I can see that I am going to have to watch this new WordPress format carefully. In addition to being really finicky about posting in advance, its autocorrect is horrific. I will tell it what I want, and it will go back and auto correct over me a second time. So if my posts seem crazy, I am still working the bugs out on my tablet.
For those of us in the northern hemisphere, days are growing shorter, even if it hasn’t yet begun to cool down where you are.
With any luck, there has also been moisture where you are. That makes autumn the perfect time to plant. Obviously I am not talking about planting annuals, although in many places cool season annuals like pansies can over winter right into next spring.
Similarly ornamental cabbage and kale are hardy enough to survive as decorative plantings until it is time to replace them with warm season annuals.
I don’t live in such a place, but I can still plant many things in autumn for next season. One of the things that I tell people is to think about soil almost like a body of water. You know how a lake or the ocean is slow to warm in the spring, but in September the temperature of the water is still perfect for swimming.
The same is true for soil. Our garden soils are also slow to warm in spring as well so plants put into them in spring get a slow start.
But plants put in now, even though they will be going dormant shortly, are getting put into warm soil. There is less adjustment for them (provided you remember to water).
So it’s a great time to plant perennials, trees (if you can find the variety that you want) and shrubs. Again, you must remember to water, if nature isn’t doing it for you, until your ground freezes. Here, in my cool part of the world, that’s usually late November or early December.
On Monday we’ll talk a bit about spring flowering bulbs–which also must be planted now.
There are many parts of the country that have a lot of warm weather left. I don’t live in one of them. I am famous for saying that we have 2 seasons, winter and July. July is our “summer” and every other month of the year requires some version of fleece and usually lightweight gloves. This year, with its record breaking heat and drought, is no different.
So when late August comes, I begin to evaluate what has done well in the garden–and what I will take a pass on next year. In the case of my petunias, it is going to be a pass, probably for my gardening lifetime.
It’s a shame, too, because I really love petunias and they keep coming out with prettier varieties. But if 6 years isn’t long enough for the petunia worm to forget where I live, forget about it. There are lots of other things to grow.
What has been a delight in this container is the verbena. It’s the first time I have tried it in decades, literally. I only bought it because my choices were fairly limited at the garden center.
I would do it again–and will. My memories of verbena were of a fussy plant that needed deadheading. By midsummer, despite deadheading, it would be covered in powdery mildew. Yuck.
So this year’s version–from Proven Winners–was wonderful! I can’t say enough about how easy and carefree it was–and I was not good at about deadheading either. Definitely a winner.
Next I need to decide which house plants and tropicals make the cut–and if and become compost.
I haven’t planted petunias for several years–not since 2014, I don’t think. There’s a reason for that. Every time I do, my container starts looking really good–and then all of a sudden all the blooms are gone from the petunias.
If I am lucky, I might start to see this. That at least tells me that the worms have arrived.
But I am not one to treat a container of annuals with insecticide, even if the recommended treatment is BT. That kills caterpillars but of course butterfly larva are caterpillars too. So I would just as soon uproot the petunias once they start looking ratty.
What does this critter look like?
He’s right there in the middle right of the photo, a green caterpillar about a quarter inch long. They can be difficult to see because of course they are the same color as the petunia stem.
They also eat annual geraniums and calibrachoa so this planter will need a refresh shortly.
But summer is very short-lived around here so I can refresh my planter with late season plants shortly.
This all looks so nicely composed, doesn’t it? The hanging impatiens above the ferns and the container below, with all sorts of nice contrasting textures from the ferns and the Japanese maple.
You can see by the title of my post that very little of it was planned. Lately, my best gardening just seems to “happen,” (although perhaps that is my imagination and my perfectionism talking).
But I will tell you that I didn’t plant any of those ferns. Nature sowed them for me. I just encourage them by watering (which is a feat, some years, like this one, when I am getting precious little help from nature!)
There is one spot where they don’t want to grow so I put a planter there. It has an impatiens plant the same color as the one in the hanging basket but you can’t tell. It’s been completely overrun by the oxalis. Oh well.
The color of the oxalis at least picks up the foliage of the Japanese maple leaves, and the cordyline. So you don’t miss the impatiens much.
And after I went out to get the impatiens plant, the Spoiler said, “oh. I thought you were going to plant a pot for the lawn.”
So I had to make a second trip to the garden center–not generally a hardship except in a pandemic–for more plants.
And that’s why he’s called the Spoiler.
I’ve had this hanging basket for about a month or so but it’s just never done as well as I had hoped. Since I had the same variety in this spot last year (or the year before–sometimes the years blur together) I decided to investigate.
I took it down and started to pull out dead leaves and it seemed that there were far too many dead and decaying leaves in the plant. We are seriously dry–we should have had about 4″of rain for the month at this point and we have only had an inch, all at once.
Suddenly I realized that what was coming out in my hsnds–along with dead leaves–was part of a bird’s nest! I was appropriately horrified. I looked in quickly to see whether it was an active nest but although it was beautifully constructed, there was no sign that it was in use.
I think, rather, that it was the work of the Male house wren. They build multiple nests in an effort to entice a mate. Not all of them get used–in fact, I don’t know why my house wren bothers. He always goes back to the nest box that I have for him. There are babies in there now, in fact.
But it gave me a little scare when I first thought that I had dismantled some poor bird’s little nest.
Anyway, the plant is already doing better as well. Whew.
Memorial Day is traditionally the day to honor and remember our veterans of past wars, particularly those who did not return from the wars. Graves are decorated with flags, poppies are sold, and parades are held in commemoration.
All of that is upended this year because of the pandemic but it doesn’t mean that we fail to remember those brave veterans.
In past years, I would post about how planting my vegetables always helped me remember–and in my own way honor–the veterans like my Dad and my neighbor who were special to me.
Although they aren’t with us any longer, they do live on in our memories, of course and I still have happy memories of starting–and sharing–tomato seedlings with them both.
I credit my Dad for instilling my love of gardening to this day and the introduction I use for my lectures talks about him in the first sentence.
So while I don’t grow as many tomatoes anymore (the battles with the deer and chipmunks just aren’t worth it!), I still grow lots of herbs, and have turned my vegetable garden into a pollinator garden. So it’s all good.
Happy Memorial Day!
I am in Oklahoma this week on a bittersweet errand. Part of it is quite joyful. I am happy to be able to celebrate my Mom’s 90 birthday.
But for the third time in numerous years, my sister and I are helping her plan a move. She is moving from her apartment, down the hall to assisted living. At least she is able to do that and doesn’t need to leave the lovely property where she’s lived for the 7 years.
We had a little party here for her this past weekend. Some cousins drove out from the East Coast. More are flying in this week. Turning 90 in my family is very special (I am guessing it would be in most families).
So in addition to helping Mom, we took the cousins to a few Oklahoma sights. The first 2 above are from the Land Run Memorial, commissioned for the Oklahoma Centennial in 2007.
Despite Oklahoma’s sad history, the sculptures themselves are amazing pieces of art. The details rendered in the bronze are stunning.
The absence of plants are also notable. There is, of course, the grasses (and nothing was identified) presumably designed to simulate the prairie.
There was the prickly pear cactus shown in my top photo of the leaping jack rabbit.
And there was red aloe (that I grow in containers in Connecticut) but which is clearly hardy here.
On Friday I will show photos from my other “tourist” trip (a museum I have been to many times but my cousins had not, so they took the docent tour and I went outside to see what was blooming).
I suspect that if you live anywhere where autumn leaves are changing, this is as common a sight for you as it is for me. I can scarcely go anywhere without seeing masses of mums, either for sale or in some display somewhere.
If you have followed me for awhile, you know that I absolutely hate mums. There are just 2 things that I reserve the word “hate” for: winter and mums.
It’s pretty obvious why I hate winter–I won’t waste time on that now. But oddly, even I can’t decide why I hate mums. It may go back to my time in retail gardening (although if that were the case, I should hate violas and pelargonium too and I don’t). So I really am stumped.
And it’s not a question of hating all things autumn. I am fine with pumpkins and squash. I love these funky pumpkins. I don’t decorate with them. It’s a Spoiler thing. He doesn’t want to have to blow leaves around them.
And I am amazed by gourds and squash. This acorn squash, with its fluted shape, is almost too pretty to eat. Almost.
Does anyone else have an irrational hatred of something that they can’t figure out?
In the past, I haven’t done much with containers in the fall. There’s no point, really. “Fall” is a very short season for us. Our first frost comes early in October and much of what goes into a container would be killed by that.
But this year, I have two lectures in October that needed containers. One was a lecture on container gardening itself and the other was a lecture on house plants.
In both my house plants and container lectures, I always like to talk about–and feature–both house plants and succulents. Why? First, because you can’t go anywhere without seeing them. Next, because I like them and I think that, despite the fact that they’re so popular, they are very versatile and great plants for a lot of gardeners in many situations (provided you have sun). So showing them–and talking about how to care for them–is important. Lots of beginning gardeners think that succulents and cactus are the same–because they are sold together. So a little education there is necessary too.
This is my “house plant” container, where I play off the colors in the croton with the color of the flowers in the kalanchoe and the color of the sedum foliage. This type of planting is called “complementary.” It’s the same design principle as using throw pillows to pick up the color from a painting or a rug, say.
And this is a late season herb planter with primarily tender perennials. The golden oregano at the front (my “spiller”) is hardy, even in my climate. The tallest plant, the variegated basil is ‘Pesto Perpetuo,’ a tender perennial basil, although I have never successfully over-wintered it without it succumbing to scale. The rosemary (the “filler plant”) will generally winter in my unheated sun porch unless we get a very cold winter–in which case I bring it into the house.
All of these, along with Wednesday’s show stopper ornamental container, will be traveling with me to my lectures in the next few weeks to illustrate some container design principles (as well as some fun fall containers).
I hate the see this year’s gardening season end!