Getting Up Close for November Bloom Day

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By the time November rolls around, the blooms are scant and often hiding behind dried foliage. Those brave souls that dare to flower are prized now, even more so when sweet skipper butterflies are spied feeding on them. The dark hue of the lacy leaf lavender that is planted in a hot spot next to the back door was an open invitation to the flutterby and the camera.

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Containers are holding a few blooming plants still. The south facing sides of the large pots at the edge of the lower deck shelter the overhanging alyssum, Lobularia maritima ‘Easter Bonnet Mix’.

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Wallflowers from the big box store, name unknown, that were planted in March have grown larger over the summer and have resumed flower production after a hiatus during the hot months. These are in a very protected location, to the delight of the tiny pollinator feasting on the petals.

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Most of the sheffies, Chrysanthemum ‘Hillside Sheffield Pink’ hold flowers that appear like soggy pink handkerchiefs, but a few late bloomers are offering dining opportunities to various pollinators.

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A packet of Calendula ‘Pacific Beauty’ seeds was sown in containers a couple of years ago. There are volunteers from those parents in various shades of orange and yellow, blooming better now than in the heat of summer. This, again, is a very sheltered, south facing sunny spot in my garden.

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A wayward Echinacea, hiding under spent foxglove stalks along the Azalea Walk is bravely trying to open. The cold snap will prevent a long life for this budding beauty, but this close-up shot will help us remember it with fondness.

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Violas are the stout hearted winter flowers here, planted in nearly every container. These are in the window box on the shed.

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Rosa chinensis ‘Angel Wings’ has opened a few more flowers. These seed grown roses are not grown for the blooms, however. It is the brilliant red berry-like hips seen in the background that are the main interest of these small shrubs. For more information about them, click here.

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Inside the greenhouse/sunroom, the frost tenders and orchids are safely ensconced for the winter. Black pearl ornamental pepper is loaded with fruit and has even produced some flowers. The shriveled peppers were stuck in the soil at the edge of the pot and have germinated. The seedlings have been repotted to grow on the sunny shelves until spring. There should be a good crop of them to plant out then. It is hoped.

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Orchids are the dominant resident in the greenhouse/sunroom, the reason for the construction of such a place. The Cattleya ‘Pumpkin’ bloomed earlier than usual this year, fading quickly now. A photo was snapped before the last of the flowers fell to the floor. The lady slippers, Paphiopedilum ssp. are well budded though, so there will be flowers in the darkest, coldest days yet to come to help a gardener smile a little. To read the initial post about this room, so old that the photos are without watermarks and small but clickable to full size, click here.

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You might have noticed that all of the images in this post are macro close-ups. Finding any flowers after several arctic weather blasts have hit is a joy, but the long garden views are less than floriferous, to say the least. Still pretty as the decidous plants fade faire, to my eyes anyway, but that is not the point of Garden Blogger’s Bloom Day, the brainchild of sharing hostessed by my friend Carol of May Dreams Gardens. Go over to her place and check out what is blooming in November around the globe. Tell her Frances sent ya!


Posted in Garden Bloggers Bloom Days, wildlife | 13 Comments

Hedging Along

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This garden is sort of wild. Some might think it was out of control, and it has grown way beyond any plans on paper or the initial vision of what it should be. That is a good thing.

But the wildness can be tamed by adding plantings that remain more rigid in their growth, more traditionally formal in habit. While the hedges here in the Fairegarden pale by comparison to the yews of Sissinghurst trimmed so expertly as to resemble geometric steel rather than living plant material seen above, experience has helped raise our trimming up a notch. To see more about Sissinghurst and our visit to England, click here.

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Evergreens fit the taming requirements nicely, adding interest and structure during the whole year but they are especially noticeable when the flowers have faded and the leaves have fallen. We have finally tamed the row of Chamaecyparis pisifera ‘Gold Mop’ that backs the Azalea Walk. Click here to find out why that taming was needed.

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Behind the Gold Mops and in front of the arborvitae, Thuja occidentalis ‘Emerald’ lies the veggie garden. Unsightly in its cage of plastic rabbit fencing to keep the critters out and the food crops safe, this sunny strip runs along the back of the property line. Privacy is provided by the arborvitae and the Chamaecyparis provides a golden screen for the produce growing area. Both get a yearly shearing to keep the pathways clear and to allow the sun to shine where needed.

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Evergreens trimmed into hedges have been a backbone of calm in the sea of surging energy provided by the waving grasses and unkempt wildlings.

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Trimming those hedges can be a daunting chore, especially when done in June when the temperatures can range from hot to magma. The cutting of the boxwood hedge, Buxus sinica var. insularis ‘Wintergreen’ that surrounds the Knot Garden is particularly hard on my back due to the angle at which the whirring nine pound Stihl electric hedge trimmer must be held to get those points and curves just so. We are trying to allow the whole hedge to grow taller so I don’t have to bend over quite so much, while still keeping the overall shape. The progression of this shape can be followed by clicking here.

This week we decided to tackle the taxing task while the weather was more agreeable and there was no danger of accidentally cutting flowers or stepping on stems but before frost arrives. It went well, better than expected in fact. (Above frosty photo from December of 2011.)

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The season may change when the hedges are trimmed, the Knot Garden boxwood haircut is better done in the coolth of fall. It was almost enjoyable. A little more control of the chaos was exerted over the full blown pink muhly grass, Muhlenbergia capillaris, which was tied up with a bit of twine so I could work around it without fear of harm. I think the ponytail becomes you!


Posted in Seasonal Chores | 10 Comments

What Looks Good Now-Early November

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I need to go to the grocery store. Sitting in the gas guzzler that is parked in the garage, the passenger side mirror is checked to make sure there is adequate clearance to back out. This is the view in the mirror that I see as late October slides into November. The Chamaecyparis obtusa ‘Wells Special’, the big green shrub on the right and the wildflower asters and goldenrod are on my property, the burning bushes and deciduous trees are across the street at my neighbor’s. It is an arresting sight. It causes me to pause for a minute to drink in the view before backing out. Every time.

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Backed fully out, the button is pushed to close the garage door. The gearshifter is set to drive and as we move forward this is the next view we see. It’s a wonder I ever get to the grocery at this rate. The pink muhly grass, Muhlenbergia capillaris is fading faire, but almost seems even more beautiful as it ages. Like people do. The golden haze of various Amsonia ssp. behind the grass sets the scene aglow when backlit by the autumn sunshine.

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Onward! Turning slowly to pull out into the street, we turn our gaze westward to check for oncoming traffic. There are hardly ever any cars on our block, but the yellow button mums grab my attention and I brake and take a lingerling look at the bed under the tall pines at the edge of our property. Many hours of toiling during the summer have paid off in the shrubs and desirables now growing unimpeded by pesky vigorous vines and ground covers gone astray. It was worth the effort.

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Finally we pull out into the street with no cars coming behind us. That allows us to move along at a crawl and look carefully at the center island from the streetside, the same area shown in the opening photo. Among the wildflowers are the yellowing twigs of Cornus sericea flaviramea and the red berries of Ilex verticillata ‘Berry Heavy’. In a month or so this bed will be cut down with the lawn mower and those large shrubs will enjoy the spotlight for the remainder of winter.

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Moving on to the bed in front of the house, there are more winterberries. Soon the leaves will fall and the berries will show up better. Ilex verticillata ‘Winter Gold’ is really more orange than gold. A story about the winterberries can be seen by clicking here.

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We have featured photos of the eastern wahoo tree, Euonymus atropurpureus several times this fall already. Here it is in situ, with Miscanthus sinensis ‘Morning Light’ and the neighbor’s large deciduous trees in full glory.

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There is no lawn of mown grass here at all, only a little lawn/meadow at the side of the garage that is cut down once a year. Instead of grass that needs a weekly cutting, a mixture of trees, shrubs and wildflowers grows in front of the house and garage. A couple of years ago, Hosta ‘Royal Standard’ was spread from the various plants growing here and there to fill in the space between the shrubbery in front of the house. Blooming in early August with tall stalks of fragrant white flowers, the fading faire foliage is offering even more interest as it yellows. The frontage on all three sections of curbside plantings hold several rows of Liriope ssp. Let’s get a move on to the grocery. We can go see the back garden after we return.

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The groceries are put away so let’s go out back. As we walk along the gravel path at the side of the garage to get to the real gardens, this is the view. Hydrangea paniculata ‘Grandiflora’ trained to a standard on a stout metal stake looks like a colorful midway ride, the type where feet dangle as the gondolas whirl.

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The tall feather reed grass, Calamagrostis x acutiflora ‘Karl Foerster’ will stand with the other plantings until February in the Gravel Garden, for there are no bulbs planted there. The Gravel Garden will be left wild and wooly to better capture any frost or snow during the cold months. Where there are bulbs, the stems and stalks need to be cut down sooner so as not to decapitate newly emerging leaves and flower buds as has sadly happened in the past. They seem to pop up earlier each year anymore.

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There are only a few flowers still in bloom, chief among them being the various Sheffie mums and the previously shown yellow button mum. It is the turning foliage that attracts the human eye if not the hungry pollinators buzzing all over the mums. Acer palmatum var. dissectum ‘Crimson Queen’, a story about her here, is holding court at the corner of the Daylily Hill.

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Along the rising stairsteps of the block wall, the blue pots have been put into the protective custody of chickenwire cloches. The oblong blue pot is planted with another fifty Crocus chrysantha ‘Prins Claus’. I say another because last year we also planted fifty of those treasures and every last one was eaten by voles entering through the hole in the bottom of the pot since the pot was resting on cute pot feet. With much muttering involving evil thoughts towards voles, hardware cloth was cut to fit the bottom of the pot before this year’s crocus planting and the pot is setting flat on the concrete topper blocks. The chickenwire was added for good measure to keep the squirrels from mucking about the top. If this doesn’t result in a good show of crocus in early 2014, I might have to hang up my trowel and call it quits.

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At the top of the slope, the main entrance to the Knot Garden has been blocked by the bowing pink muhly grass. There is another way to get in, around the side of the Shed Bed and up to the top terrace level. One of these days these majestic grasses will be cut down, but not yet. Not until they have lost all color and structure and collapse into soggy slovenly heaps, sometime at the beginning of the new year. That is a surprise, isn’t it, talking about the new year already. But that is the way of it. Onward indeed.



Posted in what looks good now | 17 Comments

How To-Tea Bag Craft

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Fall has fallen here at the Fairegarden. Gardening chores will wind down drastically once the final bulbs are planted and the leaves from the maples and dogwoods, among others that need to be dealt with are composted or spread on the beds. This is the time when our thoughts turn to inside endeavors.

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Besides cooking and decorating for the upcoming family fun holidays, the days are usually filled with indoor projects. Sewing and knitting are planned, but it was the online pinboard, Pinterest, (I am there as Faire Garden, clever, eh?), that has lit the candle of creativity to try something entirely new and different. It has been over a year now since the switch was made for the morning brew from coffee to tea. The tea bags were previously tossed nonchalantly into the compost bin. Now, they are hung to dry and saved, to be used in some kind of crafty way.

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Searching for and looking at the photos of tea bag art, they were added to the Pinterest board entitled Crafts, quilts and wall hangings seemed to be a good match for my skills and desires. The accumulation of tea bags was speeded up with the purchase of a box of one hundred stringless bags in sets of two, the price of $1.79 thrilled my tightwad heart. First they were steeped in a large pot of boiling water, a very strong tea was produced from so many bags. It could have been saved to make sweet tea, an iced southern favorite beverage, or used to dye fabric or weaving material. Both of those have been done in the past. After being allowed to cool, they were squeezed out by hand and laid out to dry on the dining room table on bubblewrap that happened to be lying around.

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After a couple of weeks of turning and rearranging for better drying, the tea bags seemed ready. They were sort of wrinkly so they were ironed on the number four setting, labeled *blends of cotton* on my iron.

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A roll of some kind of raffia material was found when I was looking for something to use as a backing in my craft/fabric stash. I was thinking of using non-woven interfacing but this seemed right. Eight tea bags, very slightly overlapped went across the width of nineteen inches.

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They were pinned in place and sewn on my old featherweight Singer sewing machine using the longest stitch setting. This is the only machine I have ever owned. My dad bought it for me when I was ten years old. I guess he wanted me to learn how to sew. I did take three successful years of sewing in high school after a miserable failing at it during one semester in seventh grade home-ec. I was better at cooking and cleaning the kitchen sink when younger.

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Buttonhole craft thread was used to sew the tea bags to the raffia backing, but any type of thread would probably be fine. The executive decision was made to let the bags hang freely, only attached along the top. After the first row was sewn and looked satisfactory, a tape measure was used to mark where the next row of tea bags would be placed. The bags are five inches long so we marked off four and three-quarters inches on each side with pins, then used electrical tape to make the sewing line. Electrical tape was used because it is the first tape I found in the utility closet, any type of tape would probably work just as well.

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The next row of tea bags were pinned in place along the bottom of the tape and sewn across. We continued ironing, pinning and sewing until all but two of the fifty double bags were used up.

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The finished size is nineteen inches across and twenty-eight inches long. It looks like the vision in my mind and smells divine, like tea. This could be considered finished or there could be embellishment of embroidery or drawing on the tea bags. At one point in my life, everything that came within arm’s reach of me was gussied up in some way. But now, my eyes and psyche crave simplicity, so this project will be left as is. It might be hung in a window to let the light through. That would be nice.

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There will be another tea bag craft when many more tea bags are accumulated and dried. There are strings and some staples that must be considered. There may be some hand sewing involved. There is plenty of time to cogitate on it. One cup of tea per day means this will be a lesson in patient persistence. I am good with that.

This story is part of the ongoing series of How To posts. To see them all, look for the How To page on the sidebar, or click here.


Posted in How To | 9 Comments

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…


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.


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.

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


Posted in Plant Portrait, Seasonal Chores | 21 Comments