Serendipity Gardens | Bring your backyard to life

Thimbleweed: Native Plant Review

July 18, 2016 by Jo Ellen Roe
Thimbleweed blossom.

Thimbleweed: Native Plant Review. In this image, a single thimbleweed blossom stands tall on a stem that allows it to sway in the wind.

Going Partly Native

Two years ago, we started a new bed that was all native plants, including a button bush and a thimbleweed that we purchased at the annual native plant sale at Matthaei Botanical Gardens. You may be able to find similar plant sales near you.  (To read about the all-native collection of plants in Serendipity Gardens, see Planting a Native Garden.)

Many references tell us that native plants are the best to plant for a number of reasons. Here are some of them:

According to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Department, plants native to your area will attract more native pollinators. They note that “native plants can [also] serve as larval host plants for some species of pollinators.”

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The Orchestra Tunes Up in Serendipity Gardens

March 25, 2016 by Jo Ellen Roe

Hellebore brightens an early spring landscape.

Garden Music Is about to Start

It’s almost time for the new gardening season to begin. I am excited.

Last spring, I was away from my garden. I did not see a single plant emerge from the soil — and I missed it terribly. Fellow gardeners will know how exciting it is to see the first snowdrops; to cut back the messy, winter-worn hellebore leaves and see the lovely flowers hidden beneath; or to see spring flowering bulbs pushing their way out of the earth. I always think it’s rather like an orchestra tuning up. A bit of horn here, a bit of violin over there, then various instruments becoming gradually louder and  more coordinated, and then, in May — the symphony begins in earnest!

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A Winter Reflection: Home in Serendipity Gardens

January 11, 2016 by Jo Ellen Roe
Swing in fall (1)

This swing is one of our favorite places to sit in summer — and occasionally in winter, too.

It’s snowing today and quite windy, too, so it feels like winter. But this past weekend, the weather was warm enough — and dry enough — to sit outside in the garden. It usually isn’t warm enough to do that in January, but this year is different, compliments of El Nino.

I sat in the swing beneath the maple tree, where in summer a great canopy of shade cools the air below. On this particular rare bright day in a sea of cloudy days, however, only a tracery of branches studded with nascent buds reached to the blue above.

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I Took a Mooc!

October 27, 2015 by Jo Ellen Roe
Red oak

My little oak tree is no forest, but it also will provide ecosystem services such as wildlife preservation and carbon sequestration.

This will be a very brief blog post about my MOOC experience. A MOOC is a massive online course. Many universities offer them, and generally, they are free. I took my class through Coursera.


I just completed my first MOOC from the University of Wisconsin, Madison. The course I took was Forest and Humans, taught by Dr. Catherine Woodward. I found the course to be very interesting and the professor excellent. The videos were high quality and easy to listen to, though they did sometimes include details which I had to watch 2-3 times to get. One feature I enjoyed was the interviews with various practitioners in the forestry field. I was quite shocked to learn the extent of illegal logging — and that it is related to illegal drugs and human trafficking.

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Planting a Native Plant Garden

October 7, 2015 by Jo Ellen Roe
New Native Garden (2)

My new native garden looks a bit bare at present, but it includes 19 bee-and-butterfly-pleasing plants.

Today, I helped create my first totally native plant garden. I and the person who helps me in the garden planted 17 new natives to accompany the two that were already there. (This same bed formerly held overgrown day lilies that I had grown thoroughly tired of. Therefore, the crescent-shaped bed itself was already made.)

In its new iteration, the bed is in its infancy and is therefore not beautiful. But I am confident that it will be in a year or two.

Design Considerations

As we designed the garden, we aimed to complement the two existing plants, a button bush and a thimble weed, both planted last year, both doing well. We put the tallest plants — wild monarda, or bee balm (3), and penstemon (2) — in the middle. Around the edges, we planted Virginia Mountain mint (3), prairie dropseed grass (3), nodding wild onion (2), coreopsis (2), and golden alexander (1). At the end of the garden, where it extends out further, we planted an aster. We purchased all these plants (plus a few more) last weekend at the annual Native Plant Sale at Matthaei Botanical Gardens. We bought the original two there at last year’s sale.

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