Tuesday View: The Front Border 9.26.17

It’s time once again to check in with Cathy at Words and Herbs for the Tuesday view.  The word this week is hot, and plants are wilting under the dry sun as temperatures rise to 90F (32C) and above for the last few days.  This would have been welcome in August, and even tolerated earlier in September, but now it’s just tiresome.

front border

Dry heat at this time of year saps all my enthusiasm.  Plants are wilting, the lawn is browning, and even though there are likely another three or so weeks to go until frost, I’m ready to let it all go.

The plants seem ready to let it go as well.  The summer crowd is moving on and the flowers and grasses of autumn are doing their best to pull together for a finale.

Korean feather reed

Korean feather reed grass (Calamagrostis brachytricha) looks great with the fading hydrangea flowers but I find this grass too invasive to keep.  Even if I cut the seedheads there will still be some seedlings next spring… some of which I always end up leaving…

Even as the perennials fade, the half-hardy cannas and verbena bonariensis are still putting on a decent show.  I should really water a little, it would be the least I could do for them after all their hard work this year.

kochia burning bush

The canna ‘cannova rose’ would probably be flowering more if I deadheaded, but… they still look fine.  Here the burning bush (Kochia) is finally doing its thing for a few days before drying up in the heat.

There is one surprise though.  Last fall I bought a ‘hardy’ agapanthus which I didn’t dare leave outside.  It overwintered dormant on a cold windowsill and then went into the bed in May.  I can’t believe my small plant has flowered!

agapanthus blue yonder

Agapanthus ‘blue yonder’ is supposedly hardy from zone 5-10.  I know people have had success in 5, but I’m still not convinced it will make it for me.  I’ll have to let you know next April.

The other surprise has been the butterfly hordes which have come to the garden this past week.  Dozens of painted ladies showed up a few days ago and it seems like other butterflies are showing up as well.  Maybe it’s a migration or maybe it’s just the weather drying up the surrounding and forcing them to move on for their nectar.  Either way it’s exciting to see all the butterflies surround you as they lift up off the flowers as you pass by.

painted lady butterfly

Painted lady butterfly on the Verbena bonariensis.  They’re all over, but not all are as photogenic as this one.

I’m still waiting for more Monarchs though.  Today there were maybe a half dozen moving through but I’ve heard reports of many more North of here.  Not too long ago we had a fall like that, with dozens floating through the air, but I don’t want to get my hopes up too much and I’m just glad to see the ones we’re getting.

migrating monarch butterflies

Monarchs love the verbena as well, and their orange and black wings look great with the lavender-purple.

So maybe this dry heat is good for something after all.  Maybe it’s the perfect weather for butterflies on the move and will make their migration even more successful.  I’ll tell myself that as I stand in the heat with a water hose, cursing the stupid gnats and dreaming of snowdrops.  Is it too soon for that?

Tuesday View: The Tropics 10.25.16

It’s a cold and breezy Tuesday this week, with a wind that makes you feel like change is a’comin to this end of Pennsylvania.  The forecast tonight is a dip below freezing and there’s a good chance this will be the last week a colorful and lush view shows up in Cathy’s weekly meme.  There are still a few weeks left to the season, but after frost hits the view will be decidedly less colorful.

tuesday view tropical plants

A gloomy, gray Tuesday afternoon.  The last of the autumn color has worked its way down the mountains and into the garden and things are entirely autumnal.  The wheelbarrow is covering the flowering thistle,  I’m hoping to get a few ripe seeds before it freezes.

Whether or not this turns out to be our killing frost remains to be seen, but with the cold wind blowing I’m completely indifferent.  Sunday was spent clearing the rest of the garden of everything I wanted to save, so now it’s just a matter of letting nature run its course.  Snow is predicted for Thursday so I guess I’m officially giving up 🙂

tropical annuals

One last view.  The tropics have been good to me this year.

So next week will likely show some serious changes.  Once frost hits I like to get things out of the way and cleaned up fast so that I can put down some mulch before winter hits.  Any unmulched areas will likely sprout a carpet of winter weeds such as hairy bittercress and I’d rather not start next season with that kind of a mess on my hands.  Wish me luck.

After you wish me luck please consider giving Cathy at Words and Herbs a visit to see how autumn is progressing through other gardens in other parts of the world.  It’s always a great visit and a fun way to keep up over the season.  Have a great week!

Tuesday View: The Tropics 10.11.16

Tuesday is here and again I’m happy to join up with Cathy at Words and Herbs for the view.  Things still look warm, but the lows last night seem to have brought in the tiniest bit of frost which singed a few tomato leaves here and there in the vegetable garden.  We’re living on borrowed time!

tuesday view tropical plants

Still a tropical view.  The one kochia has gone brown, but the flowers and foliage of nearly everything else is all autumn abundance 🙂

I wish I had more to say but I’ve been distracted by the chrysanthemums and fall bulbs and time consuming things such as fall baseball and gymnastics.  I’ve also had a bulb buying relapse and in a weak moment ordered many more snowdrops than I could possibly need.  That and tulips… even though I recently said I wouldn’t buy any new ones this year.

My suspicion is that I’m the only one concerned about this latest purchase, but now that I think about it further (since I have absolutely no idea where to place these latest purchases), I wonder how the tropical border would look with a large swath of tulips and a small throw blanket of snowdrops.  I bet it wouldn’t look half bad!

Have a great week 🙂

Tuesday View: The Tropics 09.27.16

Of course it’s late, and of course I’ve left this to the last minute, but I’d really like to join in with Cathy at Words and Herbs and get my Tuesday view up on time.  I can’t be a day late with everything 🙂

tuesday view tropical plants

The last Tuesday view of September

Cathy’s view has hints of autumn this week and I believe the same is happening here.  The last two nights have been into the chilly zone, and friends North of here have had their first frosts.  In the mountains, the maples are beginning to show color this week and if I can hope for anything it’s that there will be for another two or three weeks before the first frost hits here.  It’s been a good run though, and I really can’t complain.

canna x ehemanii

My little Canna x ehemanii surprised me with a bloom this summer, hopefully I can overwinter it and have twice as big a plant next year.

Color is at a peak this week and most everything is doing its best to flower and seed out before the final axe of winter falls.  It’s a tropical garden after all, and there’s no long kiss goodnight.  The first frost means it’s over.

roses and dahlias

My unknown peachy dahlia with ‘Black Forest’ rose, ‘fireworks’ gomphrena, and peach colored salvia splendens.  Even though the light wasn’t too good for this photo the colors still just explode. 

So I’ll just keep my fingers crossed and enjoy each day.  Winter is too long to not soak up every last minute of summer (and this borrowed summer) while we still can.  Have a great week!

Thursday’s Feature: Colchicums!

As one considers the winding down of summer and the general decay of the growing season… as I suppose one should on this first day of autumn… there do seem to be a few positive notes which make the changing of the seasons more bearable.  While other things die or flee in response to cooler temperatures and weakened sunshine, a few plants spring to life, and if you count yourself among the optimists you could almost consider this to be the start of a new growing season with flushes of new foliage for the cooler weather, healthy root growth and spring buds forming below ground, and the first of the autumn flowers.  “Good for you” I say since I am not a lover of fall and its frosty death, but even I will admit colchicums make it easier to cope, and the fresh blooms at this time of year make it all seem a little less final.

With those cheery thoughts in mind I’m again joining Kimberley at Cosmos and Cleome for her Thursday Feature, and the flowers of the autumn crocus or naked ladies (Colchicums) are what stand out in my garden this week.

colchicum nancy lindsay

A reliable Colchicum with smaller flowers and colored flower stems, Colchicum ‘Nancy Lindsay’ would be on the short list of favorites.

As a good blogger I should take this opportunity to discuss the various details of researched growing conditions and also cover the finer points of colchicum cultivation but as you may have already guessed from previous posts I bore easily and tend to laziness, so to be honest I’d recommend getting that book learnin’ elsewhere.  I’m more of a stick it in the ground and see if it grows kind of guy, so if you don’t mind, click on >this link< and you’ll find a few of Kathy’s posts over at Cold Climate Gardening which should do very nicely to fill the void I leave.  She’s like a crazy cat lady of colchicums, and in addition to growing, showing, sharing, and speaking on colchicums, she also does an excellent job of putting that information online.  She’s also a wonderful person, so I hope she finds neither ‘crazy’ nor ‘cat lady’ offensive since I would hate to offend her good nature.

colchicum innocence

Colchicum run a range of pink shades from dark to light, but the odd white form really lights up an autumn bed.  Here’s Colchicum ‘Innocence’.  Decent sized blooms, slight pink tint when you look for it, and a good grower.

Better sources of information aside, I guess I should mention some of the barest essentials of Colchicums.  They bloom bare, without foliage, hence the common name of naked ladies.  Their bloom shape resembles that of crocus, hence the name autumn crocus -although they share no family relation whatsoever.  Of course being unrelated to crocus is not the worst thing since wildlife love the crocus around here yet completely avoid the poisonous parts of colchicums.

In the early spring, colchicums quickly grow leafy, hosta-like foliage but then yellow and disappear once the weather heats up.  Decent, well drained soil, sun or part shade (the more sun in spring the better), and hope for the best.

colchicum foliage

Spring species tulips and the springtime foliage of colchicums growing in the lawn.

With their fall blooms, colchicum are a bit of an oddity when compared to the regular spring and summer flowers of most bulb catalogs.  Maybe this is why they seem expensive when compared to the mass produced spring bulbs, but don’t let it fool you.  They might require some special handling and storing, but overall  it’s an easy group to grow.  If I have one bit of advice which may be helpful it’s to plant shallowly in heavy soils.  The flowers seem to struggle when sprouting up out of hard-packed soil, and if they can’t make it up chances are the spring foliage won’t make it either, and your special new bulb will die.  Cover loosely I say, and if the bulbs (actually corms btw) are already flowering, do not cover the flowers with dirt and expect them to rise up out of the soil.  The flowers, and foliage as well, seem to take advantage of the old, dried floral tubes and follow these paths up out of the soil.  When newly planted, the tunnels from last year no longer exist, so to get around this plant shallowly and cover with some mulch once flowering is finished and you should be in good shape.

colchicum lilac wonder

Colchicum ‘Lilac Wonder’ planted in grass.  If planting in lawns, be prepared to hold back on mowing until the foliage has yellowed off.  I like a field of gone-to-seed grass swaying in the breeze in June.  You may not.

Over the last two years I’ve been adding colchicums to the meadow garden, and so far have been pleased enough to want to add more this fall.  I’m hoping they do well enough amongst the root completion of the grass and so far so good on that.  Another plus is I prefer the flowers when set off by the green grass, even though in most years this area usually has more of a brown grass look to it.

colchicum lilac wonder

More Colchicum ‘Lilac Wonder’ planted in the meadow garden. This is my favorite colchicum right now, it really does well here.

colchicum in meadow grass

A more sparse planting of an unknown colchicum.  This one will sulk if the spring is too short or dry, or isn’t exactly to its liking.  I’d blame the lawn, but the same lack of blooming happens in my flower beds as well.

I’m going to wrap it up here since although I can stare at and talk colchicums for hours in the garden, I am way past the limits of my attention span here at the computer.  But before ending I have to show Colchicum x aggripinum and the remarkable pattern of its blooms.  Many colchicums show tessellation in their flowers and of the ones I grow this one shows it best.

colchicum x aggripinum

The smaller, shorter foliage and flowers of colchicum x aggripinum still show up very well in the garden.  This clump liked being divided last summer, but didn’t like the late freeze and short spring we had, so I hope it fills in better next year.

colchicum x aggripinum

Tessellation on a flower of colchicum x aggripinum.  I love this patterning.

If you’ve made it this far I might as well apologize while I still have your attention.  There are still a few weeks left in the colchicum season and it’s very likely you’ll see more of them at some point or another as I try to work my way through this otherwise miserable new season.  In the meantime though, please consider giving Kimberley a visit to see what she and others are posting about this Thursday.  Perhaps they have a higher opinion of autumn.

A lull in the storm

I promise this is the last time I will complain about the brutal freeze which ended our growing season.  I’ll also not mention the weeks of warm weather which followed, and I won’t show a picture of the dahlias which are resprouting due to some misguided notion that winter came and went.  Instead I’ll focus on the mellow colors of autumn which are slowly winding the year down, and I’ll just enjoy the warm lull we’ve been having until winter returns again in earnest.

the front border in autumn

The front border is about as tidy as it will get prior to winter.  Whatever’s left will hopefully hold the snow nicely and keep things interesting until spring returns.  The golfinches approve of the leftover coneflower and sunflower stalks.  

Last weekend I finished up the last of the leaves and tried to wrap up the last of the fall planting and weeding.  I have to admit I like the way the gardens open up and empty out this time of year, and I love the way the fall rains have left a lush green lawn to set off the emptying flower beds.

Muhlenbergia capillaris pink backlight

Earlier in October the pink muhly grass (Muhlenbergia capillaris)  finally came through and put out the airy pink flowerheads which look so nice in the low autumn light.

Three years after transplanting, my pink muhly grass has finally bothered to bloom.  I’ve come to accept that I’m just too far North to enjoy this plant.  It looked pathetic until August, finally put out enough leaves to look alive by September, and then for 12 days in October it impressed with it’s pink seedheads…. and then was promptly browned out by the first freeze.  The effect is still nice enough, but I wouldn’t have minded a few more weeks of the pink.

pink muhly grass after a freeze

Pink muhly grass after a freeze.  Still nice, but not the amazing, glowing pink you look for in this plant.   

I’m going to give the cultivar ‘Fast Forward’ a try next year.  It’s supposed to be a good month or so earlier than the straight species and also shorter and more compact… although for me the larger size would have been preferable.  I’ve actually already got my hands on one but since it was a small plant and just planted last week I’m not too confident it will make it through the winter.  Fall is not the time to plant anything borderline hardy or more of a warm season grower…. speaking of probably not making it through the winter, my cardoon seedling is really starting to put out some nice leaves.  The freeze didn’t bother it, but as a zone 7 plant I’m really hoping for some serious El Nino luck in getting this thing through the winter.  Any protection suggestions are more than welcome!

young cardoon plant

If this cardoon plant makes it until next year I’ll be thrilled.  Bigger leaves with artichoke-like fluorescent purple flowers would be the highlight of 2016 I’m sure 🙂

Something which will have no problems this winter is the Virginia creeper.  This year brought on a good crop of the grape-like fruits, and I’m sure they’ll be sprouting up all over as a gift from the birds…. just like this plant was.

Parthenocissus quinquefolia berries Virginia creeper

Virginia creeper (Parthenocissus quinquefolia) minus it’s bright red fall color, but still interesting with its raisin like fruit.

The rest of the garden is clearing out.  Leaves are mulched, the vegetable garden is tucked in, and there’s already interest in spring flowers.  I love how good hellebores look at this time of year, they love the cool temperatures and extra moisture and if all goes well this spring I may have my best hellebore show yet.

hellebores ready for winter

Hellebore seedlings showing promise for next year.  Hopefully we’ll see a few blooms next year since these are supposedly yellow seedlings and haven’t yet shown their true colors.

Back towards the meadow garden things are just waiting for snow.  I’m glad I left a bunch of the little bluestem since it’s gone through such a nice color change from green to yellows to reds to tans now.  With the rest of the yard mowed, it keeps things somewhat interesting back there.  Something I’m not too glad I left is the littleleaf linden (Tilia cordata) seedling which showed up among the phlox.  I’ve been ignoring it for years, but at six feet I think it’s time to make a decision.  The mother plant is so popular with the bees and so fragrant I just hate to weed it out…. but a second linden is one more than this yard needs.

autumn cleanup in the vegetable garden

Mid November in the vegetable garden.  Yet again the phlox have not been divided, and there’s a huge linden tree weed, but at least I’m getting some mulched leaves down to save on next year’s bed prep.

There’s little chance of dealing with the linden this fall.  It would do fine with a transplant at this time of year, but with 14 pounds of crocus and daffodils sitting in the living room I have other things calling for my attention.  I should have no problem getting a few in tomorrow… unless I first deal with the dozens of daffodils and tulips which I already had from this summer’s bed renovation.

Whoever said November was a time for gardeners to kick back and relax obviously didn’t procrastinate planting spring bulbs nor succumb to early clearance sales.  Hopefully your autumn is much more relaxing 🙂