A lull in the storm

I promise this is the last time I will complain about the brutal freeze which ended our growing season.  I’ll also not mention the weeks of warm weather which followed, and I won’t show a picture of the dahlias which are resprouting due to some misguided notion that winter came and went.  Instead I’ll focus on the mellow colors of autumn which are slowly winding the year down, and I’ll just enjoy the warm lull we’ve been having until winter returns again in earnest.

the front border in autumn

The front border is about as tidy as it will get prior to winter.  Whatever’s left will hopefully hold the snow nicely and keep things interesting until spring returns.  The golfinches approve of the leftover coneflower and sunflower stalks.  

Last weekend I finished up the last of the leaves and tried to wrap up the last of the fall planting and weeding.  I have to admit I like the way the gardens open up and empty out this time of year, and I love the way the fall rains have left a lush green lawn to set off the emptying flower beds.

Muhlenbergia capillaris pink backlight

Earlier in October the pink muhly grass (Muhlenbergia capillaris)  finally came through and put out the airy pink flowerheads which look so nice in the low autumn light.

Three years after transplanting, my pink muhly grass has finally bothered to bloom.  I’ve come to accept that I’m just too far North to enjoy this plant.  It looked pathetic until August, finally put out enough leaves to look alive by September, and then for 12 days in October it impressed with it’s pink seedheads…. and then was promptly browned out by the first freeze.  The effect is still nice enough, but I wouldn’t have minded a few more weeks of the pink.

pink muhly grass after a freeze

Pink muhly grass after a freeze.  Still nice, but not the amazing, glowing pink you look for in this plant.   

I’m going to give the cultivar ‘Fast Forward’ a try next year.  It’s supposed to be a good month or so earlier than the straight species and also shorter and more compact… although for me the larger size would have been preferable.  I’ve actually already got my hands on one but since it was a small plant and just planted last week I’m not too confident it will make it through the winter.  Fall is not the time to plant anything borderline hardy or more of a warm season grower…. speaking of probably not making it through the winter, my cardoon seedling is really starting to put out some nice leaves.  The freeze didn’t bother it, but as a zone 7 plant I’m really hoping for some serious El Nino luck in getting this thing through the winter.  Any protection suggestions are more than welcome!

young cardoon plant

If this cardoon plant makes it until next year I’ll be thrilled.  Bigger leaves with artichoke-like fluorescent purple flowers would be the highlight of 2016 I’m sure 🙂

Something which will have no problems this winter is the Virginia creeper.  This year brought on a good crop of the grape-like fruits, and I’m sure they’ll be sprouting up all over as a gift from the birds…. just like this plant was.

Parthenocissus quinquefolia berries Virginia creeper

Virginia creeper (Parthenocissus quinquefolia) minus it’s bright red fall color, but still interesting with its raisin like fruit.

The rest of the garden is clearing out.  Leaves are mulched, the vegetable garden is tucked in, and there’s already interest in spring flowers.  I love how good hellebores look at this time of year, they love the cool temperatures and extra moisture and if all goes well this spring I may have my best hellebore show yet.

hellebores ready for winter

Hellebore seedlings showing promise for next year.  Hopefully we’ll see a few blooms next year since these are supposedly yellow seedlings and haven’t yet shown their true colors.

Back towards the meadow garden things are just waiting for snow.  I’m glad I left a bunch of the little bluestem since it’s gone through such a nice color change from green to yellows to reds to tans now.  With the rest of the yard mowed, it keeps things somewhat interesting back there.  Something I’m not too glad I left is the littleleaf linden (Tilia cordata) seedling which showed up among the phlox.  I’ve been ignoring it for years, but at six feet I think it’s time to make a decision.  The mother plant is so popular with the bees and so fragrant I just hate to weed it out…. but a second linden is one more than this yard needs.

autumn cleanup in the vegetable garden

Mid November in the vegetable garden.  Yet again the phlox have not been divided, and there’s a huge linden tree weed, but at least I’m getting some mulched leaves down to save on next year’s bed prep.

There’s little chance of dealing with the linden this fall.  It would do fine with a transplant at this time of year, but with 14 pounds of crocus and daffodils sitting in the living room I have other things calling for my attention.  I should have no problem getting a few in tomorrow… unless I first deal with the dozens of daffodils and tulips which I already had from this summer’s bed renovation.

Whoever said November was a time for gardeners to kick back and relax obviously didn’t procrastinate planting spring bulbs nor succumb to early clearance sales.  Hopefully your autumn is much more relaxing 🙂

18 comments on “A lull in the storm

  1. I hope you can find a home for the linden. I almost volunteered to take it off your hands, but then I remembered I still have a catalpa that’s been in a pot for at least two winters because I haven’t figured out where to plant it. I was excited to see you are growing pink muhly, as it is a fantasy of mine. I hope you pull Fast Forward through the winter because if it does well for you I might need to get one (some?).

    • bittster says:

      The muhly grass is so nice when it makes it… but like I said, this is the first bloom in three years, so I think it really sulks if the weather’s not hot enough for it.
      I should really take a look at the ‘Fast Forward’ I planted, it was shoved in the ground and watered once… not exactly the pampering a conscientious gardener would give to an iffy plant. It’s a tough world here 🙂

  2. johnvic8 says:

    A great summary. Thanks for sharing this transition moment in your garden.

  3. Cathy says:

    Nice post! Hope you get those bulbs in soon Frank. I was early this year, thinking we might get an early winter…. well, it IS a bit cooler today but no sign of snow yet! I have a cardoon about the same size as yours. It never gets to flower because the snails eat it in spring, but it usually manages to sprout out again in a dry spell and currently looks pretty good. I have a method for protecting sensitive plants: make a ring of compost around the plant, nice and thick, and fill it with leaf mulch around the stem. Then cover with some evergreen twigs. It’s what most people do here – fortunately we have loads of evergreens in the garden that always need a bit pruning off! I love your Muhly grass – some plants are worth just the shortest of flowering periods and I’d say this is one. I have seen it on sale here for the first time this year, so hope to get one in the spring. Oh, and my hellebores have started flowering….

    • bittster says:

      Hellebores flowering!? Mine have only just come back to life after their summer hibernation 🙂
      I was thinking something similar as far as winter protection. Compost, mulch and a cover. Have you ever tried plastic or a tub on top to keep the rain off? I’m considering it but don’t know if I want to look at a bucket all winter in my front garden.
      In any case the compost and mulch would make for nicely prepared spot for a new plant to go if the cardoon doesn’t make it!

  4. I procrastinated too, Frank, and still have work to do. Your front border is stunning! Good luck with ‘Fast Forward’ — I look forward to seeing the plant next summer. Your cardoon looks so healthy. Maybe a layer of mulch will be enough to protect it — if it was mine I would want to bring it indoors for the winter. We’re supposed to have a mild one though, courtesy of El Nino. P. x

    • bittster says:

      For a moment I considered bringing it into the garage, but then became more realistic as I thought back through the long list of plants I’ve neglected and killed indoors.
      I’m worried about the bulbs. The time change has destroyed any chance of getting things in after work, and I’m down to weekends… and my worry hasn’t been enough to get me up and outside today, even though the weather is perfect.
      I do enjoy sitting around with the coffee on Sundays 🙂

  5. I keep seeing the bulb sales and I managed to not succumb, but it was hard. Now I am a bit worried the ones I planted will start coming up if it stays warm. I will be watching to see how the pink Muhly grass goes. I love it in those Texas gardens but have not tried it as I think I would have the same issues as you. I don’t have much in the garden that is making a typical fall statement like yours which is such a nice contrast with all the green grass.

    • bittster says:

      I agree the muhly might be a struggle for you…. and you have more shade as well. Better to save those warm spots for such amazing things as your fall blooming Christmas rose!
      But you never know. Hopefully my new muhly does well and I can report back next fall with some more encouraging words!

  6. Chloris says:

    Who are these prissy, complacent people who can sit back having planted all their bulbs and put their gardens to bed? I never get to that stage and by the spring I shall still be trying to get everything tidied and there will still be a few bags of bulbs unplanted. And I shall recklessly be working on my latest garden- expanding project. I love that pink Muhly grass, gorgeous. I wonder if it is easy from seed, I would like swathes of it.

    • bittster says:

      I am pleased to hear that others are still frantically planting away at this time of year. Being “finished” sounds more like you didn’t try hard enough and have sold yourself short!
      I’m looking forward to seeing your latest project, but I’m most looking forward to seeing how things have come along in the winter garden one year after its debut. It will be interesting to see just how many hellebores and snowdrops a reasonable person can add in one year, also I never tire of seeing them alongside colorful dogwood stems…. plus all the more exotic fare which your garden supports!

  7. Thanks for the hot tip on the ‘Fast Forward’ muhly grass — I’ve added it to my next-garden notes, because it sounds small enough to qualify –I have established a firm height limit of 4-FT Stalks for any future ornamental grasses — and if it does okay for you, then it should also work here on L.I. … right? (she says hopefully)

    • bittster says:

      I think the muhly grass would love a nice Long Island location and yes I think it will be a well behaved addition to a garden which doesn’t overwhelm you with overgrown stalks each fall. I’m sure a pass with the lawnmower would tidy up my plantings in spring, even a mild mannered electric mower could do the same!

      • I do have the Neuton battery mower but found through experience that it really can’t handle anything other than grass (preferably on flat terrain) and very lightweight leaves such as willow. Which is why I wouldn’t ever consider drafting it for the Oakleaf Olympics. 😉

  8. Christina says:

    If you can keep the ground from becoming water-logged I think the cardoon will survive the cold. The light in all your images is so beautiful Frank, so enjoy that until the winter arrives.

    • bittster says:

      Thanks Christina. As I think on it I will have to add a layer of something to direct water away from the crown of the cardoon and then perhaps it will stand half a chance of overwintering. A few years back I covered a rosemary plant for the winter, and it barely managed to survive. I think protection from the rain will be essential.

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