GBFD September – out with the old

Each month Christina at Creating my own Garden of the Hesperides asks us to focus on the foliage backdrop which fills any garden display.  Christina has a subtle blend of foliage form and foliage color in her (usually) warm, sunny, and windswept Italian paradise.  My garden is not so subtle, and the (usually) reliable rains and humidity give me a completely different plant palette to work with.  With frost only a few days away (anytime from early to mid October) I wanted to take a last look at the gaudy tropicals and annuals before they become a soggy frozen mess…. and then in with the new season!

coleus 'limon blush'

Coleus ‘Limon Blush’ with a few late season delphiniums and cane begonia.

This might be the first year I didn’t buy any new coleus.  I wonder if I’m moving out of that phase….

yellow sun coleus

An unidentified yellow “sun” coleus. In full sun it bleaches to a pale yellow, in shade it will stay a chartreuse color.

It wasn’t too long ago that I filled the late winter windowsills with pots of rooted coleus cuttings.  From October to March the snow refuges would sit in a glass of water, but in early March I’d pot them up and start the production line of clipping off even the smallest shoot for rooting.  By May and June I’d have dozens of plants for the garden.

rooted coleus cuttings

Rooted coleus cuttings in June

It’s easy enough, but there’s only so much room for them to grow on and if my interests take me elsewhere….

coleus 'Alabama sunset'

Coleus ‘Alabama sunset’ and a dark leaved (something with Lava in the name) coleus which have been with me since the old house (8 years ago?)

I’m sure I’ll save plenty again, they’re no fuss, tolerate drying out and add such bright color….. it just depresses me a little thinking about taking cuttings and ending the season.  But for a few more weeks the foliage will continue to do a good job of creating patches of brightness in the borders.


Without the aging sunflower stalks, the front foundation planting looks much neater. Coleus “Redhead” fits nicely into a color scheme which I’ll pretend was planted intentionally here, and mums and sedum ‘Autumn Joy’ echo the coleus and compliment the blue fescue.

I don’t know how this will go over, but I’m going to confess to being a coleus thief.  To the embarrassment and disgust of my wife I’ve been known to nip a cutting here and there when I linger too close to particularly nice municipal plantings.  I try to rationalize my way out of the theft by looking at the damage done by unwatched children and careless pedestrians, but I guess it’s theft nonetheless even if park employees have laughed at me for asking permission or have pulled off way more than I even wanted when aiding and abetting.  Just for the record I would never do this in a nursery!

yellow cutleaf coleus

I like to call this yellow cutleaf coleus “Entrance to Epcot”

There seems to be a heavy criminal theme to my posts lately.  I suppose that’s what happens when your workplace is closed for nearly a week as authorities mount a massive manhunt in the surrounding woods and residential areas.

coleus in pot

This coleus likes a little more shade than the others, although it can handle full sun too. I call it “Hershey Park”.

The subject of ownership of living things is a lot more than I want to get into in a foliage post, but I’ve seen plenty of tempers flare over the subject.  I hope my rare coleus clipping has never caused anything worse than additional branching of the plant, but I know the argument well which starts with “what if everyone did it…” and I know there are cases where nicked cuttings do cause damage.  I envy the people who live in such a simple black and white world.  I wonder if they return the piles of autumn leaves which blow into their yards each fall, or bring back the dead limbs which happen to fall over the fence.

rhus typhina 'tiger eyes'

The Virginia creeper and wild asters were ‘gifts’ from next door. I don’t think I’ll return them, they look nice here with the ‘tiger eyes’ sumac.

Next month will have a show of autumn colors and the coleus will be gone.  I’ll miss them but would never give up the changes in seasons.  Fortunately there will be plenty of perennials and shrubs to pick up the foliage-slack.

autumn color on Virginia creeper

The Virginia creeper was just starting to color on Saturday and this morning I see the color’s spread across the wall.

Some perennials which I’m looking forward to seeing change are my new-this-year heucheras.  The cooler nights are already bringing out new patterns on the leaves.

mixed heuchera planting

We will see who does the best in this mixed heuchera planting. The gaps are already widening as other plants (mainly primulas) die back or die out….

To round out the post, here’s the weedy iris bed which was the recipient of all that thick and rich (and smelly) lawn clipping mulch last week.  I’m going to try my best to plant nothing here until the weeds are under control…. except for a few daffodils and transplanted iris 🙂

Miscanthus sinensis 'Zebrinus'

Miscanthus sinensis ‘Zebrinus’ might be too tall a grass for here, but at 8 feet tall and several feet wide I’m not too keen on moving it. (plus I do like my tall plants!) -and notice the shop-vac. The gnats drive me nuts this time of year, and I get remarkable pleasure in sucking them out of the air with the vacuum!

Ok, moving along.  Here are the last bits of foliage which will be gone from the garden in another couple weeks.

alocasia "calidora"

Alocasia “calidora”… just when I was getting tired of lugging it in and out each spring it explodes into leafy greatness. This year I’ll just wheel it into the garage, stop watering, and clip off the dead leaves as they yellow.

…and another pot for the garage.  After suffering all winter and spring in their cramped clearance sale pots, this purple dracaena and fuzzy leaved succulent have finally found a home.  Hopefully they can handle each other’s watering requirements.

succulents and purple dracaena

I think the relief of actually being in a real pot has made this succulent happy enough to throw off a few blooms. I have the name somewhere, but love the foliage mix and bright flowers just as much without a name!

So that rounds out the end of summer foliage news.  Much is set to expire, but the colder weather should bring a whole new set of players.  If you can, take the time to visit Christina’s blog and check out what other bloggers around the world are finding in their own gardens.  Enjoy your Garden Blogger’s Foliage Day and have a great week!

Winding Down

The oddly warm weather continued today and I was in no mood to do anything constructive in the sweat-inducing humidity.  So I basically wasted the entire day.  In my defense it’s only natural to sit outside and sip a cold beverage on a day like this, but more so in August, not October.

I think the plants agree.  Most of these pictures were taken earlier in the week and it’s unsettling how quickly the dry soil, heat and cooler nights have things spiraling down into the little death of winter.  My warm weather friends on the deck such as the vinca and coleus look ok, but the cool nights are making them drop leaves and get all sad and brittle.deck plantings

colorful foliage on a pelargoniumThe ones that seem just as happy as in July are the blue fanflower (scaveola), rosemary, and the chartreuse leaved geranium (pelargonium).  Right now I’m imagining myself taking these into the garage to try and save something from frost.  The geranium is actually a survivor from last year and to look at it now you’d never imagine how close to death it was in March.

Overwintered coleus are another plant that somehow escapes death on a windowsill and then comes back just fine when the warm weather returns.  I usually plant a couple in the front bulb bed, and by summer’s end whatever’s not filled with hosta is overtaken by coleus.  Hopefully the dormant bulbs that sit underground are none the wiser.front bed with coleus

The ‘hot biscuits’ amaranthus which looms over the bed is probably not the best design move here, but I had a weakness for them this spring and their weedy looking stalks are scattered throughout the yard.  Plus for some reason this year’s baby tree frogs are also strangely fond of this plant.  I find more baby frogs on the amaranthus than anywhere else.

selfsown chrysanthemumI got lucky and one of the chrysanthemums on the stoop last fall must have seeded out.  This little dwarf couldn’t flower more if it tried, it looks more like someone dropped a bouquet while walking in instead of a poor commitment to weeding on my part.

I’m really pleased right now with the annuals and tropicals in the front bed.  The colors may not all go together but I just don’t get tired of looking at the mix of fresh flowers.  Unfortunately the hydrangea flowers have gone brown due to lack of water in the couple days since I took this picture, but the coleus and profusion zinnias carry on.mixed border with coleus

coleus cuttings in FebruaryIt’s hard to believe all these coleus owe their existence to a water filled mug on the windowsill.  Since I’ve added a few new ones this year I’m afraid I’ll have to sneak in a fourth mug this winter.  I only hope the boss doesn’t pick up on it, any houseplant that requires either dirt or water or risks bringing in bugs is in not on her preferred list.

The zinnias are putting on a last stand against the shorter days.  This lavender used to be my least favorite color but the hot pink I usually prefer didn’t germinate well this spring,  so I’m left with these…. I don’t think either color would have had a chance of blending well with even more orange amaranthus.lavender zinnias

Most of the annuals will be lost when the first frost hits (probably in the next two weeks) but I’m having trouble letting go of my senna alata (candlestick bush) seedling.  This is one of two that germinated, and I love the oversized grayish foliage!  Unfortunately our growing season is just too short and I’m just too lazy to give it an earlier start.  So now I have to choose between a sure death by frost and possible death by my hand.

It’s so much easier to point the finger at winter. senna alata candlestick plant

I read somewhere that if frozen they may sprout again from the roots.  To me this means I may be able to get away with overwintering the root ball in the cold yet heated garage.  It may not work, but if it means I may start next year with a much larger plant I’m game!  So I think I know where this will end up going….

Am I the only one contemplating all the annuals I wish I could rescue from the inevitable?  Wiser gardeners have probably learned the lesson years ago, but every fall I can’t help but try and save a little of the summer gone by.