I’m so glad I spent time photographing wild ginger a couple weeks ago, now that I’m nursing a broken foot that’s preventing me from a deep exploration of my garden. I’ve been looking through those photos plus a few I found from last year.
The wild ginger stands out in my garden, before its neighboring summer-blooming flowers have started appearing.
This woodland plant has beautiful, heart-shaped leaves.
Landscapers say this is an excellent groundcover. It spreads, but not too quickly.
This spot in my garden has roughly tripled in size in six years.
Every year I see people comment on Instagram that they didn’t realize these plants have flowers. They hide really well!
The flowers are weird and wonderful.
They’re close to the ground, sometimes even resting on the ground, which makes them attractive to ants that carry the seeds to new areas. The dark color and bad smell (which I cannot vouch for) apparently attract flies that pollinate the flowers.
The leaves start out lying flat.
Then the leaves pop up and the flower appears — like a sea creature poking out of its shell.
Within a couple days, the leaves are fully grown. Sometimes they look like a pair of antennas.
New plants apparently start out as teeny-tiny replicas. I’ll have to watch these next year to see if they’re “oldies” that will flower.
I’m certainly not the only gardener who buys plants and then takes awhile to get around to planting them. Usually these neglected plants don’t do much in my yard, but 2019 brought several delightful surprises.
I had forgotten I even bought a pasque flower the year before, so when I rounded the corner to the backyard and saw this beauty, I gasped:
I bought two pots of blueflag iris at a spring sale, and each produced three gorgeous blooms:
A brand-new harebell:
This one was particularly embarrassing. I had bought these two pots in 2018. Not only were the tags weathered and unreadable, but I had not even the slightest memory of what they were — and they had been in that spot so long, roots had grown out the bottom, so the pots were stuck in the ground.
They turned out to be wild petunia:
And last but certainly not least, this dark blue stunner I didn’t see coming: bottle gentian.
Sharing memories of 2019’s garden, with hopes that this reminds us all that happy days will come again.
Best new addition
Meadow blazing star…
…which really is a monarch magnet.
Other new plants
Swamp milkweed was successful in my yard for the first time!
I planted this thimbleweed from seed several years ago, and it finally appeared.
This is narrow-leaved coneflower, the native version of the popular purple coneflower found nearly everywhere. I bought just one of these plants and it seemed pretty lonely in its new spot in the garden. Hopefully it will spread quickly.
I also purchased two other blazingstars (rough and prairie), a bottle gentian, two blueflag iris, and aromatic aster. (The other pots are plants that are, ahem, still hanging around from 2018.)
All of the milkweeds and the blazingstars did well — possibly because we fenced them in and the rabbits didn’t get to eat them this year. (This one is whorled milkweed.)
The false indigo produced one flower spike in 2018. The following year: about 60!
It had a relatively short blooming period, but it was much loved by bees when the flowers were around.
Wild ginger is doing spectacularly, especially in the more shaded backyard garden.
The bishop’s cap gave up after two years, possibly crowded out by violets.
When pulling grass from my backyard garden, I suddenly realized I had gone too far and hit the spiderwort.
Fortunately, it was early enough in the year, and it grew anyway, blooming for the first time.
This wild columbine survived being eaten by deer (twice) and a transplant during the blooming season. What a strong plant!
This pretty vine…
…turned into the pretty but invasive crown vetch. Out it came.
And I gasped when I saw this one: garlic mustard! I spend hours helping parks get rid of this terrible invader! And I probably carried seeds back home with me on my shoes from one of those events. I pulled it out long before it could create seeds.
Best unexpected find
Bird’s nest fungus! It’s obvious how this one got its name. Notice the (small) clovers for perspective on just how tiny these treasures are.
This chrysalis was hiding under a common milkweed leaf. Could be a red admiral; I’m not sure. I watched it for a couple weeks but it disappeared — likely eaten, since the chrysalis “shell” was gone.
I believe this is a red admiral caterpillar. It’s so blurry because it was almost dark and my phone did the best it could to compensate. I was looking for caterpillars on the pennsylvania pellitory plants in my front yard, since I’ve heard they are a host plant, and I lucked out! Good reminder that what we may consider a weed (in this case, a mildly aggressive sticky weed) may be vitally important for our insect friends.
In my three previous years of volunteering as a Minnesota Master Naturalist, I put in most of my hours in stewardship / restoration events.
While I still love those one-off, practically-no-commitment-needed events, this year I added a few new components, courtesy of my local Wild Ones Native Plants chapter, Big River Big Woods.
In the fall of 2018, just three days after completing my second master naturalist biome course (which I have yet to write about), I went to the monthly Big River Big Woods chapter event. Full of excitement about nature and eager to participate, I filled out their volunteer survey, checking off several boxes: help with the website, give a plant talk, bring snacks.
I was soon asked to give a short presentation on a wildflower — so, on January 24, full of fresh confidence after giving a couple of short species presentations in my class, I gave a 5-minute talk about pearly everlasting. I enjoyed sharing photos of the pretty flowers, of course — but the bigger goal of my presentation was to show how looks can be deceiving, and we should not be striving for perfection from a human perspective. The plants look terrible in early summer, when they are taken over to provide protective nests for American Lady butterfly caterpillars, but I think I convinced the crowd to be patient when this happens because the plants will be just fine and will still flower like they should, just a few weeks later.
I was also asked to help with a redesign of their website, since my day job for the past 20 years has been managing websites. So with the help of the board of directors, a friend and I reorganized the navigation, tightened up the content, and added big, beautiful photos to the brand-new Big River Big Woods website.
Once that was done, I convinced the chapter to launch an Instagram account since native plants are so naturally visual. Most of the photos and descriptions were my own, though I love to get submissions from other chapter members. In 2019, I created 112 posts, which I recorded as volunteer hours at about 15 minutes apiece. (Follow along at @bigriverbigwoods.)
Those three activities alone — in the “education” category for master naturalist volunteers — accounted for more than the required 40 hours of volunteering! But I still love to help with volunteer events, so I didn’t stop there. Here’s how I recorded the rest of my volunteer time in 2019:
January 12, Minnesota Valley National Wildlife Refuge (education): A couple dozen volunteers and I helped with the beginning stages of an art installation, Kaleidoscope, that would eventually be “flying” at the Mall of America to bring attention to the importance of pollinators. The mall commissioned an artist to create a 30-foot monarch butterfly sculpture with a flock of 300 monarchs (and a few Karner blues) fluttering below to hang from the north atrium of the mall. We started with plastic bags (because the display also talked about upcycling) to form the shape of the body.
January 26, Cedar Creek Ecosystem Science Reserve (citizen science): Took part in Cedar Creek’s largest wildlife tracking survey to date, with 27 trackers and naturalists on five teams who recorded the tracks and sign of at least 18 different species of mammals across the reserve, on a day that was double-digits below zero. We began with a discussion about tracking and learned from experienced wildlife trackers about how to distinguish tracks. (I counted this activity as 1 hour of training — since I’m new to this — and 5 hours of work.)
March 15, City of Roseville (stewardship): Snow seeding (native prairie plants and grasses) in the area between the Roseville arboretum and ballfields.
April 16, City of Roseville (citizen science): Volunteers have been conducting frog and toad call surveys in select city parks for a few years. Frogs and toads are indicator species — they can tell us about habitat condition, water quality, and more. An important part of monitoring of frogs and toads is to gather data each year. This allows researchers to detect trends and help provide feedback about management work that is occurring in our parks. I first participated in an hour-long training session, then monitored calls on 3 nights during spring, early summer, and mid summer.
April, City Nature Challenge (citizen science): Hiked at three regional parks, taking photos of all of the species I could find, and then went to an “ID party” to help identify or confirm identifications of species reported by other local people. Parks visited:
Minnehaha Regional Park
Bald Eagle / Otter Lake Regional Park
Pine Point Regional Park
May 7, Saint Paul Natural Resources (stewardship): Gorgeous spring evening for a volunteer restoration event. Hauled pre-cut brush and dug out burdock plants at Bruce Vento Nature Sanctuary.
May 9, Wood-Rill Scientific and Natural Area (citizen science): Helped other volunteers identify as many plant species as possible in the first BioBlitz at Wood-Rill SNA.
May 11, Three Rivers Park District (stewardship): Garlic mustard removal event at Silverwood Park.
June 1, Friends of the Mississippi River (stewardship): Planted trees on a hillside of the new Heritage Park.
June 10, Ramsey-Washington Metro Watershed District (stewardship): Joint RWMWD / Wild Ones Big River Big Woods planting event to restore the shoreline of a large wetland at Snail Lake Regional Park. This is a two-year project restoring native habitat in a large county park interspersed with large woodland, prairie, and wetland areas.
June 15, City of Roseville (stewardship): Planted native plugs to restore shoreline at Lake Owasso. Cardinal flower, blue lobelia, grass-leaved goldenrod, prairie blazing star, blue flag iris, common rush, bottlebrush sedge, among others — 750 plants in all. With more than a dozen volunteers, it only took two hours.
June 18, Friends of the Mississippi River (stewardship): FMR has been restoring a bluff prairie on the overlook slope at Indian Mounds Regional Park. We tended to the area around native plants at this site, removing burdock, crown vetch, grapevines, thistles, and more.
June 27, Friends of the Mississippi River (stewardship): Removed hoary alyssum at Hastings Sand Coulee Scientific and Natural Area. This isn’t the worst weed, but it doesn’t belong in this high-quality site, so Friends of the Mississippi River and their volunteers are removing it.
August 4, Dakota County Parks (citizen science): Bumblebee survey. I wasn’t so successful personally, though my husband caught quite a few. (The bees are always released after being identified and marked.)
August 15, Mississippi National River & Recreation Area (stewardship): Coyote howling survey. We visited three separate stations more than 1.5 miles apart and played a pre-recorded coyote sound three times each followed by 90 seconds of listening. We heard coyotes before the survey began and after it ended.
August 17, Minnesota Bee Atlas (citizen science): Bumblebee survey at Eloise Butler Wildflower Garden. There were so many other volunteers, and so many bumblebees, that I only collected one bee and spent the rest of the time helping the gatherers ID the flowers where they were found and then sorting the containers by flower. 112 bumblebees were collected, totalling 7 species, but no rusty-patched.
September 4, Carleton Arboretum (stewardship): Seed collecting in the prairie, followed by an observation of a monarch roost!
September 5, Saint Paul Natural Resources (stewardship): Collected bottlebrush grass seed at Phalen Regional Park.
September 7, Three Rivers Parks (stewardship): Collected leadplant, Golden Alexanders, purple prairie clover, and gray-headed coneflower. Elm Creek Park Reserve has 40 acres of prairie, and Three Rivers Parks District is expanding that to 200! Awesome project. It was a gray and wet day on the prairie. Just look at all these purple prairie clover seedheads!
September 17, National Park Service / Coldwater Spring (stewardship): Removed river grape vines. I only participated for half an hour, but a little is better than nothing!
September 21, City of Roseville (stewardship): Got to a volunteer event late enough that the plants were mostly planted already, so I spent my time pulling buckthorn seedlings — easy to do after a bunch of rain. Left them on logs so they won’t grow back into the ground!
September 26, Settler’s Island in Cottage Grove (stewardship): Volunteer tree planting event with Friends of the Mississippi River that started by kayaking out to an island! Restoration event at an area that had recently been cleared of buckthorn and other undesirable trees. Planted white oak, Ohio buckeye, viburnum, highbush cranberry, dogwood red osier, and catalpa.
September 28, Minnesota Valley National Wildlife Refuge (stewardship): U of M students and alumni and master naturalist volunteers participated in a Planting for Pollinators event on National Public Lands Day and National Urban Wildlife Refuge Day. We planted 4,500 native plugs! It was inspiring to see the transformation of this place that used to be gravel and buckthorn. Now it’s a place to play, rest, and enjoy nature. And next year it will be full of wildflowers.