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 10.04.16

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.

Please don’t mention frost

The last few days have been cold, rainy, and damp.  Combine that with reports from the north of snow flurries and frost and I guess it’s time to face reality…. eventually.  Let’s make one more visit to the tropical garden while I sit indoors waiting for things to dry out.

peach salvia annaul planting

Seedlings of this peachy-pink salvia splendens have finally come into their own along with the grasses.   A garden which ends in a crescendo rather than sputtering out is my kind of garden!

Although autumn is never welcome around here I am grateful for the rain and the possibility of seeing green grass again.  I did break down and water the front around the middle of last month but my brief sprinkle just provides life support and doesn’t bring on a lush flush of green.  A green lawn does seem to set things off so much better…

Abelmoschus Manihot dahlia happy single flame

Second year’s a charm for this Abelmoschus Manihot.  It’s an annual for me and doesn’t appreciate the dry poor soil of most of the garden.  Although the size and color of the blooms is perfect, it shamefully begins to close up by the time I get home from work. 

Actually a green lawn just means more mowing so I guess I’ll embrace the summertime tan, but being that the autumn rains have returned, something green to set off the soon to be falling red maple leaves would be nice.

miscanthus cabaret

Miscanthus ‘cabaret’ in the tropical garden.  This one becomes massive so I’ll need to take a spade to it next spring to keep the clump size reasonable. 

But cool plants don’t really need much to set them off anyway.  This year time under the growlights and a little stay on the heating mat have given the swan plant seedlings just the head start they needed.  Gomphocarpus physocarpus is the official name but the plant goes by several other names, all more colorful than that of ‘swan plant’.

Gomphocarpus physocarpus flowers milkweed

Gomphocarpus physocarpus used to be an African member of the milkweed genus (Asclepias) but somewhere along the line got booted out.  Monarch butterflies disagree though and still feed on the foliage, while the flowers show off the family resemblance.

The tall graceful willow-like plants are attractive enough in their own right, but the real draw for this plant are the interesting seedpods.  Pufferfish milkweed and balloon plant are more common names describing this feature.

swan plant family jewels

Pods forming on the six foot tall plants of the sawn milkweed.  They always draw attention.

In case you haven’t noticed, the pods seem to form in pairs and the puffiness is joined by a vegetative hairiness which leads to several other descriptive names.  Since Tammy over at Casa Mariposa already broke the ice with her sure-to-make-you-smile plant support post on “All the Wobbly Bits“, I’m going to introduce the male version here, which also needs support on occasion.  Family jewels plant, Bishop’s balls, and hairy balls plant are additional common names which more worldy and less discrete eyes have given to this plant.

Gomphocarpus physocarpus seed pod hairy balls

Quite a set of seed pods growing on Gomphocarpus physocarpus.  A pair like this would make any gardener proud, and you could sow your seed far and wide once they’re ripe and released.

I’ve seen swan milkweed listed as a cutflower, but I’m not sure what bouquet they could find their way into (outside of a bachelorette, or bachelor-bachelor party favor).  I think my best bet is to leave them out there swaying in the breeze and not bring them inside, least of all feature them in one of Cathy’s Vase on Monday posts!

dahlia in mixed perennial border

Dahlias in the front border.  I need to re-focus on dahlias next year and give them the care they need.  They’re not really a fend for themselves kind of plant!

I’ll leave you with a more respectable showing of my most reliable unknown dahlia.  It’s sandwiched into the rough and tumble of the front border but I feel the color goes perfectly with the aged seedheads of ‘Karl Foerster’.  I guess there are some good things about the end of summer and maybe even I can finally let go.

Stop it with the autumn talk

Many people enjoy and claim they welcome the coming of autumn.   I want to make it clear that I do not, and although the last few days have been a little too hot and dry for my taste, I would much prefer the relief of a summertime cloudburst rather than any farewell to summer eulogy.  So I guess what I want is just a few more days of denial before I’m forced to admit the season is breaking down.

hardy chrysanthemums

The tomatoes of summer are still going strong even with their new neighbors the fall chrysanthemums.

After a promising start to the summer August went dry and for the past forty days we’ve barely cracked the 1/4 inch mark for rainfall.  With high temperatures, thin soil, drying winds, and full sun the life was sucked out of a garden which had been almost carefree at the start of the summer.  With a nice rain today we’ll see how fast things bounce back.  My guess is it will be a much faster turnaround than the last two summers when things REALLY dried out to a crisp.

fall vegetable gardening

One patch of watered soil ready for fall planting. Hopefully cool weather will soon allow for a few broccoli and cauliflower transplants.

In spite of the heat a few things still look nice.  The tropical garden got a few minutes with the hose, and that seems to have been enough to keep it from death.  I love the colors right now with the purple verbena bonariensis, dark red dahlias, and peach colored salvia splendens filling the bed.

salvia splendens van houttei peach

A little orange from ‘Tropicanna’ canna goes a long way in brightening up the late summer salvia, verbena and dahlias.

With the grass dried up to a crispy beige the stronger reds, oranges, and purples really stand out.  I don’t think a bed full of lavenders, whites, and pale pinks would be as eye catching…. which I’m going to say is a good thing, since in this world of gray and tan I can use as much eye catching and hold-on-to-life color as I can get!

dahlia mathew alan

End of summer color from dahlia ‘Mathew Alan’.  As usual the dahlias could use some dead heading.

Even up front a little bold color is a nice thing.  The border along the house foundation has a few spots of color from the ‘Masquerade’ peppers I planted out this spring.  The true type has purple peppers changing to yellow, orange, and red while a few oddball plants started right off with pale yellow and are now going through the same sunset effect.

pepper masquerade

‘Masquerade’ peppers from seed with all the fescue clumps I divided up this spring.  I finally like this bed… but we’ll see how I can mess it up next year 🙂

Along the street is another story.  Even with a few emergency waterings things look end of summer tired.

dry perennial border

To water or not to water, that is the question.  Obviously I chose the latter, but the ‘Karl Forster’ feather reed grass, sedums, and perovskia are still holding on.

I did give the ‘Limelight’ hydrangea a little soaking, but a few water lovers such as the ‘Golden sunshine’ willow will need a good bit of water before they look anything close to happy again.

dry perennial border

I think this border will need a little trimming out of dead things once the rains soak in.  No big deal though, a little fall cleanup will carry it on through the next few months.

There are still a few bright spots.  Even in the harsh midday sun kniphofia ‘Ember Glow’ looks nice.  It could be a little taller but the size actually works well with the peppers and coleus (please ignore the dead rudbeckias and dying zinnias).

kniphofia

Red hot poker (Kniphofia) with peppers and a surprisingly sun and drought resistant coleus.  I wasn’t sure if the poker would ever bloom this year but I guess it’s a later cultivar. 

Until the garden bounces back the best thing to do is spend more time in the shade, seated with cold beverage in hand.  I can ignore the weeds and dead lawn quite successfully on the back deck.

summer planters on the deck

This is a late summer view, not autumn.  I’ll keep that delusion up until the first frosts threaten!

Even with a good soaking the lawnmower will still likely be on vacation for another week or two.  I’m ok with that.  I hope the soil takes in the rain, the plants come back, and I can finally use something other than a pickaxe to dig a hole.  Maybe then I’ll start thinking about things like fall while I’m taking care of a little late summer transplanting and bulb planting 🙂

Spare the rod

My nemesis the sunflower.

bird seed sunflowers

Self sown sunflowers from birdseed backed up by variegated giant reed grass (Arundo donax ‘gold chain’).

Harmless and full of promise is how they appear in the spring, now two months later they’re acting more like closing time at the bar.  Sloppy drunks hang all over one another, sprawl across the beds, and smother the other sober little plants which have yet to grow.  If it weren’t for their summertime good looks and the goldfinches they pull in I would compost them all!

sunflower bloom birdseed

Future birdfood.

It doesn’t take many sunflower seedlings to overtake a bed and between the extra mulching and copious rainfall they’ve had everything they needed to explode.  It’s like a lovely tsunami of sun looming over the plantings.

flower border sunflowers

The sunflowers do look pretty with the purple verbena bonariensis, striped leaves of ‘tropicanna’ canna, and the first of the peach colored salvia splendens.

From the top of the bed it still looks pretty but only after I cut down two of the sunflower trees and chopped the rest back in order to clear the pool path again.

tropicals with annuals border

The tropical border looking colorful, but as usual not very tropical.

The inner depths of the tropical bed are beyond reach, I’ll have to wait for frost before I can get in there again.  Fortunately it’s well mulched and doesn’t need much of anything for most of the summer, so as long as the cannas and reed grass don’t get completely swamped I guess I can turn the other cheek and let chaos rule.

arundo donax gold chain with sunflowers

There’s a giant thistle in there as well, I see a steady trail of goldfinches flying in and out feasting on the seed.

Really.  Next year will be the year when this whole mess gets back under control.  The sunflowers will have to go as well as the chrysanthemums which never did get moved like they were supposed to.  In spite of the overwhelming agricultural look of the sunflowers (and I have to admit I really love the show right now) there are a few tropical highlights which have flickered on.  The cannas may not be as big as in years past, but I would never go without them.

healthy canna tropicana

Healthy ‘Tropicanna’ canna leaves in a sea of green with only a touch of gold.

They’ve still got a good two months of growing before frost threatens and hopefully everything will still have plenty of time to fill in.  While other parts of the garden might be taking on a weary look this time of year, these tropicals are just going from good to better, and it’s not just the cannas.  The dahlias are beginning to come on as well.  The flowers are what I’m waiting for, but on a few the foliage show is even better.

dahlia happy single flame

Dahlia ‘happy single flame’ with the dark purple spires of ‘Lighthouse purple’ salvia behind.  I wish those salvia were just a tiny bit taller, right now this low planting looks closer to Victorian bedding than tropicalismo!

Although the foliage is fantastic, I wish I could say the same for the blooms of dahlia ‘happy single flame’.  They  don’t last long and never really make the ‘wow’ impression most of the other dahlias do.  The color is great though and I’ll try to hold on to this one for another year or two, even as the others bloom their heads off in comparison.

dahlia happy single flame

Peak bloom on dahlia ‘happy single flame’.

One plant which I had high hopes for but is now slightly underwhelming is the Brazilian button.  New this year from the HPS Mid Atlantic seed exchange, the buttons are nice enough but there could be more flowering at one time and most importantly have a color less like the verbena which I already have filling in all over.  You just don’t notice them in the mix.

Centratherum punctatum Brazilian button

Brazilian button (Centratherum punctatum)

But I’m being too negative.  The sunflowers are awesome and the patch is full of flowery interest, and whenever I get the chance I sit (with a drink preferably) and watch the comings and goings of the goldfinches, hummingbirds, and bees.

pink salvia splendens

The pink salvia splendens are only now starting to flower having spent most of the summer putting on weight.  The large leafy bushes should put on a great show for me and the hummingbirds.

I’m sure there will be more to come from the tropical garden, and if I can only keep a firm hand next year it might even look tropical-ish as well.  Right now I’m just happy enough it’s mulched and weeded from the topside all the way down to the low end.  Last year the low end was pathetic with its drought crisped annuals and struggling heucheras (is that the correct plural for heuchera?)  This year it’s much improved and I can see this becoming a nice transition to the pond garden…. once I get a non-leaky pond in!

panicum northwind in garden

Next year the new divisions will fill in and there should be a wall of panicum ‘northwind’  separating the tropics on the left from the heucheras and pond garden on the right.  

In the photo above you can barely make out the blue mist of Browallia Americana hovering above the hosta.  It’s an easy enough annual (native to Central and South America and across the Caribbean isles) and each year I like it’s nearly true-blue flowers even more.  Too bad I can’t get the camera to agree on the color, it always washes it out to a violet.

browallia americana

Browallia americana

So summer is still in full swing here, and for someone who prefers to ignore the calendar there’s not even a hint of the season winding down yet.  I like this sense of denial and will hang on to it for as long as I can…. but if pushed I will admit to thinking about next year already.  Ok, so I don’t even need a push.  I stumbled upon a summer sale at the nursery and took home a cool little banana plant.  It’s been a couple years since my banana growing days but I can feel the itch again and who knows what this means for next year’s plantings 🙂

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…..