Dying Well-Aging Attractively
Maybe it’s the time of year, or maybe it’s the time of man….no wait a minute, those are song lyrics*. Come on, shake out of it. Let’s start again, … It is the time of year when the plants growing at the Fairegarden are contemplated and evaluted as to their performance over twelve months of growing. We first wrote about it last year with a post that can be seen by clicking here, Dying Well. One reader thought our water source had dried up by that title so the phrasing has been edited for further explanation this year. There are those plants that more than deserve the space they take up in the beds lining the meandering paths, like the daylilies, Hemerocallis, skeletal seedhead above.
There are those plants that have four season interest, most notably the Euphorbia dulcis ‘Chameleon’. So highly regarded is this plant, it got its very own post. Click here if you are interested. Also shown are the blue volunteer dianthus, golden creeping Jenny, Lysimachia nummularia ‘Aurea’ and the dark rosettes of Ajuga reptans. This happy mix and match makes up the plantings in the stair risers that lead to the knot garden. They have overtaken the original planting of creeping thymes long ago. Nature is much better at plantings than this mere mortal.
Since jumping onto the Piet Oudolf and friends bandwagon method of plant selection, that is, using low maintenance perennials that need only a yearly cut down, if any, need no staking and remain attractive after the chlorophyll has left the building, there has been critical study of the way plants die back in the cold seasons. The native ironweed, Vernonia altissima has what it takes to make the cut. It is backed by the going dormant Japanese blood grass, Imperata cylindrica which is shown in nearly every single post written here. The seed heads of the ironweed look like bristly fan artist paint brushes, ready to stipple in the foliage on a Bob Ross instant masterpiece.
It is surprising how many plants have structural beauty in addition to the foliage color change in fall. In the black garden image above, the stand out color of the switch grass Panicum virgatum ‘Heavy Metal’ is joined by the strapping foliage of Crocosmia ‘Lucifer’ in the angled light. The red flowers of Salvia elegans, pineapple sage add the right shot of pizzazz to the scene. All in all a fine example of fading faire, (next years post title).
Hostas were one of the first perennials we ever noticed having fall color. There was a bed dominated by hostas outside the greenhouse window of our first Tennessee home. As the woodland back yard of that house shed its finery to the ground below, the hostas remained a bright colorspot in the view outside. It was an epiphany. For some misguided reason we thought only trees and some shrubs gave leaf peeping tourists their moneys worth. Modern day life being too busy to clear cut the garden denizens after the first frost, and not having paid live in gardening staff as in days of old, for the wealthy landowners that is, the to do chores of fall are now left undone. The garden is a much prettier place for it too. All perennials are now regarded as to how they dwindle. Some years are better than others, so this pleasant task is one to last a lifetime.
Some of our most favorite plants turned out to have fabulous fall into winter interest. Like the Astilbes and Japanese painted ferns, Athyrium niponicum var. pictum growing along the wall under the garage deck. In years past, the spent flower stalks were routinely removed from the foliage, and often by this time the foliage was cut all the way to the ground. What a mistake, for see how the leaves and spent stalks add so much more interest than bare earth.
The perennial pepper, first written about here, a passalong from neighbors Mae and Mickey has fruit that is quite late turning from green to orange. These orange delicasies, somebody eats them, rabbits perhaps?, will enliven the dull greys and browns throughout the winter season. A colder than usual winter did not kill them last year, although they were slower to leaf out from total dormancy in the spring. Several sprung up in the gravel paths and have been transplanted to the beds for their own safety. No name has ever been found for them. Mae just called it the perennial pepper, and so do I. Golden creeping Jenny in the background. Added: There has been a positive ID on this perennial pepper, actually a Jerusalem Cherry, Solanum capsicastrum, by the very helpful Joseph of Greensparrow Gardens. Many thanks, Joseph. We will go back and add the name to the old post when time allows.
Shrubs with something going on continually, like these Fothergilla ssp. are welcome. Multi hued fall foliage, interesting branch structure, honey scented white bottle brush flowers in spring and mid sized green leathery foliage add up to the perfect garden accoutrement. The suckers produced have been spread about hither and yon, yet another selling point, free plants.
Seedheads are left to ripen as the stems provide vertical interest. These Lilium ‘Black Beauty’ stalks are golden in the streaming light. We leave the monumental pods on after blooming, contrary to standard garden operating procedures manuals claim that the flowering will be lessened the next year. If you count the number of pods, you can see that leaving them to mature for seeds to sow did not hinder bloom numbers from the year before. The exquisite Japanese maple seedling broadcasting ruby rays behind the lilies is an added bonus. Even the price tag left on the green stake brings joy to this scene. I really should peel off that label though.
Fall is a good time to go plant shopping. The art of dying well can be seen firsthand, as in this newly purchased Spiraea thunbergia ‘Ogon’. This was picked up at the University of Tennessee plant sale last week.
Following the Semi school of gardening, named for offspring Semi’s methodology of doing nothing besides planting, can lead to discoveries pleasant. The Joe Pye weed in the foreground of the above shot, Eutrochium??? when did that name get changed from Eupatorium? she asked pointedly, E. purpureum sports yellowing leaves and bristle like flower remains. Also yellowing on the right is a native Thalictrum ssp. and amber royal fern, Osmunda regalis to the left. Decandent decay deemed too delightful to dismiss.
Not spending time cleaning up the fall garden by using plantings that require nothing more than a shearing before the new growth of spring, frees up the precious minutes of each day better spent on more worthwhile pursuits. The planter on the front porch, better called a stoop really, has had these same plantings for more than five years, Japanese painted fern and variegared ivy. It gets a yearly trim and regular watering, sometimes some slow release fertilizer granules, sometimes not.
Having fun with concrete seems a better use of the gardening hours than playing clean up. Like constant dusting in the house, there are things that are much more enriching to the life experience. We are happy to introduce Yorick Bongo Congo, distant cousin to Mrs. BC.
Alas, poor Yorick! And no, he was not broken on purpose just so that line could be used. He is now only a fraction of his former self after being knocked off the wall by the leaf vacumning gardener. He might now need some expensive reconstructive oral surgery, and he has no insurance, poor guy. Or maybe a Yorick II would be easier. My heart sank when I saw his toothy remains on the gravel path below. Yet another reason to keep the garden maintenance chores to a minimum, better to practice hypertufa cosmetic dentistry.
*Of course these words are from the genius Joni Mitchell’s song . While I love her version of the composition, I believe Crosby Stills Nash And Young gave it the rocking tempo that better summed up the Summer Of Love, 1969 experience on their 1970 album Deja Vu. No, I wasn’t there, but almost went, as if that counts for anything. Click here to listen to the rousing anthem of an attractively aging generation.