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Light in October

In September, Autumn feels like a vacation from Summer. The cooler weather and softer light are both refreshing.

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At a certain point in October, though, it starts to feel as if you are preparing to leave a beloved place.

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The sun is so low in the sky that even the middle of the day feels like just before dusk.

The last of the sunflowers.

The last of the sunflowers.

Still, it is unwise to give in to seasonal melancholy. (I wonder if it is true that northern peoples are more given to depression.)

The Northern Sea Oats just gets better and better. The seeds turn from green to tan to golden brown.

The Northern Sea Oats just gets better and better. The seeds turn from green to tan to golden brown.

The soft light makes the fall colors shine. This year there is more fall color than usual at the end of October.

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Starry Solomon’s Plume has nice fall color, doesn’t it?

We are also sustained by the many holidays and festivals that occur during the shortest days of the year.

Some asters are still blooming, like these Short's Aster.

Some asters are still blooming, like these Short’s Aster.

A few days in California or Mexico, if you can afford it, wouldn’t hurt either.

But the flowers of most have matured to small fluffy seedheads.

But the flowers of most have matured to small fluffy seedheads.

We cannot begrudge the earth its rest. Gardeners also need time off from the garden. I cannot imagine the life of a gardener where there is no winter. Sounds exhausting.

If you have a shady garden but would like to grow an ornamental goldenrod, do not despair. Zigzag Goldenrod (Solidago flexicaulis) is quite happy in shade, though I think it likes part shade best. Actually, I suspect that Zigzag Goldenrod would be happy growing in concrete under a quonset hut.

Solidago flexicaulis, Zigzag Goldenrod

Solidago flexicaulis, Zigzag Goldenrod

As the Missouri Botanic Garden website puts it diplomatically, this plant “may spread by rhizomes.” Which is like saying that a tropical storm may get windy.

To speak plainly, Zigzag Goldenrod is a thug. But it’s a lovable thug, like Nathan Detroit from Guys and Dolls.

In addition to being at home in shade, Zigzag Goldenrod is a plant that takes care of itself, tolerating dry conditions once established. It’s also a fairly compact, rarely growing taller than 3′. Doesn’t mind clay soil, either.

Zigzag Goldenrod

Zigzag Goldenrod

The small yellow flowers are attractive and appear in clusters along the stem. Sometimes the stems do zigzag, but sometimes they don’t.

According to the Xerces Society, Zigzag Goldenrod is of special value to native bees and honeybees.

The only thing is, this is one of those plants that does best for the gardener in the wilder parts of the shade garden. You don’t want it running rampant amongst your dainty beauties.

This post is my contribution to the meme “Wildflower Wednesday”, hosted by Gail of Clay and Limestone on the fourth Wednesday of every month. Pay a visit to see some more wildflowers.

Do you grow Zigzag Goldenrod?

And now for the saga of the nomadic Switchgrass (Panicum virgatum). Today I dug out a slice of turf along a corner of the Sidewalk Border in order to create a sunny spot for said switchgrass, which had already been moved once.

Newly transplanted Switchgrass.

Newly transplanted Switchgrass.

Digging up grass is one of my favorite garden chores. I use an edger to cut small slices of turf, then pick up each slice and shake out the soil, throwing the grass itself onto a pile which ultimately ends up buried in the compost. This process is extremely satisfying, especially crumbling the clods of earth as they fall away from the turf roots.

Anyhow, the Switchgrass had to be moved both times because it was being shaded by neighboring perennials. This may sound unlikely given that Switchgrass grows four to six feet tall.

The two long-established Switchgrass clumps in the Sidewalk border.

The two long-established Switchgrass clumps at the back of the Sidewalk border.

The problem is that Switchgrass is a warm season grass, staying dormant until around the end of May. Many other perennials have already achieved substantial height by then. The result is that in the back of even a sunny border the Switchgrass never catches up with its neighbors to get the full sun it wants. And so it goes into a slow decline.

There were no good existing spots for transplanting this substantial grass, and I hated the idea of throwing them on the compost – so expanding one of the borders seemed like the natural solution.

Like other gardening rules, the rule of thumb that tall plants go in the back of the border doesn’t always work. Tall plants that emerge late (like Switchgrass) may languish at the back of the border, depending on what’s growing around it.

Northern Sea Oats, beautiful but floppy. My hope is that it will eventually lean on the transplanted Switchgrass.

Northern Sea Oats, beautiful but floppy. My hope is that it will eventually lean on the transplanted Switchgrass.

I’m fairly confident that these two Switchgrass plants will like their new home. They are still at the back of a border, yes, but the back of this border faces south along a grassy path. Northern Sea Oats (Chasmanthium latifolium) and Bluestar (Amsonia tabernaemontana) grow between the new Switchgrass and the sidewalk.

My hope is that as it expands the upright Switchgrass will hold up the floppier Northern Sea Oats.

Do you always put tall plants at the back of the border?

As you may know, our new patio has created some new shady space for garden plants. Most of those I’ve put in so far are familiar to me – Wild Ginger (Asarum canadense), White Trillium (Trillium grandiflorum), Indian Pink (Spigelia marilandica). But I’m also trying a couple that are new to my garden: Bush Honeysuckle (Diervilla lonicera) and Eastern Star Sedge (Carex radiata).

Newly planted Bush Honeysuckle in my garden, showing some fall color.

Newly planted Bush Honeysuckle in my garden, showing some fall color.

Bush honeysuckle is a small Midwestern native shrub with yellow honeysuckle-like flowers and good fall color. It’s supposed to grow to only 3′, though Judy skeptically observed that ours had arrived already 2′ tall in its container.

Bush Honeysuckle flowers. Photo from prairienursery.com.

Bush Honeysuckle flowers. Photo from prairienursery.com.

Its early to mid-summer flowers attract bees, butterflies and hummingbirds, while the seeds are eaten by some songbirds.

Eastern Star Sedge. Photo from Prairenursery.com.

Eastern Star Sedge. Photo from Prairenursery.com.

Eastern Star Sedge is a finely textured sedge that likes moist shade. It grows only 1-2′ tall. Star-like flower clusters emerge in spring.

Eastern Star Sedge, newly planted along the edge of the patio.

Eastern Star Sedge, newly planted along the edge of the patio.

This plant is another source of seeds eaten by songbirds.

Eastern Star Sedge. Photo from Prairienursery.com.

Eastern Star Sedge. Photo from Prairienursery.com.

Have you had any experience with either of these plants?

As we near the end of October, fall seems to be ambling rather than marching on. We have yet to see a frost, and the warm weather means colors have shifted only slowly.

Northern Sea Oats and Bluestar

Northern Sea Oats and Bluestar

Seedheads of Northern Sea Oats (Chasmanthium latifolium) are no longer green, but seem to shimmer like hundreds of tiny goldfish. They look good with the yellowing foliage of Bluestar (Amsonia tabernaemontana).

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A closer look.

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The ‘Northwind’ Switchgrass (Panicum virgatum) is still almost entirely green, though the seed panicles are turning tan.

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‘Italian White’ sunflowers (Helianthus annuus) are making a last stand, set off by the fluffy seedheads of ‘Gateway’ Joe Pye Weed (Eupatorium purpureum ssp. maculatum).

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In the back garden, Spicebush (Lindera benzoin) has turned a bright orange-yellow.

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The only flower still newly opened is the dwarf New England Aster (Symphyotrichum novae-angliae) ‘Purple Dome’. I admit to being a bit disappointed in ‘Purple Dome’. It’s not as floriferous as I had hoped, and is a bit too scraggly to be considered a dome.

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Last year I planted a small Asian Beautyberry (Callicarpa dichotoma), ‘Early Amethyst’. It has a modest display of berries this year, though they look nice close up.

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Speaking of fruits, I showed some ‘Cassie’ rose hips in my last post. Here are some ‘Darlow’s Enigma’ hips, more red and than ‘Cassie’, and more oval-shaped.

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Virginia Creeper (Parthenocissus quinquefolia) smothers the telephone pole in the alley, providing a colorful seasonal display.

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And ‘Autumn Brilliance’ Serviceberry (Amelanchier xgrandiflora) leaves shimmer like jewels.

I am posting this as part of Garden Bloggers Foliage Day, sponsored by Christina at My Hesperides Garden. How is the fall color in your garden?

It’s October 20th, and everybody in the garden is winding down. Everybody but ‘Cassie’, that is.

'Cassie' blooming in late October.

‘Cassie’ blooming in late October.

‘Cassie’ is a medium-sized shrub rose that refuses to acknowledge the change of seasons. She just keeps pumping out small, semi-double white flowers.

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She even keeps the flower buds coming.

'Cassie' hips.

‘Cassie’ hips.

All this while her canes fill with small orange hips that gradually disappear down the gullets of birds.

'Cassie' overflows with small white flowers in June and July.

‘Cassie’ overflows with small white flowers in June and July.

Of course, ‘Cassie’ is at her peak in June and July, when she is covered with mildly fragrant blooms.

‘Cassie’ is about as close to trouble-free as a rose can get. I give her absolutely no coddling, and every year she comes back with vigor and clean foliage. Cut back in early spring, she grows to about four feet high.

Do you have any roses or other plants that don’t know when to quit?

Portland gardeners are lucky ducks. They seem to have an unusual concentration of high quality nurseries in their area, nurseries whose display gardens would make them worthwhile destinations even if they had nothing for sale.

Blue Hydrangea and grasses at the Joy Creek display garden.

Blue Hydrangea and grasses at the Joy Creek display garden.

We don’t have that in Chicago, where land is at too much of a premium to be used that way by a retail nursery. By the way, I took these pictures as Judy missed the first day of the Fling. So they may not be up to the usual quality.

Rudbeckia hirta

Rudbeckia hirta

We visited two such nurseries during the Fling: Joy Creek and Cistus. One of the Portlanders told me that these two nurseries define two local styles of gardening. “You’re either a Joy Creek gardener or a Cistus gardener,” she told me.

Matilija Poppy. Wish we could grow these in Chicago.

Matilija Poppy. Wish we could grow these in Chicago.

If I lived in Portland, I would definitely be a Joy Creek gardener.

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Joy Creek has over four acres of display and stock gardens.

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And by the way, they also do mail order. Here’s the Joy Creek website.

Bee Balm, I think it's 'Jacob Cline'.

Bee Balm, I think it’s ‘Jacob Cline’.

Joy Creek specializes in Clematis, and their garden has an amazing selection.

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This one reminds me of Little Shop of Horrors. Feed me!

This one reminds me of Little Shop of Horrors. Feed me!

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Now if only I could get them to open a branch in the Chicago area.

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