Still Not the Worst

Ok, so I think I have to admit I’m halfway liking fall this year.  Those who know me are shocked.  I’m shocked, but to be honest the weather has been decent, there’s been free time to work in the garden, and just enough rain has come down to make planting and projects a pleasure, so it’s kind of an ideal autumn.  Gnats though, that’s one thing I can complain about.  They’re all over, but as long as I keep my head covered and don’t sit around too much it’s still tolerable… usually… until they get so thick I inhale a few, and then I’m done and back in the house.

hardy chrysanthemum

‘Pink Cadillac’ chrysanthemum just starting in the front border alongside some floppy little bluestem and perovskia.

Once the clouds of bugs thin a little, I sneak out a different door and try for a few more minutes in the garden.  October is chrysanthemums, and surprisingly enough a few have survived all the summertime neglect to now look bright and fresh in an otherwise tired looking garden.  One of these years I will really give them the springtime attention they deserve, but they don’t seem to be pining away waiting for me to come through for them, and look good anyway.  I’ll enjoy it while it lasts.

hardy chrysanthemum

A nice orange chrysanthemum which was discovered after the Rosa glauca was cut back mid summer.  It’s been blooming for at least a month and the flowers get to be almost four inches across, so I’m good with that!

Although I’ve been enjoying the finale of the garden more than usual this year, I’ve also managed to squeeze in some actual work and projects.  One such project has been building up some of the flower beds which drowned last year in the endless rain we had.  A load of topsoil was ordered and delivered, and slowly found its way around the house and into the backyard, wheelbarrow by wheelbarrow, and will hopefully help in keeping plants up and out of the swamp… just in case we ever end up in another repeating loop of rainstorm after rainstorm after flood.

new garden beds

Drowned hydrangeas and rhododendrons are gone, and this bed’s been raised about two or three inches.  Also a nice walk out of salvaged stones makes this bed look promising again.

Although I am entirely against hard labor, at least the delivered topsoil is root and rock-free and easy to dig… as long as it’s only slightly wet, and hasn’t crusted yet or turned into rock solid dirt clods.  Hopefully it makes for easy planting and good growing next year with a minimum of weeds, but experience suggests otherwise and I should probably get a plan together as far as mulching and groundcovers.

container bog garden

The bog garden is looking quite nice now that the pitchers have grown a little and some spagnum moss has been moved in.  Now if I only knew what to do with it for the winter.

I had planned on ordering a load of shredded bark mulch to follow up on the topsoil, but yesterday discovered my source is closed for the season.  Easy come easy go I guess, and I’ve taken that as a sign to not bother, save the money, and instead find something else (preferably free) to cover up the newly bare and exposed real estate for the winter.  My friend Paula mentioned her frequent trips for free township compost and that sounded like an excellent plan.  A little research on my part and I discovered there may be free compost available from my town as well,  and maybe just maybe I can squeeze a few loads into the back of my less than three month old suv without making a muddy mess.  We’ll see.  It’s about time I broke it in anyway.

new garden beds

The topsoil ran out and so did the gardener, so this is how I left things.  Maybe tomorrow I’ll have the energy to redo the stone path and set the last of my stones… but I still need more soil to raise the bed and all of that is gone…

Oh and by the way in between dirt moving and stone setting, I weed wacked the entire industrial park berm.  Ok so it took three days and it was before the dirt was delivered, but I’m glad it’s done and I have to admit it does look nicer… even if I almost broke a leg a couple times as I lost my footing or tried to reach just a little too far down the slope…

spruce on berm

The berm stretching back from my mother in law’s to the end of my yard.  The spruce are at least ten feet tall, so it’s a big area and a lot of work to clear.  Imagine my two word response when someone said “I wish you would have done that all summer”.

The boring neatness of a cut berm is far less interesting than the front yard, so it’s out there that I go to enjoy some color.  We had a bit of frost last Saturday, but overall it’s still fairly colorful with a few late bloomers and a bunch of lingerers.

fall perennial border

After ten years a few of my conifers have finally grown big enough to become noticeable.  Oh my gosh this might qualify as winter interest!

The lingerers are mostly annuals and dahlias holding on until frost, and the late bloomers are mostly mums and asters, but there is one star which always makes me happy to see.  ‘Sunnyside Up’ pokeberry (Phytolacca americana) has been lighting up the street side of the border all summer and as I found out this past week has been stirring up the neighborhood as well.  While cleaning the last of the dirt from the driveway a neighbor stopped by to tell me about the ‘invasive’ he saw growing out there.  “Those weeds are all over my backyard” he started with, and then continued to go on about how they spread and how fast they grew, but not much further before I cut him off with the offer of another beer.  Problem solved.

sunnyside up pokeweed

At this time of year I love the red stems and purple berries alongside the yellow foliage of “Sunnyside Up” pokeweed.  I get a little thrill every time the mockingbird swoops down to snatch another berry or two and spread the joy of this lovely native far and wide.  As long as you’re going to have pokeweed might as well have a lovely yellow leaved strain.

Once the subject changed I didn’t even mention the masses of mugwort and the forest of bradford pear seedlings which lined the road behind him.  Or the bittersweet which went from just a sprig to a tree-strangling mass in five years… or the Japanese knotweed, stiltgrass, honeysuckle, garlic mustard in the woods… or the purple loosestrife growing in his foundation beds.  Hmmmmm.  Plenty for another post.  We should enjoy just a few more autumn flowers instead 🙂

colchicum autumnale album plenum

One of the last of the colchicums, C. autumnale album plenum.  Just as a note I’ve tried to refrain from posting too many colchicum photos this year, so fair warning that 2020 will be a rebound year.

I’m thinking the reason I’m finally enjoying autumn is the new ‘I don’t care’ attitude which has developed out of my previous ‘because I can’ attitude.  At first it was actually a little hard to leave the lawn uncut and let weeds grow, but unless it was really necessary I let a bunch of the tedious labor slide this year in favor of stuff I’d still be enjoying years from now.  New shrubs.  New beds.  New paths.  Lower maintenance plantings.  Simplification.  Last year to keep the garden perfect meant continuous mowing, trimming, and weeding that went around the yard and then started all over as soon as it was done.  Thats no fun, and it’s also only appreciated by myself.  So I let it go.

hardy cyclamen

The hardy cyclamen (C. hederifolium) alongside the driveway are flowering well this fall.  About half rotted out from the rain last year, but the survivors seem to have recovered and are seeding about.

Or… maybe I’ve just reached critical mass for fall flowers and this is the first year in three that every day doesn’t start with gloomy, rainy grayness, but I think it’s the flowers.  Better get to the nursery this afternoon to make sure I haven’t missed any fall blooming plants that can still go in 🙂

bougainvillea hanging pot

My bougainvillea has greeted cooler weather with a second flush of flowers.  The colors scream summer, but the blooms are welcome regardless even if they do look a little out of place in October.

Or maybe I’m overthinking all of this.  The truth is I have new snowdrops, and some are already sprouting and in bloom and that makes me think of spring.  I love spring.  Maybe all this talk of autumn is really just a very very early spring.

Have a great week 🙂

22 comments on “Still Not the Worst

  1. I’ve tried yellow-leaved forms of pokeweed three times, and each time they’ve expired over winter.

    • bittster says:

      The only way I’ve had success with pokeweed is to grow it as well as I can with plenty of water and fertilizing, have it set seed, and then hope for a few seedlings to enjoy when the fussed over plant dies! I’ve never been able to grow one intentionally, only accidentally.
      On the flip side of that, once one grows in a spot you don’t want, it’s nearly immortal.

  2. rusty duck says:

    The weather you had last year we have this year. The rain just never seems to stop. It makes this neglected garden look even more like a disaster zone and time outside has been minimal.
    Your front yard is a delight. I’m particularly taken with C. autumnale album plenum and I was never especially keen on colchicums before. Is this another slippery slope?

    • bittster says:

      I was thinking of you as I strimmed the slope behind the house. Every time I nearly took a tumble I asked myself why I was insisting on doing this and why I couldn’t learn from other people’s experiences. Maybe when I’m laid up with an authentic injury I can come up with a plan as to where a few paths can go!
      Colchicum can be innocently planted and enjoyed. I have too many, but their bloom season is not nearly as desperate a time of year as that of galanthus. I think 😉

  3. Eliza Waters says:

    Your mums are beautiful, Frank. I wish I could grow them, but they seem to die overwinter. Last winter, I put the pots I hadn’t planted in the garage and they lived, so I must be one zone too cold.
    After last year’s incessant rain, it is a relief to have a normal fall with good foliage. It feels like years since it was this nice, and we are in New England for crying out loud! So like you, I am really enjoying the fall color this year. The asters are almost done, but were spectacular.
    My only regret is I never ordered bulbs as I intended. I’m afraid if I ordered them now, they’d come when it was really cold and I wouldn’t feel like freezing my hands off. I guess (God willing) there is always next year. 😉

    • bittster says:

      I’m so glad to hear that you’re finally enjoying a nice fall again. Isn’t it amazing how the weather can really change your whole outlook on the year? I don’t know how people do it in those “pearly skies” kind of climates, I would be desperate for some sun.
      Don’t regret the bulbs. Spring will be exciting regardless, and there are few things worse than dreading a bag of bulbs and then having the forecast tell you to get those gloves on and go out in the cold wind to plant them.
      Let me know if you ever want to try a few mums. They’re not the neat lumpy ones, but they do come back every year without complaint.

  4. Cathy says:

    Oh yes, let’s miss out winter altogether this year! Your garden really does look pretty Frank. My Chrysanths are just about to open and my Perovksia is over, so I could never get that lovely combination. The orange Chrysanths are gorgeous too. I admire your restraint and diplomacy about the neighbour’s garden! 😉
    Hope you have a great week too!

    • bittster says:

      Thanks Cathy! That mountain air must have pushed the perovskia to wrap things up early, but I think your winters are just a bit earlier and longer than ours. I’m completely on board if you want to skip winter this year 🙂

  5. Lisa at Greenbow says:

    Your front garden almost makes me want to tackle my front garden. I have done next to nothing to it. I favor Chrys that look like daisies. This orange one of yours is lovely. I envy you your stack of stone. It is so handsome. The new path looks very inviting. I know what you mean about all of those gnats. We had a person come to the house and we tried to stand outside to talk. Impossible with the gnats flying about. ugh… You might try wearing cleats of some sort when weedeating the berm. They might make that chore a bit more safe. That is one steep long berm. I can just imagine the long list of invasives you mentioned in your neighbors woods taking up residence on that berm. I am afraid your neighbors remarks about the invasives would have set off a major spew of rath from me. Of course I would have spoken in a most respectful manner but… tee hee… Enjoy the rest of the fall. I know I will. I love this cooler weather.

    • bittster says:

      Ugh. So sorry to hear the gnats are there as well. I don’t remember them always being this bad, I blame a lack of dragonflies or bats…
      Cleats are actually a really good suggestion, thanks! I’m going to see if I can find something, or at least shoes with better traction.
      The number of invasives that are already showing up on the berm is chilling. It’s the knotweed which I dread the most, there are a few tiny sprigs and I’m 100% sure they stayed tiny because all their energy is going into putting roots down. I tried some roundup during the summer and it didn’t even brown the leaf edges, it just killed off the neighboring plants so that now each knotweed sprig has a cleared out zone around it to spread in to. Digging hasn’t been effective, it laughs off frequent trimming. I’m going to try and cover it with a bucket or something and see if it will smother after a few years…

  6. Everything looks wonderful. All that color. Each year I think I will add more autumn color but it hasn’t happened so far. We still haven’t had a killing frost so I have toad lilies that are just beginning to open. That orange with the blue leaf rose is a stunning combination. I think I should try cutting my rosa glauca back midsummer. Helen Dillion (who had a famous Dublin garden) says to cut it way back in spring to get larger leaves if you don’t mind missing the flowers. How about some low spreading shrubs on that berm? The length and slope of it are definitely intimidating — visually and practically. I am putting carexes on the front of my big slope and assorted Junipers on the back side. Currently both are mulched with weeds. Mulch: have you thought of chopping up your leaves with your lawn mower and putting them down as mulch. It kills two birds and the leaves act like compost eventually.

    • bittster says:

      That’s a good suggestion for the rose. I love flowers, but without a fragrance and without any real flash to them even I will admit they’re not hard to give up. A big flush of the glaucus foliage all summer would absolutely make up for it.
      I’m worried about the pitch of the slope. Not so much for the plants, but for me every time I need to get up and down to weed something or prune something. I can handle it fairly easily now, but in another ten years I don’t think that will be the case, so before I plant too much I want to be sure I’ve either got a few paths cut in to the slope or maybe in some alternate reality I’ll manage to re-grade it with additional fill….
      Of course based on the fact I’ve already bought some new plants as “something to put on the slope”, I suspect I’ll be planting first and thinking later and most likely regretting plenty.

  7. Pauline says:

    Love all your fall colour, especially in the front garden. your “Mums ” look so good, I must try some next year.Your slope looks to be something of a challenge, I know I wouldn’t like to tackle it, rather you than me!

    • bittster says:

      Haha, I’m just as worried about tackling the slope! I should really have a plan before I start, but I just know I’ll be jamming plants in this fall and thinking up better ideas next spring after it’s too late. We’ll see. If worse comes to worst there are always groundcovers.

  8. Wow! I had no idea there was an ornamental variety of Pokeweed! Now I’m seeing the plant in a whole new light. I might just need one for myself!

  9. Everything look fabulous, and I feel your pain about the stone-moving (if I never lift another brick/paver/bluestone piece for the rest of my life it’ll be too soon, lol) and the mugwort. This was my third year of (hopefully) eradicating it from two planting beds and I think I MAY have been successful in one of them…. after utilizing the Wonders of Modern Chemistry. In a hardest-to-kill contest between mugwort and goutweed, I honestly don’t know which would win!

    • bittster says:

      I wish you well in your fight against mugwort and the gout. Mugwort is one of those things which seem to spawn from bare earth, and I just don’t know how I rip every last one only to find a whole new crop a week or two later. I have yet to eliminate it completely, even with my heart set against it’s existence!
      My stone moving days may be coming to an end. It sure feels like a lot of work when I’m doing it, and without construction next door I burn through my supply pretty fast!

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