GBFD September – out with the old

Each month Christina at Creating my own Garden of the Hesperides asks us to focus on the foliage backdrop which fills any garden display.  Christina has a subtle blend of foliage form and foliage color in her (usually) warm, sunny, and windswept Italian paradise.  My garden is not so subtle, and the (usually) reliable rains and humidity give me a completely different plant palette to work with.  With frost only a few days away (anytime from early to mid October) I wanted to take a last look at the gaudy tropicals and annuals before they become a soggy frozen mess…. and then in with the new season!

coleus 'limon blush'

Coleus ‘Limon Blush’ with a few late season delphiniums and cane begonia.

This might be the first year I didn’t buy any new coleus.  I wonder if I’m moving out of that phase….

yellow sun coleus

An unidentified yellow “sun” coleus. In full sun it bleaches to a pale yellow, in shade it will stay a chartreuse color.

It wasn’t too long ago that I filled the late winter windowsills with pots of rooted coleus cuttings.  From October to March the snow refuges would sit in a glass of water, but in early March I’d pot them up and start the production line of clipping off even the smallest shoot for rooting.  By May and June I’d have dozens of plants for the garden.

rooted coleus cuttings

Rooted coleus cuttings in June

It’s easy enough, but there’s only so much room for them to grow on and if my interests take me elsewhere….

coleus 'Alabama sunset'

Coleus ‘Alabama sunset’ and a dark leaved (something with Lava in the name) coleus which have been with me since the old house (8 years ago?)

I’m sure I’ll save plenty again, they’re no fuss, tolerate drying out and add such bright color….. it just depresses me a little thinking about taking cuttings and ending the season.  But for a few more weeks the foliage will continue to do a good job of creating patches of brightness in the borders.


Without the aging sunflower stalks, the front foundation planting looks much neater. Coleus “Redhead” fits nicely into a color scheme which I’ll pretend was planted intentionally here, and mums and sedum ‘Autumn Joy’ echo the coleus and compliment the blue fescue.

I don’t know how this will go over, but I’m going to confess to being a coleus thief.  To the embarrassment and disgust of my wife I’ve been known to nip a cutting here and there when I linger too close to particularly nice municipal plantings.  I try to rationalize my way out of the theft by looking at the damage done by unwatched children and careless pedestrians, but I guess it’s theft nonetheless even if park employees have laughed at me for asking permission or have pulled off way more than I even wanted when aiding and abetting.  Just for the record I would never do this in a nursery!

yellow cutleaf coleus

I like to call this yellow cutleaf coleus “Entrance to Epcot”

There seems to be a heavy criminal theme to my posts lately.  I suppose that’s what happens when your workplace is closed for nearly a week as authorities mount a massive manhunt in the surrounding woods and residential areas.

coleus in pot

This coleus likes a little more shade than the others, although it can handle full sun too. I call it “Hershey Park”.

The subject of ownership of living things is a lot more than I want to get into in a foliage post, but I’ve seen plenty of tempers flare over the subject.  I hope my rare coleus clipping has never caused anything worse than additional branching of the plant, but I know the argument well which starts with “what if everyone did it…” and I know there are cases where nicked cuttings do cause damage.  I envy the people who live in such a simple black and white world.  I wonder if they return the piles of autumn leaves which blow into their yards each fall, or bring back the dead limbs which happen to fall over the fence.

rhus typhina 'tiger eyes'

The Virginia creeper and wild asters were ‘gifts’ from next door. I don’t think I’ll return them, they look nice here with the ‘tiger eyes’ sumac.

Next month will have a show of autumn colors and the coleus will be gone.  I’ll miss them but would never give up the changes in seasons.  Fortunately there will be plenty of perennials and shrubs to pick up the foliage-slack.

autumn color on Virginia creeper

The Virginia creeper was just starting to color on Saturday and this morning I see the color’s spread across the wall.

Some perennials which I’m looking forward to seeing change are my new-this-year heucheras.  The cooler nights are already bringing out new patterns on the leaves.

mixed heuchera planting

We will see who does the best in this mixed heuchera planting. The gaps are already widening as other plants (mainly primulas) die back or die out….

To round out the post, here’s the weedy iris bed which was the recipient of all that thick and rich (and smelly) lawn clipping mulch last week.  I’m going to try my best to plant nothing here until the weeds are under control…. except for a few daffodils and transplanted iris 🙂

Miscanthus sinensis 'Zebrinus'

Miscanthus sinensis ‘Zebrinus’ might be too tall a grass for here, but at 8 feet tall and several feet wide I’m not too keen on moving it. (plus I do like my tall plants!) -and notice the shop-vac. The gnats drive me nuts this time of year, and I get remarkable pleasure in sucking them out of the air with the vacuum!

Ok, moving along.  Here are the last bits of foliage which will be gone from the garden in another couple weeks.

alocasia "calidora"

Alocasia “calidora”… just when I was getting tired of lugging it in and out each spring it explodes into leafy greatness. This year I’ll just wheel it into the garage, stop watering, and clip off the dead leaves as they yellow.

…and another pot for the garage.  After suffering all winter and spring in their cramped clearance sale pots, this purple dracaena and fuzzy leaved succulent have finally found a home.  Hopefully they can handle each other’s watering requirements.

succulents and purple dracaena

I think the relief of actually being in a real pot has made this succulent happy enough to throw off a few blooms. I have the name somewhere, but love the foliage mix and bright flowers just as much without a name!

So that rounds out the end of summer foliage news.  Much is set to expire, but the colder weather should bring a whole new set of players.  If you can, take the time to visit Christina’s blog and check out what other bloggers around the world are finding in their own gardens.  Enjoy your Garden Blogger’s Foliage Day and have a great week!

21 comments on “GBFD September – out with the old

  1. Christina says:

    I so enjoyed reading this Frank, thank you for joining in; I wonder if you are surprised just how much fabulous foliage you have in the garden, I remember you saying that you didn’t think about foliage, but I can see that can’t be true with all the lovely Coleus and Heuchera, you have some amazing colours. Love your Miscanthus too, I agree with you about large tall plants, we shouldn’t be afraid of tall plants in the garden; they help create scale, I hate gardens with lots of small or dwarf plants..

    • bittster says:

      I have been surprised by all the foliage I can find, and it’s nice to get past the flashy blooms and look more closely at the leaves. They make up such a large part of the picture and are what the flowers are accenting.
      Finally someone else who’s not afraid of large plants! People often claim that small plants for smaller gardens is the way to go, I agree with you in that they create scale, depth and layers! Some of the ‘improved’ shorter versions of tall graceful plants really make me cringe.
      To each their own I suppose.

  2. Pauline says:

    Love your Coleus, they’re something I’ve never grown, but I think I might be converted! You have a really good selection of foliage, your Virginia creeper is such a super colour, that will be stunning when it has all changed.

    • bittster says:

      Thanks Pauline, the creeper seeded in on its own and I love it. I don’t think I would have ever thought to plant it there, but it shades and cools the wall from the afternoon sun, and really brings the landscape up to the house.
      Try a coleus or two. Here the cutting grown sorts perform much better than most of the seed strains, I wonder if you’d experience the same.

  3. AnnetteM says:

    You have an amazing selection of Coleus and I am sure you are not alone in snipping off little bits from municipal plantings. I think it is just propagating, not really stealing. Hope we get to see a picture of the Virginia Creeper when it is all out. We are lucky enough to have one next door, they are wonderful but over far too quickly.

    • bittster says:

      They do color up and drop their leaves quickly, and I’m not sure if I wouldn’t prefer a more respectable vine, but it came on its own and I appreciate how well its done.
      A few years ago I ‘propagated’ some snowdrop bulbs which had been dug up by a bulldozer at a local dairy. I wish I had taken more since over the next few weeks they were all buried under several inches of crushed stone. My small stolen clump is all that remains of the drifts of bulbs which used to grow there.

  4. You have some striking fall blooms. Love coleus for my planters. I don’t have room for all those cuttings, so grow mine from seed. I don’t think anyone will report you, Frank. I’m sure the police think catching the fugitive more important. P. x

    • bittster says:

      I think you’re right, I don’t think I’m a fugitive just yet!
      I’m also short on windowsill space. For the first four months of winter my coleus cuttings are jammed into three water-filled coffee cups which sit in the kitchen. It’s the last two months when I run into trouble as I try to pot up and propagate!

  5. pbmgarden says:

    You have some great combinations of color and texture in your plantings Frank. I had forgotten one could take cuttings of coleus to overwinter. My garden mentor used to do that.

  6. Cathy says:

    Those Alocasia leaves are nice. Wish I had space for coleus over winter but the geranium cuttings are all I can manage. Plus one or two pots in the garage or cellar which I always forget to water! A “manhunt” sounds intriguing… hopefully not a cuttings thief they’re looking for? 😉

    • bittster says:

      Don’t get me started on the geraniums! I have several pots which I have to make a decision on… I would take cuttings but don’t have the windowsills for them so the only option is a couple months in the dim garage. -and I always forget to water them too!
      Unfortunately the police aren’t searching for a cutting thief (lucky for me!), if you google ‘Pennsylvania manhunt’ I’m sure you’ll find more information than you wanted….

  7. Wow, you really know your coleus! I have a few of the so-called “Giant” varieties, whose names I don’t know, from whom I take cuttings every fall. I have not typically taken cuttings of the smaller, more run-of-the-mill varieties, but I probably should. We have too much Virginia Creeper around here–it would completely take over the back deck if we let it! I’ll be interested to hear next year which Heucheras did well and which you like the best. I’m trying a few new ones too.

    • bittster says:

      Please don’t say I know my coleus! If someone hears that I’ll really be in the doghouse for the next anniversary I forget…. I can hear it now, “you can remember the name of a silly plant you bought 6 years ago but you can’t remember where we went for our third date!?”
      It can be a struggle to keep on top of the creeper’s advances, lucky for me it can only go so high before it runs out of wall! -and trust me I pull out plenty of seedlings which are planning to do the same thing to each and every other structure around the yard 🙂
      I’ll try to report back on the heucheras, they divide easily so maybe you’ll end up with the same as me anyway 😉

  8. Annette says:

    I love your garden for its tropical, daring feel, Frank. No point in being to subtle…it’s only boring, no?! The combination of the Rhus, Parthenocissus and asters is particularly nice.

    • bittster says:

      Someday I’ll be ready for a more relaxing view, but for right now I just want to try everything!
      Funny you should mention the aster-rhus-creeper combo, I actually thought of your garden when I was looking at the picture! I love the way you use creepers and climbers and lazy shrubs to soften the edges of your house. Here the eaves of the roof are so deep plants sometimes struggle under their shadow, but someday I hope to accomplish something similar!
      Have a great week 🙂

  9. Chloris says:

    I love all your brightly coloured Coleus. I used to grow them but I haven’ t had any for years. I love your heucheras too.
    Stolen Coleus cuttings and a week long manhunt? Are the two connected?

    • bittster says:

      Sometimes you just need a break from certain plants, I used to grow many more iris, tulips and tropical plants than I do now. We’ll see if I fall for them again any time soon. I could easily see the heucheras becoming an addiction, but I think I’m safe for now.
      I don’t think cutting thievery and the manhunt are related. If so I should really turn myself in already! -Joking aside it’s unfortunately a much more serious matter.

  10. What a great selection of coleus! I should follow your example and bring in cuttings for when the cold weather sets in.

  11. I had to laugh when I read about you snipping coleus. We visited a garden in Alabama that had massive plantings of coleus. If we hadn’t been on the motorcycle, I would’ve been tempted to take a couple of stems! I always justify it as “pruning” and I always ask first and take the cutting from the back where it won’t be seen.

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