it?

  2. Hi Melanie,
    Thanks for your comments. I didn't know the answer to this, so I turned to my friend Kathy at Blackfoot Native Plant Nursery ( and here is her reply:
    "Although Clarkia grows in hot, dry places, it is somewhat spindly and has few flowers in the wild.
    Getting it to grow lush and getting it to bloom continuously (often for several months) means putting it in good soil (compost is one of its favorites) and giving it regular water, or at least keeping it somewhat moist.
    I don't know about the black spots - usually that is an indication of a fungus or disease of some sort - and I've never had that on my Clarkia."

    I hope this helps!

  3. What a nice variety of flowers you have! Except that there is one picture of a plant whose leaves look infected with rust or some kind of parasitic fungi. I think one remedy for this is to remove all the infected parts and then spray the plant with a home pesticide like one that contains garlic, oil and soap.

  4. Pretty good post. I just stumbled upon your blog and wanted to say that I have really enjoyed reading your blog posts. Any way I’ll be subscribing to your feed and I hope you post again soon. sensi seeds