The Violet Fern

A Colorful Tale of a Garden in the Making


One In A Dozen for Diana

I am joining Diana of Elephant’s Eye in choosing twelve months of my favorite garden plants. In this month of January I miss the sun and what could be more fun than Sunflowers? My first selection is Sunflowers!

Ever since I planted that first tiny Sunflower seed and witnessed the gigantic bloom that sprung from the ground in what seemed like overnight, I have been growing Sunflowers. Bees, flies, butterflies, hummingbirds, song birds, woodpeckers, chipmunks and squirrels – all enjoy our native Sunflower.

There are many annual varieties to choose from but I always make sure I choose the varieties that do produce pollen. I also grow perennial Sunflowers, Helianthus Microcephalus.

I let my Sunflowers stand over the winter. Birds relish the seeds. Woodpeckers will search for insects inside their stalks.

I cannot imagine a summer without growing at least one plot of annual Sunflowers.

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September’s Featured Bee

The month of September in my North American Native Bee Calendar purchased from the Great Sunflower Project, features the Longhorn Bee, genus Melissodes.

These bees emerge in late summer and nest in the ground. They are small to medium sized with golden brown hairs over much of their bodies. Both sexes have a fuzzy thorax and noticeably hairy legs. The males are smaller than the females and have particularly long antennae. To view images of Longhorned Bees click here.

Many plants of the Asteraceae family, such as sunflowers, are highly dependent upon these bees for cross pollination.

You might spot a Longhorn Bee if you grow cosmos, blanketflowers, sunflowers, tickseed and beggarticks (Bidens).

In June I featured the Leafcutter Bee. Some of you said you see evidence of Leafcutters on your roses. Well, I just noticed this myself on my swamp rose!


Order Up!

What am I doing today? NOT working, NOT cleaning, NOT laundry, NOT painting the walls … I am going to catch up! I have so many posts on my list and here it is March already. I also have more orders to place for plants and seeds!

I have already placed two orders. From Nature Hills I ordered my rhubarb (Canada Red) – yeah!, everbearing strawberries and long awaited Serviceberry, Amelanchier Laevis – another check off my “list!The Serviceberry is an excellent northeastern native choice. It is an understory large shrub or small tree that has spring blooms, fall color and berries that are a favorite of the birds. It is hardy to Z4. I will be placing this tree in my new “woodland edge” section of my garden. I will be working on this section over the entire summer into fall.

Serviceberry, Amelanchier Laevis
 Photo taken from Nature Hills Nursery website.

From Johnny’s seeds well, I ordered seeds! And quite a few. For some of my newer flower beds and near the potager, I ordered a variety of sunflowers. Sunflowers are easy to grow and they make a big, bold statement as well as providing a good screen. The birds and bees love ’em, too. I make sure to choose varieties that DO have pollen. I chose Ring of Fire, Valentine, and Velvet Queen. I still have some Mammoth seeds leftover from last year.

Mammoth Sunflower

Also for decorative, edible edging in the potager, I ordered some nasturtium, kaleidoscope mix. I also have some nasturtium seeds saved from last year as well as a TON of marigold seeds.


For the real tasty stuff I ordered scarlet runner bean – also a favorite of humming birds. I plan to put together an arbor for that to climb on. April will be a month of making garden support structures! I also ordered royal burgundy bush beans – they are purple but turn green when you cook them, how fun! – northern pickling mini cucumbers, bright lights swiss chard, a couple lettuce/greens mixes, cilantro, and some dill and fennel. The fennel I ordered is not a bulbing type and I do not plan to harvest it. I ordered it as a host plant for butterflies – dill and parsley are also favorite host plants. I plan to work the fennel, some of the dill and some parsley into the flower border along the potager. The border now is mostly all lilies with a backdrop of wild grape and I will be reworking it.

The flower border a couple of years ago. This will be reworked – 
slightly wider with three distinct sections.

Lastly, I ordered some verbena seed, Verbena Bonariensis. I have read repeatedly that this is a favorite of butterflies and that it reseeds itself. I will be working this into the border along the “nice driveway.”

I plan to place at least three more orders. From one of my native plant sources, Prairie Moon, I will be ordering some common witch hazel and a swamp rose (bare root). Both of these are natives. The common witch hazel will go in my very new “woodland” garden section (surrounding future patio). The swamp rose will be incorporated into the border along the potager in the above picture. There is a section that tends to be very wet in the spring. The swamp rose will provide winter hips for fruit eating birds.

From Mountain Rose Herbs, I will be ordering some seeds: calendula (thanks to my blogging friends!) for edging in the potager, borage for the flower border, and california poppies for along the driveway.

From Bluestone Perennials I will be ordering some plants for the border along the driveway which I plan to expand. I am planning big and bold! One choice is indian grass, an American native grass that grows to 6′ tall and is hardy to Z4. This will be a nice screen as well as provide cover for butterflies and birds, and winter interest. I will also order goldenrod. Contrary to popular belief, goldenrod does not cause hay fever – that would be ragweed. It is a favorite among all sorts of insects and offers a great fall show. Also on my list is giant cone flower, Rudbeckia Maxima. This will grow 5- 7′ tall! Another great screen and appealing to butterflies. The leaves are blue in color and also attractive.

Whew, I will be busy as a bee! Time to order up!