Orbs of Delight

A globe of petrified wood in A Garden For All by Kathy Diemer https://agardenforall.com

A globe of petrified wood celebrates an anniversary (photo by: Kathy Diemer)

Some of my favorite ornamental objects are orbs of all dimensions and materials. I have rugged granite balls in three sizes, glass globes that are blown with swirls of color, and mirrored spheres reminiscent of old mercury glass.  Most glass pieces are safe outdoors as long as you keep them up from the ground, so my globes often remain outdoors to be enjoyed as they glisten against the lush foliage of summer or glow with a dusting of winter’s snow. Orb groupings are very attractive; especially when partnered with low growing perennials such as lamb’s ears (Stachys byzantina) or used to complement other round objects. I use granite balls near my circular bird bath to echo the soothing grey colors and textures of each, and recently celebrated my anniversary with a sphere of petrified wood. But what about living orbs . . .

A pairing of white allium and red globe in A Garden For All by Kathy Diemer https://agardenforall.com

A pairing of white allium and red globe (photo by: Kathy Diemer)

The spring garden erases any memory (almost) of a harsh winter with cheerful blossoms of daffodils, iris, hyacinth, geranium and the fragrant flowers of viburnum, lilac and apple. And up between this assembly of chromatic delicacies pops the round headed phenomenon known as allium. The Latin word for allium is garlic, yet alliums are from the onion family (genus), including edibles such as chives, leeks and yes, garlic. Most alliums are happy in sunny, well drained zones 4-9, and come in a wide range of colors (white, purple, pink and yellow), heights (inches to several feet) and sizes (cotton ball to volley ball). Alliums not only add whimsy, funkiness and drama, they are great cut or dried flowers, attract bees and butterflies, are easy to grow, generally pest resistant from above ground critters (below is another story!) and are guaranteed to ignite your landscape. Try Allium aflatunense ‘Purple Sensation’, a bright purple 4″ globe up to 30″ tall from late May to June, Allium cristophii or Star of Persia, with amazing star-like clusters of amethyst flowers loosely formed into one round head the size of a softball on 15″ stems, Allium stipitatum ‘Mount Everest’, with dynamic snow colored  6″ globes on 3′ stems-the perfect choice for lighting up a dark area, and Allium ‘Globemaster’, a mammoth dark violet sphere over 8″ across that towers above the others at over 3′ tall.

A swallowtail butterfly drinks from a Buttonbush flower in A Garden For All by Kathy Diemer https://agardenforall.com

A swallowtail butterfly drinks from a Buttonbush flower (photo by: Kathy Diemer)

The first thing I think of when the white mid-summer pom-pom flowers of our native button bush emerge is Horton (of Horton Hears a Who by Dr. Seuss) the elephant walking around with his microscopic community; all thriving in a fuzzy, miniscule sphere atop a delicate stem.  Cephalanthus occidentalis, commonly known as button bush or honey ball, is a multi-stemmed native shrub found in wetlands from Minnesota to Florida and from New England to California.  Often wider than tall, button bush grows from 8 to 12 feet in height, and over 20 feet wide in full sun (or light shade) and medium to wet soil, zones 4-10. When the celebrated round flowers first appear in summer they have a series of antenna-like tendrils that stand erect like a head of hair with a bad case of static electricity. The sweetly scented alabaster orbs are also rich in nectar, continually inviting bees, butterflies and hummingbirds for a nutritious drink (*Cephalanthus occidentalis is a host plant for the Sphinx Moth). These delectable seed heads remain as ornaments on the shrub well into the winter, turning shades of crimson and bronze, until finally consumed by local wildlife.

A Hummingbird visits the globe thistle in A Garden For All by Kathy Diemer https://agardenforall.com

A Hummingbird visits the globe thistle (photo by: Kathy Diemer)

Last, but not least, is the Globe thistle, or Echinops ritro, a rather burly, prickly plant offering multiple round heads that stand erect like tiny periscopes overlooking their domain from July to September. There is something magical about the presence of these frosty blue orbs in the garden; it’s almost as if Glinda, the Good Witch of the North, flew overhead and with a touch of her wand, sprinkled iridescent bubbles to float above your garden kingdom. The intriguing grey to sky blue spheres add delight and whimsy to any garden border, while attracting all sorts of wildlife, from bees and butterflies to hummingbirds. Globe thistle is a long lived, easy to grow, standout perennial that grows to 4′ tall by 3′ wide in a happy, sun filled environment from zones 4-8.

So, pick a few orbs for your garden this year . . . you’re sure to have a ball~


  1. LOVE the Globes- can’t believe you caught a Hummingbird in flight!

    • Thank you, Patty! That was my one and only — so far — picture of a hummingbird. Not for lack of trying, but they are very elusive. Especially when I have a camera in my hand. However, the other day one flew right up to me (close enough to touch) and studied me for several seconds before flying away. Naturally, there was no camera nearby!

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