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!

GBFD October ’16

Christina at Creating my own Garden of the Hesperides is the host of a monthly look at the importance of foliage in the garden, and for some reason this celebration always sneaks up on me.  Fortunately this month it falls on a weekend, and a rainy one at that, so rather than start projects inside and waste the weekend doing all those boring things which end up on a to-do list, I’m going to sit and relax with a coffee while reviewing the beautiful week that was.

autumn colors pennsylvania

The view out the back door.  My camera must be an optimist since it really is much rainier and gloomier than this photo would suggest.

We were back in shorts and T-shirts this week as summer returned for a few days.  The ground is on the dry side but it was still perfect for just puttering around and thinking about getting ready for winter.  I should be doing more than just thinking though since each year I seem to add more and more stuff which needs winter protection.  Fortunately the first step was taken and all the succulents have moved up under the back porch for a quick look-over before moving on.  A few go into the garage, a few go near a window in the basement, but they all go into a cool spot which won’t freeze over the next several months.

succulent containers

Succulents can be dangerous.  They come in cute tiny pots and many root off the smallest bit of stem or leaf, so before you know it there’s a collection. 

I kill plenty of these each winter and these survivors can all handle the conditions which I put them through.  Cool, dry, and dimly lit… although I would give them more light if I could…  A little shot of water maybe once every two months (if I remember) and if they make it good.  These do, and in the low autumn light I love the way their various foliage shapes and colors go together.

succulent containers

Again I need to replant, they never seem to change yet suddenly all have grown!

The light of autumn has also been very kind to the foliage and flowers of the grasses.  Their colors just fit at this time of year and it’s kind of a sunset of the season with all their reds and pinks and yellows.

pepermintstick arundo flower

I moved this ‘Peppermint stick’ Arundo donax this spring and it’s been much happier in this more open, better watered spot.  Next year I’ll pull out the floppy Miscanthus from its right and hopefully figure out how best to complement the strong variegation of this grass.  

Another grass which is doing well is this spiteful clump of pink muhly grass (Muhlenbergia capillaris).  It’s been doing particularly well this year and I bet it’s because I evicted its two lazy neighbors and told this clump it would be next if it doesn’t shape up.  They always look miserable for months and then only flower just in time to get killed by frost.  I think they’re just not well-suited to this latitude and I’m trying out a selection called ‘Fast forward’ which is supposed to bloom earlier… but so far it’s been on exactly the same time table.  Maybe next year after it’s become better established, but this spring I was just happy enough it survived its late autumn planting.

pink muhly grass

Pink muhly grass flowering in the last few days of frost free weather.  It will still be nice enough after the cold comes, but the pink color will fade to white.

The foliage on the muhly grass does absolutely nothing for me and even with this late season show I already had plans to replace it.  To this end I bought another grass, a giant bluestem (Andropogon gerardii ‘Red October’) with purple summer foliage and bright red autumn color.  My fingers are crossed and so far so good, but I’ve heard stories that it’s a bit difficult to establish from a later planting.

pink muhly grass

A close-up of the pink muhly grass with a few blades of ‘Red October’ coming up behind.  I love it so far!

Autumn foliage is showing up all along the street as well.  The summer lushness has faded and things are beginning to call it a year.

limelight hydrangea in autumn

The dogwoods have taken on their russet red shades, and there’s no more pristine white on the ‘Limelight’ hydrangea.  Such a nice pink tint on the hydrangea is something I haven’t experienced before, usually the flowers  just brown off in the dry heat of late summer.

Also calling it a year is the front border bed.  Because of the dry summer I gave up on it in July but it still looks fine even without the annuals I usually add for some extra color.  Less work is always a good thing, so maybe just maybe I’ll do the same thing next year…. unless I dig it all up and replant everything.  Why keep things simple?

tiger eyes autumn color

A calming border of blue fescue grass and a jolt of autumn color from the ‘Tiger Eyes’ sumac.  I wish I had a hedge or wall blocking out the rest of the neighborhood, but that’s just not how we roll here in suburbia.

I better stop here.  The sun is out again yet there’s a bitter wind blowing until tomorrow morning.  I suppose I can take today off from the garden but tomorrow if the sun shines I’m sure I’ll be out there again.  In the meantime please consider giving Christina a visit to see what others around the globe are enjoying in their gardens.  Enjoy!

Tuesday View: The Tropics 10.19.16

I’m a day late in joining Cathy for the Tuesday view, but I think it’s just that time of year when things begin to unravel and go to seed so hopefully my tardiness will be forgiven.  Here it is!

tuesday view tropical plants

Autumn comes to the tropical garden

The view looks remarkably similar to last week’s with just a few more hints of autumn color in the background and a few more tints of brown in the front.  We had a slight frost last Monday and again on Friday but for the most part the garden is intact.

alocasia x portora

The tender new leaves of alocasia x portora took the low temperatures very seriously while the dahlias just shrugged them right off.  Serves me right for not bringing this elephant ear in earlier. 

Last week’s lows have been followed by a few warm days but I think the damage has already been done.  Most tropicals get all miffy once nighttime temperatures drop below 50 and I guess it’s time to start thinking seriously about bringing them in.

colocasia esculenta tropical storm

My newest elephant ear, colocasia esculenta ‘tropical storm’  is gaining back a little strength following a run in with spider mites.  I ended up snipping off all the foliage to get rid of them, now it’s a matter of hoping for the best over winter.

Even with some of the largest leaves showing a little frost damage, the cooler nights seem to intensify and brighten the last of the autumn colors.

knockout rose pennesitum

‘Knockout’ rose seems to get even brighter as the thermometer drops.  It’s a nice mix with the season long color of the Verbena bonariensis.

Although I made a good effort of removing most of the chrysanthemums from this bed, I did leave ‘Carousel’ for some late season color.  The plan was for it to carry on after frost blackened most of the other color in this bed, but here it is joining in as just another supporting player.  I like it for the long stems and late blooms which last into November but tolerate it for it’s floppy stalks and necessary June pinching.
chrysanthemum carousel

Chrysanthemum ‘Carousel’ opening up as one of the last floral events of the 2016 tropical border. 

‘Carousel’ is pretty much the only thing left to anticipate in the border, everything else is just finger crossing for additional days without frost.  We are into a slight Indian summer of warm, hazy days following our earlier run-in with cold, but even that is somewhat irritating as I like the cooler weather for transplanting, bulb planting, and fall foliage enjoying…. not that I’m complaining too much about having a few last drink nights out on the porch sans jacket🙂

autumn dahlias border

Looking up towards the back end.  I love that all 6 feet of that annoyingly bright white vinyl fence is now hidden behind an interesting wall of greens and flowers.  And I love that I still have plenty of dahlias!

So here’s to another Tuesday view where the tropics are still green!  Long live summer and all the best for your upcoming 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 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.

Agriculture in Suburbia

This post was mostly finished last weekend but for some reason I never got around to publishing.  I wish I had a good excuse, but it might have just been one of those Sunday evening get ready for the workweek make lunches and clean the kids off from the weekend kind of things.  In any case here it is and to be honest I have little idea what I was talking about back then with all the design comments and self reflection.  Sometimes I really wonder where this stuff comes from, but regardless the pictures have me thinking of last June when the garden looked ready to die so let me just start off with a photo from then🙂

dormant lawn

The beauty of the  garden in June.  Roadside daisies and dead grass.  Fortunately the rains came back in August, but not until all July passed and I reached the “wordless Wednesday: I hate gardening” stage.

It’s always nice to hear compliments about your garden, and I am one who by reflex nearly always shrugs them off or dismisses them.  I’m sure there’s some childhood trauma involved which has long been forgotten, but it’s my way and it’s a rare day when I can just accept with a thank you.  Now I’m not saying I get a lot of compliments, but I do get a comment every now and then about a nice design touch or a combination which actually worked out.  Those are the compliments I always downplay since I rarely (unless I’m doing it subconsciously) put a whole lot of thought into what goes where.  With few exceptions my design process revolves around having a new favorite plant in hand and then desperately needing a spot in which to cram it.  Sometimes it works sometimes it doesn’t.

front street border

The front border in mid September.  If I had to put a name to this year’s design theory it might be something like ‘neglected agricultural’.

The front border along the street may not look brilliant, but it does look colorful, and with five months of winter breathing down my neck colorful is perfect.  Colorful and agricultural I suppose, since this years feature plant seems to be ‘Hot Biscuits’ amaranthus and in my opinion it either looks sort of farmyard weedy or like a particularly bright sorghum crop.  Ornamental or not I just can’t look away.  It’s big and bright and grainy and between it and the wheat-like feather reed grass (Calamagrostis x acutiflora ‘Karl Foerster’) and the sugarcane-like giant reed (Arundo Donax) I feel like it’s almost harvest time out there.

front street border

The view from the street side.  The purple perovskia has seeded around a bit and put out a few runners, the purple coneflowers as well, but I’ve done essentially nothing here since March and I kind of like that.

I owe this year’s crop of ‘Hot Biscuits’ to my friend Paula who surprised me one afternoon with a packet of seeds in the mailbox.  I had grown it before and ended up losing it, but fortunately she had a few seeds to spare and sent them my way.  That was last year, and I efficiently killed all the seedlings which sprouted, but this year was a different story and I ended up with a few clumps of healthy seedlings.

hot biscuits amaranthus

Just the first of many amaranthus close-ups which will pepper this post.  No one could plan this combo since I’m sure it violates numerous design principles, but I just love it.

The amaranthus shows up here and there all along the border, which is probably a good thing since even the simplest design theorist will tell you it repeats and unifies a theme.  Repetition is important since this bed frequently suffers from “I always start from the driveway end and use up all the best plants there” syndrome.  The far end of the bed gets less weeding, less watering, less tending… it basically gets less of everything, so carrying the amaranthus theme all the way through helps hide the sparseness of the neglected end.

wine zinnia

Here in the preferred end of the bed are well tended seedlings of Benary’s Giant wine zinnias and the pink gomphrena ‘fireworks’.  These were the seedlings I was most excited about this year, so in they went first🙂

I did have a few too many zinnias this spring so was pretty generous about placing them in the border, but when the Brenary’s Giant scarlet began to open next to the pink gomphrena I immediately cringed.  For about a week I thought it looked awful but now I quite like it.  It reminded me of the first time I saw pictures of some of the late Christopher Lloyd’s magenta and pink plantings at Great Dixter.  They also bothered me at first and I think my first thought was “grow up Chris and plant some lavender and white and pink instead of that mess”… but look at me now.

scarlet zinnia fireworks gomphrena

Scarlet zinnia with ‘fireworks’ gomphrena.  Am I suffering from retinal fatigue or does it actually look nice together?

Maybe the green lawn and the parchment color of the feather reed grass tames it a bit but between this and the orange of the amaranthus I’m just plain pleased.

scarlet zinnia karl forester grass

A very technicolor look with the yellow of the ‘Tiger Eyes’ sumac across the lawn.

Here’s another amaranthus photo-bomb.

hot biscuits amaranthus

Looking down towards the ‘less interesting’ end of the border.

Ok. One last amaranthus photo.

hot biscuits amaranthus

From the neglected, far end of the border, more amaranthus🙂

You may have noticed a bright golden patch of marigolds in the border.  The fall smack dab in the middle of my newfound love for the most offensively bright colors and I’m not sure I can resist planting a whole border of them next year.  I had to smuggle these seeds out of my stingy older brother’s garden last year and was lucky that a few sprouted and survived July’s dry spell.  He’s been letting them reseed for a couple years now and they still come up in a good range of colors on relatively short and large flowered plants.

marigolds tagetes

A few marigolds putting on a nice end of summer show.  More might be nicer, and by more I mean a whole border.

What to plant them with?  I think they’ll go at the far end of the border, alongside the bright gold of a juniper, but other than that I have no plans.  Should I back them up with some darker foliage plants?


Korean feather grass (Calamagrostis brachytricha) in front and pennisetum ‘Karley Rose’ towards the back. With the ‘Limelight’ hydrangea it all looks very calm and refined, but I think a nice border of marigolds will give it a good jolt of color!

We will see what happens.  There’s a good chance it will all come down to whatever seeds sprout the best next spring, but in the meantime it’s nice to dream about having a more plan-comes-together kind of garden.  That is until the snowdrops bloom.  Once that happens my brain goes to mush and I’m lucky if I get anything planted😉

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!