Wednesday, October 15, 2014

Join the Crowd!

That was the headline of an article by Collin O’Mara, President and CEO of The National Wildlife Federation and former secretary of Delaware’s Department of Natural Resources and Environmental Control, last week in Delaware Online. After reading it I felt very proud of my adopted state!

President and CEO of The National Wildlife Federation

“Fortunately, the First State is emerging as a leader in creating urban wildlife habitat. More than a thousand Delawareans have certified their property as a Wildlife Habitat through the National Wildlife Federation in partnership with our State Affiliate the Delaware Nature Society. This is more than twice the national average per capita. This Thursday, the City of Newark became the 78th certified Community Wildlife Habitat in the nation and the second in Delaware after Townsend and the good folks in Slaughter Beach hope to be third.” wrote O’Mara.

When sad news comes out about the quality of our water or declining bee and monarch populations, people often ask, “What can I do about it?” Our answer would be “Become part of NWF’s Certified Wildlife Habitat family?” American Beauties Native Plants has been a supporter of the National Wildlife Federation since it’s inception. Native plants are an important ingredient in creating wildlife habitat. My garden is certified and having the NWF Certified Wildlife Habitat sign out front has been a great way to get our neighbors interested too.

Fall is here and winter isn’t far away. Wildlife needs you now. Join the crowd and get certified today! Here are the four steps you need to begin and links to read more.

Planting native plants or hanging feeders in safe places are two easy ways to start. Native shrubs and trees provide the foliage, nectar, pollen, berries, seeds and nuts that many species of wildlife require to survive and thrive.

Wildlife need sources of clean water for drinking, bathing, and reproduction. Water sources may include natural features such as ponds, lakes and rivers or human-made features such as bird baths, puddling areas for butterflies, installed ponds or rain gardens.

Wildlife need places to hide to feel safe from people, predators, and inclement weather. Native vegetation is a perfect cover for terrestrial wildlife. Shrubs, thickets and brush piles provide great hiding places within their bushy leaves and thorns.

Creating a wildlife habitat is about creating a place for the entire life-cycle of a species to occur, from tadpole to frog, from caterpillar to butterfly.

Bringing Life to Your Garden!
Have fun out there,

Peggy Anne

Wednesday, October 8, 2014

What's More Precious?

I always thought that the first flowers of spring were the most precious and most exciting but I’m starting to re-think that. Fall is here and as much as I’d like to stay in denial, the leaves are falling and I had to put on a coat yesterday. When I walk in the garden now it is our fall bloomers that make me smile. The Kentucky coffee tree is dropping its small, light yellow leaves at a continuous but lazy rate. The robins devoured the fruit of our fringe tree in 3 days. It was quite a spectacle watching them trying to land on the thin branches. The little meadow is full of spent flowers and the birds that eat them. Here and there asters bloom and the bees are fighting for that nectar. The three-lobed coneflower are still in bloom and they look so bright in the low angled, autumn light. I can count on seeing yellow swallowtails when I look at Phlox ‘Jeana’, still in bloom, still no mildew on the leaves. Fall is a nostalgic time and maybe that’s why I love Viola ‘Silver Gem’ so much. Violas were my mom’s favorite flower and each little purple flower reminds me of her. Maybe every season we get is the most precious.

syn. Symphyotrichum ericoides
White Heath Aster
Zone 4 or 5-8
A good strong grower and a totally new look and use for an aster. It is a great host plant for many varieties of butterflies. The bees are all over this one right now. Deer resistant too. 

Greg's Mist Flower
Zone 7-10
This butterfly magnet attracts a host of butterflies to the garden including large numbers of Queens and Monarchs. The bloom time in the southwest coincides with monarch migration.

Mr. Liko Gaura
Zone 7-9
'Mr. Liko' is a selection from Civano Nursery in Tucson, AZ. It has blush pink flowers produced in abundance from early spring until first frost. An insect and hummingbird  magnet.

Hairy Alumroot / Maple-leaved Alumroot
Zone 3-8
It makes a lovely shade groundcover that can happily compete with tree roots and come out looking good. Nectar source for hummingbirds. Great deer resistance.

Jeana Garden Phlox
Zone 4-8
My favorite perennial to come out in years. The flowers are small but there are up to one hundred in each cluster creating a unique tiered effect. Strongly mildew resistant, it attracts hummingbirds and butterflies in huge numbers!

Short Toothed Mountain Mint
Zone 3-9
I love the silvery bracts and often use them in bouquets. The flowers are an extraordinarily good source of nectar for smaller types of butterflies. No other plant in our gardens attracts more insects. Deer resistant.

Three-lobed Coneflower
Zone 4-8
Hundreds of small deep gold flowers with brown centers bloom for almost three months. Butterflies and other pollinators like the nectar and songbirds eat the seed from the spent flowers.

Standing Ovation Little Bluestem
Zone 3-8
Bluish-green, upright foliage gives a sizzling display of oranges, reds, yellows and purplish-browns in the autumn. 'Standing Ovation' thrives in poor, dry soils and its seed heads are prized by native songbirds. It provides winter landscape interest and cover for birds and other native critters.

Zone 3-9
The arching stems with yellow flowers really are reminiscent of exploding fireworks. Provides nectar and pollen for bees and butterflies in early fall. Great fuel for monarchs during their migration. Seeds relished by finches, juncos and sparrows. Migrating monarchs use the nectar to fuel their fall migration.

Silver Gem Prostrate Blue Violet
Zone 5-8
I love the tiny flowers in spring and it’s such a treat to see them again in fall.  A host plant for many native butterfly and moth larvae. Long blooming and drought resistant. It grows in cracks of boulders at our house.

Bringing Life to Your Garden!
Have fun to there, Peggy Anne

Wednesday, September 17, 2014

Entomologist Wannabes

Ms Walliser is also the author of Good Bug, Bad Bug
The prize for this month’s American Beauties contest is a great book called Attracting Beneficial Bugs to Your Garden. Go to our Facebook page and tell us why you NEED this book for a chance to win. Last week I interviewed the author, Jessica Walliser. I think she’s an entomologist wannabe and after our interview I was too. We joked about predatory and parasitic insects needing their own marketing team. Ladybugs would definitely be the cover girls, and praying mantids would be the bad boys.

The Terminator!

 The number one thing people should keep in mind if they want to move away from pesticides to a more natural way of gardening is to have patience, Jessica explains. Changes will be gradual. It takes time to regain balance. It’s also good to remember that “Bad Bugs” will rarely kill a plant in one season and that 99% of insects are benign or beneficial.

Beautiful balance
Jessica talks about the importance of native plants in her books but also includes information about non-natives that provide nectar. It’s important to remember the distinction between host plants needed by insects as a larval food source and plants that provide nectar to a wider range of insects.

Many insects overwinter in hollow stems
Getting Started - Do’s and Don’ts
  • Stop Using Pesticides - Even organic ones that could harm beneficial insects in their larval stage.
  • Create Habitat – Don’t cut back your plants in the fall. Many insects will overwinter in the hollow stems. 
  • Treasure Your Leaf Litter. It provides shelter for a wide variety of insects and other wildlife all year long.
  • Plant Nectar and Pollen Sources - Try to include plants from the aster, mint and carrot family.

There is life in the leaf litter!
Jessica thinks that independent garden centers could play an important role in educating consumers about beneficial insects. By using signage like  “Here’s What’s Happening” to let customers know that the lacewings in their greenhouse are employed to control aphids. Many garden centers are now selling beneficial insects and that is another great teaching opportunity.

Ladybug larva

Tips on Purchasing Beneficial Insects

  • Consider the Source - Almost all adult ladybugs are wild collected. It would be better to buy insectary-reared larva instead. The larva can’t fly away and they will be working for you longer.
  • Praying Mantids Egg Cases - Be aware that you are most likely buying Chinese or European praying mantids.  Native species like the Carolina mantids have a native range that doesn’t extend much farther north than Virginia. However, global warming is extending their range.
  • Find a Reputable Insectary -  They will work with you to find the best solutions for your situation. 

Praying mantis egg cases

Bringing Life to Your Garden!

Have fun out there, Peggy Anne

Visit to find a list of lecture topics, read her bug blog and to access links to books and articles.

Find more information on insectaries and beneficial insects, including where to buy  from Cornell University.

Tuesday, September 9, 2014

A little Goes a Long Way

Good News About Monarchs

The number of overwintering monarchs is expected to rise during the winter of 2014-2015.
Dr. Chip Taylor of Monarch Watch expects the overwintering population of monarchs in Mexico to be at least 1.4 hectares this winter, twice as large as last year. Though he cautions that without a recovery plan and more than a million acres of restored habitat, we are not out of the woods just yet. Even so, in my mind a little good news about monarchs goes a long way!

Check the peak migration times in your area. Do you have native nectar plants in bloom for them? 
The Best Milkweed for Your Area
The University of Minnesota has a Monarch Joint Venture program that encourages people to plant milkweed. Monarchs lay their eggs on milkweed plants and they are the only plants monarch caterpillars can eat. Check out their beautiful guide to see which milkweed plants are native to your area.

The graph shows how much fat a typical monarch has each month. Extra nectar is stored as fat for winter survival.  
Get Involved

Journey North, is a project that engages citizen scientists in a global study of wildlife that includes monarchs. Their website is full of great information. They have a free, new science app for your mobile phone. With the new app you can track the migration, report your sightings, take pictures and leave comments.
 If you don't have a mobile phone you can report your sightings here

They also have some fun booklets and slide shows for your kids. 

Download your free app here.
Look for more information on planting a butterfly garden, butterfly life cycles and special relationships between native plants and butterflies on our American Beauties Native Plants website. Enjoy our butterfly garden landscape plans here.

Bringing Life to Your Garden!

Have fun out there,

Peggy Anne

Wednesday, September 3, 2014

Growing for Futures with the National Garden Bureau


  I was in Chicago last month for the Independent Garden Center trade show. Don’t tell my bosses but I skipped out on the last day of the show to go and see a garden that my friend Diane Blazek was so excited about. Diane is the executive director of the National Garden Bureau and they have chosen the Growing Solutions Farm in Chicago as a beneficiary of its annual fundraising effort. Growing Solutions Farm is a vocational program of the Julie + Michael Tracy Family Foundation/Urban Autism Solutions.

The one-acre garden was beautiful, immaculately kept and cared for. It produces hundreds of pounds of food in what would otherwise be an urban food desert.  The young adults with autism work together with an urban farmer, vocational coach, teachers, volunteers and agency staff to develop skills that can lead to career opportunities in the agriculture, horticulture, food processing and distribution industries. The kids not only plant and care for the garden, they are also learning how to cook and eat fresh fruit and vegetables. They will also be involved in selling the produce in farmer’s market style. This kind of interaction is a critical step in their development. I met the urban farmer, a determined and caring woman with more than enough credentials to run the project. I also met the teachers and was shown how their studies were set up; they include everything from planting to business etiquette; things you and I would probably take for granted. For instance, how to have a break time at work, broken down in steps they can follow. Like, how do you know when break is over? To say I was impressed with the project would be a giant understatement.

The best part of the day was meeting all of the kids. We arrived at snack time and they were gobbling up organic salads with tomatoes from their garden. Many gave me their hand and one young man wrote me a two-page letter about the garden and Walt Disney. We posed for a picture and I had to hug Diane for taking so much time out of her busy day to bring me there.

These kids are proud of their garden and like every single one of us, would like to have a meaningful job. The scope of this project exceeded my expectations by a mile and I believe it will truly prepare them to have an even more meaningful future. Growing for Futures is the perfect name for this project. If you can donate any amount – please, please do.

In an innovative twist, each donor contribution will translate into a tangible item needed by the garden. For example, a $10 donation will purchase a watering nozzle; a $25 donation will buy 50-feet of watering hose and so on. The NGB also hopes to garner another $20,000 through donated supplies from horticulture businesses.

Bringing Life to Your Garden!

Have fun out there, Peggy Anne

For more information from the National Garden Bureau please contact
Jon Kaplan at: 312-342-4304, or 

Friday, August 29, 2014

Fairy Tales and Gardening Trends

I just returned from the Independent Garden Center trade show in Chicago. I went to visit our American Beauties licensed growers and to check out the latest trends. I recall last year the colors of pots and other products were very “in your face” but the pallets of colors seem to be softening somewhat this year. There is also a definite trend toward Asian design. I can certainly see the connection between the implied serenity of the artwork and the spirituality of gardening for many people.

What really jumped out at me this year were fairy gardens. Now, I grew up on fairy tales and I like fairies as much as the next guy but I always thought fairy gardening was kind of silly. Since it was impossible to ignore them, I started to take a closer look at he displays. Many were incredibly intricate; some even had trains running through them. The ones with vegetable gardens in them won me over. I probably won't build one in my yard but I will encourage the children in my life to give it a try.

We’re always talking about how to reach the next generation in this business so why not start kids off young. With a good dose of fresh air and imagination required, fairy gardening might just be what the doctor ordered to combat nature-deficit disorder.

Bringing life to your garden!

Have fun out there!  
Peggy Anne

Note to Self - Market Viola walterii 'Silver Gem' to the wee folk!

Monday, August 18, 2014

He Said, She Said

What Garden Writers Think About Native Plants and Organic Gardening Products

We three amigos are just back from the National Garden Writers Symposium in Pittsburgh. We had a fantastic time catching up with old friends and making new ones. Everyone loved the booth and our groovy giveaways that included; worm castings from Organic Mechanics, compost tea bags from SustÃ¥ne Natural Fertilizer, a swamp milkweed plant from American Beauties Native Plants and a great reusable cotton bag with our slogan "Together We Can Make a Difference."

We asked garden writers to tell us why native plants and organic gardening products were important to them and their readers. One lucky winner was drawn from from the fish bowl full of answers and they won a Monarch Release from The Liberty School and Butterfly Farm & Garden - thank you so much for the donation Liberty School!

The answers were quite interesting. We'd also love to here from you! Write to us here or on Facebook.

I'm off to the next trade show!
Bringing Life to Your Garden
Have fun out there!
Peggy Anne

In no particular order….

Safety, no harmful pesticides, peace of mind, for edibles and cut flowers.

Sustainable landscapes provide a circle of life relevant to flora and fauna.

We built the finest greenhouses in the world – we love supporting these products.

People are afraid of the health risks on humans from chemicals.

I’ve been gardening organically for many years. When I lecture or publish, I emphasize the importance of using native plants to support wildlife especially for winged creatures.

I work at an organic botanical garden and have adopted that lifestyle at home.

It takes a whole ecosystem to grow a healthy garden.

If you look at a map of where monarchs have been most affected Iowa is one of the hardest hit. We have a group called The Monarchs of Eastern Iowa that’s doing a lot of work. Iowa used to be covered with native plants – we need more!

Sustainability is important because we must be thinking about how this world is affected by our actions.

I am a school instructor. My students are very interested in sustainable living, urban agriculture etc. !!!

First, do no harm!

More awareness for organic sustainability to protect local bees, plants and animals.

Better in every way.

No/less contamination from man’s hand on this land.

We live atop the Edwards Aquifer in Texas. Native plants help us conserve the water supply and organic products help us avoid polluting the aquifer.

We need native plants and organic products to protect our soil.

Better for the environment and future generations.

Promotes healthy soil, healthy, happy people and healthy, vibrant plants.

There are too many pollutants in the environment. We need to be more organic.

Greater success in the garden = greater happiness!

As a teacher I find it important to teach student about biodiversity

Preserve natural heritage.

People like choices. Native plants are gaining interest as more people become aware of them. Earth – diversity – sustainability makes a better planet for us all.

We need to pass information along to everyone on how to sustain our earth!

To feed pollinators!

Because they are part of a system that keeps us and other creatures alive.

Oh, they are SO important. I have grandchildren and pets and I don’t want to risk their health. Also, I LOVE native plants!

Native plants encourage native birds and butterflies.

Contamination of the ground.

Passing along this planet to my kids in a way I want to pass it on…

They are part of helping people to feel they are being part of the solution rather than part of the problem. Also, people are very interested in avoiding materials that could make them, their kids or pets unwell.

Birds, bees and butterflies!

Because they sustain the same web of life that sustains us – because without them we might as well -  Pave Paradise and Put Up a Parking Lot!

Just one world, we must take care of it.

In general they work better in our climate and soil.

As the head of my town’s conservation council, I am forever promoting milkweed for monarchs. As the owner of a large design / build firm, I try to encourage natives to all my clients. And, as a blogger I try to push natives to all.

I can’t think of any reason why NOT being organic could be acceptable as normal gardening. Everything is connected. We gardeners need to sustain life from the soil to the treetops!

Sustainability is cool stuff  - no to inorganic chemicals.

Because our children need a cleaner planet.

Because they support our ecosystems.

To protect and preserve butterflies and other pollinators.

Sustainable is the new way.

Many people today are concerned about the safety of their children and neighborhoods; they want to be sure their gardens are doing good for the world.

Because we are trying to educate homeowners on the importance of inviting pollinators to our neighborhoods.