There’s lots of yellow in the garden right now — black-eyed susan, sunflowers, cupplant, a little coreopsis still hanging on, my friend Gin’s early goldenrod. The thing is that yellow can get mundane, so I try to keep my eye out for yellows that are particularly cool or different. I don’t have the space to provide for a whole swath of yellow like that provided by five or seven fireworks Goldenrod, so my one Solidago rugosa just kind of sits there: it ain’t too exciting, truth be told. I figure if you only have room for yellows by the individual plant, those plants you do put in should knock ’em dead. If I haven’t seen the plant much around the city, that’ll often knock me dead. And if I find out that it’s native, I’ll want to plant it myself. A lot of times with these uncommon yellow-blooming plants, you can’t find them in local garden centers. There’s only one thing to do: you’ve got to start those yellow babies yourself. I get psyched up about this prospect. Start my own rosinweed! Start my own wild senna since the one (I thought) I had turned out to be fleabane.
Lincoln Park Zoo has a year-old planting of about 30 acres of natives, some of them with their feet in the water or semi-submerged. The plants are around the Zoo’s newly redesigned South Pond, and they call it the Nature Boardwalk. I took a class there the other day and saw some unusual plants. The Wild Senna is blooming over there right now and their Horticulture guy was nice enough to send me the above photo. I’m even more determined to get it for myself now — there’s nothing quite like it.
There are a bunch of perennial sunflowers doing their thing right now. I’ve got some kind of Helianthus that came with my yard when we bought a house; all my neighbors seem to have it too. It does bloom a long time, granted, but it’s kind of floppy and a bit of a water-hog and it’s not unusual. But over at the Nature Boardwalk, they’ve got Downy Sunflower. It’s not blooming yet but looks super cute at its present budding stage. It will probably be open next week and that’ll really be a good show.
Downy Sunflower’s foliage is a blue-green that adds life to the same old, same old green-green garden. Something different in yellow, something different in green.
Similar in appearance to the Downy Sunflower is Stiff Goldenrod. I remember learning about it last year in a U of I-Extension Native Plant info session. Solidago rigida is about the same height as other goldenrods, but its yellow flowers come in flat-topped clusters rather than plume-like ones. They form a neat clump and don’t spread by rhizomes the way that Showy Goldenrod does.
And finally a plug for the Dumbo’s Ears Black-Eyed Susan. This July-bloomer is goofy-looking and nowhere to be found at the Nature Boardwalk. I don’t think it’s a native; it looks like it’s from another planet. I got mine at Gethsemane Garden Center when I was working there unloading a delivery of perennials off a truck. There were only about six of them and my boss warned that they wouldn’t always take in certain spots. She wasn’t sure what made them work one place and not another but she knew that they wanted sun and she guessed that they needed space. Old Dumbo’s Ears doesn’t bloom anywhere near as long as Rudbeckia goldstrum, which most folks in Chicago have yellowing up their yard from late July through October, but when it does bloom, people take notice.
p.s. Something Different in Purple
Instead of Liatris spicata, the Prairie Blazing star we see all the time and refer to as Dense Blazing Star, there is Liatris aspera, Button Blazing star.
The flowers are individualized instead of one long cat-taily clump. The Button variety stands erect. Admittedly, my Liatris spicata’s floppiness could be due to a scarcity of water. The only place I’ve seen the Button is in a spot where the ground tends to be wet. It looks terrific. I wish I could swap it for my floppy spicata.