High and Out of Reach

One of my favorite plants is William Bartram’s Evening Primrose (Oenothera grandiflora).  I purchased the original seeds at Bartram’s Garden in Philadelphia.  The instructions said they were difficult to germinate, so I was thrilled when I was able to grow them.

Unfortunately over the past few years, the rabbits have taken to eating them or just biting the stems in half.  This year, I was determined to grow some Primrose to replenish my seed supply. I managed to get six plants to grow in pots and elevated them in a tall planter.

It worked and the Evening Primroses bloomed.  Soon I will be able to collect seeds for next year.

Autumn Yellows


Autumn seems to bring out the yellows in the Automatic Garden.  The native Swamp Sunflower keeps its blooms for weeks.  This started out as one plant, but has reseeded and multiplied over a few years to the point that some had to be removed.


The Esperanza or Yellow Bells (tecoma stans, Texas native) took a very hard hit during last winter’s freeze.  It struggled all summer and was finally able to put out some flowers before next winter arrives.


Mexican or Tropical Milkweed (Asclepias curassavica) is a favorite of the Monarch Butterfly.  This is a yellow variety.  The Monarchs fly over the Gulf Coast on their migrations to and from Mexico.  This Tropical Milkweed should be cut back in the fall as it harbors a parasite that is fatal to the Monarchs.


And of course, a favorite of the autumn garden is the yellow Oenothera grandiflora or Evening Primrose.  It seeded itself all over the garden naturally creating succession germination and has had a plant blooming since August.   It is a native of Alabama where William Bartram first collected it.


They Threw Down the Gauntlet


Bartram’s Garden, that is.  Several years ago during a visit to the garden of colonial naturalist John Bartram,  I purchased Evening Primrose  (Oenothera grandiflora) seeds with a challenge printed on the packet.  It said that if you are able to germinate them, a free packet would be sent. (Of course, if they germinate, you wouldn’t need a new packet!)  The plant and seeds were originally collected by John’s son, William Bartram in Alabama.


The first attempt yielded a couple of plants that grew for awhile and then rested for the summer.  In the fall they shot up long stems and bloomed.  I carefully collected some seeds to put into pots to later transplant to beds and allowed some seeds to to drop and plant themselves naturally.


Well, by the third year I was rewarded with too many plants!  There was enough to transplant to two other beds as well as to share with fellow gardeners.  The photos don’t really show all the blooms. The Evening Primrose has done fantastically in the Automatic Garden and certainly germinates well on the Gulf Coast.

William Bartram


William Bartram  (1739 – 1823) is the son of John Bartram (see post).   He devoted his entire life to the study of nature in this new land of America.  He was a botanical and nature artist,  wilderness explorer, writer and ethnographer who studied the southeastern Indian cultures.  In his book, he recounts his solitary travels through the South including encounters with alligators. Along the way, he collected many plant specimens as his father had done.  His book is extremely informative about life in early America and paints a picture of a time and place so different, that it is hard to imagine today how untamed our country once was.


Oenothera grandiflora was discovered in 1775  by William Bartram on the east side of Mobile Bay in Alabama.  He describes it in his book as “perhaps the most pompous and brilliant plant yet know to exist”.  This pompous plant, grown from seeds purchased at Bartram’s Garden, Philadelphia, now graces the Automatic Garden.

Crazy About John

John Bartram, that is.  Bartram (1699-1777) is the first American-born plant hunter and was described by Linnaeus as the greatest natural botanist.  He collected plants from Canada to Florida and sent many to England and Europe.  His nursery was located outside of Philadelphia and he was friends with Benjamin Franklin.  His home is open for visitors.

The book “The Life and Travels of John Bartram”  by Berkeley & Berkeley is excellent for plant, as well as, history lovers.  Be sure to pull out a map as you read to follow John Bartram’s on his adventures.



The book “The Bedside Book of the Garden” , a collection of writings on all things gardening,  by an Englishman was my first introduction to John Bartram.  The discovery set me on my quest to learn more and visit his home, Bartram Gardens.  Yup, crazy about John Bartram.

William Bartram’s Oenothera grandiflora


William Bartram collected this Evening Primrose, also know as Florida Tree Primrose, in 1775 in Alabama.  He returned to his father’s (John Bartram) garden in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania to start the seeds and also sent some to his patron in London.  The Bartrams ran a nursery in colonial times and collected plants from all over America, sending many specimens on to England.

Bartrams’s Garden is now a historical site opened to the public.   Over the years  Oenothera grandiflora had disappeared from the garden and around 2008 it was recollected in the wild and planted back at Bartram’s.

The plant pictured here is from seed gathered at Bartram’s Garden and was planted in 2011.  It grew into a small plant with  leaves that were about 10 inches long and stayed that way for a year.  This spring it started to grow stems up to 6 feet tall with smaller leaves.  At the end of August it finally bloomed! As it is an Evening Primrose, it opens at night and has a scent strong enough to smell from a distance.  These photos had to be taken at first light before the blooms closed for the day.

This Evening Primrose has new flowers opening daily on at least six stems.  Each spent bloom is forming seeds, showing promise for next year’s crop.  As it flowers in late summer, it definitely will be a good addition for the Automatic Garden.