Dominating and defining the yard between the house and the creek are the larger flowering shrubs: buddleia, swamp rose mallow, and a beautiful ornamental hydrangea that bears long cone-shaped clusters of snow white flowers. The rosy pink flowers of the mallow are delightful because they are the size of small dinner plates. On the other hand, I don’t usually like ornamental hydrangeas because the flower heads are often so large that they look top-heavy, awkward and artificial. But the hydrangea I purchased in Highlands during the early 1990s has compact flower clusters that look just right.
Beds of black-eyed Susan, green-headed coneflower, bergamot and garden phlox glowed in the soft evening light. Observe phlox throughout the day and you’ll notice that individual flowers often change their colors from darker to lighter. Biologists call this “color morphing” and theorize that the plant is doing so in order to attract different pollinators under different light conditions.
The trumpet vines growing on the trellises situated above the stairs leading up to the decks are attracting an unusual number of hummingbirds this year. We normally have just one or two pairs, but in the last three or four weeks there have been dozens of males, females, and immature birds zooming here and there. Sometimes a male will perch deep in the trumpet vine foliage and come storming out when another hummingbird dares to feed at a nearby blossom.
One day, we saw something that seemed incredible. A preying mantis that lived in the trumpet vine had captured a ruby-throated hummingbird. There was nothing we could do as the unfortunate bird was already half ingested.
The only plant we have that’s somewhat unusual is obedient plant (Physostegia virginiana), sometimes called false dragonhead. Elizabeth rescued a few of them 30 or so years ago from a wet meadow on Toot Hollow near Bryson City that was going to be drained and converted into dry pasture. It now grows about five feet high in a several beds that currently numbers upwards of 100 plants. They are called obedient plants because the lovely pale purple or pinkish flower heads remain bent in whichever direction you turn them. If you’re looking for a new plant to propagate next year and then sit on your deck or porch to watch, you could do a lot worse than obedient plant.