Park News for February 2014

 

Monarch Butterfly

In this issue:
*2014 AAS Winners
*Decline of the Monarch Butterfly
*Park's Gold Standard
*Great Native Seed Varieties to Grow

 

2014 All-America Selection Winners

6 New Award-winning Seeds for Your Garden!

Just in time for spring planting, the All-America Selection judges have announced 6 new varieties that have won top honors for 2014:

Patio Baby Hybrid EggplantPatio Baby Hybrid Eggplant is made just for containers, and what a little powerhouse it is! Expect 25 to 50 -- yes, fifty! -- fruits on every plant over the course of a long summer season. No more than 2 feet high and wide, it sets darling 2- to 3-inch-diameter fruits of darkest violet with a succulent flavor. And thornless stems make the harvest easy! Rivoli RadishRivoli Radish got the judges' attention with its crunchy texture, mild flavor, and attractive bright red skins, but the real surprise was when it was left in the ground long past harvest time. While other radishes turn woody and tough if not picked promptly, Rivoli is still sweet and good weeks later! We confirmed this in our trial gardens: Rivoli is the one to plant if you want to harvest delicious radishes on your own schedule!
NuMex Easter Ornamental PepperNuMex Easter Ornamental Pepper will delight you with clusters of small, tapered peppers set right on top of the plant, pointing upwards. They range from cream and yellow to lavender and orange – pastel shades of beauty like so many Easter eggs! The perfect companion to flowering annuals, NuMex Easter is also ideal all by itself in a pot, reaching 8 inches high and 10 inches wide. Serenita Pink Hybrid AngeloniaSerenita Pink Hybrid Angelonia is a bloom machine, setting flower-packed spires all summer long on very easy to grow plants. Tolerant of heat and humidity, left alone by nibbling deer and rabbits, and never needing to be staked or deadheaded, this is an effortless source of bright color for pots and beds.
Akila Daisy White Hybrid OsteospermumAkila Daisy White Hybrid Osteospermum is a cut-flower lover's best friend. All spring and summer, this hard worker opens masses of 2-inch white daisies with clear yellow centers. Standing up to heat and drought, it brings bees and butterflies into the garden and doesn't mind cold snaps. Florific Sweet Orange Hybrid New Guinea ImpatiensFlorific Sweet Orange Hybrid New Guinea Impatiens offers blooms like no others in the family -- neon-bright magenta-salmon with dark orange slashes! Totally resistant to downy mildew, this vigorous shade lover offers handsome bronze foliage to offset the beautiful blooms. Naturally well-branched with no pinching, it's pea-green reliable and so lovely!
The seeds for each of these varieties are available on the website right now. Be the first to try them!

Decline of the Monarch Butterfly

Make Your Garden a Monarch Way Station!

Monarch ButterflyWherever you live, you can make a difference in the declining monarch butterfly population this season. Plant butterfly weed (Asclepias, also known as milkweed) in your sunny garden and in any meadows, fields, and lots where wildflowers are permitted. You might just save a flock of migrating butterflies!

Migrating monarch butterfly populations are at their lowest point since recordkeeping began. Each year a group of butterflies makes a Canada-to-Mexico flight, and last year fewer than ever butterflies were counted on this journey. Deforestation, climate change, and other factors all play roles in the decline, but perhaps the single most important factor is the scarcity of butterfly weed in the United States.

So what has happened to all the wild Asclepias? Once a common volunteer in corn and soy crops, butterfly weed has now all but vanished from commercial growing fields, thanks to herbicide-tolerant crops. (The herbicide kills the Asclepias and other "weeds" but doesn't affect the corn or soy.) This may improve crop yields in the short term, but the monarchs that need Asclepias to survive are also pollinators of many vegetable crops, and their decline may have devastating long-range effects.

Monarchs use Asclepias in critical phases of their life cycle. In late winter and early spring, they lay their eggs in butterfly weed plants. When the caterpillars (larvae) hatch, they eat ONLY butterfly weed and nothing else. Then they attach to a stem of the plant, weave a chrysalis around themselves, and undergo their transformation into butterflies. As adults, they may return to Asclepias as one source of nectar (among many others; see the list at the end of this article); they will certainly return to lay their eggs just 2 weeks later. This cycle continues for 3 generations, until the 4th generation, which is born in autumn. These are the migrators, which head south on their long journey.

Clearly, butterfly weed is vital to the survival of the monarch butterfly. Can your garden, meadow, or even the vacant lot down the street offer a stand of Asclepias to host these butterflies?   

Luckily, Asclepias is a lovely plant to grow, with a rich vanilla scent, a bushy habit, and charming flat-topped flower clusters that make lovely fresh and dried indoor arrangements. (Don't worry -- this plant is so free-flowering that even if you cut a big armload of blooms, there will still be plenty for the butterflies!) It is perennial, and it's hardy from one end of the country to the other (zones 3-9).

Butterfly weed is easy to start from seed, so consider scattering the species freely in any sunny spot. You'll love its bright orange blooms! Newer varieties offer a wider range of colors, including the very popular Gay Butterflies mix of yellow, orange, and red, as well as beautiful pink-and-red Cinderella. Or, if you'd prefer to transplant young plants and get the color showing even quicker, we offer the species and ever-popular neon-bright Hello Yellow as plants.

Monarch butterflies are pollinators of many vegetables, including the squash family. Why not plant some butterfly weed in your pumpkin patch and around the summer squash and zucchinis? If you're planning a 3 Sisters Planting this year, consider ringing it in Asclepias. It is a native plant too, and the butterflies it attracts may just bring you bigger squash, bean, and corn crops!

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Want to learn more about the plight of the Monarchs? We consulted the good folks at MonarchWatch.org and National Geographic for the latest information.

Want a butterfly garden? Grow these super-easy nectar-bearing annuals and perennials from seed, offer dishes of very shallow water, and get the camera ready!

Nina White Aster               
Pastel Carpet Sweet Alyssum
Blue Carpet Catmint
Double Click Cranberries Cosmos
PowWow Wild Berry Coneflower
Arizona Apricot Gaillardia x Grandiflora Blanket
Shady Lady Cancun Hybrid Impatiens
Garland Orange Marigold
Promise Rose Phlox
Verbena Bonariensis
Candy Mix Zinnia

 

Park's Gold Standard

Go for the Gold . . . seed packets, that is!Park's Gold Packaging

Olympic fever has gripped us all here at Park Seed, and it's reminded us that we have our very own gold medal of excellence: our famous Fresh-Pak gold foil seed packets! Revolutionary when they were introduced and never bettered, these top-quality packets protect your Park seeds against water and sunlight. Many layers of thickness keep the seeds safe and fresh until you're ready to sow them.

Inside these lined packets you will find your seeds packaged in a variety of ways. Large, easy-to-handle seed will probably be loose in the packet (and it won't get stuck in the seam or adhere to carelessly applied glue, as in the case of other brands!). Smaller and finer seed may be enclosed in a glassine envelope within the gold foil packet. Tiny or fragile seeds may be packed securely into a crush-proof vial, or enclosed in a clay "pellet" for easier sowing.

At Park, we give every seed we sell the best possible start in life. We know that once our seed packets arrive at your potting bench, they become part of the happy chaos of spring planting. Water is spilled, soil is flung about, packets are lost for weeks beneath a flowerpot or accidentally left in the bottom of the wheelbarrow. It's all part of the fun . . . and when you garden with Park seeds, you never have to worry about the packet disintegrating, the directions becoming illegible, or the seeds drying out in the sun.

Every seed we offer holds the potential to grow into a plant to be treasured -- perhaps for just a year, perhaps for decades! -- in your garden. We are proud to keep them safe for you and send them on their way wrapped in gold!

 

Great Native Seed Varieties to Grow

10 Seeds to Be Wild About!Evening Primrose

Ready to grow a garden that shows off the native beauty of where you live; attracts bees, butterflies, hummingbirds, and/or songbirds into your backyard; and flourishes without any help from chemicals? You want native American species in their pure un-hybridized form. Here are 10 of the very best, all of them just as our forebearers knew and loved them hundreds of years ago:

Rocky Mountain Penstemon (Penstemon strictus). Native to what is now Utah and Wyoming, this evergreen perennial adapts nicely to many other parts of the country as well. A nectar source for butterflies and hummingbirds, it sets majestic azure-blue spires in early and midsummer. A plant to fall in love with in the sunny border. Zones 3-8.

Joe-Pye Weed (Eupatorium purpureum). Growing Joe-Pye is something of a rite of passage for American gardeners. This towering, gate-shaped perennial is a butterfly magnet, with stalks reaching 7 feet tall and crowned with giant clusters of dusty rose blooms. Give it room to spread and it will colonize the sunny garden, flowering in late summer and early fall, just when you need color so badly. A carefree pleasure, it's native to the eastern US but very happy anywhere in zones 3-9.

Evening Primrose (Oenethera speciosa). Refusing to be defined by its name, Evening Primrose neither blooms in evening nor primrose hues! This groundcover spreads delightfully, its cup-shaped soft pink flowers transforming ordinary to poor soils into paradise. Found naturally occurring all over the United States, it is among the most prized of rock garden, driveway, and vacant lot plantings, often choosing the least promising spot to grace with its beauty. Zones 5-8.

Dahlberg Daisy (Thymophylla tenuiloba). Dahlberg Daisy needs a new publicist. Somehow this super easy-to-Prairie Sunflowergrow, charming, flower-happy native has missed the popularity bandwagon. Well . . . maybe that's a good thing, since the species is about as wonderful as any plant needs to be. Native to the hills and prairies of Texas but perennial only in zones 9-11, Dahlberg Daisy is grown everywhere else as an annual, and may re-seed if it likes what it finds in your yard. This is a good choice for baskets and windowboxes, too, because it likes to billow and tumble.

Strawberry Spinach (Chenopodium capitatum). Birds love to feast on the strawberry-shaped berries of this herb, and you'll enjoy using the spinach-like leaves in salads. Native to the northern US from east to west, Strawberry Spinach also plays host to the caterpillar stage of the common sootywing butterfly, and is a particular favorite food of such backyard birds as catbirds and mourning doves. Grow it as an annual everywhere in the country.

Prairie Sunflower (Helianthus maximilianii). The huge, single-flowered Sunflower gets all the credit, but this multi-flowered cousin is just as impressive, with amazingly tall spires of brilliant golden daisies in late summer and early fall. There's nothing like coming around the corner of the house and being confronted with dozens of 8-foot flower spikes to thrill you right down to your gardener's marrow! Native to the Great Plains region and hardy in zones 4-10, this sun-lover is irresistible to birds, and you will find yourself taking lots of pictures of winged visitors clinging to the swaying stems as they peck seeds from the center of these blooms.

Giant Hyssop (Agastache rupestris). Every garden deserves fragrant, beautiful, oh-so-easy anise hyssop, and the species native to the southwestern US is among the most magnificent of all. Long tubes of orange-red-salmon-magenta (the color seems to vary garden to garden, stand to stand!) are full of nectar that butterflies and hummingbirds crave, and the blooms keep coming all summer long. Licorice-scented foliage adds an irresistible aroma to the show, making this one plant you long to be near when you sit or work in the garden. Perennial in zones 4-9.

Blue Stokes's Aster

Arizona Rainbow Cactus (Echinocereus pectinatus rigidissimus). A mecca for hummingbird and moth pollination, our native hedgehog cactus is too often grown as a houseplant when it is hardy in zones 6-10. (Not to say it doesn't make a great houseplant, too!) Growing a ring for each year of its life (and yours), it grows straight upward, its spines pressed against its wide trunk, and periodically opens brilliant blooms right on top. These can range from candy pink or purple to yellow or white. Give it plenty of sunshine and watch it increase in beauty over many years!

Blue Stokes's Aster (Stokesia laevis). Found in the piney woods, savannas, coastal plains, and (let's face it) ditches of the southeastern US, Stokes's Aster is a magnificent source of sky-blue color for late summer and early fall. The flowers are stunning, and offer nectar for butterflies as well as great beauty for your garden. Cut them for fresh arrangements or turn them upside down and dry as everlastings. Hardy in zones 5-9, this is the type of perennial you will find yourself adding more and more of -- it's just that easy and lovely.

Showy Goldeneye (Heliomeris multiflora. Syn. Vigulera multiflora). Its name may remind you of a James Bond movie, but this native of our western mountains, meadows, and highways is a down-to-earth beauty that has been the delight of bees, butterflies, and birds for countless centuries. The bright gold daisies appear from midsummer into fall on very easy-to-grow perennial plants that don't mind poor soil or other tough conditions. Plant it in great drifts or dot it in bare spots in the sunny border. Wildlife adores it! Zones 3-10.

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