Wildflowers are blooming with the rain in Petworth

by Steven Feingold

Do you ever find yourself walking around our beautiful neighborhood admiring the flowers, but with no clue what it is you’re looking at? Let me try to help. Welcome to "Petworth Blooming"... every month I’ll feature some of the most common plants seen around Petworth, and give a little info about each one. 

A bumblebee enjoying one of the many sunflowers on Illinois Ave.

Summer is starting to wind down in Petworth, but the amount of rain sure hasn’t! And while the clouds have been hiding the sun for some time, the Sunflowers have been out in full force. These giants of the aster family are the quintessential summer flower and make some tasty seeds, too.

Cosmos come in a whole universe of colors and a range of leaf shapes. These summer annuals are pretty much foolproof to grow from seed and are very drought tolerant. They can sometimes end up looking a little too wild depending on your taste or available space.

Orange, lavender and white cosmos blooming in Grant Circle. The seeds are easy to collect this time of year.

Obedient Plant is so named because the individual flowers can be pushed around on the stalk and will remain in place. This native member of the mint family is a great perennial and is often planted in gardens created by RiverSmart Homes. It comes in both purple and white varieties and is very easy to grow as well.

Obedient plant in a RiverSmart garden on Crittenden Street.

A relatively common site along alleys or other “under maintained” areas, Pokeweed is a great native plant with very unique fuchsia colored stems. While the flowers aren’t much to look at, the berries go from green to dark purple before being quickly eaten by birds, especially mockingbirds.

Don’t try them yourself though, they give humans a variety of unpleasant GI symptoms. If left alone pokeweed can grow quite large, but it doesn’t mind being cut back regularly. No need to buy this plant, birds are regularly depositing its seeds all over the city!  

Pokeweed in its typical alley habitat off 4th Street. Why does this plant grow along fences? Because that’s where birds like to sit while “doing their business.”

The structures left after the berries come off almost look like flowers.

Another plant that arrives to our yards all on its own is Japanese Clematis. This aggressive vine is also quite at home along alleys and fences. Its pungent white flowers are a sure sign that autumn is approaching. There are a number of showier clematis with red to blue flowers, but none as tenacious as this one.

A Japanese clematis looking artsy in front of a brick wall.

How it looks normally...one of many in a tangled mess of vines. In an alley off Buchanan Street.

Lastly this month, the fantastic colors of Zinnias. These annuals originally come from the southwestern US and Mexico, so they have good drought tolerance. They can be grown from seed and come in a great variety of colors, heights and flower shape. The taller ones make for great cut flowers, while the shorter ones create an easy carpet of color for most of the summer.

A fantastic garden featuring lots of yellow zinnias on Sherman Circle.

Orange and pink zinnias in the curb strip along Decatur Street.

Zinnias color coded with the door, windows and ice cream cups of Lulabelle’s Sweet Shop.

Coming up next month: Goldenrod and Fall asters…

For those of you paying attention, this was the first post that I actually got photos of all the plants I promised the previous month!

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Steven Feingold

Steven moved to Petworth in 2013, and he and his wife have since adopted three of the neighborhood's finest felines. He works in the biotech industry, programming robotic laboratory equipment. He enjoys gardening, hiking, carpentry and playing pickup soccer. You can email him with any plant or gardening questions you might have.

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