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Color in the Autumn Garden

Annual salvia

The days are growing shorter. When I drive down my road I have begun averting my eyes from a maple branch that has burst into flame. Autumn is officially upon us. And yet there is a lot of bloom in my garden.

One of the benefits of annuals is that many will bloom well into the fall. I have pots of snapdragons, petunias, osteospurnum and ‘Million Bells,’  a healthy blooming border of an annual salvia around the Shed Bed of roses, cosmos are blooming like crazy in the Lawn Bed, morning glories are right outside our window, a buttery yellow nasturtium has taken over the Front Garden and down in the Potager zinnias, gomphrena ‘Strawberry Fields’ and China asters are in bloom. Those alone would make quite a colorful bouquet.

China asters

Even without much effort a number of perennials are still blooming: garden phlox, achillea, and Russian sage. These three plants are a good lesson in the different ways to keep a colorful garden into the fall. First, varieties of garden phlox can begin flowering in early summer. Cut the flowers for bouquets or wait until they fade and cut them back. With a little luck in the weather they will produce a second flush of bloom. Achillea or yarrow works the same way.

Phlox, Cosmos and Perovskia

Perovskia or Russian sage is an airy plant with tiny lavender flowers on its graceful stems that begins blooming in midsummer and continues right on into fall. Echinops or globe thistle and Eryngium or sea holly are other plants that will give you bloom into the fall, and also make good additions to dried flower arrangements as do some of the yarrows. ‘Coronation Gold’ is an old standard achillea that is very good for dried arrangements.

I did not plant any dahlias this year, but a trip across the Bridge of Flowers anytime from August until frost will show what a good plant dahlias, in all their many forms, are for the autumn garden. Some are little pompoms, some are as big as dinner plates and named such, some are shaggy and some are spiky. Dahlias have long lasting color and form to suit any taste. The secret to having floriferous dahlias is to keep cutting them, keep making bouquets and you will have an amazingly long season of color.

Instead of dahlias I planted a chrysanthemum collection in our little circle garden. Buying a collection from a mail order catalog like Bluestone Perennials is a good way to try out a plant in its many forms. I ordered a collection of spoon and quilled mums in colors from cream to pink, lavender, red and copper. The words spoon and quill refer to the petal shapes. I was really looking forward to an interesting array of colorful mums.

However, I had not counted on this year’s crop of rabbits. We have gotten used to deer, nibbling at things and while we are not happy about that, we have come to expect it. This year, for the first time we had rabbits. Many rabbits. There are big rabbits and little rabbits. And they are all hungry.

They ate the new beet greens in the Front Garden early this spring, and young squash plants while the deer ate all our peas. It never dawned on me that rabbits would eat my chrysanthemum collection. But they did. Three days in a row I went out and found a mum plant gone. Three out of six plants went into a mum meal for the bunnies. Just in time to save the last three plants a friend suggested black netting.

The circle garden really exists because there a big boulder in the lawn and planting annuals there marks the spot so the mower doesn’t damage itself and we get a unique view every year.  This year I had put up a bamboo teepee for a morning glory collection. The rabbits kept eating the morning glory shoots too.

With a few additional small bamboo stakes and a piece of fine black netting that I found in the shed I wrapped and tacked the net around the circle. Success! The rabbits could no longer eat the remaining plants.

The morning glories that were left started climbing up the bamboo teepee and I pretty much forgot about that little plot of earth. My husband mowed around it, but I didn’t even have the time to do the neat edging. The other day I went to see how the mums were doing. One, possibly Starlet described as yellow/copper, has begun to bloom in spite of the tangle of netting, morning glory vine and the weedy galinsoga with its tiny tiny rayed flowers. It is not quite the display that I had envisioned back in May when I put those healthy young plants in the ground, but one takes what one can get in this busy world.

'Alma Potschke'

Right now I am admiring my ‘Alma Potsche’ raspberry pink aster which is starting to bloom, just one of the many asters available to gardeners searching for fall bloom.

As soon as I decide how to protect it from the rabbit herd, I am going to plant Eupatorium or Joe-Pye weed, a six foot plant with winey-pink flower heads that to me, is an icon of the New England fall.

The trees are gaining color every day, but the flower gardens are ready to throw in the towel just yet.  ####

Between the Rows    September 17, 2011

1 comment to Color in the Autumn Garden

  • Great post!–I love the aster above 🙂 My garden phlox are blooming now also… Not because I cut them back in the spring, but because the deer ate them! Fortunately, they survived and I’m enjoying their blooms now! Happy Fall 🙂

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