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Cullowhee Conference and July Garden

Dear Readers,

You know how it was with Christmas when you were a kid? That excitement that went on for almost a month? Well the Cullowhee Native Plant Conference is a lot like a grown up version of that. Not that we’re much like grown ups, more like overgrown kids at camp, and it’s not a month, more like a week, but you get the idea — it’s fun! The 2015 conference (July 14-18), as always, had memorable speakers, fabulous hikes, and great plant vendors.

Waterfalls and Wildflowers signedAnd books! This year I got Tim Spira’s new one, Waterfalls and Wildflowers in the Southern Appalachians: Thirty Great Hikes. The book describes what you can expect to see along the trails to 30 notable waterfalls, with plant lists and color-coded flower pictures for ID purposes. There is info about plant communities, and the Southern Appalachians in general, too. I’m excited about this book, because first of all there is a lot of juicy information in there, but also because it will be easier to convince my husband to hike to a waterfall than to drive all the way to the mountains just to look at plants. (I don’t know what’s wrong with him.) But, I think with this book we have a win-win!

Tiger Eyes Sumac (Rhus typhina)

Besides books there were lots of plants and knowledgable plant vendors selling them. It’s fun to make the rounds between sessions to see who’s growing what and chat about plants you’re not familiar with yet. I took four plants home this year, of which I purchased only two. It took a lot of restraint! 2015 has been a demoralizing year garden-wise, and I didn’t want to make things worse by adding to my collection of slowly dying plants! But a tiny bit of inspiration might motivate me to remedy this situation, right? Worth a try, I thought. Here’s what I got:

Tiger Eyes® sumac (Rhus typhina), which I’ll put in a pot. It becomes a beautiful small tree as it grows, with yellow-green leaves in spring and intense red-orange color in fall; it makes a lovely feature plant. But apparently it can sucker to beat the band, and I’d rather not have to deal with that in a couple of years.

Darrow’s blueberry (Vaccinium darowii ‘John Blue’) is a really cute mini-shrub that grows to about two feet tall and wide, and has blueberries that are small but still edible. I can’t wait to see how this one does! It’s a zone 8–9 plant, but I believe if I situate it near my stone wall, it might do okay. I’ve been able to push plants a zone or two that way sometimes.

St. Andrew’s cross (Hypericum stragulum) grows in the woods around me, so my only concern with it is deer. I’ll have to protect it for a while, at least until it gets established. It is also a mini-shrub, could even be used as a ground cover, and has blue-green leaves and adorable yellow flowers that are four-petaled like a cross. I won this plant at the “Plants of Promise” session on the last day of the conference. Every year nursery owners and others tout their pick and then give it away to the person who catches their attention first. This time, me!

Butterfly weed (Asclepias tuberosa). You know this one already, I bet — bright orange flowers that butterflies love and monarch caterpillars survive on. Cure Nursery in Pittsboro, NC, provided these for free to whomever wanted them. I also won the St. Andrew’s cross from them. Thanks, Bill and Jen!

Also from Cullowhee, I posted about a native orchid we spied in an unexpected place, and a native plant garden a friend and I visited on the way to the conference.

Stunted Coneflowers and Golden OreganoMeanwhile, at home the big news was heat. Weatherman Keith Monday said the other day that we’re having the third hottest summer since the 1800s. Very little rain on top of that is the most miserable part. Good grief.

Incredibly some plants have done well with these conditions. Especially houseplants. ;) But Spicebush (Lindera benzoin) has shown no stress whatsoever either. Bottlebrush buckeye (Aesculus parviflora) has done very well. Basil LOVES the heat. My cardinal flower (Lobelia cardinalis) is just budding up, and looking very promising right now. Who would’ve thought a bog flower could do so well with so little water? This plant has held its own, too.

Some rain fell yesterday and relieved the worst of the wilting. Halleluia! How do you like my stunted coneflower there with the (finally revived) golden oregano? The garden creatures (deer, rabbits) mowed down all the coneflowers this year. Too bad this creature didn’t scare them away first, because none of them managed to grow as much as a foot tall!

I hope you’re enjoying (or at least surviving!) summer wherever you are! What’s looking good in your garden?

Frondly yours,


sensitive fern (Onoclea sensibilis) graphic

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