An American Native: Coneflower

Coneflower photographed by Jeff Zablow at Lynx Prairie Reserve, Ohio

Doug Tallamy’s book urged us to stop putting in alien plants, don’t purchase non-American plants for your home gardens. is argument? Compelling. Real. In 2013 that’s exactly what we did. Our new Pittsburgh home gardens, front and side filled with native plants from the northeastern USA. At the time, Sylvania Natives was an outstanding natives nursery . . . and it was in Pittsburgh, 1/2 miles from our home.

In went native plum trees, Pagoda Dogwoods, Obedient plant, Asclepias (common milkweed), Clethra, Cut-leaf Coneflower, Oakleaf hydrangea, Ironwood, Senna, Hawthorne, Cornus Florida, Tulip Poplar and more, so much more.

I was skeptical about one or two of these ‘natives.’ I’d seen Purple Coneflower many, many times in those big-box home improvement stores, Lowe’s and Home Depot, and I’d seen it in several nurseries that stocked alien cultivars. What’s was the truth of Purple Coneflower?

In 2017 I joined a stellar group of folks at Adams County, at the southern tip of Ohio. Angela, Dave, Joe, Barbara Ann A”H and Flower. There, in the OMG!! Lynx Prairie Preserve, there, I found it! Purple Coneflower, native and Spectacular!

Coneflowers. Native and a favorite of butterflies, bees, Ruby-throated hummingbirds and I’m sure more, so much more. Easy to set-in, hardy and a fine, fine investment for you Wall Street types.

Jeff

Pittsburgh to Macon, Georgia: The Big Switcheroo

 Jeff Zablow's Perennial Beds Pittsburgh, PA, 7/10/07

Today? Today we planted native trees into our new Macon, Georgia back garden. We’re doing the whole Doug Tallamy thing, full bent! The accompanying image is of my 2003 back garden in the Squirrel Hill neighborhood in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. We set out there to attract butterflies and to feast our eyes on beautiful blooms.

What’s there in that sweet garden? Irises (Dutch), several varieties of Salvia, Shasta Daisy, Buddleia (Chinese Butterflybush), Oakleaf Hydrangea, Crape myrtle (Frieda A”H (OBM”)) saw it in Georgetown, D.C. and loved it), Monarda in fantastic bloom, Hydrangea, Yellow irises, the circular rose bed that Frieda had always wanted and more, so much more.

Now we did the Big Switcheroo. We’re in Middle Georgia, a 13-hour drive south of Pittsburgh. Most everything is different, and  . . . as I did shortly before I left Pittsburgh, I went native. Catherine of Sylvania Natives Nursery recommended that I read this book by Doug Tallamy. I did, and I changed. It for one, explained why my butterfly garden in Long Island, New York almost never attracted any butterflies (the upscale community around us had manicured gardens, all landscaped by guys named Tony, Salvatore and Guiseppe, and 99% of their elegant plantings were . . . Asian, European & South American).

So this afternoon we relocated some huge azaleas in our new Macon garden, and we planted natives, for our native butterflies, bees, flies, moths, hummingbirds and more. What’s we add today, in those not so easy to create large holes? Today’s juvie plantings: Blackgum trees, a White Oak tree, A Sourwood tree and a Yellowwood tree.

Pots awaiting going in? Chokecherry, Viburnums, Asters, Rusty Blackhaw & Blackhaw (Viburnum prunifolium).

The Big Switcheroo. Not bad for a kid from Brooklyn’s concrete, asphalt and brick?

The butterflies flying in, in 2021? Oh my Goodness . . . .

Jeff

What Makes This Hombre Happy?

Pittsburgh South Vo-Tech public school field trip participants - May 2004, photographed by Jeff Zablow in Raccoon Creek State Park, PA

Every time I scroll down, through our Media Library, all of maybe 900 images, saved to one day share with you, I pause for 2.2 seconds at this one. I don’t believe you know how happy this one makes me.

I was a Biology teacher at South-Vocational Technical High School in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. For those of you from Sri Lanka, Kansas, Georgia, PRChina, Estonia, Britain, Israel, Slovenia and Peru, our school was an 8-hour drive west of New York City. It was once the world’s steel capital. When steel mills shuttered closed in 1980-1981, many left town, those that stayed endured decades of struggle and reduced situations.

The kids in my Biology classes? Most were from income-challenged homes, almost none had ever left the city, and almost none had ever been in a place like this one, Raccoon Creek State Park in Beaver County, Pennsylvania. The Park’s 7,000 +/- acres were wild, undeveloped and rich in wildlife.

I had 5 classes then, with some 130 students. We went on 2-3 Wetland Study field trips, and from that first day in September, I told my students that only those who 1) Cooperated 2) Did Their Work and 3) Tried Their Best, would be selected to go with us. The ‘List’ of who was selected to go usually was announced in February of each year, and additions and subtractions were made as time went by.

There were times when tough (Very!) kids (Gang members and such) approached me, when the bell rang ending class, and once they made sure that no one saw, begged me to go, to have their name put on the ‘List.’ In this photo you see here, one of those more than tough kids in shown. I am amazed still, that that student turned around their performance those 4 months before the field trip, and cooperated 100% on those wilderness trails and on the bus going and coming! Amazed!!

One of those shown was a teacher who came along to insure that all went well. TBTold, that the first and only time that an adult, parent or student, ever accompanied us.

This memory, and those of our other field trips make me proud, very proud of myself. Make me Happy, very. Why?

Most of these kids had it rough, endured lives that were extremely tough, with near full absence of happy life experiences. They loved those hours, as well as the pizza parlor lunch that we enjoyed when we returned to the South Side of Pittsburgh. They loved the outdoors. They loved finally visiting wetlands, forest, meadow, fen and loved those trails, those mysterious trails.

These 16-year olds and 17-year olds were pleased, very pleased that they had pushed their boundaries, extended their personal space placing them, most for the first time, out of Allegheny County and here in Beaver County.  It was a learning experience, that a ‘County Line’ was not a hard boundary, but an imaginary line, that was imminently crossable.

More pleased than that, throughout those hours on the Wetland Trail and on other park trails, they savored the beauty of wild habitat, unfettered habitat, and we discussed why we needed to nurture it, ’til the time when they could return, with their own children, and again take in the sights, smells, sensations. They’d teach their children of the Park, and the need to keep it just as they found it that day.,

I remember, smile, for I was instrumental in launching new, responsible nature lovers, who to this day, will not abuse the Land, but will love it, and will search it for its wonders and such.

Back to Me and Ralph Waldo Emerson’s Success.

Jeff

Searching Akeley For Butterflies . . . Finding Jewels!

Canada Lilies photographed by Jeff Zablow at Akeleyi Swamp, NY

She led me again to this incredible swamp in far western New York State (Farm-to-table far away from the New York City mayhem happening now). Two years before, we’d gone to Akelely Swamp, a refuge recreated from a once railroad right-of-way that cut through this far as the eye could see swamp.

Once again Barbara Ann (OBM”) spent 99% of her time seeking wildflowers & orchids, and me? Butterflies! I found many butterflies, but I also was way ahead of her on the trail, and I found . . . Canada Lilys in their pre-peak excellence.

I went back to tell Barbara Ann of my discovery, and she high-tailed it to them. She loved them. Loved seeing them. Her smile that first moment was from ear to ear. This was a nearby group of them, close to that first seen one.

I did find that Hickory Hairstreak, that news was a ripple in the swamp compared to her exhilaration upon finding these Jewels of Akelely Swamp!

Great memories of a gifted orchid lover and gifted naturalist.

Barbara Ann’s husband Sig passed just some weeks ago. Missed, they are.

Jeff