Of love and late-summer flowers

Painted Lady butterfly on stonecrop sedum. Painted Lady butterflies are abundant this year.

Lately, I’ve been thinking a lot about love and late-summer flowers. I’m not sure what brought on these musings, but I think it may have something to do with turning the big double nickel last week.

I’m a late-summer flower myself.

I’m also helping my mother sell her home and move into independent living, letting my children grow up and turning my mothering to Monarch caterpillars. I’ve watched the devastation of two hurricanes in the news with alarm, resignation and then love and admiration for those who helped. Plus, I finished listening to the S-Town podcast and read Y is for Yesterday (A Kinsey Millhone Novel), by Sue Grafton, on my birthday.

Whew! I have a lot going on. Please bear with me as I sort out my thoughts. It’s good this blog is called Red Dirt Ramblings, especially today. Grab a cup of coffee or tea and wander with me, okay?

Monarch caterpillar on butterfly weed
Monarch caterpillar on butterfly weed.

Honestly, I was feeling kind of dismal about the state of the world last week until I steeped myself in prayer and cut more milkweed for my baby Monarchs.

The hurricane coverage and overall media misery were starting to get to me, and S-Town and Y is for Yesterday didn’t help either. As I listened to S-Town, I began to feel like a voyeur. The series took an especially dark turn in the last chapter which made me want to cry for John B. McElmore. I think this opinion piece by Jessica Goudeau in The Atlantic sums my dilemma up pretty well. It does contain spoilers so keep that in mind if you read it. One sentence from the poetry and letters she discussed stood out for me “Probe your own life and past if you must, but you cannot use another person’s trauma without permission for your aesthetic gain.” At the end of the podcast, only ashes remained, along with an icky feeling of crawling through one man’s private angst.

Y is for Yesterday cover.

As for Y is for Yesterday, I bought and saved it for my birthday. For me, it’s a kind of ritual because I’ve read all of her books from the beginning. I met Grafton, and I admire her greatly. After all, I’ve only written one book that’s been published. I don’t want to give anything away in the 25th installment of my favorite detective series, but the ending wasn’t the least bit redemptive. Grafton wrote another book in the series with a similar ending, and it wasn’t my favorite either. While life is messy, novels, especially detective novels, are all about setting the universe back to rights after something throws it into chaos. It’s why people read detective novels. Some of you might argue that things in fictional Santa Teresa, CA, were set right, but I didn’t think so. I did enjoy much of the novel and laughed out loud at Kinsey Millhone, who I’ve grown to love as an old friend.

With dismay, I began to wonder if we’d forgotten how to tell redemptive stories. In our society’s effort to become ever more secular, we have forgotten how to read anything that challenges us, including the Bible. Whether you believe in God or not, the Bible is a great piece of literature with extremely good advice. I would also argue we’ve forgotten how to immerse ourselves in Nature, another great teacher.

Not a Monarch, but instead, a mimic, the Viceroy butterfly, Limenitis archippus, has a smile on its lower wings that the Monarch doesn't have.
Not a Monarch, but instead, a mimic, the Viceroy butterfly, Limenitis archippus. The Viceroy has a smile on its lower wings that the Monarch doesn’t have. I think this is the first year I’ve seen a Viceroy in my garden.

After much prayer, I began to see my care for my Monarch caterpillars as a metaphor for God’s love for us. The caterpillars have no idea I’m watching over them. They just eat and poop and do their thing. They’re rather helpless. They can also be quite hard on each other so I sometimes separate them when they crawl too close. When I pick them up–after making sure my hands are clean–immediately, they curl into a C of defensiveness. It’s all they know. I gently place them near some milkweed, leave them alone, and soon they’re back doing their thing. I watch over these creatures as if each one is precious cargo because it is. Monarchs are basically endangered even if it isn’t official yet.

I’m not saying people are like caterpillars. Obviously, not, but being a woman of faith, I see God’s unconditional love to be similar to my care for these small insects that will eventually change into something much more glorious than when they first began. (Click on pictures in the galleries to make them larger.)

There’s a good reason why caterpillars and butterflies are symbolic of metamorphosis and rebirth.

My children, by the way, are completely grossed out that I have cages all over the dining room with caterpillars in various stages and sizes. I keep telling them caterpillars are not gross. In fact, if you run your finger gently across one’s back, it is silky to the touch. Plus, their camouflage coloring is quite beautiful. They blend in with the milkweed. Not so for adult butterflies who live for such a short and glorious time.

As for God’s love, I think butterflies and late-summer flowers are good points of reference. There are many more efficient pollinators out there than butterflies. I’m not sure Nature needs butterflies, but humans do.

When the news, the podcast and my reading became too much for me, I wandered outside into my messy late-summer garden. My favorite flower of the moment is Autumn sneezeweed, Helenium autumnale. I planted smallish plants last fall, and they are glorious this summer. They, along with the still-blooming Phlox paniculata ‘Bright Eyes,’ are much favored by pollinators, and the late-summer bloom is all about feeding the pollinators before winter sets in. I’m still waiting for the asters to bloom in a blue haze, but this year, I’m actually enjoying wild ageratum, Eupatorium coelestinum, a/k/a mistflower, for the first time. I used to hate it because it is so prolific, but it’s a favorite nectar plant of adult Monarchs so I’ve learned to pull as much as I can in spring and enjoy the rest. The same is true for garlic chives, Allium tuberosum, and obedient plant, Physostegia virginiana, which I can’t seem to eradicate. Don’t plant them if you don’t want them until the end of your days. Since I didn’t deadhead much in July, these plants are carrying the garden through early September.

Pretty soon, asters and garden mums will join the other flowers, and the garden will have a kind of rebirth before it dies in late autumn after a killing freeze.

We had a party last weekend, and several of my friends wanted to see the gardens. We walked and talked, and I pointed out butterflies and moths flitting amongst the blooms. My friends were amazed at the beauty of these small creatures like the Hemaris thysbe, hummingbird clearwing moth. These moths dart in and out of the phlox like hummingbirds hence the name. They are one of the best reasons to grow phlox. Need more good reasons? How about the Painted Lady butterflies, Vanessa cardui, which are so abundant this year. Painted Lady butterflies also adore stonecrop sedum, Sedum spectabile, so plant it too.

Hemaris thysbe, Hummingbird Clearwing moth on P. paniculata 'Bright Eyes' phlox.
Hemaris thysbe, Hummingbird Clearwing moth on P. paniculata ‘Bright Eyes’ phlox.

Speaking of hummingbirds, I have a couple of males that check me out every time I go out to get more milkweed. They love the zinnia patch this year and protect it fiercely. They are so cute but so naughty keeping all of the other creatures except wasps on the wing. Bill caught sight of them of them the other day and was charmed by their antics.

Butterflies and late-summer flowers both speak to me of God’s love and also the quick passage of time. Much was made of horology, the study of time, in S-town. It was the best part of the podcast. John B. was a genius who built and repaired beautiful timepieces throughout much of his life. Check out this sundial he built for his friend, teacher, and mentor, Tom Moore. I think McLemore loved people fiercely, but couldn’t accept their love in return.

Like the caterpillars and the late-summer flowers, we bloom and eventually fade away. I just hope we all experience metamorphosis and winged flight before our time is done. The late-summer garden beckons like a lover in the cool evening. Don’t forget to go outside and enjoy it before it too is gone.

Favorite perennials from Bustani Plant Farm

Favorite perennials. Anisacanthus quadrifidus var. wrightii, hummingbird shrub

A couple of weeks ago, I ran up to Stillwater to visit Bustani Plant Farm, which as you know, is my favorite nursery. I had a lovely time, and I bought a lot of plants.

Where do I put them all?

Shrug. It’s a big garden–about an acre and a half total.

This post started out as a list of all my favorite plants from Bustani Plant Farm, but it became too long.

So, let’s start with my favorite perennials, shall we?

Cestrum ‘Orange Peel.’ I think Steve and Ruth Owens sell two other varieties of cestrum also, but the one I grow is ‘Orange Peel.’ It blooms in the middle of summer for a long time and is a great backdrop for other large-flowered plants. ‘Orange Peel’ grows about three feet high in my garden in full screamin’ sun. I grow it next to ‘Pink Velour’ crapemyrtle and Salvia greggii ‘Pink Preference.’

Wait, though, I also grow a purple cestrum. I like it too, but I don’t have a photo of it. Here’s a link to Cestrum x cultam ‘Cretan Purple.’ While not as bright as the yellow and orange ones, it’s very pretty too.

Speaking of S. greggii ‘Pink Preference,’ if you have a hot and sunny spot–and who in Oklahoma doesn’t–‘Pink Preference’ will do the job beautifully. It’s also a native S. greggii introduced by nurseryman and plant hunter, Logan Calhoun. Click the link to read more about Calhoun and his influence on gardening. I grow many plants which he discovered in his travels.


Muhlenbergia capillaris ‘Fast Forward’ pink muhly grass, is another plant that steals the show in fall. Plant it with anything and watch the traffic stop outside your house come September. ‘Fast Forward’ is supposed to bloom earlier than other muhly grasses.

Favorite perennials. Gaillardia 'Punch Bowl'
Gaillardia ‘Punch Bowl’ in my garden in 2015.

Gaillardia ‘Punch Bowl.’ I know gaillardias are iffy in the perennial department because they often bloom themselves to death in summer. Even if you had to replant ‘Punch Bowl’ each and every year, it is worth doing that. Such a gorgeous pink and yellow. I also really like ‘Arizona Red Shades,’ but I probably wouldn’t plant it right next to ‘Punch Bowl.’ I think they might clash.

Ajuga ‘Burgundy Glow.’ I don’t take a lot of photos of this plant because it blooms in early spring when I’m usually knee-deep in leaf removal. I do know I like the blue flowers against the multi-colored foliage. In summer, ajuga creeps out of my garden beds and into the paths in a charming, but non-obtrusive way. I love that ‘Burgundy Glow’ is variegated, pink and purple, and that it loves the heat. Sometimes, I have to replace a section of it in the spring if we get a lot of rain and cold over the winter.

Amsonia hubrichtii, threadleaf blue star amsonia. This sweet little native should be in everyone’s garden. It takes awhile to get it started, but it’s worth the wait. Remember, with perennials, it takes about three years for them to get their legs. This type of amsonia is my favorite because of its texture, the blue flowers in spring and its yellow foliage in fall. I’m sorry I don’t have a photo of it. Again, I’m usually busy working. Trust me. It’s gorgeous.

Anisacanthus quadrifidus var. wrightii, hummingbird shrub. Whew! What a mouthful! This is one of my all-time favorite shrubs. I love the shade of orange the blooms are. I love the shape it grows in and that just when you think it’s dead (It dies back to the ground in my garden each winter) it comes up and starts vigorously growing. It is beautiful, drought tolerant, and hummingbirds love it.

Japanese false nettle, Boehmeria nipononivea 'Kogane Mushi,' with Phlox paniculata in partial shade.
Japanese false nettle, Boehmeria nipononivea ‘Kogane Mushi,’ with Phlox paniculata in partial shade.

Boehmeria nipononivea ‘Kogane Mushi’, Japanese false nettle. A wonderful plant that lights up the shade garden. In my garden, it grows quite large, about four feet by four feet, which makes it a glowing shrub-like plant in my late-summer landscape.

Hibiscus ‘Moy Grande.’ Not many flowers bloom in July, but ‘Moy Grande’ never disappoints. It’s one of the summer flowers I recommend for summer heat. In my opinion, this is still the best of the perennial hibiscus, and I grow several of them. The big, bold hot pink flowers are simply amazing, and bumblebees can’t enough of the pollen and nectar.

Spigelia marilandica, Indian pink, has the cutest pink/red and yellow flowers. It is an upright growing, small native perennial that is great for the front of the border.
Spigelia marilandica, Indian pink, has the cutest pink/red and yellow flowers. It is an upright growing, small native perennial that is great for the front of the border.

Spigelia marilandica, Indian pink. This little plant is a U.S. native. It attracts hummingbirds, and it blooms in sun or shade. I grow mine at the edge of my shade garden. It is slow to multiply so I’ve been working increasing its numbers in my garden for several years. Such a pleasure to see it blooming every morning.

One more thing, buying your plants from local nurseries is important. Although I have nothing against box stores, I try to support my local nurseries with the bulk of my purchases. They frankly need the money more.

There are many other perennials I’ve purchased from Bustani over the years, but I’m tired, and I need another cup of coffee. You can’t go wrong with my favorite perennials. Take a quick road trip and get yourself some.