A Tropical Update

While we look to the tropics and wait to see what the latest hurricane brings I think a trip to the milder side is in order.  The Pennsylvania tropics are much calmer and even-keeled and if you ignore the heavy hand of winter’s approach I think it’s a nice enough retreat from everything else going on.

tropical garden

The tropical border this summer.  The steady rains were a plus but the cooler temperatures held many a hot-blooded plant back.

Even though things were in the ground earlier than ever this year the cool weather made for a slow start.  I even lost nearly all the dahlias when my “big patch of ’em” idea didn’t go well with the “all the water drains here” reality.  Losing plants to an excess of water is not something I’ve ever experienced here on this thin-soiled hilltop.  Fortunately there’s always a backup plan.

tropical garden

The striped leaves of ‘Bengal Tiger’ canna rank as one of my all time favorite plants.  To me they seem to go well with everything, especially the purple verbena bonariensis and surviving dahlias.

Verbena.  Verbena bonariensis is my backup plan for nearly every plant fiasco/disaster.  Any unmulched sunny spot quickly sprouts a few seedlings and all this gardener has to do is stand back.  If anything they need thinning since they  come up thick and look much better when each has some space of their own.

alcazar kniphofia

This might be my most promising red hot poker.  Kniphofia ‘Alcazar’ has nice big spikes with just the right glow factor.  Last year there were only two flower stalks which faded in a week or two, but this year three flushes of flowerings kept the plant interesting for almost two months.  I hope it wasn’t a fluke!

I do tend to let things just happen.  Laziness and distraction can do that to a garden, and the far end of the tropical border is mostly foliage.

tropical garden

Leaves aren’t all that bad.  Having a spot where color is not entirely in your face is probably a good idea.

The mulch which I smothered this end of the bed with must have contained some leftover autumn decorations so the coleus I planted ended up being smothered by the climbing vines of Yugoslavian finger squash.  They seemed to love all the rain and vines slinked and slithered all through the back of the border.

yugoslavian finger squash

There’s something about the name ‘Yugoslavian finger squash’ which I think is funny.  Yugoslavian?  The finger?  Finger squash?  It’s like a teenage boy came up with the name and I guess it speaks volumes for my maturity level.   

So while we await our Finger squash decorating bonanza the rest of the border is busy with the bees and butterflies who take advantage of the color.

monarch on verbena

With any luck this year’s Monarch migration will be a big one, and I hope I left enough verbena to keep them around for a few days. 

I’m hoping things work out well for a big Monarch migration this autumn.  A few years ago there was a trifecta of beautiful weather, plenty of butterflies, and loads of verbena blossoms and walking through the fluttering garden was almost surreal.  Thinking back on it I really feel bad for those people who hire landscape companies, spray for any wildlife which gets too close, and then stare at lawn all summer.  Holy boring.

katydid

At three or four inches long Katydids are an insect you can have a conversation with.  People go on about bees and butterflies but these guys are my favorites… even if they do eat decent sized chunks out of the purple canna leaves.

The tropical garden is not boring.

tropical garden

Too much?  Stripes on stripes was not the plan but somehow ‘Tropicana’ ended up in front of ‘Cosmopolitan’ fountain grass.  It should look even more tasteful in another few weeks when the grass puts out its pink flower heads.

Hope a good weekend is had by all and a little boring can extend down to the areas in the path of hurricane Irma.  The tropics look much better when not ravaged by obscene winds.

Tuesday View: The Tropics 11.22.16

Following the first hard frost, the tropical view has continued to spiral downwards into the reality of its temperate latitude.  Our first significant snowfall came on Saturday night and although snow at this time of year is not unheard of, the long warm autumn and the fact Saturday topped out at 65F (18C) left me in a bit of a shock when I woke up to the white.

Tuesday view snow

I guess it might finally be time to dig the dahlias and cannas. 

The frosted annuals and browned cannas are still standing just where they were three weeks ago, and although the mess may look like complete apathy has set in the reality is I’ve been quite busy.  There’s been a good amount of earth moving and bed building on top of the required leaf cleanup and bulb planting and I feel pretty good about spring, I just want warmth to return for a few more weeks so I can finish digging and planting.

But if the weather doesn’t change I’ll get over it.  No one’s life has ever crumbled over a few unraked leaves or frozen dahlias and as long as there are plenty of snowdrops in April I’ll be fine.  There’s always next year 🙂

Tuesday View: The Tropics 11.1.16

As you can see from this Tuesday’s view, the weather forecast was correct and Tuesday night we received our first strong frost.  One night and the tropical summer was over… but for this part of PA the last week of October is a late frost date, so there are no complaints from this end.  It was a great year!

tuesday view tropical plants

No denying fall is here now.  The cannas are browned, the dahlias are blackened, yet even at the end of the season there’s still some color left.

You wouldn’t guess it but I did spend a few minutes cleaning up.  The mildewed Verbena bonariensis had been bothering me so those were cut down, and a few large blackened salvias and coleus were taken out as well.  For the most part though the rest will come out this weekend (I hope) as I dig canna and dahlia roots and pack them away for the winter, but I have to say even with less color it’s still kind of interesting.  I’m discovering things here and there which have been overshadowed by the annuals for the past three months.

chrysanthemum carousel

A bit tousled by this weekend’s thunderstorm, chrysanthemum ‘Carousel’ is still holding up to the cooler nights.  The green nicotina is also doing well, but the surprise was the fat clump of Mexican feather grass (Stipa tenuissima… recently renamed though) which was hiding under the verbena I pulled.

Today I did go ahead and plant a few leftover snowdrops in the tropical bed.  The idea of early spring snowdrops sounds nice enough, but I’m pretty sure it will prove to be a bad idea come July when I want to replant all the summer visitors in the same spot.  “Oh well” I say.  Summer is a long time off and spring flowers are more fun to think of.

So as the season winds down here I’d again like to thank Cathy at Words and Herbs for hosting the Tuesday view each week.  It’s been a nice run but I believe winter has most of us calling it quits for the season and our thoughts are turning inside and towards the holidays.  Not a bad idea at all, but I might still have another week or two in me, if only to prove that I really did dig up and store all those fantastic roots and bulbs for next year!

 

Tuesday View: The Tropics 10.25.16

It’s a cold and breezy Tuesday this week, with a wind that makes you feel like change is a’comin to this end of Pennsylvania.  The forecast tonight is a dip below freezing and there’s a good chance this will be the last week a colorful and lush view shows up in Cathy’s weekly meme.  There are still a few weeks left to the season, but after frost hits the view will be decidedly less colorful.

tuesday view tropical plants

A gloomy, gray Tuesday afternoon.  The last of the autumn color has worked its way down the mountains and into the garden and things are entirely autumnal.  The wheelbarrow is covering the flowering thistle,  I’m hoping to get a few ripe seeds before it freezes.

Whether or not this turns out to be our killing frost remains to be seen, but with the cold wind blowing I’m completely indifferent.  Sunday was spent clearing the rest of the garden of everything I wanted to save, so now it’s just a matter of letting nature run its course.  Snow is predicted for Thursday so I guess I’m officially giving up 🙂

tropical annuals

One last view.  The tropics have been good to me this year.

So next week will likely show some serious changes.  Once frost hits I like to get things out of the way and cleaned up fast so that I can put down some mulch before winter hits.  Any unmulched areas will likely sprout a carpet of winter weeds such as hairy bittercress and I’d rather not start next season with that kind of a mess on my hands.  Wish me luck.

After you wish me luck please consider giving Cathy at Words and Herbs a visit to see how autumn is progressing through other gardens in other parts of the world.  It’s always a great visit and a fun way to keep up over the season.  Have a great week!

Tuesday View: The Tropics 10.19.16

I’m a day late in joining Cathy for the Tuesday view, but I think it’s just that time of year when things begin to unravel and go to seed so hopefully my tardiness will be forgiven.  Here it is!

tuesday view tropical plants

Autumn comes to the tropical garden

The view looks remarkably similar to last week’s with just a few more hints of autumn color in the background and a few more tints of brown in the front.  We had a slight frost last Monday and again on Friday but for the most part the garden is intact.

alocasia x portora

The tender new leaves of alocasia x portora took the low temperatures very seriously while the dahlias just shrugged them right off.  Serves me right for not bringing this elephant ear in earlier. 

Last week’s lows have been followed by a few warm days but I think the damage has already been done.  Most tropicals get all miffy once nighttime temperatures drop below 50 and I guess it’s time to start thinking seriously about bringing them in.

colocasia esculenta tropical storm

My newest elephant ear, colocasia esculenta ‘tropical storm’  is gaining back a little strength following a run in with spider mites.  I ended up snipping off all the foliage to get rid of them, now it’s a matter of hoping for the best over winter.

Even with some of the largest leaves showing a little frost damage, the cooler nights seem to intensify and brighten the last of the autumn colors.

knockout rose pennesitum

‘Knockout’ rose seems to get even brighter as the thermometer drops.  It’s a nice mix with the season long color of the Verbena bonariensis.

Although I made a good effort of removing most of the chrysanthemums from this bed, I did leave ‘Carousel’ for some late season color.  The plan was for it to carry on after frost blackened most of the other color in this bed, but here it is joining in as just another supporting player.  I like it for the long stems and late blooms which last into November but tolerate it for it’s floppy stalks and necessary June pinching.
chrysanthemum carousel

Chrysanthemum ‘Carousel’ opening up as one of the last floral events of the 2016 tropical border. 

‘Carousel’ is pretty much the only thing left to anticipate in the border, everything else is just finger crossing for additional days without frost.  We are into a slight Indian summer of warm, hazy days following our earlier run-in with cold, but even that is somewhat irritating as I like the cooler weather for transplanting, bulb planting, and fall foliage enjoying…. not that I’m complaining too much about having a few last drink nights out on the porch sans jacket 🙂

autumn dahlias border

Looking up towards the back end.  I love that all 6 feet of that annoyingly bright white vinyl fence is now hidden behind an interesting wall of greens and flowers.  And I love that I still have plenty of dahlias!

So here’s to another Tuesday view where the tropics are still green!  Long live summer and all the best for your upcoming week 🙂

Tuesday View: The Tropics 10.11.16

Tuesday is here and again I’m happy to join up with Cathy at Words and Herbs for the view.  Things still look warm, but the lows last night seem to have brought in the tiniest bit of frost which singed a few tomato leaves here and there in the vegetable garden.  We’re living on borrowed time!

tuesday view tropical plants

Still a tropical view.  The one kochia has gone brown, but the flowers and foliage of nearly everything else is all autumn abundance 🙂

I wish I had more to say but I’ve been distracted by the chrysanthemums and fall bulbs and time consuming things such as fall baseball and gymnastics.  I’ve also had a bulb buying relapse and in a weak moment ordered many more snowdrops than I could possibly need.  That and tulips… even though I recently said I wouldn’t buy any new ones this year.

My suspicion is that I’m the only one concerned about this latest purchase, but now that I think about it further (since I have absolutely no idea where to place these latest purchases), I wonder how the tropical border would look with a large swath of tulips and a small throw blanket of snowdrops.  I bet it wouldn’t look half bad!

Have a great week 🙂

Tuesday View: The Tropics 10.04.16

The nights have taken a turn towards cool here and for the first time it feels like the tropical bed is showing signs of autumn.  The winding down of the season is ok by me, but my fingers are crossed we don’t have a repeat of last year when a single 23F (-5C) night in mid October crushed all hopes for a mellow end to the season.  Frost is inevitable, but a brutal freeze?  Unnecessary.

Tuesday view tropicalismo

The Tuesday view on this first week of October

This Tuesday as I again join up with Cathy at Words and Herbs, I’d like to also give a nod to Eliza and copy her idea of showing a flashback to the earlier days of this season.  Everything looked so cute and tiny back in this last week of June.

 

Tropical garden

The first Tuesday view.  A few perennials making a show, but the only annuals visible are a flat of small orange zinnias, freshly planted out of their six-packs. 

Things have grown since then and one of my favorite growers has been the annual burning bush (Kochia scoparia).  One by one the individual plants in the seedling clumps I planted out are starting to color and I have to admit I like the look, even though the plants will go brown once they pass their peak of redness.

 

kochia scoparia

I love all these colors but last week the kochia at the lowest right of the clump was just at its peak.  Only seven days later and it has browned, so I hope the rest of the clump doesn’t follow as quickly. 

Sneaking up alongside the kochia is a new chrysanthemum seedling.  I evicted nearly all the mums from this bed earlier in the year, but I guess this one was small enough to miss.

self sown chrysanthemum

Not the greatest photo of it but a nice enough self-sown mum with small spoon shaped yellow petals.

Slightly less impressive are the late season flowers of ‘white frosted’ Japanese thistle.  There’s not much to them, and some might mention the word “weedy”, but I’m hoping for seeds since the spring variegation on these is great and my only other plant of this perennial thistle died during our relentless May rains.

'White Frosted' Japanese thistle (Cirsium japonicum).

The less than impressive flowers of ‘White Frosted’ Japanese thistle (Cirsium japonicum). 

There’s nothing less than impressive about the cannas and dahlias.  I know I constantly show the same combos, but….

canna Bengal tiger dahlia Mathew alen

Canna ‘Bengal Tiger’ looking as variegated as ever alongside the deep red flowers of dahlia ‘Mathew Alen’.  The purple cloud of Verbena bonariensis has been going strong all summer.

The path up through the center takes a little maneuvering to get through.  The purple leaved cannas have pushed most everything out of their way, and the dahlias now sprawl across the path.

dahlias in the garden

Dahlias and verbena up through the middle of the tropical garden.

The resident hummingbirds headed south a few weeks ago and with the exception of a few last stragglers migrating through the flowers have been left to the sleepy bumble bees of autumn.  Monarch butterflies still stop in here and there, but it’s getting pretty quiet as things cool off.

dahlia sylvia

Dahlia Sylvia seems to make a nice spot for a bumblebee’s afternoon nap.

Sleepy bumblebees kind of sum up how I feel about the garden these days.  Maybe it’s allergies or lack of a good night’s sleep, but if you had to put me in camp grasshopper or camp ant I think I’m more of a grasshopper.  I’ll enjoy the sun and last bits of warmth while they last, and just have to hope for the best when the axe of winter falls.