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Archive for October, 2012


Amazing Color in the Autumn Garden

Wednesday, October 17th, 2012

October 17th, 2012


October daphne


This is the time of year when many gardeners throw in the trowel. It’s been a long hot season, and insects, monsoons and drought have visited. Most perennials are tuckered out, and to add insult to injury, this summer our old reliable impatiens gave up the ghost to downy mildew.

And yet, there’s still a lot of color to be had in the ornamental garden!  From the large hydrangea paniculata, to reblooming lilac, persistent perennials, spectacular vines, half-hardy annuals, and bounteous bulbs, there’s hues and tints and tones galore.

But you have to plan for it.

So next season vow to purchase a late-blooming plant each time you grab a spring bloomer, and within a year or two your garden will be crammed with color until hard frost, (which seems to come later each year.)

In my garden the reblooming lilac ‘Bloomerang’ is once again fragrancing the front yard. This is the fifth time this year it has sent forth its lovely lavender blossoms. ‘Knockout’ roses in cherry pink and scarlet are also ablaze. The dahlias are in their prime, resplendent in jellybean shades of fuchsia, yellow, burgundy and white. Hosta ‘Thunderbolt’, with its alabaster-white-striped leaves contrasts with the vivid ruby of angel wing begonias. The centerpieces of the front beds, however, are the panicle hydrangeas ‘Pinky Winky’ and ‘Limelight’. Statuesque and multihued, they offer definition and form to the late-season garden as they bloom from August to deep freeze.  Pinky’s flowers open ivory, transitioning to pink and finally to burgundy; while ‘Limelight’ (as one would expect), commences lemon-lime, segueing eventually to soft rose.

The new Virginia creeper cultivar ‘Red Wall’, tamed by the hybridizers, grows less vigorously than its wild relative, but still offers its characteristic crimson as it climbs over the arbor leading to my backyard garden.

Late bees and butterflies are still seeking nourishment at annuals including verbena bonariensis, salvia ‘Victoria Blue’ and perilla.  Asters ‘Alma Potschke’ and ‘Purple Dome’ sparkle in yummy raspberry and grape. A large stand of boltonia ‘Snowbank’ sways in the breeze by the gazebo. The classic sedum ‘Autumn Joy’ lives up to its name with its vibrant flower heads, joined by sedum sieboldii aka ‘October Daphne’, a groundcover sedum with leaves of sea green and flowers of gentle mauve.

Ornamental grasses are in their glory, waving tassels of red, russet, and tan.  Pennesitum ‘Karly Rose’, sea oats grass, panicum ‘Shenandoah’ rustle with the falling leaves. Japanese forest grass, ‘All Gold’ shimmers in the shade, while its cousin ‘Naomi’ tints red, gold and silver as the days shorten.

Dahlias seem at their best in the waning weeks of the season, offering blooms replete with colors of the rainbow. It’ll soon be time to lift and store these stalwarts, but for now, they gleam.

And let’s not forget the autumn-blooming bulbs:  crocus, colchicum and cyclamen. Just when the gardener least expects it, up pops the lavender, white or pink flowers of these hardy bulbs. Tucked in among dwindling perennials, they are a sight for sore eyes.

To be sure, some plants look tattered in the garden by now. Ostrich fern fronds drip and droop; actea has turned brown; some daylilies are beaten to the ground by wind and rain. Peony leaves are ugly and need to be cut and discarded. But we tend to overlook these gone-by treasures; we gardeners know their day will come again. Instead, we instinctively seek the color splotches, and that’s what we should plant and plan for in these diminishing days of the season.

So, as you go about the autumn business of bulb planting, raking leaves and cleaning up, pause to enjoy the bountiful color Mother Nature provides (with a little help from you!) in the autumn garden.




Water Wisdom

Thursday, October 4th, 2012

October 4th, 2012


Blue watering can

Compost corral










It’s been a bizarre year in terms of moisture. We had scant snow this past winter, and several periods of drought once the growing season commenced. We remain almost ten inches under where rainfall should be year-to-date and thus the subsoil is dry, despite occasional downpours. Let’s hope the rains continue into the foreseeable future and that we are granted a decent amount of snow in the coming months. (but not too soon!) And let’s make a deal with ourselves to implement wise watering practices both now and next season. Here’s a few tips, most of which can be put into play this autumn.

Build or add to a compost pile. The resulting organic richness applied to your soil at any time of the year will hold moisture like there’s no tomorrow. Autumn, with its abundance of fallen leaves and spent garden material is prime time to start composting.

Vow to mulch the garden in 2013. Last March, given the warm temperatures, I ordered my mulch early, and was glad to have it on hand to hold moisture, insulate the soil, and beautify the beds. I like Agrimix, Sweet Peet or Black Magic, all horse-bedding based mixtures which feed the garden as they decompose.

Promise yourself you’ll practice xeriscaping with new plant purchases. Forgo those thirsty, prima donnas that consume your time and expand your water bill!  Think sedum, penstemon, agastache, coneflower, lamb’s ears, coreopsis, yarrow, grasses, and bulbs.

Purchase sturdy hoses and keep them at the ready. (Try not to slice them with the garden clippers as I did while pruning my rhododendrons)

Don’t walk on the garden. Stick to the paths. You do have garden paths, right? If not, construct them from pavers, flat fieldstones, boards, or old carpet. The point is to not tread on your garden; such activity compacts the soil and compacted soil resists rainfall. You want available water to sink into the soil, not sluice over it.

Obtain and use attractive watering cans. I have two, one for the front yard and one for the back. Both are from Gardener’s Supply in Burlington, VT . I refill them at the conclusion of a day’s work, keeping them primed for the next time.

Take advantage of free water. Invest in a rain barrel; place watering cans under a downspout, and stick one under the outlet for the air conditioner water. More adventuresome gardeners may consider a gray water or cistern system.

Consider soaker hoses. These devices, if properly installed, deliver a steady trickle of water directly to roots.

If you choose to employ a sprinkler, grab a brawny one, and watch where it flings water. You don’t want to waste precious droplets on pavement or the kids’ playground.

Thing about what really needs watering.  For instance, it is the nature of lawns to go dormant in times of drought. They’ll come back. A newly-planted tree or perennial, however, needs its thirst slaked regularly. And of course, the vegetable garden needs ample water to produce the best crop.

Autumn is the season when we often make gardening promises concerning next year.  Be sure one of your resolutions is to treat water as the precious resource it is.




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