A Tale of Two Gardens-Wildflower Wednesday

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I am the gardener of two gardens. Just me, and I am not a big, strong, strapping specimen of super digging, weeding and pruning power. I am sort of small and weak and not what one would truthfully call young.
Above: Pink muhly grass, Muhlenbergia capillaris grabs the focus away from the goldenrod and asters blooming in the front garden.

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Taking care of a garden on a steep slope in southeast Tennessee has been my full time occupation for over thirteen years. During that time the plantings have been adjusted in such a way as to take less time for toiling and making more time for quiet contemplation and enjoyment as the garden has matured.
Above: Aster tataricus ‘Jin Dai’

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Using more of what works is the key to the lowest maintenance and greatest beauty. Native plants have proven to be the best workhorses, although there are friendly non-natives planted in the Tennessee Fairegarden.
Above: Daddy of Jin Dai, the species Aster tataricus, shared with me by my friend Gail of Clay and Limesone who is also the founder of Wildflower Wednesday. To see more wildflowers on the fourth Wednesday of each month, go over and visit her!

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Consideration has been made for not only bloom appearance but also the for the art of *dying well*, sometimes referred to as Fading Faire. What this means is that the plantings need to offer texture and structure as the winter months approach and beyond.
Above: Fothergilla gardenii, click here for info about this native shrub.

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Trees and shrubs with berries and colorful fall foliage, strong erect stems and seedheads that don’t turn to mush are requirements.
Above: The native Eastern wahoo, Euonymus atropurpureus. Click here for more information about this berry laden beauty.

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Our other garden is located in western North Carolina. Gardening is sporadic on the other side of the Smoky Mountains, (there is no E in Smoky). The decision was made in the very beginning to plant only native trees, shrubs and perennials at Fairegarden-NC.
Above: Aster tataricus ‘Jin Dai’, winterberry holly, Ilex verticillata ‘Winter Red’, Echinacea seedheads and Panicums in the background.

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There are natives or edibles only, with natives being somewhat loosely defined. Four seasons of interest for this small space were considered with evergreens, berries and tall grasses as the backbone of the plantings.

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The house was purchased in December of 2010. Gardening began immediately, of course. Newspapers and mulch were laid over the newly seeded lawn grass. Winterberry hollies and three species of switch grass, Panicum virgatum went into the new bed. More natives have been added over the years. The garden is now full. The story of the garden’s creation can be seen by clicking here.
Above: Winter Red fronted by the well dying Agastache ‘Blue Fortune’

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Blueberries of various types back the flowers and grasses.

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Coneflowers and black eyed susans were added curbside for summer color. A single Aster tataricus ‘Jin Dai’ was brought over from the Tennessee garden to see how it would blend in. It has done well and more may be added if we are too impatient to wait for spreading by root and seed.

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“It is a far, far better thing that I do, than I have ever done; it is a far, far better …” oops. Please forgive my slipping into Dickens’ prose, the inspiration for the title of this post. The idea here is to learn to love the remnants that remain as the garden slips into winter. Plant accordingly to make gardening less of a drudge and far, far better by using those plants that do best in your conditions. Look amongst the natives for prime choices. So saith the mockingbird. But that’s another story…

Frances

Posted in Wildflowers, wildlife | 20 Comments

Top Ten October Blooming Plants

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Fall brings a fresh flush of flowers to the Fairegarden. On this October Bloom Day, the sharing of what is flowering around the fifteenth of each month that was invented by my friend Carol of May Dreams Gardens, it was decided that a top ten list of plants might be a way to present what was going on here. I actually detest that type of story, it seems a cheap attention grabbing device rather than good writing. But, that said, I find myself reading those types of things myself, so there you go. First up is Crocus sativus, the saffron crocus. A post containing more information can be read by clicking here. Note the little honeybee backside sticking up out of the far right flower. Pretty cute.

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Similar but different is Crocus speciosus. This fall blooming crocus is more blue than purple, and of course lacks the signature red saffron stigmas of C. sativus. Note the little spider hiding out on the lowest bloom. Also blooming but not shown is Sternbergia lutea, newly added last fall. It should have been planted with the crocus to better appreciate the yellow cup shaped flower. Maybe I will move it. A post was written about the fall bulbs which can be seen by clicking here if you so desire. They are a fun group.

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Okay, we are on to number two of the top ten, for those keeping score. Number one was fall blooming bulbs. I am not very good at this top ten thing. These are in no particular order, by the way. Where were we? Oh yes, the second top October blooming plant is the Cuphea ssp. family. There are several species growing well here this year, all are annuals. Cuphea ignea, the cigar plant seems to be the easiest and most floriferous. Pollinators too large to enter the trumpet shaped flowers puncture the bloom to get the nectar. This honeybee was very busy doing so while I was stalking him with the camera.

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Around the raised box bed, three types of Cuphea ssp. attract hummingbirds, bees and various other winged insects. It is a hive of activity. Cuphea ‘Purple Passion’ and Cuphea micropetala join the row of C. ignea that was raised from cuttings overwintered in the greenhouse/sunroom. Elsewhere are several Cuphea ‘Twinkle Pink’ plants that are covered in buzzing pollinators. Cuttings have been taken and are being grown on for next year as we speak, er write.

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Asters have been assigned the number three spot on our list. There are many of those growing here, including at least three different white flowered species that were originally pulled as weeds in the early pre-wildflower appreciation years of this garden. The thinking was that if I didn’t plant it, it must be undesirable. Such arrogance has now been tamped down, thank goodness. Aster tataricus ‘Jindai’ was one of several blue asters purchased a few years ago. It stands upright, head and shoulders above the lax stems of most of the other asters. The large flower centers offer good dining opportunities for many pollinators, including these three bumbles.

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Number four is the mums. The name many have changed, like the asters, but they will always and forever be referred to here as mums, or sheffies, short for the pioneer Sheffield Hill Pink that was purchased at Mouse Creek Nursery thirteen years ago. A post about The Sheffies can be seen here.

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While the sheffies are of an apricot fading to light pink hue, there arose a seedling that in bud resembled the apricot of the sheffies but that opened to yellow. My friend Christopher of Outside Clyde named these the Yellies after both types were shared with him, and that is what we call them, as well.

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Subsequent offspring that usually show up in the gravel paths with the telltale mum foliage shape have included pure white…

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…and this more orangey yellie. There is but one plant of this darker colored mum and I moved it to a special location to keep an eye on it.

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It blends nicely with the Cupheas and blue asters. What shall it be called? Anyone?

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Next up on the list of bestest would have to be grasses. Movement, texture and verticality join the blooms to make fall the perfect time for grasses to shine. This is the flower/seedhead of a brand new this week addition, Bouteloua gracilis ‘Blonde Ambition’. It looks like a false eyelash worthy of a rockstar, doesn’t it?

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Lest anyone be fooled by the closeup macro shot of the blue grama grammy winner namesake, here is the actual size of it. The previous photo is of the whitish blob just above the watermark. It will grow on in this container and might just stay there with another grass that hates my acid, clay soil, blue oat grass, Helictotrichon sempervirens. Also dwelling in this lime enriched pot are some baby Hordeum jubatum started from seed last winter. Grasses are quite easy to grow from seed and that is a good way to obtain the unobtainable ones. I have found that putting the little guys in cloistered environments helps them attain some size before being set loose in the jungle of a garden here.

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No October bloom day could be considered complete without some gratuitous pink muhly grass shots. It is seen here with some sheffies and a knockout rose. Roses could have been on the list of top plants but I think that is enough for now.

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Pink muhly grass, Muhlenbergia capillaris and Aster oblongifolius ‘October Skies’ line the driveway. The turning leaves of deciduous trees under the tall pine trees at the edge of the property make a fine backdrop in October for these top plantings. Aiming for ten but ending up with five is good enough, I believe. Fall bulbs, Cupheas, mums, asters and grasses are it, then. If you plant these you will have a gorgeous October garden. Plant lots of varieties of each and you will make the pollinators very happy, as well.

Frances

Posted in Garden Bloggers Bloom Days, wildlife | 22 Comments

Peak Pinkness

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I think we are there.

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Peak pink perfection for the pink muhly grass, Muhlenbergia capillaris.

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This is how it really looks. Yes, it really is that pink.

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Full midday sun and breezy are not the usual conditions for optimum photos, but those are the best conditions to capture the pure pink cotton candy-ness of the pink muhly grass.

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There is a line of clumps all the way across the top of the slope, in front of the boxwood hedge that encloses the Knot Garden.

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There is a ring around the standard trained Knockout rose in the front of the house, seen in the opening image of this post. Those are the original plantings of the two one-gallon containers purchased from Lowe’s more than a decade ago. All other pink muhly plants were begat from those two.

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And finally, there is a stand that runs along the downhill slope of the driveway, bordered in front by Aster oblongifolius ‘October Skes’. All of the plants in the Fairegarden are now fully pink, as pink as they can get. This pinkness will last for a few more weeks then will begin to darken to what I call the purple bruise stage. From there the color slowly drains out and the fluff will turn to biscuit. Still very beautiful. It will be left standing until after the hoopla of the holidays is over for another year, then it will all be cut down to ground level. We will enjoy these moments in the breezy sun while they last.

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For more information and links to more posts about Muhlenbergia capillaris, pink muhly grass, click here.

Frances

Posted in Plant Portrait, Seasonal Chores | 21 Comments

An October Stroll

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Even as I write this, it does not yet feel like October here in the Fairegarden, but the calendar states otherwise. Warm or cool, the yearly tableau of pumpkins on the little bench on the front porch is a favorite craft, with roasting done later for pies and other goodies. The top left pumpkin was just cut from the vine, a leaf is still attached. It was a volunteer from the compost pile. We usually get at least one pumpkin pop up to grow and produce a fruit. A post about such good fortune can be read by clicking here.

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October is the season of the grand finale for the Dahlias. More of these beauties have been added each year and the raised box where they winter over nicely is full. New for 2013 is Dahlia ‘Atropurpurea’ from the wonderful Scott at Old House Gardens.

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This gorgeous specimen, Dahlia ‘Mystic Spirit’ was purchased as a potted plant during the garden blogger’s fling of 2012 at B.B. Barns in Asheville, North Carolina. The foliage is dark and the color is divine.

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A couple of years ago I decided that there were enough oranges and reds in the Dahlia box and thought that Dahlia ‘Bishop of Leicester’ with dark foliage and white with lavender steaks on the blooms would be a good addition to all the hot colors. It was ordered from Plant Delights Nursery and has grown well.

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The one Dahlia out of several seedlings planted out that has survived for several years from the original sowing of a packet of Dahlia ‘Bishop’s Children’ seeds from Thompson and Morgan is over six feet tall and a robust blooming machine. The pollinators and hummingbirds adore the single Dahlias, the better to be able to reach the nectar, my dears.

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Planted this summer was a three gallon pot of Salvia leucantha. Lime was added to our acid soil at planting time and the location is the most protected spot available here. I am hoping to cheat on the zone and create a USDA 8a instead of the normal 7a for a return next spring. A hummingbird visited this big boy recently and completely ignored me while I was standing just inches away. The little bird stopped right in front of my face, trying to decide if I might be a source of food. Sadly, I did not have my camera, which would have spoiled the moment anyway. My heart did a flutter as the beating wings created a breeze that brushed my face. Ahhhhh…

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Beware of fuzzy caterpillars! Do not touch or try to pet any hairy catts or you will get a sharp and painful sting. I speak from experience. This vandal, er creature feasting on the purple cabbage may be the larvae of the acrea moth. If anyone thinks this is not correct, please feel free to correct me. It does provide a nice color combo.

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I was overjoyed to see this Gulf fritillary butterfly visiting the Verbena bonariensis. It is the first sighting of the season. The larval food of passionvine, Passiflora incarnata is allowed to grow more places than it deserves here just to accomodate this orange flutterby. Hooray! This plant was featured in a Wildflower Wednesday post that can be seen by clicking here.

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For over a decade the area now known as the Gravel Garden, story about how it came to be can be found by clicking here, has been a slovenly mess come fall. Plants have been added and removed ad infinitum in order to achieve the vision. This might be it, or as close as we can come and still have year-round interest.

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Easy peasy lemon squeezey is the peegee hydrangea standard maintenance. No tweaking with this one. Hydrangea paniculata ‘Grandiflora’ is never fail for glorious gorgeousness. I love how the pristine white florets fade to pinky green in the fall before turning to toast. The top parts are all cut to the nub in late winter or whenever I get tired of looking at them, which doesn’t usually happen for a while. In the beginning, more pruning was done during the growing season, written about here, but I like the results of no pruning, as was the method this year. The spider web in the lower left quadrant was a serendipitous surprise!

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A few plants are grown here for the delightful berries rather than the attractive flowers. Rosa chinensis ‘Angel Wings’ is such a plant. Grown from seeds purchased from Renee’s Seeds, these small bushes display tiny red hips that will last all winter. Over the years, the group of seedlings have become nice sized and full of hips but no, they do not look fat! A post can be seen by clicking here, for those interested in learning more.

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For once, the pink muhly grass, Muhlenbergia capillaris is not shouting for attention at the top of the steep slope behind the main house. The sun has not yet lit the fire of desire on the pink inflorescences, but the morning light has painted the fall dogwood leaves in watercolor memories as the chlorophyll washes away before they drop gently to the earth. I guess fall is really here.

Frances

Posted in Seasonal Chores, wildlife | 29 Comments

Flowery Free For All

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October sees the garden in transition. Some parts of it seem sort of messy and out of control.
Above: Pink muhly grass, Muhlenbergia capillaris is a fluffy pink cloud. I like the yellow maple leaf floating in the middle.

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There are many, many flowers, but most are small in size. The yellow sulphur butterflies are everywhere, supping on the orange tubular blooms of Cuphea ignea. There is one now, just above my fairegarden watermark.

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Here is another, dining on an orange zinnia.

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Three species of Cuphea were planted in and in front of the Dahlia box. For once, the Dahlias are not the center of attention. The Cuphea ‘Purple Passion’ and Cuphea micropetala inside the box join the soldier straight row of Cuphea ignea growing below at the base of the old deck boards. Hummingbirds and bees of all sizes, shapes and colors join the butterflies at this nectar bar.

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Let’s go over to the other side of the back gardens, the steep slope behind the main house to see what is going on there.

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There are various asters, wild ageratum, Japanese Anemones all blooming splendidly, but the eye cannot look away from the pink muhly grass at the top of the hill. Soon the sheffies, post about them here, will be joining in the fun. You can see their buds just below the dark foliage of the knockout rose, also just coming into flower.

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On the other side of the slope stands the shed and its plantings. There are many dried seed heads of New England asters and various Eryngiums, among others. This year we are saving seeds more than usual in preparation for when/if we move when my husband, The Financier retires in the next couple of years. Saved, packaged and labeled then stowed in the freezer for the Genesis, the garden will begin again. Maybe. As a former girl scout and girl scout leader, our motto of Be Prepared has served me well over the years.

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Fall is definitely here, with the miasma matrix of grasses and tall perennials drawing the crowds. Heading back to garden beds behind the garage that are slightly less steep, the lone teasel, Dipsacus fullonum, post about it here, stands erect in the Gravel Garden.

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Along the garage side, the repurposed wheelbarrow planter is slowly being switched over to violas that will last through the winter and bloom bountifully in spring. But the lantanas, gomphrenas and alyssum still look so nice, I couldn’t bear to pull them just yet. Aster oblongifolius ‘October Skies’ are blue petticoats along the pathway to the back. In a minute, the sheffie mums will be joining them. Asters and mums make good chums, by the way.

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More seedheads, these are Rudbeckia triloba joining more Cuphea ignea. Last fall I took cuttings of the cigar plants after seeing how they were favored by the hummers, flutterbys and buzzers. The pieces rooted quickly and easily and grew inside the greenhouse/sunroom during the cold months. Thirty-eight well rooted plants were set out this spring and have thrived. This will be repeated, although perhaps some will reseed or even prove hardy. Ever the optimist. The pink spikes behind are Persicaria amplexicaulis ‘Firetail’.

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Toad lilies, Tricyrtis ‘Empress’ are blooming as never before. A story about them can be seen by clicking here, if you so desire. These are planted more for the gardener than the pollinators. I love them.

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Sitting in the chairs, sometimes with the camera in hand but more often unencumbered, watching the butterflies and buzzers flit and bob happily, the thought came to me that this garden is an oasis of flowers in a sea of mowed lawns and clipped evergreen shrubs in the neighborhood. It is alive with wings and even creepy crawly things, a place where nature rules supreme, weeds and all. Except crabgrass. I hate crabgrass.

Frances

Posted in Musings, Seasonal Chores, wildlife | 16 Comments

The Stars of the Moment-End of September 2013

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The garden is on the cusp of turning to all fall all the time. Certain plants are leading the way. A quick perusal with camera in hand showed these few plant picks to be worthy choices to help enliven a fall garden. First up is this small native tree, the eastern wahoo, Euonymus atropurpureus.

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This tree or large shrub is nondescript in spring and summer, but when the days begin to shorten in fall, the leaves turn crimson and the fruit opens to reveal striking red berries.

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This specimen was given to me as a seedling from good neighbor Mickey and has grown well to now anchor the front corner of our property. Euonymus atropurpureus is hardy in USDA Zones 3-7, reaching a height of 12 to 20 feet with a similar spread. I prune mine for a more narrow width. Grow it in full sun to part shade with medium moisture. It is tolerant of the dreaded black walnut, as well, a big plus here.

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Looking quite cheerful now are the various Solidago ssp., most came with the property but the above shot is of Solidago ‘Fireworks’, a fine cultivar that is more refined in size and spreading. It’s companion in the photo is the hummingbird magnet, Cuphea ignea.

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Goldenrods of all types are pollinator favorites and the stalwart of fields and roadsides in autumn. Some of these native wildflowers can get quite tall, but in my garden they get the chop chop in May to keep them shorter. Click here to read about that.

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Goldenrod has a long bloom time and offers color contrast for the next plant pick for the end of September, Aster (Symphyotrichum) oblongifolium ‘October Skies’.

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The blue fall blooming asters are the perfect counterpoint to the yellow goldenrods and turning foliage of deciduous trees. It looks pretty with the pink muhly grass, Muhlenbergia capillaris, too.

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Aster ‘October Skies’ seeds about promiscuously here to form large clouds of blue. Lax stems make for a billowing effect.

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Hardy in USDA Zones 3-8, plant Aster ‘October Skies’ in full sun for best flowering, although part shade seems fine for it here. Drought tolerant and not particular to soil type makes this an easy to grow addition for the fall garden.

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An Honorable mention award go to the foliage plant, Persicaria ‘Red Dragon’. This was added to the Lawn/Meadow last year and has filled in admirably. To read more about that, click here. Tiny white flowers are merely a bonus, for it is the red and silver leaves that provide the interest.

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Also receiving some attention are the self sown morning glories. They twine around whatever is nearby on their climb skyward. The blue flowers are stunning in the early morning light. The wrought iron chairs that sit outside the front door look happy with the vine covering. It makes me smile every time I go out.

Frances

Posted in Plant Portrait, what looks good now | 10 Comments

Pink Muhly Grass-Muhlenbergia Capillaris

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The Gulf coast native grass, Muhlenbergia capillaris is the official harbinger of fall in the Fairegarden. It is the chosen plant to represent Wildflower Wednesday for September, 2013, the meme of my good friend Gail of Clay and Limestone.

Pink muhly grass on an overcast day

Pink muhly grass on an overcast day


Its time has come. The planting on the steep slope is always the first to reach peak pink. It is the view that greets us as we walk out the back door.

Pink muhly grass bedazzles when the sun is shining

Pink muhly grass bedazzles when the sun is shining


Smile inducing all the time but when the sun is shining brightly, the pink sparkles are so vivid you might want to grab the sunglasses for better viewing.

Pink muhly grass, Muhlenbergia capillaris on an overcast day

Pink muhly grass, Muhlenbergia capillaris on an overcast day

Pink….

Pink muhly grass, Muhlenbergia capillaris is more pink in bright sunshine

Pink muhly grass, Muhlenbergia capillaris is more pink in bright sunshine

….Pinker

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Some facts about the muhly grass from an article in Fine Gardening magazine:
Height- 3 ft. to 6 ft.
Spread- 1 ft. to 3 ft.
Growth Habit- Clumps
Growth Pace- Moderate Grower
Light- Full Sun to Part Shade
Moisture- Adaptable
Maintenance- Low
Tolerance- Deer Tolerant;Drought Tolerant
USDA Zones 7-10
Characteristics- Native; Self Seeds; Showy Flowers; Showy Foliage; Showy Seed Heads
Bloom Time- Fall
Flower Color- Pink Flower; Purple/ Lavender Flower
Uses- Beds and Borders, Container, Ground Covers, Cut Flower, Dried Flower, Naturalizing, Specimen Plant/ Focal Point, Suitable as Annual, Waterside
Style Cottage Garden, Meadow Garden
Seasonal Interest- Winter Interest, Summer Interest, Fall Interest

Pink muhly grass, still pretty on December 13, 2012

Pink muhly grass, still pretty on December 13, 2012

Muhlenbergia capillaris will be a focal point in my garden from September through December, when it will get cut down to the ground, sometimes even mowed, before the new growth begins to show.

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Recently offspring Semi and her offspring LTB, look how he has grown!, came over to dig some plants for her garden. In snapping some images of them working together, this photo reveals her looking up the slope, most likely at the pink muhly grass. She has several patches of pink muhly on her own slope already. Blooming size seedlings were dug for her from the Knot Garden gravel paths that day. Do you suppose she is dreaming of her grass having a similar appearance some day? It can happen!

For more information about Muhlenbergia capillaris and more photos, here are previous years’ posts about it, some are more clever than others:

Do You Like Pink? September 2012
Pink Muhly Grass Time October 2011
More Muhly December 2011
Muhly Grass Grand Opening October 2010
Waiting For Muhly-Finally Over November 2010
Muhly Watch Friday September 2009
Muhly Grass-See You In September January 2009

In addition to these blog posts, I wrote an article for the April 2012 edition of State By State Magazine that can be seen by clicking here.

Frances

Posted in Plant Portrait, Wildflowers | 25 Comments