Enjoy these last glorious, bittersweet days of autumn color.
What shrub has evergreen foliage resembling both holly and fern, blooms in late fall/early winter with a candelabra of fragrant primrose yellow flowers, is drought tolerant once established and not a favorite of marauding deer? Answer: Mahonia x media ‘Charity’, a hybrid of the two species, M. japonica and M. lomariifolia.
Ever since I saw a form of Mahonia blooming in winter in the Plymouth MA garden of my friend Susanne, I have wanted to have this plant in my garden. Certainly, this is pushing the hardiness limits in our neck of the woods, so I have been scouting for a very protected spot (thinking of a clearing in our now dense grove of Yellow Groove Bamboo). ‘Charity’ is hardy to 0 degrees F, but we usually dip below that for at least a day or two each winter.
Of course all of you who live in balmier zones 7-9 should consider giving this winter interest plant a try. It is a broadleaf evergreen, and so it would be prudent to choose a site with protection from winter winds and strong western sun. Plants develop a vase shape and usually grow to 5-7’ tall but can reach 10’ in mild climates, with a width of 3-6’. The flowers begin forming in late October, providing unexpected color when you need it most from late November into January. The multiple upright racemes of small flowers are magnets for bees, who may venture out on mild days. Rich blue fruit follow in spring, thus the common name Grape Holly, and these are relished by birds. Older foliage may take on reddish tones in late winter, and tarnished leaves should be pruned once fresh growth begins to unfurl.
Mahonia can be grown in full sun or dappled shade, but if grown in full sun it it may require a bit more watering in dry spells. I should also add that the foliage has rather unfriendly sharp edges, and can deliver a “look but don’t touch” message to passerby.
Do you grow any forms of Mahonia and how have they performed where you live? Please share your experience.
It’s been on my calendar for months: Oct. 23-25, a 3 day weekend at Chanticleer, taking photographs with guided instruction from Rob Cardillo and Lisa Roper. Rob is an accomplished garden photographer who recently collaborated with Adrian Higgins, garden writer for The Washington Post, to chronicle the seasonal beauty of this “pleasure garden” as well as honor the artistic creativity of the talented staff in Chanticleer, A Pleasure Garden. Lisa Roper is one of the horticulturists at Chanticleer, who combines her artistic training with horticultural knowledge to design, implement and tend special garden areas, most recently the celebrated Gravel Garden. Lisa takes much of the imagery that graces the Chanticleer website.
I was also a tad worried. I knew that frost had struck the gardens just the week before (as it had here in my own garden), and I was wondering if the photo ops would be minimized by one freezing night’s wrath.
No need for concern, as a garden as beautifully composed as Chanticleer always has imagery to offer. There was luminous autumn foliage of course, and the grasses were at their prime, as well as seed pods which offered curious if not whimsical subject matter. I tend to look at things differently and find beauty in decay, as the garden surrenders to shorter days and limited temperatures.
An early arrival on Friday allowed me time to do some scouting as to where I should zoom in for image taking. The light in the garden was a bit harsh before 5pm, but this vignette on the covered porch had possibilities, so I made a mental note.
Good thing I did, because Sunday morning brought drizzle and skies of gray, and the porch was a safe refuge. The light turned out to be exquisite. I haven’t succumbed to orchid addiction yet, but this Lady Slipper Orchid caught the light most pleasingly in a chiaroscuro sort of way. Overcast days can present opportunities.
The Ruin and its surroundings have always been my favorite part of the garden, although I am apt to change my mind depending on the season. This outdoor living room, with its cut stone sofa and chairs, is both whimsical, functional, and works as year round sculpture.
Within the walls of the Ruin is the most elegant raised reflecting pool. After taking several shots at different times from different angles, a few images were quite pleasing but this one really sang. Yes, I am a succulent fanatic, and isn’t it delicious the way the succulents are reflected, not only in the pool but on the polished stone apron as well?
An admission here: I was unleashing my individualist’s streak here trying to work out this composition. (I had stopped at the Barne’s Foundation on Friday morning and absorbed a lot of Impressionist and Post Impressionist sensibilities.) I wanted to capture the pattern on pattern of the Poncirus (Hardy Orange) with the tree trunks and fall foliage in the background. There wasn’t a positive response from my classmates when I shared this image, but y’know, I still like it.
This brings me to a strong recommendation: whether you’re a budding photographer or involved in any artistic pursuit, you should consider signing up for workshops with peers. It is quite astonishing how everyone sees things differently. Each individual has his/her own point of view, and most points of view are valid. Positive or constructively critical feedback provides you with an awareness you are unlikely to arrive at on your own. Our instructor, Rob Cardillo, always found something positive to say about each participant’s work, and was kind and generous with his instruction on how each image could be improved.
One last note: if you’re someone who loves gardens and has never been, plan to visit Chanticleer. There are only a few days left before they close for the season on November 1st, but the 2016 season begins again early next spring. It is a public garden that is intimate, artistic, and full of horticultural treasures. It truly is a Pleasure Garden; there is no better way to describe it.
It usually happens sometime in mid October in southeastern MA, when a cloudless night will allow temperatures to drop into the low 30’s and a light frost nips unprotected tender plantings (yep, that’s what happened here). If a frost catches you by surprise, your plants may only have suffered slight foliage damage which can easily be trimmed off.
Small containers can simply be moved inside, but you’re probably not going to want to move a big heavy pot. The only thing to do to preserve your plants in this case is to dismantle your planting. Carefully pry loose the root balls to get at the plants. (Thanks Peter Tracey for acting as our model!)
Have a wheelbarrow nearby to transfer your unearthed roots.
Prepare a very well drained planting medium suitable for succulents. We use a barky perennial mix with added perlite and coarse sand. It is important that your plants don’t spend the winter in soil which stays moist all the time. Try to transplant into pots that are just big enough to contain the root ball. (This will help keep the pots on the dry side and will not take up much space.)
Place your pots near the sunniest windows in your home. The days are getting shorter and low light levels may can cause your plants to stretch towards the window. Rotate your pots to compensate. We water only when the pots are dry, and wait until late winter or early spring to fertilize.
See the Rehabbing Succulents Post for spring care.
Very soon, a frosty night will be threatening. If you haven’t already, now is the time to think about which tender plants you want to preserve for next year. You may have limited space and if you have collected a lot of plants, you will want to prioritize your selections. Here are links to recent blog posts on wintering over tender plants.
When planning container combos to display throughout our gardens and nursery, I want each planter to showcase unusual selections and color combos, have a beautiful rhythm, be easy to care for and still look terrific at the end of the season! Of course with our unpredictable summer weather (some years too wet, others too dry) some combinations hold up better than others. Above are my five favorite ensembles, and below are the dozen pots shown in the early summer “Before Shots” blog post , ( the end of September shot is right beside it).
Tall Cylinder Pot…The Verbena bonariensis, Tradescantia and Lantana exploded! The Melianthus held its own, but the Lemon Coral Sedum lost its battle with the Pale Puma Tradescantia, and the Heuchera ‘Southern Comfort’ has wimped out. Note that the Lantana montevidensis has never needed deadheading and shows no signs of stopping flower production.
The California Hydrangea Pot has aged gracefully. While the Ornamental Oregano ‘Kent Beauty’ had a great showing all through July into August, it finally allowed the ‘Gold Wings’ Tradescantia to take over spilling, while the slower growing Abutilon ‘Pink Charm’ is now dazzling into fall.
The Cast Iron Urns have retained a subtle beauty all season. (The purple cast to the September shot demonstrates how the end of day light is changing. ) A super easy combo that required only an occasional cutting back of the Pelargonium sidoides flowering stems, the plant selections of Beschorneria, Cuphea hyssopifolia aurea Tradescantia Pale Puma’ and variegated Ivy held its scale well for the past 3 months.
Hummer’s Pot. Perhaps the least impressive pot at the beginning of the season but with real staying power as the plants aged beautifully. The Cuphea ‘David Verity’ has only asked to be watered regularly, and has never needed deadheading, the Helichrysum ‘Limelight’ did need a cut back once this summer, and the Oxalis ‘Zinfandel’ continues to shine with its dark foliage and tiny yellow flowers. Heuchera ‘Southern Comfort’ is working well here. Hummingbirds loved visiting, and this is still an impressive planting for autumn.
The white form of Lantana montevidensis began to overwhelm the other plants in the White Bean Pot , even after being cut back several times….Oh well, too much of a good thing has its drawbacks.
Charcoal Urn... I wasn’t surprised that this combination of Phormium and Succulents would be easy care and would age well. It needed only occasional watering, and cutting back the Silver Falls Dichondra when it dripped onto the pathway.
Can you notice any difference in the Living Wreath of Mini Spider Plants (left–June, right–late September)? This is the perfect vertical garden for a shady door, needing only twice a week watering, even during the hot dry summer we just experienced.
This ensemble spoke quietly at first but became more memorable as the summer continued. The Abutilon ‘Pink Charm’ became more floriferous, the Heuchera ‘Beaujolais’ is taking on fall appropriate tawny tones, and I just adore the little Rosary Vine, Ceropegia woodii, dangling over the sides, with its peculiar pink and charcoal gray flowers.
This shady pot grouping was an experimental mix of similarly colored foliage…the tall Amorophophallis konjac(Voodoo Lily) never put out a spathe, but looked okay until early September when it very quickly began to go dormant. I was left with a nice full pot of Begonia ‘Wild Pony’ and little B. bowerae.
The Zen Bowl of succulents hardly needed any care so we didn’t pay attention until it became overwhelmed with Sedum ‘Lemon Coral’ in early August, which completely smothered its shorter neighbors. A harsh cut back helped, but it was a little too late for the buried plants to put on much growth. We’ve had such a warm September that the succulents have yet to take on their fall tones…will try to get another image now that we are starting to get cooler nights.
The Succulent Martini Pot was the hit of the summer…we sold this combination of plants over and over again. Notice how the rosy red flowers of little Crassula schmidtii add that perfect zing.
Our classic Seashell Pot with Succulents has aged beautifully,wouldn’t you agree? The September image shows how different the end of the day light is three months later.
Which combination ideas might you borrow for your containers next year?
Previous years results:
Redvein Enkianthus is about to betray its quiet charms any day now, with a display of technicolor fall foliage in shades of gold, orange, fiery red through purple. In mid to late spring it delights in a more soft-spoken way, bearing dainty clusters of white or red bells, depending on the cultivar. E. ‘Lipstick’ has white bells delicately edged in brick red, ‘Red Bells’ are colored, as the name suggests, coral red, and ‘Showy Lantern’. A slow growing shrub at first, it is often listed at growing from 6-8′ tall and 4-5′ wide, but with age it can easily reach 15′ or more with a wider reach. In fact, Enkianthus campanulatus can be pruned to from a lovely small tree. It is a perfect candidate for the partially shaded garden, both large and small.
Grow Redvein Enkianthus in full sun or partial shade. It enjoys an enriched, well drained, acidic soil that stays evenly moist, although we have found it to be quite forgiving of dry spells, once established. It is deer resistant, but please note that deer will eat almost anything if hungry enough. Perfectly hardy in zones 5-8, with some reporting success growing it in zone 4B.
What’s black (dark chocolate) and white (ivory) and smells like grape jelly? Answer: Actaea simplex ‘Hillside Black Beauty’, formerly categorized as Cimicifuga and commonly known as Fairy Candles (yes!) Bugbane (eee-uugh!), or Cohosh. This selection originated years ago at Fred and Maryann McGourty’s famous Hillside Gardens in CT. Select this plant for its brown/black foliage which is attractive all season. In September, fragrant ivory flowers on 5-6′ stems emit a smell reminiscent of my childhood… Welch’s grape jelly. Actaea like a soil that has even moisture, and will need supplemental watering in dry spells. Hardy in zones 5-8.
Toad lilies have their charms….exquisite, up close and personal blossoms, sometimes lavender, sometimes purple spotted…Tricyrtis ‘White Towers’ has pure white blossoms which lack spots, but are accented with lavender tinted stamens. The upright somewhat arching stems grow 18-20″ tall, and plants spread by stolons. Toad lilies like an evenly moist soil as well, and are hardy in zones 4-8.
More attention should be paid to Hosta with showy flowers, especially when they bloom at the end of the summer. Hosta ‘One Man’s Treasure’ is a small to medium Hosta with simple dark green leaves that have distinctive reddish purple petioles. In late September clusters of showy dark lavender flowers are produced. Hardy in zones 3-8.
Aralia cordata ‘Sun King’ , commonly known as Spikenard, has bold compound leaves which are bright yellow when grown in a lot of sun, and more of a chartreuse if given more shade. At first this plant seems unimposing, but give this Aralia a few years and it will be super sized…a good 5-6′ tall and wide. White starbursts of flowers form in September on dark stems followed by black fruit. Hardy in zones 4-9.
Pretty enough to be grown as a container specimen, yet Begonia grandis perpetuates for us in well drained soil, especially in pockets at the top of our retaining wall. Plants are propagated by dividing little bulbils which form underground as well as along the stems. The attractive ovate leaves are under-sided in a ruby red , and from August to October sprays of dainty pale pink flowers are born on 18″ upright then decumbent stems. Please note that in the spring, plants don’t show signs of like until late May here in New England, so mark the planting spot to prevent plants from accidentally being dug up. Hardy in zones 6-10.
There is no other way to say it: Ashe’s Big Leaf Magnolia is boldly beautiful. Folks often grow Magnolias for their early spring bloom, but you will want to seek out Magnolia macrophylla ashei for its large green foliage (up to 2+’ in length) which is undersided in a lovely shade of silvery celadon. (Floral designers take note: the foliage is gorgeous when cut and dried for winter arrangements.) Early summer flowers are sweetly fragrant with white petals accented with a red brush stroke and are large as well, up to 1′ across.
Magniolia macrophylla ashei, a Southeastern US native, forms a large shrub or small tree. It’s tropical appearance belies its hardiness as it is easily grown in zones 6-9 (with reports of it also growing in zone 5 with protection). The form ashei is a smaller tree than the straight species, and is often seen as a multistmemed shrub but can be pruned to form a small tree, growing to 15′ tall in its northern most range, and up to 25′ tall in milder climates. Big Leaf Magnolia prefers a sunny or partially shaded place in a border with rich evenly moist soil that has good drainage. Very windy spots are not recommended, as the gorgeous foliage will get damaged. Another positive note…Big Leaf Magnolia is deer resistant.
As July ends, and August begins, I always feel as if the perennial garden is pausing, waiting for a turn in the weather (less heat and more rain). Still, there are little gems and surprises, like the just beginning to bloom hardy Gladiolus ‘Ruby’, and (surprise!) the truly hardy pineapple lily, Eucomis ‘Oakhurst’. I can attest that all 3 Eucomis planted in the garden last year survived last winter’s extremes, although not a one broke ground until early June.
Wishing we had planted more Glaucium flavum (Horned Poppy). This apricot yellow form, planted in a well drained soil near our garage, has proven reliably perennial for 3 years now, and looks fresh in the early August heat.
“Must have” summer blooming Allium selections ‘Millennium’ and ‘All Summer Beauty‘ don’t mind the heat and are resistant to garden pests. These clump forming plants are great accents for the front of the border. Notice the difference in color: Allium ‘Millennium’ is in the foreground, with the paler ‘All Summer Beauty’ in the near distance.
We planted Aralia cordata ‘Sun King’ last year in this new bed, and now in his second season he is getting some oomph. He should provide us with blooms later this month or in September, perhaps , and give more height and contrast to the green Hakonechloa macra.
As for potted plants, we decided to show off our Begonia collection which is thoroughly enjoying the heat and humidity. Stewartia ‘Ballet’ , in the background, has finished blooming, so we staged a scene for more interest in this shady nook.
Despite the humidity, most of our succulents are doing quite well, thank you. Our stock plants looked so happy we staged them just outside the greenhouse on a long bench,and I’d say they are putting on a flower show of their own.
What special plants are showing off in your mid summer garden? If you want to share images with us and our friends, why not post them on our Facebook page?