Long petals, short petals. Skinny petals, wide petals. Single color, bicolor. You name it, we saw it somewhere in the garden this year.

The red ones likely came from a seed mix a few years ago. They started in a flower box and are now spreading on their own and may be intermingling with the native, solid-yellow, rudbeckia hirta. I think they’re called “gloriosa daisy” though which specific variety, I’m not sure; perhaps there are more than one, which is why there’s such variation.

This was a banner season for the native black-eyed susans — especially after such a lackluster year in 2016. While last year there were only a few flowers, and not any until September 19, this year they started opening up on June 20, and dozens and dozens of them kept going for weeks.

sunny shot of many rudbeckia hirta, with one on the far right closer and tilted more toward the camera

closer view of fewer flowers, focusing mainly on three across the frame

One gorgeous Sunday afternoon, I waded in close to the cluster and crouched near the ground to look up at the blue sky.

more than a dozen of the same flowers, viewed from below, with mostly blue sky and a few wispy clouds in the background

Side-by-side comparison of one flower:

Here’s one more photo of the whole bunch for good measure, from the side.

three dozen or so rudbeckia hirta in bright sunshine, viewed from the side

We’ve been growing bee balm (or wild bergamot, or monarda) for many years. It started as one large clump, and then we divided it into two sections. Each year it’s been the same pale purple color.

side view of dozens of light-purple bee balm, the second-closest with a bumblebee on the bottom

Last year there were a couple of volunteer blossoms, but this summer new growth is popping up all over. The first new plants were purple, too, but then I noticed a pink flower…

closeup of one blossom that is much pinker, several of the petals still closed tubes

…which turned into a pink patch.

10 blossoms from the side, the closest 3 in focus

Later I found a nearly white patch, then several more clusters like this.

closeup of one white blossom with dozens of open petals, some in the middle turning brown

9 white blossoms of various widths, most with lots of petals but some with only a few

And finally, I found a couple of blossoms that were a darker purple.

two large darker purple blossoms, past peak and losing their petals

Those are all the color possibilities that minnesotawildflowers.info lists for bee balm, all right in our own front yard.

Plant source: To the best of my memory, Roseville arboretum end-of-summer sale, 2011

It started with a small patch of fleabane that popped up in the lawn right behind the house in early June.

a narrow strip of three clumps of plants about two feet tall in the middle of a patchy lawn

Two weeks later came several right at the edge of the railing in the most shady spot of the front yard. There have been a couple here before, but this year they really took off. I called it a “fleabane forest” on Instagram.

up-close view from the side of many fleabane plants

dozens of small daisy-like flowers viewed from above

Little did I know that it would be nothing compared to what happened in the backyard in July: a roughly six feet-by-six feet spot of solid fleabane.

the entire patch of fleabane in the sun, standing far enough back to not have any individual flowers in focus

same clump of flowers but zoomed way in to focus on several in front, with many more blurred in a sunny background

I don’t care that it’s considered weedy; it’s cheery, and it is native.

similar photo but closer in so there are fewer fleabane flowers in the frame

fleabane, zoomed out to where individual flowers are recognizable but there are so many that none are really in focus

Minnesotawildflowers.info recognizes three kinds of fleabane in Minnesota. I am pretty sure the early ones were Philadelphia fleabane. I’m leaning toward prairie fleabane for both of the other locations, and perhaps the difference in bloom time is simply because of different amounts of sunlight. All three varieties that grow in Minnesota are native, though, so I’m not overly concerned about getting the correct identification.

I probably shouldn’t admit this, but I garden without paying much attention to where plants are supposed to grow. I’ll try most flowers once, and if they don’t like the spot, I don’t usually try again. With some notable exceptions (bloodroot keeps breaking my heart), plants will grow in my yard, whether in full sun in the front or in part-shade to mostly-shade in the back.

With that said, and perhaps not surprisingly, I’ve noticed that most of the summer prairie flowers in my yard bloom earlier and more vigorously in full sun.

All comparison photos were taken on July 24; sun first, then shade.

Bee balm was the plant that made me think of comparing the locations:

Yellow coneflower:

Joe-pye weed, just opening up in both spots, but a little further ahead in the full sun:

Pearly everlasting — all over in the front yard, but struggling to make it through all the creeping charlie in the backyard:

Dramatic difference for the black-eyed susan — a huge cluster in the front yard, but just one small plant in the backyard:

(Much more to come about the black-eyed susan situation in the front yard.)

Purple coneflower — not even a comparison because at that point, there were none in the backyard (and even today, August 8, there is just one).

about a dozen large purple coneflowers

I’m not ready to attribute all of the front-yard success to amount of sunlight alone. For example, in the case of the black-eyed susan, in previous years the results were reversed (few in the sun, many in the shade).

And even in part shade, the flowers usually do grow, just later, like the same backyard bee balm location, taken on August 7:

a dozen bee balm flowers, just past peak