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!

A good foundation

Normally pictures of the front foundation border are avoided.  This area qualifies as one of my least favorite views probably because the plantings do little to set off or relate to the house.  They’re kind of a mess come to think of it, but believe it or not they’ve come a long way <click here to see>.  Our visit starts with a stroll up the front walk past the welcome squirrel and edging by the ‘Tiger Eyes’ cutleaf sumac, which threatens to engulf all visitors.

tiger eyes cutleaf sumac

Which is too much?  The overwhelming yellow, the tacky lamp décor, or the too-red petunias?

The right side of the house is fronted by the porch, and in front of the porch is a pretty generic planting of evergreens and hostas.  They do a great job of being green and covering up the beds which house my favorite snowdrops and corydalis earlier in the year.

phlox and rudbeckia

Of course a rudbeckia would show up here as well.  This is one of the completely perennial and later blooming R. fulgens types, and I make an effort each spring of ripping it out only to have a few stray shoots  survive anyway.  btw, The pink of the phlox ‘Laura’ with the gold of the rudbeckia is one of my least favorite color combos.

The left side of the house is my problem bed.  I tried ironing out a few of its problems earlier this year but it still makes me raise an eyebrow each time I pass.  My first after-vacation task was to pull up all the massive crabgrass plants which were taking over, and while doing this I couldn’t help but wonder why I can’t show this same resolve against the inappropriately large sunflowers which sprout up each year (in my defense I did rip most out… but once they get past a certain size it just seems wrong to yank them).

weeding crabgrass

Weeding crabgrass in August.  What gardener doesn’t know this story?

If I could only get visitors to crawl around on their hands and knees I think the impression this bed makes would be infinitely improved.

gray and red in a mixed border

The low view: Larger evergreen would probably do a better job of connecting the house to these beds, but a couple agastache, a verbascum, stray sumac suckers and a bunch of other stuff are a lot more interesting 🙂

I like how the blue fescue is filling in along the edge, it goes well enough with everything and seems to be doing ok.  I wish it would do better, but I haven’t yet cracked the fescue code on what really makes it clump up and fill in.

pepper masquerade seedlings

For some reason peppers seemed like a good  candidate for a foundation planting this year.  Last summer I bought a single ‘Masquerade’ ornamental pepper and these are its seedlings.  The purple fruits should go to yellow then orange then red as they mature, but a few plants are starting out yellow, and I don’t know what they have planned. 

My unknown biennial eryngium turned out to be a perennial and is back for another show this summer.  If you can avoid the masses of wasps and bees the flowers attract it’s really a pleasant all summer cloud of blue-grey.

water wise plants

The mix of colors at this end of the border almost looks tasteful if you ignore the sunflowers peeking in on the right. 

Most of the plantings here are haphazard and either work or fail by luck, but the pairing of the blue fescue and pinkish ‘bon bon’ sedum was intentional.  I’m pleased with the contrast of the sedum coming up out of the fescue and it’s just what I was hoping for… as long as you overlook the sorta sparseness of the fescue.

sedum 'bon bon' with blue fescue

Sedum ‘bon bon’ with blue fescue and iris pallida aureo-variegata.

Things which didn’t work out quite as well were the cobweb thistles which drowned in our rainy July and the variegated St. Augustine grass which looks just a little too weedy.  I know it’s me though since I’ve seen it growing awesomely elsewhere and as a result I’m considering digging it up and trying it elsewhere, like in a pot… maybe even scissor trimming it for a neat little pot o’lawn 🙂

variegated st Augustine grass

Variegated st Augustine grass, ‘Alabama sunset’ coleus, more sumac, and an up and coming cardoon seedling.

Now off to the backyard!  My fingers are crossed we can get around the whole house by September 😉