“To make a prairie it takes a clover and one bee, one clover, and a bee. And revery. The revery alone will do, if bees are few”
The hot, dry weather that is typical of late July, early August can be hard on your garden plants. Many look a little bedraggled, and your borders might seem a bit boring after all of the stunning technicolor of May and June. But summer borders don’t have to be boring. There are plenty of beautiful, colorful plants that are at their peak at this time of year.
Many of these are our Wisconsin native prairie plants. Besides being drought tolerant, they attract birds and butterflies. To get a feel for the natural beauty and diversity of prairie flowers and grasses visit one of the local prairies like Greene or Curtis in the UW-Arboretum or the Schumacher Prairie located just east of Waunakee.
Prairie species can make fine additions to perennial gardens. Swamp Milkweed, Asclepias incarnata, is a favorite of monarch larvae, while its cousin Butterflyweed, or A. tuberosa, attracts the adult butterflies. Both of these native Milkweeds have showy very flowers. The beautiful rose-pink blossoms of Swamp Milkweed are most at home is marshes and wet meadows, but it will adapt to your perennial border with ease. On the other hand, the bright orange Butterflyweed is a prairie native, making it quite adaptable to many garden conditions.
The Prairie Coneflower, Echinacea pallida, puts on an impressive show of bloom from late June into August. This tough native is a magnet for finches. The pale rose-purple petals drape dramatically from an orange cone. And don’t forget about the nativars, or native cultivars, of the Purple Coneflower, E. purpurea. There are dozens of colors, from crisp whites and sunny yellows to blazing oranges and deep rose reds. We especially love ‘Cheyenne Spirit for its groovy palette of gold, persimmon and scarlet. And all on the same plant! Hummingbirds love it, too.
If your garden needs a bold, vertical statement, look no further than Gayfeathers, or Liatris. Also called Blazing-star, these bright magenta flowers are butterfly magnets. Monarchs, Painted Ladies and Fritillaries, as well as hummingbirds, are just a sample of the visitors Blazing Star might attract to your yard.
And finally, Culver’s-root, Veronicastrum virginicum, is a fabulous addition. At 5-feet tall, the creamy white candelabras of flower spikes will certainly make a statement in the back of your borders and will tolerate a bit of shade. Look for ‘Fascination’, a variety with rose-pink blossoms. Culver’s-root can re-bloom if you remember to deadhead it.
Of course, we don’t believe that a few prairie flowers make will make your yard a prairie, but it is important that we treasure our native plants. Let them inspire you to appreciate these Dog Days of Summer. We may not find the current temperatures and humidity comfortable now, but we’d take the bet that you’ll miss the heat in January!