This is the beginning of the real test of a garden, after that killing hard frost. A gardener spends their lifetime looking at the space in which they can play, trying to think of what will make it look pleasing to them for the longest period of time. Spring is easy, fall planted bulbs, early flowering shrubs and woodland wildflowers nearly plant themselves. Summer is full and lush, with most perennials in blowsy bloom. Fall has the brilliance of blazing foliage and the late season grasses joining the mums and asters. And then there is now, after the fall but before the sharp coldness of winter sets in. The days are already shorter, much shorter as daylight becomes more precious. This is when the garden interest shifts to stark trunks and stems, birds at the feeders, and here in southeast Tennessee, the newly planted pansies and violas. We choose the violas for their smaller but more numerous blooms. They will continue growing enormous root systems underground during the cold months to produce abundance unmatched in spring by plants set out at that time. Above is Viola ‘Antique Shades’. The cold brings out the darker hues, in spring the oranges and yellows will blend for a smile inducing spectacle. This colorway was chosen for all the containers, to help the winter days pass more quickly with the energy they inspire.
Among the winter interest perennials is the true Geranium sanguineum, throwing out the occasional flower on warm days. The divided evergreen foliage spreads by runners and will don the reddish cloak for which it is named as temperatures. Sanguineum means blood red. The common name is Bloody Cranesbill, as the seedhead has the structure of that bird.
Cold weather months are the time of macro shots for bloom days, usually. The single flower found, perhaps hidden under a protective covering of fallen leaves will make the garden seem as though it is still overflowing with color. But the truth is closer to a hillside of muted neutrals. Sedum siebodii ‘October Daphne’ , (the new name is not being recognized here in a rebellion against unwise taxonomists who cannot leave easily pronouncable names be), will color up in leaf before disentegrating as the flower heads and stems remain intact until cut down in spring to start over once again. The tone is darker, but still interesting.
An example of the aforementioned macro features the annual Gomprena ‘Fireworks’, still blasting color despite being located on a corner that is hit hard by frost, unprotected and vulnerable. Wave after wave of cold will eventually suck the color from its petals, but for now it remains as bright as mid summer’s eve.
The roses that were open when the below freezing air mass hit were turned to toast, but the buds held tightly were protected to bloom as the weather moderated. Fall here is up and down, with losses as each dip occurs until the dip becomes the norm. Rosa ‘Moonlight’ has been a pleasure to grow, many flowers over a very long period, nearly year around. One large specimen was lost to the dreaded Rose Rosette disease and had to be dug and sent far away to the landfill. There are two remaining, thank goodness. Offspring Semi lost her largest Moonlight as well, but has cuttings growing quickly to full size.
Another rose flowering, there are several, the best photos are the ones shown here this day, is the Killer, Rosa ‘Alberic Barbier’ replacement Rosa ‘Madame Alfred Carriere’. The saga of Killer was explained in our earliest posts after the blogging began, for its fate was a dilemma. If you have any interest in finding out more, the posts can be seen by clicking here-Killer part one, here-Killer part two and here-Killer part three, in chronological order. There was a vote and the Madame won our hearts as one of the roses to climb the newly built arbor. She is joined by a Moonlight cutting and R. ‘Fortune’s Double Yellow’ there.
The most color in the garden is still being supplied by the mum clan. The Sheffies, C. ‘Sheffield Pink’ lead the way. Many of the flowers were taste tested by cucumber beetles this year, but enough remain unscathed to provide smiles when viewed from afar. Like in the lazyboy in the addition. Perhaps the little spider helped protect these stems from the vandals?
To show that we could not resist those candy colored monstrosities offered on every street corner, seen above is Exhibit A. Three giant pots were purchased and planted of the rusty orange with purple highlights a couple of years ago. Overnight, some critter pulled one of them entirely out of the ground and drug them away. Note I did not say if it was animal or human. Scratch one plant. The hole was smoothed over and left bare. The following year there was a smidgeon of foliage but no flowers. This year, one stem bravely topped with the highly desirable color emerged. While beautiful, this type of mum is not suited for garden use other than to be treated as an annual. It may have overwintered, but one stem does not a garden make. But that’s just me.
Nor does one small plant of dwarf pomegranate, Punica granatum ‘Nana’ a garden make. This oddball was purchased one winter a few years ago and kept in the greenhouse for some frivolous fun. It was planted in the ground the following spring in a protected spot under some evergreens and forgotten. The next winter, it was covered with some Christmas tree branches along with the more tender hydrangeas. We cut all the branches off of the trunk for garden use after the holidays are over. They make very fine and fragrant plant teepees and have afforded enough cover for the frost tender flower buds of the hydrangeas to survive and bloom. Remember to leave them in place until that last frost of spring date has safely passed. Back to the Pom, it does not produce any fruit, sad to say, but just the fact that it is alive in this zone denial planting is a coup.
Sigh. Here is where I reveal that I am a sham and a hypocrite. It is written on this blog to get rid of plants you don’t like, and here is the Gaillardia pulchella, growing and blooming, just to spite me. The color is offensive. It does not bring a smile, it brings a frown and we know that frowns cause wrinkles. But I digress. Seeds were planted in the beginning, why, who can say. But they germinated, grew well and flowered. But we didn’t care much for the way them looked in the garden and the plants were moved to other spots. They quickly died in the summer sun without water, and we thought that was that. But the seeds had dropped and new plants arose. They too bloomed, and even though we disliked them intensely, we could not pull a healthy blooming plant and ignored it. Naturally it kept seeding and making more plants, despite the lack of care. And so it continues, unloved and unwanted. It irks me everytime I pass the group of them, but my hand cannot pull the plug. I am weak. Forgive me.
Sometimes the plants get confused by the roller coaster ride that is our weather. Drought followed by plentiful rains can trigger blooming in some, like the Vinca minor ‘Illumination’ shown above. Most do not even get noticed but this blue babe is growing at the entryway to the concrete step stone path that leads up the slope. A shot of blue caught the eye and the body bent to get a closer look. Yup, flowering out of season.
Closing out this months bloom day, the brainchild of sweet Carol of May Dreams Gardens, is the iconic pink muhly grass, Muhlenbergia capillaris. Once the main swath of this fall fatale, the planting fronting the boxwood hedge of the knot garden has been shaded out by the ever growing azaleas sharing the space. Plants have been divided and moved, trying to keep the show alive, but now the end cap is the healthiest and best blooming of the row, nearest the large concrete steps that lead to the knot garden opening. Now in the purple bruise stage, the color deepened and darkened by frost, the muhly will carry us into true winter conditions, turning to pale straw. It will remain in place, to offer movement and catch the light until after the holidays when it will be cut to the ground. The cycle will begin again. Repeat as necessary.