Tuesday View: The Tropics 11.22.16

Following the first hard frost, the tropical view has continued to spiral downwards into the reality of its temperate latitude.  Our first significant snowfall came on Saturday night and although snow at this time of year is not unheard of, the long warm autumn and the fact Saturday topped out at 65F (18C) left me in a bit of a shock when I woke up to the white.

Tuesday view snow

I guess it might finally be time to dig the dahlias and cannas. 

The frosted annuals and browned cannas are still standing just where they were three weeks ago, and although the mess may look like complete apathy has set in the reality is I’ve been quite busy.  There’s been a good amount of earth moving and bed building on top of the required leaf cleanup and bulb planting and I feel pretty good about spring, I just want warmth to return for a few more weeks so I can finish digging and planting.

But if the weather doesn’t change I’ll get over it.  No one’s life has ever crumbled over a few unraked leaves or frozen dahlias and as long as there are plenty of snowdrops in April I’ll be fine.  There’s always next year🙂

Our Days Are Numbered

There’s an impending air of doom hanging over the garden, and the threat of next week taints everything.  The Cubs winning the World Series was likely the first sign of the apocalypse and now I can only imagine what next Wednesday could bring.  Our current stretch of warm weather has me even more nervous since as we know from high school science, freezing is an exothermic process and on the chance that Hell has indeed frozen over science would predict that things up here on the surface would warm up as a result.  I’ve never hoped for a cold snap more, even if it means losing the last of the autumn flowers.

late chrysanthemum

The latest of my seedling chrysanthemums.  This one’s not as hardy as the rest but does well enough up near the foundation.

The last of the autumn leaves are really hanging on in the warmth.  This red maples along the fence is always my favorite with its sunset blend of reds, oranges, and yellows.  As the days go on it will hopefully fade to pale yellow with red highlights before finally covering the lawn with a carpet of next year’s mulch and compost.

maple fall foliage

For most of the year I resent the greedy water stealing roots of this pesky red maple (Acer rubrum), but for a few days in autumn I forgive it and soak up every glowing minute of its final foliage show.

Closer to the ground the earliest (or latest, depending on your perspective) bulbs are beginning to show signs of growth.  My absolute favorite right this moment is the fall blooming snowdrop a friend of mine brought back for me from Nancy Goodwin’s Montrose Gardens in Hillsborough, North Carolina.  I love a plant with a story and this one has a good one.  Its full name is Galanthus elwesii var. monostictus Hiemalis group ex. Montrose and to be honest I love writing that one out.  It’s the nerdy Latin way of describing a fall blooming snowdrop with a single green mark that comes to me via Montrose Gardens.  This one and its thousands of sisters are all the descendants of a handful of bulbs Mrs. Goodwin purchased decades ago at a local hardware store.  They say the rest is history, but in this case it’s a history which required years of division and transplanting as the bulbs were slowly spread across her acres of woodland.  The bulbs now make an unparalleled show each autumn around Thanksgiving and I wouldn’t rule out some day making the eight hour trip to see it in person.  Such are the dreams of the obsessed, but if you’d like more information have a look at this NY Times article on a visit to the gardens, and also consider looking up Nancy Goodwin’s book “Montrose: Life in a Garden” for a monthly chronicle of the gardens.  She was also a big fan of the Cyclamen family and grows thousands of them as well.  That’s my kind of gardener.

fall galanthus elwesii monostctus

Galanthus elwesii var. monostictus Hiemalis group ex. Montrose.  Yeah.

Besides fall blooming snowdrops, there was also an October surprise here when my two auricula primrose insisted on sending up a few autumn flower stalks.  I’d rather they waited until spring since the flowers don’t look nearly as big or nice as the could, but my hope is they really liked their repotting and are only just ramping up to an even more amazing show in March under the growlights…. unless they’re planning on dying, which is always another possibility for plants in my care.

primula auricula

A pair of primula.  Primula auricula hybrids to be exact.  The yellow had bloomed before but this is the first flower for the brownish one, and I’m pleased with the color.

Some other final color in the garden is the Aster oblongifolius ‘Raydons Favorite’.  It waits until the very end of the season and carries it out with a clear lavender blue color and attractive dark eyes as the flowers fade.  I should really give it a little more room and respect next year, and not let it suffer all summer crowded and untended while the summer annuals steal the show.

Aster oblongifolius 'Raydons Favorite'

Amidst the mildew decay of fading peony foliage and frosted zinnias, Aster ‘Raydons Favorite’ offers up fresh color for this part of the border.  I think more would be a good idea.

I can’t do a late fall post without slipping in a cyclamen or two.  They’re sending out more and more of their beautiful foliage and while other parts of the garden are fading, these go from strength to strength.  I may have to talk to John Lonsdale about adding a few new ones since you can never have too many of these treasures and he always seems to have a few special ones for sale at Edgewood Gardens.

cyclamen hederifolium

The hardy Cyclamen hederifolium starts flowering without foliage in late summer.  I love it even more when the leaves begin to come up and there are still plenty of blooms to accent them.

The range of foliage types in Cyclamen hederifolium is really outstanding.  The dainty and distinct flowers are almost more of an afterthought.

A pale pink form of Cyclamen hederifolium with a leaf pattern which I love.

A pale pink form of Cyclamen hederifolium with a leaf pattern which I love.

For the moment I may have resisted adding any new Cyclamen but don’t be under the false impression I’ve resisted all the other goodies which can be found during fall planting season… or even better found during autumn clearance sales.  For some reason I found the Santa Rosa clearance sale (still going on btw, and don’t miss out on the additional 20% off coupon code) and discovered I needed more grasses and a trio of carnivorous pitcher plants.  Who knew?

Sarracenia from santa rosa gardens

Three new bog plants (Sarracenia) for the bog I don’t have.  Hopefully I can keep them happy elsewhere since they’re so absolutely cool with their sinister insect trapping pitchers.

As I go on and on about new plants I won’t even mention the tulips which need planting, the daffodils which need replanting, and the projects which need finishing before the bottom drops out of this pleasant autumn weather.  Let’s hope that’s the only thing which the bottom drops out of this week.

Have a good one!

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!

 

Those boring chrysanthemums again.

It’s a rainy and dark October afternoon and you need a light on inside to do just about everything except nap.  This wasn’t my plan but then dark skies and October thunderstorms aren’t easy to plan for in general.  Better to just get on the computer and look at a few photos from earlier in the month, and it seems like all the earlier photos center on those most under appreciated of autumn flowers, the chrysanthemums.

chrysanthemum seedling

A nice seedling of one of the cushion mums.  Not much form or grace to it but the cantalopy orange with just a tint of pink looks good in the failed beds of the vegetable garden. 

I happen to like chrysanthemums.  More so now than in March but even if it’s a seasonal love I think they deserve more respect than that of a disposable pot of color which usually ends up in the trash on the weekend after Thanksgiving.  They’ve earned it after all, 600+ years of cultivation in Eastern Asia with a reputation for happiness and royalty shouldn’t just fade away the minute Walmart offers them at 3 for $10.  Take a look here at the National Chrysanthemum Society’s webpage for a brief overview of their history.

chrysanthemum centerpiece

Chrysanthemum ‘Centerpiece’ on the left with a similar looking seedling to the right.  Just a little bit of difference separates the two but I bet a chrysanthemum breeder would twitch at the inferiority of the other. 

I would guess if there’s one single thing which defeats the Chrysanthemum’s reputation it’s the lack of hardiness of all those late season purchases.  Gardening amateurs and experts alike often wonder why their attempts at overwintering these perennials routinely fail and why they’re left with a dead plant come springtime, and to keep my story short (and match my limited attention span), it’s because they just aren’t hardy.  They were bred for color and shape and reliable bloom and overwintering ease just didn’t factor in.

chrysanthemum seedling

A butterscotch colored seedling… or is it pumpkin colored… either way it’s a nice dose of color.

I suppose this all brings me to the point of this post.  I’ve been ‘dabbling’ in the hardier chrysanthemum sorts, the kinds which look great, grow without a care, and overwinter without a problem, and I’ve found it’s easier than you’d think.  As an added bonus they seem to like my poor soils and frequent droughts, and the bare patches of my beds will usually sprout a few mystery seedlings each spring to keep me guessing as to what surprises are coming along each fall.  A few online sources offer hardier types but I’ve been getting most of mine through Faribault Growers and their Mums of Minnesota offerings.

chrysanthemum Bristol white

Chrysanthemum ‘Bristol white’ in front (not a favorite since hard freezes will brown the tender centers) with a few interesting seedlings behind.

The mums I’ve been getting have had little trouble with winters here (z6a) but every now and then give up due to frost heaving or a late spring freeze (about half my plants unexpectedly died this year when an arctic front rolled through in late March after growth had started…).  They’re still not as surefire hardy as the Korean mum types (developed using the hardily named Chrysanthemum sibiricum) but they’re shorter and bushier and have more of a variety of flower colors and forms and it’s just what I need to distract me from the changing leaf colors and dying annuals of autumn.

chrysanthemum seedling

Another seedling.  The singles seem to be more popular with the pollinators, I’m just impressed that these survived a summer of neglect and drought and poor soil here at the base of a yew hedge.

I believe one of the more popular Mums of Minnesota introductions have been the Mammoth mum series.  They’re spreading, hardy perennials and just massive mounds of color when in bloom, but for as much as it pains me to say I have to classify them as a little boring.  They do great next door in my MIL’s mulch beds (which honestly are even more boring without the mums), but for as far as a plant to get excited about…. they’re not.  Luckily they know a little trick, and that’s their promiscuous selfsowing and all the little surprises they leave in the monotonous spread of shredded wood mulch.

mammoth mum seedlings

Momma plant (‘Red Daisy’) fills the upper left of the view, her mongrel offspring fill in along the bottom and up the right.  As you can see they don’t come anywhere near to ‘true’ from seed and there are even a few well-doubled flowers showing up.

Next year I may try and find a spot to plant out a bunch of the seedlings and see what greatness they amount to but I warn you not to hold your breath on that one.  It’s hard to get excited about mum in April and even harder to find enough open spots to fill with something that doesn’t pay off until October.

chrysanthemum mellow moon

This might be my favorite.  Chrysanthemum ‘mellow moon’ has these large, softly colored flowers which make great cut flowers but as you can see the clump’s been invaded by an odd yet attractive pink daisy seedling.  Hopefully next spring I can separate them out since I don’t want to crowd out the moon. 

chrysanthemum seedling

Another seedling, this one a complete dwarf.  I wonder how better soil conditions will change this plant, since this dry part of the bed is far better suited to cacti.

The whole mum clan seems pretty easy from seed and it’s always fun to see what shows up.  My last few photos are of a seedling which came from the HPS seed exchange and although they’re nothing like their ‘Innocence’ parent (a pale pink single which blushes pink with age) they’re indestructible through winter cold and summer drought.  Their only flaw is either the need for staking, or a harsh chop back in early July to control floppiness.

chrysanthemum innocence

A seedling of chrysanthemum ‘Innocence’

If you noticed the previous picture has about half a dozen ailanthus webworm moths wandering the flowers.  It’s an oddly colored little thing and I was hoping for something rarer and possibly native when I first spotted them… but as it is with most insects around here, if there are more than enough, chances are it’s not native.

ailanthus moth

Ailanthus webworm moth (Atteva aurea).  A unique look in my opinion.

I’ll leave you with another one of the large flowered mums which seems quite content in my less than ideal garden conditions.  I had taken at least two or three pictures before I realized the flower was looking back at me.

chrysanthemum gold country

Chrysanthemum ‘Gold Country’ with someone else who might be interested in pollinating moths and such. 

Hope you had a great weekend, gloomy rain or not, and hopefully there’s a spell of nice planting weather coming up so I can finish up all the unfinished gardening work of 2016… or not.  There will be plenty of time for gardening ambition in February🙂

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🙂