The weather has been nothing short of spectacular — blue sky, golden sun, perfect temperatures. The angle of the light is changing for sure; fall has arrived. Rumors of frost come in from Carolina (“down in the valley”) and from the banks of the Saugatucket in Wakefield –enough frost to scrape off the car windshield. But not here on Kingston Hill. Although the colors are fading a bit and the green leaves are dusty looking, full autumn foliage has not arrived. Just a bit of yellow on the Sassafras and red on the Tupelo. Flowers are still blooming in the garden. Enjoy it while it lasts.
Today’s photos and write-up are by student employee Adam Dubuc.
The Black Eyed Susan (Rudbeckia hirta) is probably, in my mind, one of the most picturesque and recognizable flowers in the garden. It grows throughout the United States and I remember seeing it often as a kid, thinking it was some kind of sunflower. It always seemed to signify the beginning of the end of summer- but my willingness to accept the impending fall will always be greater because of it.The Dahlia is a genus of plants that has great diversity, exhibiting some flowers that are small and compact, whereas others are large and the leaves are open relative to one another. This diversity comes from Dahlias being octoploids where most plants are diploids in their chromosomal structure. The Dahlias also don’t emit any fragrance, so they rely on their brightly colored petals to attract pollinators. Even though they’re native to Mexico, they do well here and are always a pleasure to look at. ‘Heatwave’ Agastache is a cultivar of Anise Hyssop and blooms in mid to late summer, attracting all sorts of bees, hummingbirds, and insects. The fragrance is nice also– it’s part of the mint family, and it’s deer resistant which can be suitable for any sunny garden, given that it’s perennial and can grow into a pretty large, spacious shrubby form. Phlox paniculata ‘David’ is a white cultivar of Phlox that gives a bright contrast and jumps out immediately. Even in a dark night with only moonlight it is pronounced among the other plants. It has a soft texture and just seems very calm to me, not too gaudy or in your face. Pink Powder Puff (Calliandra emarginata) is just funny to look at, I think. Native to Mexico, it has these really goofy looking flowers that resemble exploding fireworks. It makes an awesome picture, and they flower year round in the greenhouse too, which is pretty awesome if you ask me.The compost pile, to me, resembles the cyclical nature of plants – and life in general really. Even though things die, they can always be re-purposed into something new, giving nutrients and new life to the plants that come after them. I guess it all comes down to how in-depth and metaphysically you think when you look at a pile of dirt – but there is a lot that compost contributes to the garden and the plants of the future.
After Hurricane Sandy, Election Day, Northeast Greenhouse Conference, a nor’easter, and Veterans Day, it’s time to get back to gardening. Right before the storm, Dr. Maynard’s PLS 350 class came out and helped me dig up most of the plants in the sunny border. The plants have been sitting outside in my “cold frame/nursery” area behind the greenhouses. They are semi-bare root, since they are in flats covered with fallen leaves, but not potted up. When the weather is cool they can sit that way for a long time. Fortunately they won’t need to, because tomorrow we plan to replant the border, again with help from the class. Divisions of the plants which were dug up will go back in with room to spread their roots. A few thing which did not do well there are not invited back! And maybe a few new plants just to change it up.
Our other chore for the day will be lifting the dahlia tubers. The dahlias were cut back after the first hard frost (“Changing Seasons“) but left in the ground. Waiting until the last minute to dig them up reduces the amount of time they will be in storage, where there is the possibility of decay in the tubers. Where to store them? Not too warm, not too cold, not too wet, not too dry! Maybe under my basement bulkhead stairs, or maybe Dr. Maynard’s root cellar.
The weather for tomorrow looks to be sunny and cool, perfect for working in the garden. I love being outside at this time of year. With the right layers (as our friend Russ says, “It’s all in the gear”), and maybe a hat, I’m outside all day, enjoying deep breaths of cool refreshing air that’s like a long drink of water. Bright sunshine lifts my spirits, and a daydream about how good it will look in the spring keeps me going.
Just for Fun: This Enkianthus is one of the last plants in the Botanical Garden still displaying beautiful fall foliage. My favorite plant blog, “Botany Photo of the Day”, featured an Enkianthus recently — “Enkianthus campanulatus“.
Under sunny skies or gray, colors of the garden seem at their fullest right now.
Many thanks to Donna Lane and the Rhode Island Dahlia Society for their generous contribution of Dahlia tubers to the Botanical Gardens! After losing many tubers to decay in storage last year, I contacted them and they were kind enough to offer us a great selection. No, I still don’t know the variety names, but any reader who does is invited to let me know!
The tropical garden at the back of the All- America Selections Display Garden between the greenhouses became as colorful and lush as I had dreamed of. The large green leaves right in the middle are a cold-hardy banana plant, which will stay outside all winter (with some protective mulch and wrapping), and hopefully delight us in the spring by being alive and well.
Goldenrod (Solidago spp.) and Physostegia are a great combination for fall. Goldenrod is underused as a perennial garden plant. I think it is unfairly associated with hay fever. The real villain is usually ragweed, which doesn’t have conspicuous flowers and thus evades suspicion!
‘Cajun Belle’ and ‘Cayenetta’ are two peppers growing in the AAS Garden. Medium hot and very productive, they add to the Colors of Autumn at the Botanical Gardens.
It’s that time of year: Fall is a season of renewed energy in the garden with crisp clear weather and bright sunshine. It’s a great time to plant without fear of heat or drought killing off new transplants. Comfortable temperatures inspire us to tackle bigger projects than we would consider in the heat of summer or in the crazy-busy rush of spring.
So, down come two trees! The snow and ice storm on October 30th just barely grazed this part of Rhode Island, but did result in a little sprinkle of snow, a killing frost, and some broken branches. One of the two Styrax japonica in the main garden broke in half, giving us a great excuse to remove both. Don’t get me wrong, these are beautiful little trees, absolutely loaded with flowers in the spring. But they have been a maintenance nightmare, as every pretty white flower becomes a seed, and every seed sprouts into a little seedling with a big taproot! Removing these seedlings before they overran everything around them took hours of labor. They needed to come out and the storm made the final decision for us.
On another note: The autumn color has been much less vibrant this year, warm wet weather and hurricane salt spray taking their toll. Many leaves are still a dull, tired green. I laughed out loud when Doug Norris of The South County Independent referred to the trees as zombies, “the deciduous undead”!
What’s left in the October garden? The weather has been so mild that many plants are still lingering in the slanted autumn light. Japanese Anemones look beautiful in the main garden. The white ones, ‘Honorine Jobert’ stand up proudly and make themselves seen. The pink ones, ‘Queen Charlotte’, lie down as soon as they bloom, tangling themselves among the skeletons of the Sedums and Rudbeckias, tempting me to rip them out despite the beautiful pearly pink color and abundant flowers. Speaking of Sedums, they seemed to go by quickly in the wet grey week we had, along with my favorite aster, the bright ‘Alma Potschke’ in the main garden. The Actaea along the Kinney wall is still standing, the seed pods as eye-catching as the fuzzy white flowers.
Annuals are still alive and well here on Kingston Hill, although the temperature really dropped the first week of October. Teri of Hidden Field Farm in Wakefield reported a killing frost the night of October 6, but we’ve been lucky. Or maybe not lucky — it feels a little like limbo. Do I pull out the tomatoes in the All-America Selections garden, which are still flowering and fruiting but look ugly and half dead? (I did.) What about the ‘Holy Mole’ peppers, and the Celosia ‘Fresh Look Gold’ ? (I left both –the peppers look healthy and productive, and the Celosia looks….interesting.) A hard frost is definitive, leaving no questions about what should be done.
Other bright spots of color: the Calendula near the front of the Kathy Mallon Outreach Center, the Dahlias of course, the Callicarpa with stunning bright purple berries near the fire lane. The Nepeta in the main garden, an occasional Rudbeckia. And the Rose Garden is full of pink, red, white, and yellow roses… A wedding there on October 9th caught a beautiful perfect blue sky day among the late roses.
The weather forecast is not for cold but for rain, which might spare the annuals but be the end of the perennial flowers. Of course it’s inevitable that they will all be gone soon, but what a gorgeous “Indian Summer” it’s been.
The Dahlias are at their peak and I still don’t have my camera back! I can try to describe them but really, a picture is worth everything here….Giant clear raspberry pink, pastel orange — 10 inches across! A huge deep red, a pink waterlily type with an orangey blush, a yellow cactus-flowered…And they grew! On September 6th I wrote that none of them were over 30 inches tall. I guess I have to take that back because some of the plants are now towering over my (5 ft) head. One of the reasons I love Dahlias is because they are so vibrant at a time of year when a lot of the garden is ending it’s display. If you walk by the west end of the greenhouse building, take a minute to enjoy them.
The other part of the Dahlia saga this year is that I don’t know the cultivar names, since the tubers were unlabeled (tho that’s part of the fun!) Searching the internet in an attempt to figure them out, I did find some beautiful pictures, but it’s still hard to say who ‘s who. I’m including a few pictures here and if anyone knows the names of these beautiful strangers, I’d love to hear from you.
In the spring I referred to peonies as the “Queen of Flowers”. Perhaps I should have said the Queen of “Early Summer Flowers”. Because now as summer begins to wane, (it’s not over yet!) there is another queen: the Dahlia.
Dahlias are strikingly beautiful flowers which come in a huge variety—thousands of cultivars— of colors and sizes. They are native to Mexico but have been known and loved in Europe since the early 1800s. Garden dahlia flowers range in size from 2-3 inches across to as large as 12 inches across. The plants themselves can be from just 12 inches high, great for low borders or even containers, to as tall as 48 inches. Colors range from white to pink, yellow, red, purple and everything in between. (But not blue, green, or black, as far as I know). The flowers come in many forms : “cactus”, “pompom”, “anemone”, “single”, and more. This link has nice clear pictures of the different flower forms:
I received a gift last fall for the Botanical Gardens from Linda J. — a big muddy pile of unlabeled dahlia tubers. After rinsing and letting them dry, I wrapped them in newspaper, packed them into a waxed box, put the box in the cellar, and forgot all about them. In the spring during a cellar clean- up day, one of The Boys found the box and brought it up. It was a little late — the tubers were sprouting, a few had shriveled up, but nothing was rotten. I decided to plant everything that looked even remotely viable. We staked them all, not knowing if they were dwarf or tall, large- or small-flowered. (Staking can be critical: Large dahlia flowers are heavy, and the stems are hollow and brittle.)
So, it’s September, and here they come! We have a large (6-7 inch) pink and 2 large white, a medium sized pink, and lots of buds. I’m hoping for all kinds of colors! None of the Dahlias are over 36 inches or so, which means that next year they go in a more visible spot. Right now they’re in the garden just west of the greenhouse, tucked between the hedge and the ‘Heatwave’ Agastache.
Dahlias can be grown as annuals, but I treat them as tender perennials. When a hard frost kills back all the foliage, the tubers will be dug up, LABELED, and packed away for next year. In the spring they can be divided and each section of tuber with an “eye” will produce a new plant. In a good year there will be 3-5 new tubers on each plant — plenty to share!
Like the other Queen of Flowers, the Peony, Dahlias are not hard to grow. They prefer full sun and well drained soil. I planted them like potatoes, putting the tubers in the bottom of the hole, covering with only an inch or two of soil, and gradually backfilling the hole as the stem grew until it was filled in. A low nitrogen (vegetable garden ) fertilizer and a little bonemeal is enough. They don’t need heavy watering and tolerate heat and dry weather, although watering once a week when they begin blooming is helpful. Dahlias make great cut flowers as well as being a bright spot in the garden through September. Here’s hoping we have a whole rainbow of colors to enjoy this month.
Ahhh! In spite of the snow/cold/rain/thaw the Witchhazel is flowering right on time. On Upper College Road, the cultivar ‘Jelena’ is beginning to open with red and orange flowers that always remind me of “blow-out” party favors. Over near the gazebo, ‘Arnold Promise’, from the Arnold Arboretum, has yellow flowers and a pleasing fresh light scent. The very tips of the yellow petals are just beginning to peek out from the buds.
“Jelena and ‘Arnold Promise’ are both cultivars of Hamamelis x intermedia, a cross between Hamamelis mollis, the Chinese Witchhazel, and Hamamelis japonica, Japanese Witchhazel. There is also a Witchhazel native to Eastern North America: Hamamelis virginiana, which blooms in late fall. Its yellow flowers have a slight fragrance. Hamamelis vernalis is native to central North America. It begins flowering in late winter or early spring with fragrant yellow and red flowers.
All the witchhazels are shrubs or small trees, growing to about 12 feet tall at the most. Although mainly the cultivars are sold and planted, they all make wonderful additions to the home landscape. I would plant them solely for the fact that they flower in winter. (It’s certainly not early spring yet!) The added bonus is that Witchhazels also have nice yellow autumn foliage and are for the most part insect and disease free.
Witchhazel is also known as a medicinal plant. An extract is distilled from the twigs and used as an astringent for insect bites, poison ivy, and other skin irritations. I just found out that almost all the Witchhazel extract sold in the United States today is manufactured by one company and most of the harvest is from northwestern Connecticut. Who would have guessed!
So on a “thaw” day like today (44 degrees!) take a walk and keep your eyes open for those narrow, crinkly petals suspended on bare branches. Whether it’s a native or a well-adapted cultivar, Witchhazel flowers in February lift my spirits with thoughts of spring.
We’ve had frost and even snow, but other than that, the weather’s been mild. I’m still eating tomatos from the garden, which I picked green and spread out on a table in the cellar. They slowly turn red (or orange — SunGold and Orange Banana) and taste pretty good, for November. Out in the Botanical Garden, fall color was subdued, but some perennials are still flowering. Some are “confused” and are just beginning to flower, instead of waiting for spring.
Since the trees were less vibrant than last year, seeming to go from green to brown and gone in about a week, it’s been a treat to have these bright spots of color scattered through the garden. I’m not too surprised to see Violas and Calendulas, and even roses flowering now (the roses were flowering at Thanksgiving last year). But the Echinacea and the Gaillardia are unexpected, since they love heat and usually give up once it gets cold. The real surprises are the flowering shrubs….I ‘ve seen Rhodies flower occasionally in autumn, but not Kousa Dogwood. (I have a feeling that particular dogwood is on it’s way out). Eventually, it really does get cold and wintry, even here, so enjoy the flowers while they last.