Intrigue at the Blue Mist Discos

It’s September and Blue Mist Discos are open everywhere, reminding me that, yes, it is September, and it is their time to open. Next spring I’ll be pulling tired old skeletons left from fall carousing and waiting till next fall for a new show to begin.

An early prize from our roadside escapades

Twenty-five years ago, my friend Jean and I would hunt for plants in ditches. Sounds kind of crazy now, but we thought it was quite the adventure at the time. Well, after all, we could have been shot at.

Serious business, this was. Lots of independent research before an outing. As we went our separate ways on otherwise humdrum errands, we did visual sweeps of roads. We got pretty good at high-speed scanning without running off the highway. Then we’d compare notes on what we’d seen, get out the shovels and go on a rescue mission.

The plants we rescued didn’t know they needed rescuing. Sometimes, when they were stubborn, we got the distinct feeling they didn’t want to be rescued. But we forgave them for that because they probably didn’t realize they were growing in the mow/trim zone of a highway right-of-way or on property that was going to be bull dozed.

Another coup, gallardia, this from a sandy road side

It was kind of like digging for Christmas presents.

We lavished them with tender loving care in our gardens. Some of them loved it, took off and never stopped spreading, rudely jostling neighbors until they had to be disciplined with the ultimate punishment. Some we couldn’t please at all. We never saw them again.

Native mistflower, an all-time favorite with insects, here providing a meal for a bumblebee

Some plants melted but came back as seedlings. That was how Eupatorium coelestinum, or mistflower, a lanky impersonator of garden variety ageratum, came to our gardens. Well, maybe not exactly.

Both our husbands thought our forays were—well—interesting. But Jim, Jean’s husband, was always enthusiastic about looking over our prize pickins.’ When he saw mistflower—blue mist I call it — he kind of smiled and then drily remarked, Did you know you already have this weed, over there? Hmm-m, if Jean had it, I probably had it, too. Never mind. This was a minor detail irrelevant to the adventurous plant explorers.

This funny little fellow is a frequent visitor

From the beginning, mistflower let me know it was the boss. No transplanting the seedlings. They practically died in my arms. No weeding around them either, or re-arranging, or clipping to get them off other plants; they’d sulk at the least disturbance.

But they didn’t cost anything, they were no-care, they hid other weeds, and they exploded with color when the growing season was winding down.

These bugs are all over the flowers

On sunny fall days, I began to notice a whirr of activity around the flowers. Every time I passed by, I would see butterflies, bumblebees, beetles, wasps bouncing off the blossoms. Lots of them. Not the big, bright, slow-moving butterflies that dazzle us in summer. These were small, fast and sassy. Painted Ladies and other thistle butterflies, elfins and skippers, and more I couldn’t name, coming and going in a frenzy.

One of the prettiest visitors to mistflower

I began to watch them more closely. Well, let me tell you, there’s a lot more going on in them thar flowers than sippin’ nectar. These butterflies and bugs flit around so fast you can’t keep track of them. When they’re not flitting, they’re flirting, or stalking in a hang-dog, lovesick sort of way, or wing-dancing, or, if he can ever get her to sit still on a flower, caressing. And when tempers flare, there may even be a skirmish or two, ever so brief, no gunfights at Blue Mist Discos!

So, for many of these butterflies and bugs, our Blue Mist Discos might be their last stop for a high old time before they mate, lay eggs, and cold weather closes in on their lives.

Jean shared her coreopsis which splashed through her garden in spring

I must finish my story now. When Jean and I exhausted the roadsides, we graduated to nursery hopping far afield, with long lunches in local eateries in small towns. When our gardens were chock full, we skipped the plant stuff and headed straight to lunch and long conversations to catch up on the latest, be it episodes of our lives, our families, or the politics of the day.

Between trips we would compare notes and share plants. Jean gave me some of the first plants I grew in my garden. Her Japanese anemone was a standout and her coreopsis a sensation.

Japanese anemone is another gift from Jean

She diligently hunted for and planted the first lacecap hydrangea I’d seen. So, of course, I had to follow. When I discovered viburnums, she let me persuade her to try some. Most recently, my Bob and Jean dug kerria from her backyard, which we potted for our annual plant sale. Then she surprised us, strictly over our protests, by buying one back.

I guess there will be no more roadside forays, or nursery trips, or lunches, or sharing plants and lives. After 85 years, Jean left us this September. But I will always have the memories, and I will think of her when Blue Mist Discos open for business each fall.

More visitors to mistflower. Note the curled proboscis, or straw that the butterfly uses to sip nectar

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