Seed Shed Doings, August 2017
Another update on what's happening at the Northwest Illinois Chapter's seed production gardens.Am I imagining it, or are the Japanese beetles worse this year? I make the rounds with my soapy-water dish every morning and knock hundreds off the roses and other plants—even milkweed is not immune! Next morning, hundreds more have taken their place. Arrgh!
On a more positive note, the rare plant gardens are beginning to show results. Of the baker's dozen that were seeded into the west garden, the Purple Milkweed (Asclepias purpurascens), Prairie Fameflower (Phemeranthus rugospermus) and Early Figwort (Scrophularia lanceolata) are doing very well. I despaired early on when I discovered that a cutworm had mowed down EVERY figwort seedling in one of the two frames that held them. Fortunately the seedlings were so thick in the second frame that I was able to transplant the overflow and now we have a healthy stand that is in bloom. Most delightful of all is the succulent Prairie Fameflower. These tiny plants have bloomed their little hearts out and produced enough seed to expand the bed to triple its size this fall.
The Wood Lilies (Lilium philadelphicum) were not so fortunate. After babysitting the seedlings under my grow lights and finally putting 45 tiny bulblets into the garden bed, racoons dug up the coir pots and ripped them to shreds. I founds miniscule bulbs in some of the pot remnants and replanted them. After the third raid, I finally wised up. I removed the remaining pots, replanted the contents and covered all with chicken wire. Only next year will tell if any survived. Lesson learned: never use coir pots to start rare seed! Is it possible they have a lingering scent of coconut?
Downy Wood Mint (Blephilia ciliata) came up a treat, but its companion planting of Thinleaved Sunflower (Helianthus decapetalus) only produced one plant. Of the two species of Senna seeded, Senna marilandica was the one that germinated—just two out of 125 seeds produced a plant! However, those two plants are about to flower and hopefully produce our first ‘Senna seed crop'. We will try again with fresh collected seed under grow lights this winter.
In the east garden five species went into one of the specially constructed sand beds. Hairy Beardtongue (Penstemon hirsutus) and Scribner's Panic Grass (Dichanthelium oligosanthes) made a good showing. We purchased 18 Upland Butterfly Weed plants (Asclepias tuberosa) and they are now in full bloom. Hopefully, pollinators will find them before the Japanese beetles do!
As promised, the NISE group delivered some plants that were raised from seed in a greenhouse and, a few weeks ago, 80 Prairie Smoke (Geum triflorum) and 40 White Turtlehead (Chelone glabra) joined the Butterfly Weed in the east garden. May they all flourish.
Of course, I am not the only one working. Ed Strenski and crew are busy pulling and spraying weeds (oh, that reed canary grass!) when they are not helping the prairie divas pick seed. Barbara and Laura say that about a third of the seed harvest is in but the copious rains and mid-summer flooding have taken
their toll on many wetland species. Swamp milkweed (Asclepias incarnata) may be a total loss this year. White Wild Indigo (Baptisia alba) pods are very scarce—most pods have been aborted and those that remain are filled with weevils (but no seed). On the bright side, Barbara reports that the section of Hanley Savanna we call Eagle Prairie has come into its own. Spiderwort, Pale Purple Coneflower, Rosinweed, Compass Plant, and Pale Indian Plantain are especially strong and Jim tells me that he counted a half dozen Royal Catchfly (Silene regia) plants on a recent visit there. As always, your helpwith seed picking is essential to our success, so come out when you can.
The hubby has a new project! Not content with planning the fall seed list for the rain garden, he is cutting and clearing the side yard with an eye towards savanna plantings. At the moment his most ambitious structures are twig and branch mounds that make the woodchucks and bunnies delirious with delight. I see more chicken wire in my future.