The Violet Fern

Creating Art & Gardens


Going Native: Button Bush

Well, it’s been some time since I have posted about a native plant in my garden. I suppose I have been waiting for things to grow up a bit. If you are not a long term reader of my blog, I have purchased most of the native plants in my garden bare root through mail order. My prized Buttonbush, Cephalanthus occidental is no exception. Actually a Buttonbush is one of the first natives I planted in my garden. I fell in love with its ball-sized blooms!

Buttonbush blossoms 2013

Buttonbush blossoms 2013

My garden is now covered in snow and shellacked in ice but this past summer, my Buttonbush bloomed for the first time and boy oh boy, was it worth the wait! Understand how I fell in love?

Buttonbush bloom 2013

Buttonbush bloom 2013

Buttonbush likes a moist soil (in fact I moved mine from its original planting spot – off to a slow start – to a wetter part of the garden which enticed it to bloom for me). It is a good choice native plant to grow in wet, sunny or partly shady spots in your garden. It would be right at home along a pond, lake or stream and can even grow in standing water.

I am growing mine in zone 4 but its range extends South to Florida. It has large, beautiful dark green leaves. And although the leaves themselves are enough to sell me, the flowers will blow any plant lover away! It is no wonder that this plant is considered a honey plant: a plant that furnishes nectar suitable for making honey. So, obviously it attracts and is a great resource for many nectar loving butterflies, bees and insects. I witnessed this attraction! It is also a larval host plant for the Titan Sphinx, Aellopos titan, and Hydrangea Sphinx, Darapsa versicolor moth. In fact I may have sighted a Titan Sphinx (which I generalized as a Hawk or Hummingbird Moth) in my garden last summer? (New Year note: be more observant!)

Its habit is spreading, multi-stemmed with an irregular crown but did I mention the flowers? Its bloom time is tooted to be from June through August. What delighted me was that the spectacular flowers turned into interesting balls of seed in beautiful shades of red and pink come September!


Leaves in evening light


Leaves in sunlight

Seedhead close up - wish it had better focus - but you can see the beautiful color!

Seed head close up – wish it had better focus – but you can see the beautiful color!

I noticed Bluestone Perennials is now offering a “nativar” of Buttonbush occidental ‘Sugar Shack’ who’s growth habit is smaller in size, 3-4 ft, vs. the true native species which can reach 8-12 ft (for those of you with space restrictions.)

No pond should be without a Buttonbush! (A moist soil will also suit a Buttonbush.)

Sources:, Prairie Moon Nursery, Bluestone Perennials,



What’s Blooming: Fall Forsythia

There really isn’t such a plant as a Fall Forsythia, but mine seems to blooming in spite of several hard frosts and a snowfall. Tomorrow, highs are expected at sixty degrees fahrenheit, but I don’t believe temperature is the reason for the unexpected fall blooms.


Apparently a period of stress, followed by improved growing conditions will cause a Forsythia to bloom “off key.” My Forsythia has grown enormous and is in need of a good pruning (which I am waiting for until early spring so I can actually see the structure of this shrub even though I will sacrifice some of those spring blooms). I am sure this shrub stressed during an August dryspell in very crowded conditions. The Forsythia anchors the first bed I created (the Bird & Butterfly Garden), and the entire bed is in need of dividing and thinning. It is also the site of the Black-Eyed Susan Gang Takeover. A rival Joe Pye Gang is also gaining a lot of ground. (I’m thinking I will have a big haul of nice, native plants to offer our cooperative extension for the Master Gardener Plant Sale!)

Aside from Forsythia blooms, it is difficult to believe I do not have much of anything blooming outdoors in the garden at this time. Seems to me it is much too early in the winter season. I did find a brave little Calendula bloom among some Lambs Ear. The honeysuckle has bloomed into December in years past.



There are other things going on, however – berries! My young Winterberry shrubs are in “full-berry” – the red on Ilex verticillata ‘Oosterwijk’ already picked over by birds. The Ilex verticillata ‘Winter Gold’ still sporting a beautiful orange spray of berries. These shrubs will  be up to 8 feet tall when full grown. They are pollinated by Ilex verticillata ‘Southern Gentleman.’ I have a young Hicks Yew, Taxus x media ‘Hicksii,’ as a backdrop. I am waiting for the day when these plants “come together.”



My Cranberry Viburnum along the Nice Driveway is also displaying its berries.


The star of the garden currently is the Pin Oak, Quercus Palustris, which has grown another two feet this year at least! It is still holding most of its leaves and they are a beautiful shade of dark red – a contender for Pam’s (at Digging) Foliage Follow Up. (I remember its first winter in the garden it was nearly girdled by a rabbit.)


I have installed a copper rain chain instead of a downspout off our back porch (if you can make it out from the ugly green board). Now I have two copper-topped bird feeders (the other a small suet feeder hanging by the chain), and the chain – I love these warm, glowing copper accents in the winter garden – “blooms” if you will.


Indoors plants are fairing well. Violets are in bloom. The Thanksgiving Cactus is in bud in the succulent table top garden. My current favorite succulent is Flapjacks, Kalanchoe thyrsiflora. Its leaves remind me of a large flower bud.






Thank you for joining me for yet another Garden Bloggers’ Bloom Day and thank Carol at May Dreams Gardens for hosting.


November Observations: Bye Bye Blackbird

Wonderful, warm November – doesn’t that sound odd? But it has been, was. This morning it is 12° F. The first few snowflakes swirled in our sky on November 24. By November 28 the ground is white. I found it unusual to see a Red-winged Blackbird at my feeder. They usually leave for warmer climates by now. Each year I try to record when I think they have finally migrated:

2009: Last Red-winged Blackbird sighting recorded on November 2
2010: Last Red-winged Blackbird sighting recorded on November 11
2011: Not recorded, but last Grackle sighting recorded on November 7 – the Redwings are usually not far behind
2012: Last Red-winged Blackbird sighting recorded on November 28

The first to leave are males in their prime followed by their ladies. The last to leave are usually the young males not quite matured into their full black feathers. Young males are what I have been seeing at the feeders this month.

November is typically described as drab, grey but this Fall it has been anything but.

Pin Oak Leaves Nov 2012
The red leaves of Pin Oak

Maple Seeds
Maple Seedlings

Switch Grass in Nov
Switch Grass

Purple Prince Crabapples

Winterberry ‘Winter Gold’

The red Winterberries were eaten before I had a chance to photograph them! This year I’ve fenced in my young shrubs foregoing the chicken wire wrap. I read somewhere, and apologize for not remembering the source, that rabbits don’t like to feel fenced in and a simple gate around your shrubs will deter them from dining. We’ll find out if it works.

Fenced in to deter rabbits

Snow on Sumac
First snow

Again, Garden Bloggers Bloom Day has snuck past me. Aside from berries and a few fading blooms of Coral Honeysuckle and Scabiosa, not much blooms for me in November with the exception of this surprise Daisy.

November Daisy
Surprise Daisy bloom

And so “dull, grey” November fades into gleeful, glitzy December. I am thankful to take in its natural beauty before it goes.


Bye bye blackbird. I look forward to your return in Spring.