Autumn. It Could Be Worse.

I’m ok with summer being over.  Not excited, but ok with it, and I guess that’s good enough since neither myself nor anyone else can do much about it anyway.  Fall follows summer and that’s just the way things roll here in NE Pennsylvania.  At least we have butterflies this year, and in this garden the butterflies have been the highlight of every garden stroll.

Monarch on zinnia

Monarch butterfly on a zinnia in the potager.

People enjoy talking about how beneficial butterflies are and I’m not going to argue with them but if you think about it they’re right up there with cabbageworms and tomato hornworms in terms of caterpillar crawling and plant eating.  They don’t do all that much to benefit the gardener, but they’re just so darn pretty to look at.

monarch mantis attack

A handful of butterfly parts.  Not a good sign for the butterfly lover since no butterfly sheds its wings willingly.

If you want to consider a beneficial insect the praying mantis might come to mind.  Maybe.  Not since the garden of Eden has all life pleasantly revolved around working purely for mankind and the praying mantis is definitely a New Testament kind of creature.  Its instinct is to kill and eat (not necessarily in that order) anything from bees to grasshoppers to butterflies and it doesn’t matter if the gardener would prefer the later to stick around (uneaten) for pollination purposes.  Scattered butterfly wings under your flowers is a good sign of a fat mantis above.

praying mantis

The guilty party lurking amongst the flowers of a chrysanthemum.

The chrysanthemums are only second party to the carnage.  It’s not their fault they’re so attractive right now right as the Monarchs are moving through.

seedling chrysanthemum

Some seedling chrysanthemums from a few weeks ago.  

I couldn’t care less about chrysanthemums in April, but now as everything else is calling it quits I wish I had an entire border of them.  I bet I say that every fall but your guess is as good as mine as to if it will ever happen.  So far the one thing I have managed to get done is collect, and grow (and kill) quite a few different mums and fortunately manage to have a few nice ones left to flower each fall.

chrysanthemum centerpiece

Chrysanthemum ‘Centerpiece’.  Perfectly hardy for me and an interesting flower form, but she always insists on starting the season in August, way before I’m ready to look at mums.

What I really want is some of the big “football” types, ideally the obscenely large, overfussed, and overfertilized types which show up in the better greenhouse displays at this time of year.  There’s about a zero percent chance of that happening but it doesn’t stop me from hoping that someday, something close to a miracle will take place, and one of my larger flowered types will do the impossible.  For now I’m just happy I found (mailordered from Mums of Minnesota) a few ‘footballs’ hardy enough to overwinter here without me jumping through hoops… or even just jumping anywhere… I’m still feeling seasonally lazy.

football mums

A few football mums which survived two months of potbound abuse and then a way too late planting.  I like them all but the pale yellow ‘Mellow Moon’ at center is my favorite.

Although I’ve been ordering and labeling and trying to keep mum names straight, I’m much less snobby about the chrysanthemums than other plants such as say… um… snowdrops.  My barren soil seems to make an excellent seedbed for mums and I try not to rip them all out during those frantic days of May.

seedling chrysanthemum

I planted ‘Dolliette’, the smaller quilled flower in the back, but the others including the pink are just surprise seedlings which popped up around her.

I welcome the seedlings, I welcome the fussier ones, but I also welcome any leftover autumn decorations found on our or the neighbor’s porch.  Most of these disposable greenhouse mums don’t make it through the winter, but a few surprise us with green life in the spring.

garden mums

These leftover porch decorations have been here for a while, surviving drought, disease, and neglect.  This spring I moved a few of my favorites next door to ease the monotony of mulch and I’m quite pleased with the result.

The mums and Monarchs may be stealing the show but the beautiful weather sure doesn’t hurt either.  Our gardener did make an effort last week to mow and trim and between that and the greening lawn I think he may eventually snap out of his autumn doldrums, but when temperatures are so comfortable and the lighting is so relaxed I don’t see much hope in the way of any major garden projects being started.

autumn flower border

The front border with some nice autumnal light.  The brown amaranthus dead center really does detract from the view, but….

I’m fine with enjoying the weekend while the weather is still on our side.  There’s always next week to start fall cleanup and if it doesn’t happen…. maybe the winter winds might do just fine on their own.  As long as I dig up the dahlias and cannas before December, that’s the kind of timetable I have in mind.  Have a great weekend!

Those boring chrysanthemums again.

It’s a rainy and dark October afternoon and you need a light on inside to do just about everything except nap.  This wasn’t my plan but then dark skies and October thunderstorms aren’t easy to plan for in general.  Better to just get on the computer and look at a few photos from earlier in the month, and it seems like all the earlier photos center on those most under appreciated of autumn flowers, the chrysanthemums.

chrysanthemum seedling

A nice seedling of one of the cushion mums.  Not much form or grace to it but the cantalopy orange with just a tint of pink looks good in the failed beds of the vegetable garden. 

I happen to like chrysanthemums.  More so now than in March but even if it’s a seasonal love I think they deserve more respect than that of a disposable pot of color which usually ends up in the trash on the weekend after Thanksgiving.  They’ve earned it after all, 600+ years of cultivation in Eastern Asia with a reputation for happiness and royalty shouldn’t just fade away the minute Walmart offers them at 3 for $10.  Take a look here at the National Chrysanthemum Society’s webpage for a brief overview of their history.

chrysanthemum centerpiece

Chrysanthemum ‘Centerpiece’ on the left with a similar looking seedling to the right.  Just a little bit of difference separates the two but I bet a chrysanthemum breeder would twitch at the inferiority of the other. 

I would guess if there’s one single thing which defeats the Chrysanthemum’s reputation it’s the lack of hardiness of all those late season purchases.  Gardening amateurs and experts alike often wonder why their attempts at overwintering these perennials routinely fail and why they’re left with a dead plant come springtime, and to keep my story short (and match my limited attention span), it’s because they just aren’t hardy.  They were bred for color and shape and reliable bloom and overwintering ease just didn’t factor in.

chrysanthemum seedling

A butterscotch colored seedling… or is it pumpkin colored… either way it’s a nice dose of color.

I suppose this all brings me to the point of this post.  I’ve been ‘dabbling’ in the hardier chrysanthemum sorts, the kinds which look great, grow without a care, and overwinter without a problem, and I’ve found it’s easier than you’d think.  As an added bonus they seem to like my poor soils and frequent droughts, and the bare patches of my beds will usually sprout a few mystery seedlings each spring to keep me guessing as to what surprises are coming along each fall.  A few online sources offer hardier types but I’ve been getting most of mine through Faribault Growers and their Mums of Minnesota offerings.

chrysanthemum Bristol white

Chrysanthemum ‘Bristol white’ in front (not a favorite since hard freezes will brown the tender centers) with a few interesting seedlings behind.

The mums I’ve been getting have had little trouble with winters here (z6a) but every now and then give up due to frost heaving or a late spring freeze (about half my plants unexpectedly died this year when an arctic front rolled through in late March after growth had started…).  They’re still not as surefire hardy as the Korean mum types (developed using the hardily named Chrysanthemum sibiricum) but they’re shorter and bushier and have more of a variety of flower colors and forms and it’s just what I need to distract me from the changing leaf colors and dying annuals of autumn.

chrysanthemum seedling

Another seedling.  The singles seem to be more popular with the pollinators, I’m just impressed that these survived a summer of neglect and drought and poor soil here at the base of a yew hedge.

I believe one of the more popular Mums of Minnesota introductions have been the Mammoth mum series.  They’re spreading, hardy perennials and just massive mounds of color when in bloom, but for as much as it pains me to say I have to classify them as a little boring.  They do great next door in my MIL’s mulch beds (which honestly are even more boring without the mums), but for as far as a plant to get excited about…. they’re not.  Luckily they know a little trick, and that’s their promiscuous selfsowing and all the little surprises they leave in the monotonous spread of shredded wood mulch.

mammoth mum seedlings

Momma plant (‘Red Daisy’) fills the upper left of the view, her mongrel offspring fill in along the bottom and up the right.  As you can see they don’t come anywhere near to ‘true’ from seed and there are even a few well-doubled flowers showing up.

Next year I may try and find a spot to plant out a bunch of the seedlings and see what greatness they amount to but I warn you not to hold your breath on that one.  It’s hard to get excited about mum in April and even harder to find enough open spots to fill with something that doesn’t pay off until October.

chrysanthemum mellow moon

This might be my favorite.  Chrysanthemum ‘mellow moon’ has these large, softly colored flowers which make great cut flowers but as you can see the clump’s been invaded by an odd yet attractive pink daisy seedling.  Hopefully next spring I can separate them out since I don’t want to crowd out the moon. 

chrysanthemum seedling

Another seedling, this one a complete dwarf.  I wonder how better soil conditions will change this plant, since this dry part of the bed is far better suited to cacti.

The whole mum clan seems pretty easy from seed and it’s always fun to see what shows up.  My last few photos are of a seedling which came from the HPS seed exchange and although they’re nothing like their ‘Innocence’ parent (a pale pink single which blushes pink with age) they’re indestructible through winter cold and summer drought.  Their only flaw is either the need for staking, or a harsh chop back in early July to control floppiness.

chrysanthemum innocence

A seedling of chrysanthemum ‘Innocence’

If you noticed the previous picture has about half a dozen ailanthus webworm moths wandering the flowers.  It’s an oddly colored little thing and I was hoping for something rarer and possibly native when I first spotted them… but as it is with most insects around here, if there are more than enough, chances are it’s not native.

ailanthus moth

Ailanthus webworm moth (Atteva aurea).  A unique look in my opinion.

I’ll leave you with another one of the large flowered mums which seems quite content in my less than ideal garden conditions.  I had taken at least two or three pictures before I realized the flower was looking back at me.

chrysanthemum gold country

Chrysanthemum ‘Gold Country’ with someone else who might be interested in pollinating moths and such. 

Hope you had a great weekend, gloomy rain or not, and hopefully there’s a spell of nice planting weather coming up so I can finish up all the unfinished gardening work of 2016… or not.  There will be plenty of time for gardening ambition in February 🙂

Goodbye 2015

All the random wandering around the garden with camera in hand have surely raised an eyebrow or two in my neighborhood and I’m sure neighbors question how I can focus on so many things without stopping for even one selfie.  For the last month though I wonder if anyone has noticed how normal things have been?  For whatever reason I’ve been just fine looking and not photographing and as a result there’s next to no record of October to blog about.  So it’s been quiet around here.  Lets see if we can change that, and let’s see if the last of the chrysanthemums will do the trick!

chrysanthemums

A mix of winter hardy chrysanthemums blooming in the garden this month. I have their names somewhere but that’s a job for next spring’s transplanting, when I’m sure I’ll be able to tell one dried stem from the next… (although I do know ‘Dolliette’ is the bicolor in the center)

The last few years have seen an unexpected interest in one of the least interesting plants I grow.  Pots of disposable mums fill every grocery and DYI store and farmstand at this time of year and the rounded blobs of color shouldn’t really do anything for my gardening passion…. but they do, and I’m not really sure where this came from.  As usual I blame the internet.

hardy mums

A weather weary white chrysanthemum next to a few reds. Between fresh and faded flowers you wouldn’t guess all five of the oranges and red flowers come from the same plant.

It started innocently enough with trying to overwinter a few of the seasonal color pots which we came across at various nurseries and farmstands, and it grew from there.  I wanted to give something more reliable (and interesting) a try and found Mums of Minnesota and their University of Minnesota introductions.  If it grows in Minnesota it should work here, right?

chrysanthemum in the garden

Chrysanthemums taking over the vegetable garden.

Besides spending the last couple years adding named mums to the garden I also grew on a few seedlings.  It’s surprising how nice a mum you can get from a few old seedheads, and they’re fast and easy!

chrysanthemum from seed

A few chrysanthemum from seed, early and late bloomers, tall and short.

So far they’ve been overwintering well with no effort on my part, but some are far hardier than others.  One of the hardiest are the seedlings of ‘Innocence’ which I grew from HPS seed exchange seeds.  They do need trimming in July to control height (or staking… if you’re into that kind of stuff) but otherwise they’re carefree.

chrysanthemum innocence

Seedling of chrysanthemum ‘innocence’. Most are pink and white but this year I found my first “ugly” seedling, a small orange which you can see at the lower right of this photo. It’s already found a place on the compost pile.

Some of the odd petal forms even show up in the seedlings.  I like this unusual mix of orange with just a touch of pink on this spoon shaped petal.  We’ll see how this one looks next year with a little more room.

chrysanthemum from seed

An interesting self-sown chrysanthemum seedling.

Besides loving the surprises of new seedlings I’ve also become smitten by the fat football types.  I was surprised by their hardiness last year and of course had to add a few more this spring, and even though they were rudely crammed into the edges of the vegetable garden they’ve still put on a halfway decent show.

football chrysanthemums

A few football chrysanthemums in the vegetable garden.

This is the time of year when preparations begin for next year, and although a harsh, early freeze put an end to much of the garden’s chrysanthemum show I’m still excited about these newest additions and am already looking forward to next season.  According to the grower’s website some of these will put out 5+ inch blooms if properly cared for and disbudded, and even though this also means staking I might just give it a try next year.  A couple potfuls of big football mums might be just the thing our front porch needs 🙂

In a Vase on Monday-Mumday

Congratulations are in order for Cathy at Rambling in the Garden for reaching the one year milestone of her weekly “In a Vase on Monday” meme.  Each week for the last 52 she’s been encouraging people to fill a vase with whatever strikes their fancy in the garden or in the local meadows and woods.  I’m always amazed by the creativity and depth of the creations, and although my own contributions never manage to get outside the ‘pluck and plunk’ category they’re always well received and the whole process is fun.  This week I’m joining in again and just in time too.  The last of the autumn flowers are limping into winter, and the weather forecast doesn’t look good for them this weekend.

late fall cut flowers from the garden

The last of the chrysanthemums.

Three of the latest chrysanthemums are still hanging on; an unknown white which has been blushed pink by the cold nights, the spooned frosty violet flowers of “Carousel”, and the neat pink pom-poms of a self seeded volunteer.  It’s nice to still having some flowers out there even after the trees have lost their leaves and most other perennials have died back.

chrysanthemum carousel

Chrysanthemum “Carousel”

There’s nothing fancy about the vase, again it’s just my favorite flowers in a simple clear glass.

self seeded chrysanthemum

Score another victory for laziness. A couple years ago I missed weeding out some self seeded chrysanthemums. This small pink was my reward.

This might be the last flower filled vase of my gardening year, but it’s the first for Cathy’s 2014/15 season.  Congratulations!

In a vase on Monday: End of the road

This is actually an ‘In the Vase on Sunday’.  With a freeze forecast for Sunday night I wanted to get out there and save the last bits of summer for just a few more days (a vase full of frost blackened flowers wouldn’t be as welcome on the dinner table).  Zinnias, dahlias, and chrysanthemums fill (some would say overfill) this week’s vase.

dahlias and zinnias cut flowers fall

The late afternoon light and cool nighttime temperatures of fall really bring a glow to the zinnias and dahlias.

The dahlias are still the backbone of this arrangement.  It’s been flowering for months, and even with a healthy wash of mildew over its leaves the flowers just keep on coming.  Red zinnias and dark pink daisy chrysanthemums fill in between, and a few seed heads of panicum and tufts of papyrus reed lighten up the mix.  I thought I’d add some “bright lights” swiss chard for the lusty leaves, but it’s the colored stalks which really stand out.  Maybe I’ll just include them for the stems alone next time!

dahlias and zinnias cut flowers fall

This arrangement is fresh and bright enough to carry an August picnic table, if it weren’t for the chrysanthemums you wouldn’t even know it was fall.

I spent the rest of the afternoon lugging pots into the garage and taking coleus cuttings.  Although a few of the hardier pots stayed out overnight (geraniums, oleander, dracaena), the rest have begun their six month imprisonment in the dungeon.  I won’t water them, they’ll look terrible, but hopefully they’ll go somewhat dormant rather than keep trying to grow and as a result die.

dahlias and zinnias cut flowers fall

Inside the house the colors go well with the Halloween and harvest decorations. A few little pumpkins would look great alongside the vase but the kids insist they stay on the porch  🙂

Our freeze didn’t amount to any more than a frozen windshield and a few singed coleus, but it’s good to have much of the sheltering of plants done.  Now all I have to do is reorganize them enough to fit a car in there too!

Looking at the long range forecast there’s a strong possibility next Monday will also host a vase full of flowers (chrysanthemums I hope!), so it will be nice to join in on the Monday vase meme a few more times before snow flies.  If you’d like to join in or take a peek at what others are up to, drop by Cathy at Rambling in the Garden and take a look.  Each Monday I’m surprised at what people put together!

End of Summer for the (not quite)Tropical Bed

Today surprised me with a completely free afternoon.  There was plenty I should have done, but nothing I had to do, so I spent all afternoon in the garden.  I actually worked too!  Usually when it’s dry and it’s warm I tend to just sit around, but the grass was due for a cutting and one thing lead to another and before I knew it I was sore and sweaty and satisfied.  The following pictures have little to do with anything that got done, but they’re more interesting than edged lawn and mulched beds!

heptacodium blooming

At the very end of the former tropical garden the heptacodium is actually looking good for once with a decent shape and nice blooms.

The sunflowers which took over the tropical bed are looking a little worse for wear but I’ll leave them till spring since they’re visited daily by several families of goldfinches and other songbirds.  Dahlias, cannas and now mums are picking up the slack, and if I get just the right angle without the dying sunflowers everything still looks fresh and lush.

mammoth mums

At the top end of the tropical bed this clump of ‘mammoth mums’ adds to the already-too-much-color theme. L-R the mums are bronze, pink, coral, red, and yellow quill. They’re colorful and great growers, but nothing exciting.

I broke down and ran the sprinkler out front again.  The grass was curling up and I can’t deal with brown lawn in September.  I’m letting the vegetables dry up but the lawn and perennials out front need to stay green for a little while longer or it will all be too depressing.  I also watered some in the back, the tropical beds are so dry most of the water just runs off, but I hope it’s enough for a few of the surviving treasures.

pink salvia splendens

I would call this one of 2014’s treasures. It’s a pink salvia splendens grown from seed. The only one to sprout and the first one I’ve grown that didn’t turn out to be another red when it bloomed. I have my fingers crossed for seed!

One of the happiest finds of the day (and one that only a gardener could even come close to understanding) was that I found where a neighbor’s been dumping lawn clippings in the woods.  I lugged back about four wheelbarrows full of clippings and spread them out around the bed I’m slowly reclaiming from bellflower and other weeds.  This should go a long way in bringing in the earthworms and smothering the last sprouts, and my fingers are crossed that this same neighbor will also dump nicely shredded autumn leaves in the same spot.  What a bonanza that would be 🙂

red zinnias with ninebark

Red zinnias are bright enough to distract you from the other tired perennials and vigorous weeds. This area is just past the tropical bed and I cling to the hope that someday it will be a red garden. So far these zinnias are the only plant which has worked out -even though I almost quit the watering this week!

With all the new mulch and (I hope) smothered weeds I feel like for once things are almost under control in the garden.  I still hope there will be at least one more nice load of grass clippings to feed  the tropical border but the fact that there are no four foot weeds is a first here for this time of year.  Now if we could just get some rain then maybe I could get some transplanting started!

sun sugar tomatoes

The tomatoes are one thing that did get away from me. I froze a bunch of nicely prepared San Marzanos last week, but these “Sun Sugar” tomatoes are too much of a good thing. They look nice though.

While taking the tomato picture I was surprised to find a cicada clinging to the trellis.  I love cicadas and this closeup was a treat for someone who usually only hears them.

cicada

cicada

With all these beds under control the smart thing would be to regroup….. but Santa Rosa Gardens has a great fall sale (plus 10% more off with the code FALL10), I want to place a Lily Garden order for lilies, there are a few shrubs which are tempting me at Lazy S’s Farms, and my favorite local nursery has an open house (and sales I’m sure) this Saturday.  Plus I have a snowdrop order to pay.  My checkbook is saying no but I keep disagreeing with it. Oh what to do, what to do…..

Tis the season for orange

The view from the back deck is changing.  As fall color moves down from the mountains into our valley, the woods and weedy edges of the yard are losing the tired green of a droughty fall and going gold.fall color from the deck

Dry soil and warm night temperatures don’t make for good fall color but there’s still plenty to go around, and inspired by this last hurrah I trudged out to my trusty favorite nursery, Perennial Point, and cracked open the wallet for a mum, ‘redbor’ kale and some pansies.  I’ve been trying to stick to a budget, and mums and pansies that may or may not survive the winter don’t fit well into the spending plan.  Still it’s always nice to bring home even a small patch of instant color.fall porch color

The budget is helped immensely by home-grown pumpkins and cornstalks, and a couple butternut squash fit in perfectly until I draft them for soup duty.  The pansies in orange and purple are not what I’d pick in spring, but seemed a perfect fall theme. autumn porch decorationsOrange is definitely the color of the season, and now that the front stoop has been re-decorated (by someone over the age of seven) I’m starting to notice orange all over the place.

The last of the Tropicana cannas are managing to get in a couple more blooms before frost cuts them down (any day now)tropicana canna with ninebark

These seed grown marigolds (I believe Sophia mix… although they don’t look too mixed) did well in spite of neglect, soccer balls, and drought, and I’m almost a little nervous about saying I really like them.  Orange marigolds…. a color and plant frequently looked down upon by more refined gardeners…. perfect for my yard!  orange fall marigolds

Another looked-down-upon plant which I love is ‘Tiger Eyes” sumac.  The wild version of staghorn sumac (Rhus typhina) provides most of the color in the backyard but I try to keep those weeds back a ways.  Here in the front, the slightly more refined chartreuse foliage of ‘Tiger Eyes’ is almost acceptable.  I can easily ignore its suckering ways when it glows like this.sumac 'tiger eyes' fall color

Here’s another one poking up by the house.  Even I think it may be a little too wild for a foundation planting, but until something better comes along the sumac stays. It actually looks good right now with the blues of the spruce, catmint and fescue grass.  Between that and the rusty chrysanthemums and orange amaranthus it almost looks like I planned it this way.  If anyone asks I’ll say I did 😉  orange mums with blue foliage

The rust colored mums stick with todays orange theme but it’s the purple ones I like best.  There’s a little fading in the blooms to give some depth and even without pinching they keep to a low mound.  I’m really appreciating the chrysanthemums in general this year and spring may bring some new additions.  How can I not like a plant which never got a drop of watering or fertilizer and still puts on a perfect show?purple and orange mums

I’ll have to enjoy these last splashes of color as fall starts to fade.  We’re on borrowed time as long as the frost stays up in the mountains, but our days are numbered.  This weekend the smart gardener will bring his tender plants indoors.  The other gardener will remember his plants just before bedtime and regret his procrastination as he fumbles with muddy plants, a flashlight, and cold fingers in the dark.