Though hot and dry were the main themes of the last month here, we’ve finally gotten some rain, and the cooler temperatures are more in keeping with the fall season. The animals are certainly happier, and the much-needed moisture came just in time to save many of the plants that were about ready to shut down for the season, and to refresh those that have been soldiering in despite the less-than-ideal conditions, such as the golden lace (Patrinia scabiosifolia).
Japanese burnet (Sanguisorba tenuifolia) is always outstanding at this time of year: above is ‘Purpurea’ and below is ‘Alba’.
‘Lemon Queen’ sunflower (Helianthus) is about a foot shorter than usual but has flowered well this season, as have the ironweeds (Vernonia). It’s been particularly interesting to see the wide variation among the seedlings that have self-sown from ‘Iron Butterfly’ narrowleaf ironweed (V. lettermannii). At 3 to 4 feet, they’re all significantly taller the cultivar, and while they do have narrow leaves, none (so far) are nearly as slender as the original. Some are densely branched, and others are quite open. I particularly like the one below, which has purple in the stems as well as the flowers.
Orange coneflower (Rudbeckia fulgida var. fulgida) is still looking fresh in some spots, too. Here it’s mingling with one of my favorite hardy geraniums, Geranium wlassovianum, which starts flowering in July and continues into September, then takes on rich fall foliage colors.
For many years, the only blazing star (Liatris) I had here was the common spike blazing star (L. spicata). But thanks to several of you who have shared seeds with me, I now have several other species, including prairie blazing star (L. pycnostachya), which hasn’t yet reached flowering size; dwarf blazing star (L. microcephala), above; and rough blazing star (L. aspera), below–a terrific surprise that I found blooming for the first time in one of my sadly neglected holding beds out back.
Even more surprising was that, of the five plants, one had white flowers instead of the usual purple…so L. aspera var. alba, I guess.
It tends to stay wet longest in that area out back, which kept the turtleheads (Chelone) looking good until the beginning of September, when they finally turned crispy.
It’s goldenrod (Solidago) season too, of course: above is the classic ‘Fireworks’ rough goldenrod (Solidago rugosa), and below is ‘Solar Cascade’ Short’s goldenrod (Solidago shortii), which is new for me this year.
A variety of other late-summer and early-fall perennial favorites include…
It’s also prime time for the colchicums (Colchicum). I started here with the “ordinary” autumn crocus (Colchicum autumnale), brought from my old garden.
A few years ago, my collection expanded, thanks to colchicum aficionado Kathy Purdy of Cold Climate Gardening. The bulbs she shared with me are thriving and multiplying happily.
Dahlias, too, are thrilled with the cooler temperatures.
Funny thing about planting ‘Karma Choc’ next to Spanish flag (Mina lobata): the vine tips have wrapped around the dahlia stems, so they couldn’t sprawl if they wanted to. ‘Karma Choc’ generally doesn’t need the help, though, because its stems are very sturdy. Next year, I’m putting ‘Babylon Bronze’ here!
Speaking of ‘Karma Choc’: It’s the first vegetatively propagated dahlia that I’ve ever had self-sow here. It produced one seedling with dark leaves, stout stems, and very pretty flowers.
A couple more self-sowing annual highlights of the season include…
Some edibles are maturing now, as well, though I haven’t actually eaten any of them, because I want to collect their seeds for saving and sharing. There will be plenty of opportunities for tasting next year, if they cooperate.
Above is an unusual bush bean, with extra-thin pods and very small seeds (larger than rice kernels but far smaller than most beans). Below, the beautiful seeds of ‘Yin Yang’ beans (also listed as ‘Ying Yang’, ‘Calypso’, or ‘Orca’).
Below, tiny-fruited–and even tinier-seeded) currant tomatoes (Solanum [Lycopersicon] pimpinellifolium).
This year, I skipped growing out the variegated corn strains I like in favor of some interesting types shared by a friend in northern Italy (thanks, Clark!). Below is a red-kerneled “otto file,” or eight-row, flint corn. It is supposed to be outstanding for polenta, though I can’t speak to that personally. I was happy to get enough seeds to give away this fall, and to grow out a larger patch for use next year.
Podcorn (Zea mays var. tunicata) is grown mostly as an ornamental, because each kernel is typically enclosed in its own husk or pod of papery glumes.
The dozen seeds I grew out produced some very interesting variations, as well: some ears without the individual husks…
…some ears with the individual husks, but without the outer one…
…and even one stalk with multiple ears growing from one point.
Many perennial ornamental grasses grace the garden now, though not all are as welcome here as they used to be. I still like the look of ‘Cassian’ fountain grass (Pennisetum alopecuroides), for instance, but it has self-seeded to the point of becoming a concern–not just in the meadow, but also in the mowed areas adjacent to the plants. See all the pale patches in the turf below? Those are all fountain grass seedlings. Their leaves tend to tear rather than cut neatly, so they have a fuzzy, whitish appearance.
There’s not much I can do about the unwanted seedlings in these areas, except to prevent more by deadheading the clumps before the seeds develop. That removes their main ornamental feature, but it’s a suitable solution for now. Each year, I replace some of them with prairie dropseed (Sporobolus heterolepis), but that’s a long-term project.
Prairie dropseed has many good qualities, but it has one drawback from my perspective: the scent it releases when flowering. Some folks describe it as “buttered popcorn” or “cilantro”: I’ve never gotten the former, but the latter makes sense to me, as I also perceive the aroma of cilantro as a reek rather than a fragrance. I really regret planting this patch right by my front door!
Like the fountain grass, northern sea oats (Chasmanthium latifolium) is a determined self-sower. I knew that when I planted it, and I deadhead a lot of it, but I always let some mature, because the seedheads are so striking.
Little bluestem (Schizachyrium scoparium) is a grass that I adore in all of its forms, and I have few complaints about bitter panic grass (Panicum amarum), except perhaps for its tendency to smother smaller companions where I haven’t allowed for its significant spread as it arches in fall.
To solve that challenge in one bed, I tried cutting a couple clumps back to about 8 inches in June, when they were about 2 feet tall. Those clumps are just about 3 feet tall at this point, with fresh-looking foliage…
…and they are just finishing flowering now.
September is a wonderful time to take a close look at what’s going on in the meadow.
Well, maybe not that close! In our own meadow, the overall height is much shorter this year, due to experimenting with different mowing times. This year, I mowed in in late May and early July, in the hope of keeping down the smooth brome (Bromus inermis) and discouraging the dogbane (Apocynum cannabinum) and some of the burs.
Small-flowered agrimony (Agrimonia parviflora) may just as well be called alpacabane, because the boys always seem to get into some every year, no matter how careful I am in checking the meadow areas adjacent to the pastures.
The flowers are sort of pretty, as are the leaves…
…but oh, just look at all of those seeds!
Showy tick trefoil (Desmodium canadense) is also sort of pretty in flower, with pink blooms, but here again, it’s the seeds that are the problem.
If seeds will stick like this to flat cotton, you can imagine what happens when they come into contact with fluffy animals.
It took a good while of combing, scissoring, spitting (from the boys), and grumbling (from me) to restore order.
The dogbane wasn’t causing a problem, exactly, but it was taking over a big patch of meadow (about 20 x 40 feet). The two summer mowings did a good job in knocking it back. However, as often happens when we humans decide what shouldn’t grow in a given spot, something even less desirable took over, necessitating another mowing this fall.
I had to do a little research to find out the identity of this grass: small carpetweed, or joint-head grass (Arthraxon hispidus).
I had sort of noticed it here and there for a few years but assumed it was seedlings of the native deertongue (Dichanthelium [Panicum] clandestinum).
Unfortunately, small carpetgrass is an invasive (and how!) exotic. It often occurs with Japanese stilt grass (Microstegium vimineum), which used to be my main grassy worry. This year, the carpetgrass is WAY more vigorous than the stilt grass.
Oh well; there’s always something to worry about. Still, there are nice things in the meadow, too.
As you can see, there are lots of seeds ripening here now, but I thought it was worth a scouting trip to the woods as well.
The dry weather certainly didn’t bother the goldenrods in the (usually wet) meadows, but the woods themselves were so dry that even the stilt grass was dying.
The biggest vernal pool is just firm mud and deer prints now.
There were a few touches of color, though: fresh mushrooms of some sort…
…some partridgeberry (Mitchella repens)…
…and Chimaphila maculata, which has many common names, including spotted wintergreen, striped wintergreen, striped prince’s pine, and (my favorite) pipsissewa.
What I was hoping to find–and did find, in abundance–was spicebush (Lindera benzoin). I don’t ever remember seeing as many of the fruits (technically known as drupes) as I did this year. I gathered a couple of handfuls for this year’s seed giveaway.
It was rather more difficult to find the main patch of ramps (Allium tricoccum) this time of year. It’s pretty easy in spring, when they form a bright green carpet. You have to look very closely to see evidence of their presence now, though. (There are dozens of them in the photo below.)
Once you find them, it’s easy to collect the seeds.
There were also some bulbs visible, but I resisted the urge to snack on them, even though it wasn’t easy: the seedheads have the same enticing aroma of the yummy early-season foliage and brought back memories of tasty spring salads. (The drying seeds also smell fantastic, to the point that I had to remove them from my office, since they were making me constantly hungry.)
On the roadsides, I found some late-blooming wildflowers that I’d never noticed before, including horsebalm or stoneroot (Collinsonia canadensis)…
…and cankerweed (Prenanthes serpentaria [Nabalus serpentarius]).
It was easy to tell that the horsebalm is a mint relative, but I’d have never guessed that cankerweed is a member of the aster family by looking at the flowers.
Mind you, all this traipsing about outdoors is not done without some caution. I stayed out of the meadow for a while after a bout of Lyme disease, and after a mishap with a yellow jacket nest, I ended up abandoning the vegetable garden about a month ago. I’d occasionally sneak out that way to check the beautiful crop of Asian pears coming along, though.
I managed to get a few nice ones before noticing the huge European hornets that were hanging around. They like to eat up through the centers, so the outsides look ok if you’re not paying attention when picking. After grabbing one that they were feeding on, I left the rest of the pears on the tree.
The bagworms didn’t much bother the European red cedar trees this summer, as they did a few years ago, but they pretty much defoliated the patches of ‘Britzensis’ willow (Salix alba) that I’ve been trying to get established.
The butterflies are still abundant. It’s been particularly nice to see some more monarchs this year…
…and very cool to find this small, iridescent blue butterfly. I was thrilled that it stayed still enough for me to photograph it…
…until I tried to touch it and realized it was dead. Sigh. Thanks to reader Mary and her friend Melanie, I now know that it was a White M Hairstreak (Parrhasius m-album).
Back in the nursery, there are lots of neat seedlings coming along to star in next year’s Bloom Day posts. Below is a particularly well-marked seedling of variegated ‘The Flasher’ Maltese cross (Lychnis chalcedonica), from Plant World Seeds.
Thanks to Rox at Vivaio Millefoglie, I have a nice batch of Himalayan indigo (Indigofera heterantha)…
…and a neat woody euphorbia relative, known variously as Flueggea suffruticosa, Securinega suffruticosa, and S. ramiflora, among other names.
The ‘Sunny Side Up’ pokeweed (Phytolacca americana) seedlings–this batch from Chiltern Seeds–are gorgeous, as are the milk thistles (Silybum marianum).
Oh, going back to Plant World Seeds…another new-to-me thing is ‘Gold Foil’ foxglove penstemon (Penstemon digitalis). Its claim to fame is yellow leaves in the spring. It’s not supposed to be obvious on first-year seedlings, but of these seven seedlings, I’m guessing that only two are likely to be solid green: the large one at the far right in the second row, and maybe the one on the far left in the first row. This flat also contains six pots of ‘Hutchinson’s Cream’ rose campion (Lychnis coronaria), but so far, no signs of variegation on any of them.
One advantage of the dry conditions we’ve had is ideal weather for collecting seeds. I was doing a good job keeping up with cleaning but now am way behind, and more seeds are ripening daily. Guess what I’ll be doing for the next two months!
Those of you who are equally seed-crazy–or who want to try growing from seed for the first time–may like to know that I’m planning to post my list of this year’s available seeds here on November 15. The giveaway will be open for only 10 days or so, and I fill requests in the order I get them. So, even if you normally don’t check in here right on the 15th of each month, you may want to make an exception in November. This is shaping up to be my biggest list yet, with some new things as well as old favorites, so it’ll be a worth a look even if you’ve asked for seeds before.
For now, though, it’s still time to think about gardens. For more beautiful fall flowers, check out Carol’s main Garden Bloggers’ Bloom Day post at May Dreams Gardens. (And a bit of advice, to finish: Don’t stand still too long near a happy golden hops vine [Humulus lupulus ‘Aureus’], or you too may find yourself wrapped up by the ears….)