I love figs, in fact one of the holiday season gifts I get every year is a string of dried figs. I also love challah. For those of you who don’t know, challah is an egg bread that is often slightly sweet.
So it was very nice of Judy to use a recipe she found on line to bake a challah that has a filling of dried figs and orange zest swirled throughout. Delicious! I confess I may have eaten more than my share.
Now that I have the taxonomy issue out of my system (see last post), I can write about the asters in my garden. (As hillwards points out, “They may not be Asters any more, but they will always be asters …”). All the asters I grow except for one are Midwest USA natives and straight species. They represent a small slice of the hundreds of species and cultivars available.
I love asters because they flower freely, provide lots of fall color, and are extremely tough and easy to grow. They vary widely in the kind of environments to which they are adapted.
New England Aster (Sympohtrichum novae-angliae). This is a tall aster that likes moist soils and sun. Mine grow to 6′ and require staking even after I cut them back in late May. Next year I plan to cut them back at least twice and see where that gets me. The wild species is variable in color, and mine bloom in both a rich purple and pink. In my garden this plant gradually expands to form large clumps. New England Aster is a good flower for monarchs and other fall butterflies, and goldfinches eat the seeds.
A common dwarf variety of New England Aster is ‘Purple Dome‘, which I have growing in my back yard. In my garden it stays under 2’ tall. For me it blooms later than the species.
Short’s Aster (Symphotrichum shortii). This aster is less common in gardens, but I find it to have many virtues. Short’s Aster blooms profusely, covering itself with sky blue flowers in fall. It grows well in part shade or sun, and is generally adaptable. It can grow quite large and bushy (up to 4′), and I usually cut it back once in late May. It will self sow – if you hate pulling out seedlings you might want to cut it back before the seeds ripen.
Aromatic Aster (Symphotrichum oblongifolium). Aromatic aster is well adapted to drier, sunny spots. It also stays more compact than many wild asters and self-sows infrequently. The light blue flowers have golden centers. One of my favorites.
White Woodland Aster (Eurybia divariticus). I’ve read that this aster spreads aggressively, but that has not been my experience. In fact, I planted it years ago in a moist, shady spot and it gradually disappeared. I’ve got it growing now in dry shade, and we’ll see how it does. A low-growing aster with white flowers.
Calico Aster (Symphotrichum lateriflorum). Do not plant this aster in fertile soil and full sun. It will become a monster, more a shrub than a perennial, and self-sow aggressively. However, I have found it to be well-behaved in shade. Many tiny white flowers with maroon and yellow centers grow along horizontal stems. I like the way it looks, but I gave one to a friend of mine and she thought it was quite weedy. Especially loved by bees and other pollinators.
Crooked-Stem Aster (Symphotrichum prenanthoides). Crooked-Stem Aster likes moist soil and does well in shade. It creates an airy cloud of white to light-blue flowers.
Big Leaf Aster (Symphotrichum macrophyllum). This is another aster with a reputation for thuggish behavior. I have it in dry shade where there is plenty of competition from shrubs, and there it has spread slowly to form a nice groundcover with its large, heart-shaped leaves. Big Leaf Aster blooms earlier than most of the other asters in my garden.
These asters can be ordered on line from native plant nurseries. Also, most of the above species have cultivars which can be found in garden centers. If you feel your garden needs more fall color, it’s worth taking a look at these plants.
I like Asters. Along with Goldenrods, they make my favorite fall garden combination. When it comes to Asters, however, I have been botanically incorrect for years. Thanks to the taxonomists, Asters aren’t really Asters anymore (with a few exceptions).
No, now they are Doellingerias, Eurybias, and (for most North American Asters) Symphyotrichums. A couple have even become Solidagos!
Was this really necessary? Aster is a very appropriate name for Asters: a simple name for a simple flower. If the taxonomists had to come up with new names, couldn’t they at least have come up with new names that were equally easy to remember and pronounce? You would think that this would be the sort of thing that would be regulated by the USDA.
But no. I can only say that taxonomists are the natural enemies of gardeners. Or at least a natural irritant.
Like many people, including most of the plant retailers I’m aware of, I have followed a strategy of simply ignoring the new names. Unfortunately, if you ignore the taxonomists, they do not go away. And they have all kinds of justifications for why the renaming and reshuffling was necessary. Hardly anyone understands those justifications, but we are supposed to accept them because they are Scientific. I sometimes suspect that the taxonomists are running a racket, constantly coming up with reasons for changing the names of familiar and well-loved plants and in the process justifying the continued employment of taxonomists.
Despite my misgivings, I’ve decided it’s time to hoist the white flag of surrender. From now on, I will use the correct botanical names. But I won’t like it. And damn it, the common names stay the same, you hear me?
Goldenrods (Solidago sp.) are one of the iconic flowers of fall. Because it is a common roadside weed, and because it is often inaccurately blamed for the airborne pollen that aggravates hayfever, some people have a hard time thinking of goldenrods as garden plants. That’s a shame, because they can add texture as well as glowing color to the fall garden. As with many American wildflowers, goldenrod’s ornamental possibilities were first widely perceived in Europe. Just about all Goldenrods are magnets for pollinators.
There are about 100 species of Goldenrod, mostly in North America. In this post I’m going to write about the four species growing in my garden. All are straight species, not cultivars.
Anise-Scented Goldenrod (Solidago odora). I highly recommend this plant. It is relatively compact – most descriptions put it at 1-2′ but in my garden it grows at least a foot taller. It is relatively upright, though I’m going to try cutting mine back next year to reduce flopping. It’s the first of my Goldenrods to bloom, starting around mid-August. The flowers are fluffy clouds of gold. It grows in sun or part shade, and doesn’t spread aggressively. I’ve read you can make a tea from the leaves, but I’ve never tried that. I also haven’t noticed it being especially aromatic.
Blue Stem Goldenrod (Solidago caesia). This is another excellent Goldenrod for the garden. Like Anise-Scented Goldenrod, it is fairly compact. However, Blue Stem Goldenrod has a weeping habit, with cascades of arching and flowering stems. This Goldenrod will grow in sun or part shade. It self-sows pretty aggressively, but the seedlings are not hard to yank, and it does not spread by rhizomes.
Zigzag Goldenrod (Solidago flexicaulus). Use caution when planting this guy. It spreads very aggressively, by both rhizomes and seed. I would put it only in difficult situations with plenty of tough competition. Zigzag Goldenrod has flowers that bloom at intervals up more or less rigid stems. Actually, I cut it back to prevent flopping. It can grow in full shade, and is an attractive plant in bloom.
Canada Goldenrod(Solidago canadensis). OK, this plant really is a weed. Even so, I let Canada Goldenrod establish itself in a few difficult spots because it has its own beauty. It spreads aggressively by rhizomes and seeds, and I pull it up whenever it pops up outside its designated areas, which it does often. It’s kind of tall and gangly, but the racemes of flowers on top can be very attractive.
In a week or so I’ll do another post about Asters – I want to wait until mine have fully bloomed. Asters and Goldenrods are like the bread and wine of Midwestern gardens in autumn. Do you have Goldenrods growing in your garden, or do you plan to add some?
My garden is an a sort of transition period between summer and fall. Many of the perennial summer flowers now have seedheads instead of blooms, while the fall flowers have either just begun to flower or are on the verge. Most of the asters, in particular, are dotted with blue and purple, a prelude to the mass of color that will come later in the season. Every morning I inspect these late bloomers, pardon the pun, with impatience (if not Impatiens). I want to address them sternly: “Hey, you! Don’t just stand around gawking – think you’ll get around to blooming before the holidays?” But I remain quiet for the most part, because I don’t want to give the neighbors any funny ideas.
But back to the September Bloom Day. Let’s start by walking out through the back porch.
The Flowering Tobacco (Nicotiana alata) is looking very nice. Very important with this one to deadhead promptly.
Overall, I’m pleased with the look of the containers on the back porch landing.
The Japanese Anemones (Anemone x hybrida) are among the late bloomers. This is ‘Honorine Jobert’. I find the flower buds attractive in their own right. I like how you can see the white between the bracts as they are just about to open.
The Great Blue Lobelia (Lobelia syphilitica) seemed to bloom only briefly this season. Whenever I look at this plant I think that whoever came up with the botanical name is definitely guilty of false advertising, or maybe wishful thinking. The name is derived from the incorrect but once common belief that this plant cures syphilis. Couldn’t the taxonomists take time out from messing up perfectly adequate botanical names and think up something a little less unseemly for this poor flower?
Crooked Stem Aster (Aster prenanthoides) starts blooming in late summer and does well in shade and moist soil.
My kids refer to Big Leaf Aster (Aster macrophyllum) as Big Ass Leafter. This is a good plant for difficult sites.
Zigzag goldenrod (Solidago flexicaulus) does well in shade and is an attractive plant, but it should ONLY be planted in difficult sites with plenty of tough competition. Otherwise, it becomes a rapacious thug.
Now let’s amble around to the front yard, past the vegetable and herb bed. First we see the orange ‘Profusion’ Zinnias interplanted with Prairie Dropseed (Sporobolus heterolepsus).
Then there’s the Anise Scented Goldenrod (Solidago odora) and Aromatic Aster (Aster oblongifolius).
Most of the color coming from the raised bed along the walk to the front door comes from Black Eyed Susan (Rudbeckia fulgida) and Spider flower (Cleome ‘Senorita Rosalita’).
There’s also Brown Eyed Susan (Rudbeckia triloba) and Anise Hyssop (Agastache foeniculum) in the parkway.
New England Aster (Asternovae-angliae) is just beginning to bloom in the front island bed. I grow the straight species, and it’s interesting to see how variable the flower colors are: blue, purple, pink …
Bluestem Goldenrod (Solidago caesia) is a nice low goldenrod for the garden, just be prepared to pull up lots of seedlings.
Short’s Aster (Aster shortii) is, as you can see, completely covered with buds. The first few have just popped.
And on the east side of the house, the Impatiens seem to have called it quits for the season. The Verbena, however, are still going strong.
Well, that’s it. I’m thinking I may follow-up with posts with more information on the different kinds of goldenrod and aster in the garden. They’re my fall favorites – I’d take them over chrysanthemums any day. Would you agree, or are you a chrysanthemum fan?
My good friends Jean and Jim have asked for my help figuring out what to do with the side yard to the south of their home. Right now this area has a U-shaped flower bed. The northern arm of the U lies along the house, and receives lots of sun. It is mostly empty, though it has some peonies, a rose bush, Calico Asters (Aster lateriflorus), and Cream False Indigo (Baptisia bracteata).
The southern arm lies along a chain link fence (marking the border with the neighbors). It gets some morning sun but is mostly shady and the soil is moist. There’s a golden alexander (Zizia aurea) and an oak leaf hydrangea in the southwest corner. Otherwise this area is pretty much overrun by Creeping Buttercup (Ranuculus repens).
The far end of the U faces west and backs against the chain link fence. Some conifers about 30′ tall stand on the other side of the fence. Down the middle of this side yard is a peninsula of lawn with large square pavers for stepping stones. The whole property had been professionally landscaped by the prior owner and the garden designer had surrounded the stepping stones with Buttercups, which went on to rampage through the moist part of the yard. Oops.
So there are two challenges. First, fill the empty spaces on the northern arm with perennials adapted to a dryish sunny spot, particularly ones which will shine after the peonies are done blooming. Second, come up with some tough plants that like moisture and shade – and that can compete with and even shade out the Creeping Buttercups. (My feeling is that trying to remove the Buttercups is a fool’s errand, unless Jean wants to use some very heavy duty herbicides, which she doesn’t.)
Preference is for plants that are mat-forming or otherwise dense enough to inhibit weeds. Filling in quickly would also be a good thing.
I’m trying to come up with a list of plants for this project. Some initial thoughts …
For the north/sunny arm:
Smooth Penstemon (Penstemon digitalis)
Brown Eyed Susan (Rudbeckia triloba)
Black Eyed Susan (Rudbeckia fulgida)
The above have the advantage of being free, as I have to remove some from my beds.
So we have ordered our fall bulbs from Scheeper’s. We ordered 90 tulips for planting in containers. Judy has been pining for luxurious hybrid tulips. I stopped planting the hybrids in the flower beds because their size got in the way of caring for the perennials. I’ve switched mostly to species tulips and grape hyacinth in the perennial beds, but suggested we try growing the hybrids in containers.
Judy picked several varieties of hybrid tulip with a red/yellow color scheme.
I’ve never grown tulips in containers before, but I’ve read it can be done. I’ll store the containers in the garage for most of the winter, and I’ll have to throw the tulip bulbs on the compost pile when they are finished blooming.
I also ordered some 200 crocuses. I love crocuses, but I hate how they are vandalized by squirrels. What is most maddening is how the squirrels sometimes just bite off the flowers. This strikes me as pure rodent malice. I’m told that Crocus tommasinanus is less appealing to squirrels, so I got Crocus tommasinianus ‘Lilac Beauty’.
Now that we’re heading into the fall season I’m rethinking my preferred plants for next year’s containers. A few conclusions I’ve drawn:
Big Thumbs Up for Pentas. I was very happy with the Star Flowers (Pentas lanceolata) in my containers for sun. They bloom enthusiastically and can take the heat. Plus, they are great for hummingbirds. In August I regularly came to the front door on my way out and saw hummingbirds on the porch nectaring at the Pentas – they had never appeared on the front porch before this. While the red clusters of small star-shaped flowers are unique when viewed up close, from a distance they look like zonal geranium flowers.
Orange Cosmos v. Orange ‘Profusion’ Zinnias. Earlier this year I was enthusiastic about my orange cosmos (Cosmos sulphureus), which I used as a filler in containers. However, in late summer the cosmos tended to get ragged and bloom sparsely, no matter how conscientiously I deadheaded. I think next year I would use orange ‘Profusion’ Zinnias instead. I used them in one of my sunny beds, and they are more reliable for flowering throughout the growing season. Even when I don’t deadhead them, they bloom, well, profusely.
Cannas are Really a Foliage Plant. This is the first year I had more than one Canna, and I realized that this should really be grown as a foliage plant. I wouldn’t go as far as Garden Walk Garden Talk, who removes the flower buds before they bloom. I like Canna flowers, but they are too few and far between to be the main selling point of this plant. The foliage is really something, though, and in the future I will make interesting foliage my first criteria when picking Canna varieties. I’ve found that they do make good container plants, though I haven’t tried the really gigantic ones.
Prune those Lantanas. My ‘New Gold’ Lantanas did not bloom as freely as I expected this summer. Only after I pruned them back did they start flowering as I had hoped. I conclude that deadheading is not enough, these plants really need to be cut back at least a couple times over the summer.
Bacopa Has Staying Power. I expected the annual lobelia (Lobelia erinus) to sulk during the summer months and then bounce back in fall. However, this summer’s extreme heat just wiped these guys out. In the future, I’ll be inclined to use Bacopa (Supera cordata) as a trailing plant with blue flowers. It’s not as eye-catching as annual lobelia, but it does have staying power.
Not go as in to the compost pile, but rather to another spot in an nearby flower bed.
Some two seasons ago I had to fill a hole in the raised bed along the front walk created by my removal of some diseased purple coneflowers (Echinacea purpurea). I filled it with two Joe Pye Weed (Eupatorium maculatum) ‘Gateway’, basically because I had been lusting after this plant. I already had Sweet Joe Pye Weed (Eupatorium purpureum). I like Sweet Joe Pye, but its flowers are a dusty pale pink and I wanted the richer flower color and deep purple stems of ‘Gateway’.
Thing is, it wasn’t really a very good spot for ‘Gateway‘. Eupatorium maculatum loves moisture, but I planted ‘Gateway’ in a raised bed with soil more well-drained that moist. But I didn’t care, I just wanted this plant. Plus, I figured moisture-loving plants sometimes adapt reasonably well to drier soils. So it was something of an experiment.
The ‘Gateway’ I planted closer to the middle of the bed has done just fine. However, the one planted closer to the west edge of the bed has clearly had moments of stress in this year’s drought, despite my frequent waterings. Leaves drooped regularly and by late August one of this plant’s four stems had completely died back.
So I’m thinking of moving both ‘Gateway’ to the island bed in the center of the front yard, which has fairly moist soil. This bed is mostly full of big plants that like moisture – Sweet Joe Pye Weed, New England Aster (Aster Novae-angliae), Swamp Milkweed (Asclepias incarnata), and Cup Plant (Silphium perfoliatum).
To make room for ‘Gateway’, I would take out some of the New England Aster, whose performance has been somewhat disappointing to me.
And I’ve already ordered the plants to fill the hole created by moving ‘Gateway’: Yellow Coneflower (Ratibida pinnata) and white Carolina Phlox ‘Miss Lingard’ (Phlox maculata).
Only problem is that Judy doesn’t want me to move ‘Gateway’. In the continuum of gardening mentalities from compulsive revisionist to defender of the status quo, I lean more toward revisionism and Judy is the hidebound conservative. She likes the ‘Gateway’ where they are.
There is a compromise position: just move one of the ‘Gateway’ plants. However, that would sacrifice the massing effect you get with two (yes, two are a mass, this is a big plant).
Another thing. If I don’t move ‘Gateway’, I set off a game of musical plants as I try to figure out where to put the Phlox and Yellow Coneflower currently en route. I can usually shoehorn things in if I need to, I suppose.
As usual, I am racked with indecision. So, what do you think? Move one or both ‘Gateway’ plants or leave them where they are?