Bits and Pieces

There’s a forecast for snow tomorrow, and in this little slice of near-suburbia things are absolutely not ready.  The gardener has been in more of a Netflix mood rather than a slaving out in the elements mood and as a result things are more behind than usual.  ‘No big deal’ he says as he dips his hand in yet another vat of overly buttered popcorn, and that pretty much sums up the last few days… except for the weekend.  It was sunny yet cold, and after weeks of gloom the sun was a nice change.

ranch house landscape

Just a few more days and out with the pumpkins and in with the boughs of holly.  Fyi I’m thinking of moving the arborvitae… any thoughts on that?

In between re-acquainting myself with a rain-free garden and doing all the fall cleanup in just two days I did a little poking around and tried to find a few things of interest in an otherwise dying garden.

Polystichum polyblepharum 'Japanese Tassel Fern'

Evergreen ferns look even nicer set off by the yellowed hosta foliage.  This is the Japanese Tassel fern, Polystichum polyblepharum, and one of my favorites.  Thick brown fur covers the newly emerging fronds, and the plant as a whole is much sturdier than you might think.

There are a few last flowers, but many didn’t hold up well to the relentless rain.  The chrysanthemums are mostly washed out with the exception of a single stray seedling which snuggles up against the porch.  I tolerate its sloppiness all year and then finally reap the rewards in November when its flowers open to signal the end of the season.

late blooming chrysanthemum

My last chrysanthemum.  

Out along the street the front border got a clearing out so that the earliest spring flowers can have an open stage for whenever the first warm spell hits.  Of course that’s code for ‘I planted more snowdrops here’, but snowdrop season comes on fast and I want to be sure I’m prepared for that at least!

leaf mulch perennial bed

The interior of the bed has been cleared out and a Rolls Royce layer of leaf mulch put down.  They’re the shredded Japanese maple leaves from next door, mixed up with a good amount of lawn clippings which should be delicious for the earthworms.  

Although I did do some clearing out, the bulk of my fall cleanup is just removing anything which looks overly messy, and then running the leaves over with the mower and tossing the shreddings into select beds.  Whatever is left I can just refer to as winter interest and eventually get it come springtime.

abelmoschus seed pod

Although it was one of the first plants to go when temperatures dropped, the dead stalks of the abelmoschus still look great with their fuzzy seedpods.

Honestly if I had the opportunity I would want about double the amount of leaves that I collect each fall off the lawns.  Some would go into the compost, but most just gets thrown back as a winter blanket for empty vegetable beds and sleeping perennial plantings.  As it is I still end up volunteering to clean out my Bil’s backyard and then robbing the woods for whatever’s been dumped back there.  It’s sad how I covet my neighbor’s fallen leaves.

Lindera glauca var. salicifolia

An Asian spicebush, Lindera glauca var. salicifolia was named as my friend’s favorite shrub and I’d have to agree.  The seedlings she shared with me are finally coming along and I love the late season glow of their foliage.

It’s not all about dead leaves though.  Snowdrop talk will come up more and more now that the weather is turning cold.  This season I am eagerly awaiting the opening of my new snowdrop walk, and based on all the buzz already surrounding it I’m sure it will be an excellent new springtime adventure.

snowdrop walk

Just in case it’s not obvious the new snowdrop walk enters between the chrysanthemums and carries you across the bed.  Most people will need to crawl if they wish to avoid a cherry branch to the forehead, but you’ll be down low looking at them anyway so why bother with a whole bunch of head-room?

In the meantime, a few hardy cyclamen line the snowdrop walk.  Cyclamen hederifolium is sending up its winter foliage now and the last flowers look even better against the beautifully patterned leaves.

cyclamen hederifolium

It appears I’ve lost a few older cyclamen plants this summer, most likely due to all the rain, but there are still plenty left surviving and multiplying.

With the snowdrop walk all prepped and waiting, it’s time to turn towards the next on again off again project.

quaking aspen bark

The land beyond the fence.  Years back, before the fence went up, I used to mow around a few little quaking aspen sprouts.  They’ve grown since, and are now sporting some attractively bright bark color.  

You may remember that my MiL lives next door, and that a few years back I was able to get a bunch of fill dumped behind her house.  In the years since, I’ve managed to level and plant the half closest to her fence, but the other half still needs grading and moving.  After losing all hope of someone coming and doing the job in a day or two with all the right machinery, I’ve finally decided it will be me who digs and grades and moves all the dirt that remains.  My guess is that the rest of my life will be spent digging back here, but I already have a shovel and the dirt is free, so what have I got to lose?

grading fill

Left side graded and planted to grass, right side still to be done.  While I’m at it someone’s mentioned they’d like a screen of evergreens planted, so why not add that to the list as well….

I’ll be using the dirt to fill in some of the low spots in my own yard.  It’s terrible soil and a ridiculous amount of work but I find I can only watch Netflix for so long before boredom sets in, and I do like earthmoving projects.  S we’ll see how it goes.  Maybe I can just rename this part of the yard ‘the gym’ and spend all the saved money on other more exciting things.  Now what would that be….  snowdrops perhaps?  😉

Our Days Are Numbered

There’s an impending air of doom hanging over the garden, and the threat of next week taints everything.  The Cubs winning the World Series was likely the first sign of the apocalypse and now I can only imagine what next Wednesday could bring.  Our current stretch of warm weather has me even more nervous since as we know from high school science, freezing is an exothermic process and on the chance that Hell has indeed frozen over science would predict that things up here on the surface would warm up as a result.  I’ve never hoped for a cold snap more, even if it means losing the last of the autumn flowers.

late chrysanthemum

The latest of my seedling chrysanthemums.  This one’s not as hardy as the rest but does well enough up near the foundation.

The last of the autumn leaves are really hanging on in the warmth.  This red maples along the fence is always my favorite with its sunset blend of reds, oranges, and yellows.  As the days go on it will hopefully fade to pale yellow with red highlights before finally covering the lawn with a carpet of next year’s mulch and compost.

maple fall foliage

For most of the year I resent the greedy water stealing roots of this pesky red maple (Acer rubrum), but for a few days in autumn I forgive it and soak up every glowing minute of its final foliage show.

Closer to the ground the earliest (or latest, depending on your perspective) bulbs are beginning to show signs of growth.  My absolute favorite right this moment is the fall blooming snowdrop a friend of mine brought back for me from Nancy Goodwin’s Montrose Gardens in Hillsborough, North Carolina.  I love a plant with a story and this one has a good one.  Its full name is Galanthus elwesii var. monostictus Hiemalis group ex. Montrose and to be honest I love writing that one out.  It’s the nerdy Latin way of describing a fall blooming snowdrop with a single green mark that comes to me via Montrose Gardens.  This one and its thousands of sisters are all the descendants of a handful of bulbs Mrs. Goodwin purchased decades ago at a local hardware store.  They say the rest is history, but in this case it’s a history which required years of division and transplanting as the bulbs were slowly spread across her acres of woodland.  The bulbs now make an unparalleled show each autumn around Thanksgiving and I wouldn’t rule out some day making the eight hour trip to see it in person.  Such are the dreams of the obsessed, but if you’d like more information have a look at this NY Times article on a visit to the gardens, and also consider looking up Nancy Goodwin’s book “Montrose: Life in a Garden” for a monthly chronicle of the gardens.  She was also a big fan of the Cyclamen family and grows thousands of them as well.  That’s my kind of gardener.

fall galanthus elwesii monostctus

Galanthus elwesii var. monostictus Hiemalis group ex. Montrose.  Yeah.

Besides fall blooming snowdrops, there was also an October surprise here when my two auricula primrose insisted on sending up a few autumn flower stalks.  I’d rather they waited until spring since the flowers don’t look nearly as big or nice as the could, but my hope is they really liked their repotting and are only just ramping up to an even more amazing show in March under the growlights…. unless they’re planning on dying, which is always another possibility for plants in my care.

primula auricula

A pair of primula.  Primula auricula hybrids to be exact.  The yellow had bloomed before but this is the first flower for the brownish one, and I’m pleased with the color.

Some other final color in the garden is the Aster oblongifolius ‘Raydons Favorite’.  It waits until the very end of the season and carries it out with a clear lavender blue color and attractive dark eyes as the flowers fade.  I should really give it a little more room and respect next year, and not let it suffer all summer crowded and untended while the summer annuals steal the show.

Aster oblongifolius 'Raydons Favorite'

Amidst the mildew decay of fading peony foliage and frosted zinnias, Aster ‘Raydons Favorite’ offers up fresh color for this part of the border.  I think more would be a good idea.

I can’t do a late fall post without slipping in a cyclamen or two.  They’re sending out more and more of their beautiful foliage and while other parts of the garden are fading, these go from strength to strength.  I may have to talk to John Lonsdale about adding a few new ones since you can never have too many of these treasures and he always seems to have a few special ones for sale at Edgewood Gardens.

cyclamen hederifolium

The hardy Cyclamen hederifolium starts flowering without foliage in late summer.  I love it even more when the leaves begin to come up and there are still plenty of blooms to accent them.

The range of foliage types in Cyclamen hederifolium is really outstanding.  The dainty and distinct flowers are almost more of an afterthought.

A pale pink form of Cyclamen hederifolium with a leaf pattern which I love.

A pale pink form of Cyclamen hederifolium with a leaf pattern which I love.

For the moment I may have resisted adding any new Cyclamen but don’t be under the false impression I’ve resisted all the other goodies which can be found during fall planting season… or even better found during autumn clearance sales.  For some reason I found the Santa Rosa clearance sale (still going on btw, and don’t miss out on the additional 20% off coupon code) and discovered I needed more grasses and a trio of carnivorous pitcher plants.  Who knew?

Sarracenia from santa rosa gardens

Three new bog plants (Sarracenia) for the bog I don’t have.  Hopefully I can keep them happy elsewhere since they’re so absolutely cool with their sinister insect trapping pitchers.

As I go on and on about new plants I won’t even mention the tulips which need planting, the daffodils which need replanting, and the projects which need finishing before the bottom drops out of this pleasant autumn weather.  Let’s hope that’s the only thing which the bottom drops out of this week.

Have a good one!

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 10.04.16

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.

Make way for Monarchs

The last few weeks are bringing the Monarch butterflies in.  They usually miss my plot on their springtime crawl North, but during their escape to the South they come right through.  It’s good timing too as it comes about four or five weeks after I’ve given up completely on the vegetable garden and the selfsown Verbena bonariensis have taken over.  Last week they were all over the place feeding and fluttering and during the one day of perfect conditions I counted at least 20 in there at one time.  They don’t stay long, but walking the paths and having the large orange butterflies lifting up and floating around you on a warm autumn day is a wonderful experience.

verbena bonariensis

An airy purple haze of Verbena bonariensis will spring up wherever I leave an unmulched spot of soil.

The verbena is clearly a favorite, but other flowers also fill the menu.  I don’t think of double dahlias as wildlife-friendly but maybe the color brings in even more dinner guests.  I at least think they look great.

dahlia sandra

Not a Monarch but still a welcome visitor, this fritillary is taking a break on dahlia ‘Sandra’.

My dahlias are not quite where I’d want them to be this year.  I’d blame the rains of July but in reality it’s the neglect of August and September which really did them in.  Fortunately with some good lighting and a few verbena screening and distracting they still look nice.

dahlias and verbena

Dahlias and verbena in the morning light.

I like that the flowers take over in autumn, and I like that the combinations and players change each year as I gain or lose interest in one thing or another.  This year ‘Tiger cub’ corn is back.  The seed was a gift from Nan Ondra of Hayefield and I love the variegation but I’m afraid it won’t have time to ripen any seed this fall unless things stay warm late.  My fingers are crossed.  I love how the bright leaves of the corn go with the bright colors of the red gomphrena and orange marigolds.  Word is marigolds are supposed to be a no-no in classy gardens,  but I still love their carefree color and I like them even better knowing they’re another gifted plant, this time from Kimberley of  Cosmos and Cleome.

tiger cub ornamental corn

I did start out with cauliflower here in the spring, but then rather than replant with a fall crop I put in a few ‘QIS red’ gomphrena seedling, a few ‘Tiger cub’ corn kernels, and a few coleus for good measure.

I like this autumn mess.  Lettuce would be nice too but it’s just been too hot and dry and I just don’t have the ambition to start plants in a shaded spot for transplanting.  Plus I can always pick it up at the market… unlike butterflies, those I need the flowers for.

verbena bonariensis cypress vine Ipomoea quamoclit

In a few spots ‘love in a puff’ and the red blooms of cypress vine (Ipomoea quamoclit) thread their way through the verbena stems.  These little surprises make me smile.

Here’s another little surprise which I could fill a whole photo album with.  This spring I finally seeded out a few Spanish flag vines (Ipomoea lobata), and although they never sprouted in their seedling pots, they did once I threw the leftover soil into the garden.  It’s a late bloomer and like many in the morning glory family it can be a little rambunctious, but in this spot it’s perfect.  The spent broccoli seed stalks (I suspect I’ll be weeding out tons of broccoli weedlings next spring)  and verbena stalks provide just enough support and when a bed to the left opened up after the potato harvest the vines moved right in.  I couldn’t have planned the color coordination with the chrysanthemums any better.

Ipomoea lobata Spanish flag

Ipomoea lobata (Spanish flag) vining through verbena stalks, broccoli stems, and some of my favorite orange chrysanthemums. 

The colors of this planting are the perfect match to my daughter’s favorite orange ice pops… please don’t question why she was eating this while the morning light was still so fresh.

Ipomoea lobata Spanish flag

Color echoes in an ice pop.

I’m not a pink and grey pastel kind of guy so this bold mix of orange and purple really tickles my color bone.  Throw in a few hot pink persicarias in front of the dark foliage of the ‘Coppertina’ ninebark (Physocarpus) and I’m more than happy.  I just regret that my photo skills weren’t enough to capture it all together in one shot.

Ipomoea lobata Spanish flag

More orange and purple in the fall garden.

Another thing I regret is that the flag vine planted on the deck has turned out to be a much less vibrantly colored plant from a more refined end of the gene pool.  When my seeds seemed destined to fail I snapped up a potful found at my favorite nursery.  It’s still a very nice thing, and I’ve even grown a paler yellow version before, but I can’t help wish they all had the darker stems and bolder orange of their more common cousin.

Ipomoea lobata Spanish flag

A paler version of Spanish flag grappling through some pennisetum on the deck.  The whiter blooms and lighter foliage are nice enough, but I need darker colors to hold up to the white railing.

Bold and less bold are still just fine and it really revs up the autumn season around here.  With temperatures finally cooling off and a good soaking rain last night fall is officially in full swing here and I guess I’m going to have to finally give up on my whining about the loss of summer.  It’s about time I’m sure, and to cheer myself up I think I’m going to get into chrysanthemums next post.  Have a great weekend 🙂

The long road home

The title of this post sounds a lot more deep and spiritual than it should.  Don’t worry.  Deep I am not, it’s just I really do tackle a long road home each afternoon.  My commute takes about 50 minutes each way and fortunately this week it’s been a much more pleasant drive with the colors of fall lighting the way.

autumn road

Red maples and birch coloring up across the mountains of Pennsylvania.

This fall the cool nights and warm days seem to have brought on some spectacular colors.  I’m usually not a fan of these last death rattles which summer goes through, but even I have to admit it looks nice enough this year.  Nice enough that I pulled over a few times today for a quick phone pic or two.

fall colors

The death of summer and a cemetery just seem right together…. or is it my fall-hating showing through again?

A few spots up in the mountains are already hosting a rain of autumn leaves after every wind gust.  The shower of autumn colors is nice enough in itself but I’m not looking forward to the gray of the next six months.  There’s a lot to be said for evergreens.

front of the house in fall

Back at home again and the trees are starting here too. For a couple days the maple trees behind the house will be worth all the trouble their dark shade and greedy roots cause.

Time to think about the nice leaf mulch that the mower will pick up off the back lawn.  It’s the perfect blanket for daffodil beds and tulip plantings and all the other late fall plantings which I still hope to accomplish before things cool off too much.  That and a little rain too.  Fall leaves look so much better on green grass rather than a parched bed of straw 🙂