Monkshood & Snakeroot for a Fall Finale

What a luscious October afternoon! I looked out my back window and was drawn, as I always am this time in autumn, to the furthest corner of the garden, where a little fall scene unfolds that I treasure more because it’s a secret. Want to see it?  Let’s take a little stroll past the messy pots on the deck with their various sedums and swishing sideoats grama (Bouteloua curtipendula) out into the garden past the table and chairs that haven’t been used since… when? August?

Janet Davis-garden-autumn

Keep going to where the lovely chartreuse Tiger Eyes sumac (Rhus typhina ‘Bailtiger’) is currently doing its Hollywood star thing in brilliant apricot…..

Tiger Eye Sumac-Rhus typhina 'Bailtiger'-fall color

But what’s this scene, just behind it?

Tiger Eye Sumac-snakeroot-monkshood-Janet Davis

Yes, two stalwarts of the autumn garden – and I mean autumn, fall, October!  Autumn monkshood (Aconitum carmichaelii ‘Arendsii’) and autumn snakeroot (Actaea simplex), aka fall bugbane. Each year, they flower at the same time, and enjoy identical conditions in my garden, i.e. the most moisture-retentive soil (lowest corner of the garden by a few inches), with reasonable midday sunshine but dappled shade a good portion of the day. The fragrance of the snakeroot is fabulous, something a little soft and incense-like, or reminiscent of talcum powder (in the nicest way).  Colour-wise, I love blue and white, from the earliest anemones-with-scilla in April to this shimmering, assertive finale.

Janet Davis-Actaea simplex & Aconitum carmichaelii 'Arendsii'

And did I mention pollinators? As in bumble bees of different species, honey bees……

Pollinators-autumn garden-fall snakeroot & monkshood-

(WHO has the beehives near my house? I’d love to know)…..

Honey bees-Apis mellifera-Actaea simplex-fall snaekroot

……hover flies…..

Hover-fly on fall snakeroot-Actaea simplex

….and paper wasps, below, as well as ants and cucumber beetles.

Paper wasp on fall snakeroot-Actaea simplex

Monkshood is deadly poisonous, but its pollen seems to be an attraction for bumble bees and honey bees once the asters have finished up.

Bombus-Fall Monkshood-Aconitum carmichaelii 'Arendsii'

Finally, do note that the snakeroot is not any of those fancy-schmancy dark-leaved cultivars like ‘Brunette’, but the straight species with plain-Jane-green-foliage,. And that it used to be called Cimicifuga, but the gene sequencers have now moved it into Actaea.  It is a lovely plant and should be used much, much more.

The High Line in June – Part 1

I spent 3+ very hot, sunny hours on the High Line this week, along with several thousand other New Yorkers and visitors. In fact there were so many people walking the city’s unique linear park between 14th and 30th Streets, that when I stopped to photograph a fetching plant or a beautiful scene, I felt like a boulder in a rushing river.  But despite the terrible light conditions, I did stop every now and again to photograph Piet Oudolf’s beautiful plants.  Because who could resist these lovely and unusual partners: copper iris (Iris fulva) and twisted-leafed garlic (A. obliquum).  Oh, and that pointy building in the background isn’t too shabby either!

Empire State Building

The honey bees just loved the copper iris.  Normally an ornithophilous (bird-pollinated) plant in its native habitat in the central-south U.S., moisture-loving Iris fulva was nevertheless a great hit with the honey bees, which climbed right into the style arm to nectar.

Honey bee on copper iris - I. fulva

And all kinds of bees were visiting the twisted-leafed garlic (Allium obliquum), which made a pretty neighbour to a light-pink form of Knautia macedonica, bottom right.

Bees on Allium obliquum & Knautia

White wild indigo (Baptisia alba) and creamy-white oxtail lily (Eremurus himalaicus )made charming partners, too.

Baptisia alba & Eremurus himalaicus

I love watching bees nectar on foxtail lilies – such a lot of tiny flowers to explore in this beautiful foraging ground!

Honey bee on -Eremurus himalaicus

One of the more statuesque alliums is the white Allium nigrum, here with Bradbury’s eastern beebalm (Monarda bradburiana), a low-growing native of the central-south U.S.

Allium 'Mount Everest' & Monarda bradburiana

Like all alliums, A. nigrum is a great bee lure.

Bees on Allium 'Mount Everest'

Amsonia ‘Blue Ice’ nestled its compact, beautiful self into the crevices abutting the High Line’s popular walkways.

Amsonia 'Blue Ice'

While Lonicera sempervirens ‘Major Wheeler’ flung itself luxuriantly across its high, mesh trellis a stone’s throw from Frank Gehry’s bold building.

'Major Wheeler' coral honeysuckle

Staghorn sumac (Rhus typhina) was in full, glorious flower, the female inflorescences held separate from the male ones.

Sumac & the East River

And the honey bees were making sure those flowers would turn into fuzzy red fruits later.

Honey bees on sumac

Clusters of ripe Allegheny serviceberries (Amelanchier laevis) dangled like rubies over the street below.

Allegheny serviceberry - A.laevis

And they were being eaten by hungry birds that knew just which berries would be the sweetest.

Bird eating serviceberry

Ensuring there would be red berries, a honey bee patiently nectared from the tiny flowers of the ‘Red Sprite’ winterberry (Ilex verticillata), below.  In fact, the entire High Line was buzzing with bees and alive with bird song – the sign of a well-designed, holistic garden with intrinsic value not just for humans, but for the small creatures that visit it for food and shelter.  Ready to join me for Part 2 of the High Line in June?

Bee on female winterberry flower