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:

Large, pale purple flower on a short stem, in a small pot.

I bought two pots of blueflag iris at a spring sale, and each produced three gorgeous blooms:

Dark-purple iris with yellow streaks, with a patio in the background.

A brand-new harebell:

Closeup of a medium-purple bell-shaped flower.

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.

Two small plants, each with a paper tag glued to a popsicle stick.

They turned out to be wild petunia:

Closeup of a single medium-purple, five-petaled flower.

And last but certainly not least, this dark blue stunner I didn’t see coming: bottle gentian.

Small pot on a paver wall, with a long stem branching to the right, and a single dark, balloon-shaped bloom.

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…

A stem with three purple flowers that look like bird nests

…which really is a monarch magnet.

stem of blooming purple flowers, leaning horizontally, with a monarch hanging upside-down

Other new plants

Swamp milkweed was successful in my yard for the first time!

two clusters of pink-colored milkweed flowers, the ones in the foreground blooming and the ones in the background budding

I planted this thimbleweed from seed several years ago, and it finally appeared.

six short yellow flowers

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.

a flower viewed from above, with a spiky flower disk and long, narrow pink petals falling away

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.)

13 potted plants resting on a staircase

Successes

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.)

closeup of white-colored milkweed flowers, half blooming and half budding

The false indigo produced one flower spike in 2018. The following year: about 60!

shrubby plant with a half-dozen purple spikes of flowers with orange pollen

It had a relatively short blooming period, but it was much loved by bees when the flowers were around.

two spikes of purple flowers, with a bee posing on the left

Wild ginger is doing spectacularly, especially in the more shaded backyard garden.

a mass of large, heart-shaped green leaves viewed from above

Fails

The bishop’s cap gave up after two years, possibly crowded out by violets.

the tag for a bishop's cap plant, nearly covered by a blooming purple violet

The butterflyweed up front, which was a huge two-colored beauty for years and was a host of many monarch caterpillar eggs in years past, and survived the sewer reconstruction of 2018, petered out in 2019. These buds did bloom, but that was the extent of the plant.

one cluster of orange buds, above somewhat curled leaves

Oopsie

When pulling grass from my backyard garden, I suddenly realized I had gone too far and hit the spiderwort.

about a dozen green stems that appear to have been cut at about 2 inches above the ground

Fortunately, it was early enough in the year, and it grew anyway, blooming for the first time.

a three-petaled purple flower

This wild columbine survived being eaten by deer (twice) and a transplant during the blooming season. What a strong plant!

closeup of a pink-and-yellow flower that hangs upside-down, with five more in the background

Unwanted

This pretty vine…

many six-inch stems with small oval-shaped leaves

…turned into the pretty but invasive crown vetch. Out it came.

overhead view of a round, light-pink flower

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.

overhead view of one small, four-petaled white flower above many large, scalloped green leaves

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.

10 small round cups with flat, light-brown circles inside

New bugs

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.

a brownish, spiky chrysalis hanging on the underside of a leaf that's been turned up

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.

a nearly black, spiky caterpillar on a small, light-green plant

Previous recaps

A photo essay starting at the end and evolving backwards.

Clusters of berries that have been partially eaten, perhaps by birds that will spread the seeds to new areas:

Partially eaten jack-in-the-pulpit berries, with white spots where the berries were.

Beautiful ripe berries:

Ripe jack-in-the-pulpit berries.

Because there are berries, these two plants were female.

Mostly green berries that are just starting to turn red.

But get this: next year, both of these same plants will probably be male! Jack-in-the-pulpits change sex depending on how much energy they have stored. Producing berries takes a lot of energy, so usually the next year they’re male.

Dark green jack-in-the-pulpit berries.

Family photo of four blooming jacks under their tall, umbrella-like leaves. I assume the two plants on the right are male, though I didn’t know to check while they were blooming. Next year I will look more closely!

Four jack-in-the-pulpits under their tall leaves.

Stretching their leaves open:

Two jack-in-the-pulpit plants with their leaves still unfurling.

Unfurling:

Three jack-in-the-pulpit plants that are just beginning to open.

Just getting started:

Two short pointed shoots coming out of the ground.

About this flower

Right now, so many of the garden blooms are purple.

10-foot-wide section of a pollinator garden with purple coneflowers at top left, blazingstar at bottom left, bee balm in the center, and phlox at the right.

 
Allium:

Two purple globe-shaped flowers.

Bee balm:

Two dozen spiky light-purple flowers.

Blazingstar:

Five spikes with lots of purple flowers blooming at the tops.

Phlox:

Three clusters of dark pink flowers.

(I’m choosing not to include the invasive creeping bellflower, though it is purple.)

But is this joe-pye weed pink or purple?

Large cluster of small, spiky flowers. A bumblebee is on the right side.
 
Color is indeed subjective. I would say these flowers are pink, but they’re called purple coneflowers:

Two dozen pink flowers with large, cone-shaped centers.

I would definitely call this one purple, but its name is blue vervain:

Tall spikes, each with tiny purple flowers in a ring.

And this is purple giant hyssop, but it looks less and less purple every year:

Flower spike with tiny white flowers.

Milkweed is such an important plant. Its leaves are the only thing monarch caterpillars will eat, and its flowers attract all kinds of pollinators. So it’s exciting to see several kinds of milkweeds taking off in my yard this year.

The whorled milkweed is the big winner. For several years I couldn’t figure out why it wouldn’t grow, even though I bought six-packs of plugs in two different years. And then we put up a rabbit fence, which has made all the difference. There are so many individual plants now that I lose track when counting.

I could tell, right when it first started coming up, that there would be more this year — notice the old stems next to the new shoots.

Closeup of several small green plants next to three tall brown stems.

Now it seems like there are more and more whorled stems every day.

Dozens of plants with narrow leaves, in varying heights.

Poke milkweed is such a fun variety. This year it nearly quadrupled.

Three brown stems, each with multiple one-inch plants nearby.
Bright-green hairless plant with large leaves and many green bud clusters.

Swamp milkweed doubled…

Two old stems in the background, four short new shoots in front.

…and it’s looking really good.

Three tall green plants with wet leaves. The fourth plant is not visible.

The common milkweed always shows up by the dozens, so I can’t honestly say that there are more than ever. But there are a lot, and that is good enough.

The edge of a garden, with a half dozen one-foot milkweeds in front of other types of native plants.

The prairie milkweed has never done much, but the two plants are back, so I’m happy.

One milkweed plant with leaves standing nearly straight up.

So far, I’ve seen less butterfly weed than before. But it is always a late bloomer compared to the others, so maybe there’s still time for more to pop up.

Four short, light-green, hairy plants.

Added together, there are hundreds of milkweeds in the front and back garden, which makes for great habitat for monarchs.

Now it’s caterpillar season. My garden has been fortunate to host possibly two dozen (or more) from this first generation of 2019. Even the whorled milkweed, with its skinny leaves, has four residents.