We New Englanders have been fortunate to have had a long and lovely fall season. The frost was late, warm temperatures rebounded, leaves were spectacular and late season mums are still going strong – good for pollinators. Even more tender plants continue to bloom in sheltered areas.

Pale champagne pink mums provide late nourishment for native pollinators

Pale champagne pink mums provide late nourishment for native pollinators

While there is much admiration for the brilliant yellows, fluorescent oranges and flaming reds covering many trees and shrubs this season, I am more partial to the pinks, burgundies and maroons. The fall reminds me of that aging bottle of red wine – once the bottle is uncorked, the rich, expressive elixir is savored but gone all too soon.

The pink blush on the panicled hydrangea reminds me of a pink moscato. Notice how the delicate pink and cream flower heads soften the hard, grey stone wall. This is a good placement for this plant that often is planted as a lonely specimen but adds more charm when it is worked into a planting or the landscape.

Delicate pink and creams of panicled hydrangea in fall

Delicate pink and creams of panicled hydrangea in fall

Sparkling pink champagne brings to mind the flower heads of miscanthus ‘Morning Light’. The pale pink, effervescent plumes dance in the wind and are positively radiant when the morning sun drenches them in light.

The whispy miscanthus plumes dance in the wind.

The whispy miscanthus plumes dance in the wind.

Recently fallen red maple leaves cover the walkways in merlot and burgundy. They crunch underfoot and get piled mischievously by the wind in between the branches of shrubs, in newly raked corners and in low-lying areas. Oak leaf hydrangeas take on a reddish hue the color of shiraz.

Maple leaves in shades of maroon and silver

Maple leaves in shades of maroon and silver.

Oak leaf hydrangea in splendid fall colors.

Oak leaf hydrangea in splendid fall colors.

Many azalea species lose their leaves as cold weather approaches. The evergreen ones take on hues of maroon, bronze and rose. I like to use their branches in holiday window boxes and arrangements. Bergenia leaves hang on all winter tinged with cranberry.

Azalea leaves can be used for winter arrangements.

Azalea leaves can be used for winter arrangements.

Wine tinged bergenia leaves.

Wine tinged bergenia leaves.

And then, there is the occasional rose. While the rest of the plant kingdom is turning its thoughts to dormancy and the long, cold winter ahead, it is not uncommon to find a softly scented, unfurling rose bud in a more protected area, undaunted by the darkening days and serving as a reminder of the warmer days we’ve left behind.

Last rose of summer!

Last rose of summer!

Dawn P.

This past Saturday and Sunday saw a very fine, sunny, dry, New England spring weekend. While the roads seem to be particularly busy (there’s a highway within hearing distance of my house), I took advantage of this mild weather to do some cleaning and rethinking of my perennial beds before those nasty black flies emerge.   

With more warm weather expected this week, first task at hand was to cut down the ornamental grasses. I have several Miscanthus varieties, and a Pennisetum which I started from seed over a decade ago. It is true that there are species of Miscanthus on the CT invasive plant list but Zebra grass (M. sinensis ‘Zebrinus’), ‘Morning Light’ (M. sinensis ‘Morning Light’) and M. sinensis ‘Variegatus’ are not included. They have been growing in my yard for about 15 years and I have yet to find any seedlings from them.  They just slowly form larger clumps.

Miscanthus 'Morning Light' before cutting back.

 

Miscanthus 'Morning Light' after cutting back

 

Two other grasses I have not gotten to yet are blue fescue (Festuca glauca) and Carex morrowii ‘Ice Dance’, variegated sedge. The blue fescue will occasionally self-seed. To groom the fescue, I just run my hands through the plant to collect any dead blades of grass. The sedge I mostly leave alone but if the old foliage looks particularly ratty, I just cut it off. This white and green leaved plant is fantastic for dry shade. I have it under a blue spruce and it does admirably.

Blue fescues are tough, well-behaved, plants with lots of color appeal.

Another grass I grew from seed is a bronze, fine-bladed sedge. It is not for everyone mostly because it generally looks like a clump of dead grass. I like it for its color but, a word of advice. Don’t cut it back as you are cutting off the live, overwintering grass blades and it takes a long time to recover! Just run your fingers through the grass to remove any dead stalks.

My bronze carex always looks like it is having a bad hair day!

 

As I go through the beds clipping off dead stems, picking up packed down leaves, and plucking the occasional weed, I dream. Maybe I should move these pennisetums out another 10 feet and plant a dwarf peach to the right of the echinops! Here would be the perfect spot for a two or three tiered bed of succulents! Boy, these lovely purple irises are doing well and should be divided and maybe they could go in front of the daffodils to hide their foliage! What? That beautiful Veronica gentianoides that I grew from seed and bloomed so nicely last year did not come back but I need something blue here! And, I can’t believe that annoyingly aggressive campanula has returned after all that weeding!

Despite their name, perennial beds are never permanent. Some perennials are short-lived by nature; others are too aggressive. Voles, deer and winter weather wipe out a few each year, as do summer droughts, insects, disease, and the occasional escaped chicken! Although that initial feeling of loss is sometimes painful, the opportunity to add new replacement plants is always welcomed.

A lot of us gardeners, myself included, tend to collect plants and deposit them wherever space permits. This might or might not work well from a design point of view. I have been trying not to purchase a plant unless I know what I want and where it is going but sometimes the temptation to bring home that absolutely spectacular specimen is just too hard to resist! I guess this means I keep putting in more garden beds!

Good planting to you!

Dawn