Here are some photos from my garden taken from mid-September to early October. Asters start blooming here in early September and continue through October.
Here are some photos from my garden taken from mid-September to early October. Asters start blooming here in early September and continue through October.
Three years ago, I decided to do something different with a scruffy patch of weedy grass on the municipal boulevard next to my driveway. The actual grass was losing the battle with weeds I didn’t like — dandelion (Taraxacum) and hairy cat’s ear (Hypochaeris radicata ). It occurred to me to introduce a better class of weed and make the spot look better than bad. So began the Boulevard Project.
My plant choices were inspired by the plantscape along my cycling route to work, a bike path parallel to one of the main highways into Victoria — chicory, Queen Anne’s lace, red clover, beach pea, and St. John’s wort. These plants in bloom made the roadside quite ornamental in July and August, with no watering at all. So far, I’ve established only two of them on my boulevard — chicory and Queen Anne’s lace. Beach pea (Lathyrus japonicus) now grows in a couple of other spots in my garden (not sure how that happened). I’ve harvested seeds from those plants, and will make a better effort with it on the boulevard next spring. I didn’t manage to collect viable seed of either the clover or St. John’s wort. However, white clover has established itself quite nicely. I have to admit the flowers of hairy cat’s ear on a neighbouring part of the boulevard provide the same shade of yellow as St. John’s wort. (I’m pleased to say my dandelion tool and I have succeeded in keeping hairy cat’s ear out of my patch. Impressive when you consider the mass of airborne seeds those nearby plants produce.).
Chicory (Cichorium intybus) is definitely the star of the show. It’s amazing to find such beautiful blue flowers on a plant that’s an utter weed. I’ve noticed some chicory plants have dark red stems, while others are green. They seem to vary in height too, and harmonize nicely with Queen Anne’s lace (Daucus carota). My original intention was to cut the chicories down to six inches or lower, and force them to flower near the ground. So far I haven’t had the heart to apply this brutal treatment, but now that the plants are established, I think I’ll do that next year, at least to those growing close to the public sidewalk.
Establishing the chicory was a little tricky, because the nonflowering stage of this plant, called a “rosette” in botany — looks a lot like common dandelion and hairy cat’s ear. I had to pay close attention when extracting dandelion and hairy cat’s ear not to extract the young chicory plants by mistake.
Both plants will need to be cut down before they seed wildly and form thickets. I want to retain the idea of grass supplemented with flowering weeds, not a solid weed patch. Let’s not forget that this adjoins a suburban sidewalk, not a rural lane. Every now and then I go out and do some snipping to show that yes, this is a cultivated spot, not a neglected one. I’ve even had one or two compliments from passers-by.
A plant of bronze fennel has established itself at the edge of the driveway. I’ve been tossing California poppy seed pods onto the boulevard, and one tiny plant actually bloomed this summer. I’ve seen a creeping form of broom (Genista species) growing in all sorts of exposed spots, such as highway medians. Perhaps I’ll manage to work that in as well. And I must not forget the aster mentioned in the original post.
The project continues!
A few years ago, while riding my bicycle, I saw a plant with an exciting combination of blue, green, and purple. Those are my three favourite colours. Blue and purple especially — the colours of magic!
Some investigation revealed the name, or rather names, of this plant. In scientific Latin, it’s Cerinthe major, variety atropurpurea. Common names include honeywort and “blue shrimp,” which certainly describes it when in bloom. But I prefer “Pride of Gibraltar,” which has a certain grandeur and mystery, quite in keeping with this plant’s magical qualities.
Why magical, you ask? Because of the colour changes it undergoes. I grew a number of plants from seed this summer, in pots. That allowed me to keep a close eye on them and observe their development. Last summer, I grew them in the chaotic mess of the “Ex-Veg Patch,” where they soon disappeared among the jumble of herbs and arugula. I managed to harvest seven seeds and resolved to make good use of them.
When young, the simple, entire leaves of cerinthe are a pale green with faint white blotches. I worried about those blotches, but I think they’re normal. Once the plants branch out and prepare to bloom, the foliage colour deepens to a unique blue-tinged green. Flower buds form, and the ends of the stalks droop as the flowers open.
The flowers themselves aren’t all that spectacular. They’re narrow purple tubes less than an inch long, peeking out from the small terminal leaves. The magical thing is the colour of those leaves. They’re dark blue, sometimes with purple and bronze flushes. The combination of blue-green, pure blue, purple-blue, and purple is a delight to the eye. And chances are a bumblebee will show up. As it burrows into a flower, the bumblebee’s buzz grows more intense, probably because of the tubular shape.
Pride of Gibraltar cerinthe is an easy-to-grow annual. The seeds are about the size of peas, so are easy to handle. I can imagine all kinds of clever colour combinations in beds, borders and containers. Definitely allow seeds to form and ripen so you can experience the magic again next year.
We’re experiencing that weird, smoke-induced orange light here again. Some say it’s going to be the “new normal” for our summers. Air quality the past few days has been too poor for garden activities more strenuous than admiring the flowers of summer’s end, such as cerinthe “Pride of Gibraltar.”
A macabre title for something innocuous. The other day, I cut down flowering stalks of perennials that were past their best, as part of ongoing garden maintenance and cleanup. There were lambs’ ears (Stachys byzantina), delphinium, mullein (Verbascum olympicum), blue fescue grass, achillea.
Bundling them together, I noticed how beautiful the textures and colours still were, in these technically dead flowers. I laid them on the cedar trunk bench, which contributed to the photos with its own colours and textures — the grain of the weathered wood, the dry moss and lichen growing on it.
This seems a fitting entry into August, a month when the garden becomes dry and rattling, brown around the edges, but still with its beauties.
One of the big garden jobs that actually got done in May was Compost Management. This means: 1) Shovelling out the remaining bit of finished compost from Bin #1 (the smaller one). 2) Building a new heap from all the accumulated stuff in Bin #2 — cut down perennial stalks from last summer, last fall’s leaves, old stalks cut down in fall and spring cleanup, and fresh material from recent tidying jobs. All this is layered and arranged in Bin #1, new material on the bottom, old on top, dampened down, and allowed to mellow until next spring. 3) Meanwhile, new stuff will be deposited into Bin #2, where it will pile up through the rest of the summer, the coming fall, until next spring. Whereupon the job will be repeated.
What happened to the former contents of Bin #1, i.e., last year’s compost? Most of it was distributed around the garden this spring with supplements mixed in to make a “feeding mulch.” Some was used to make soil for potting up tomato plants in May. The last wheelbarrow full is sitting in a neat pile near the shed, until needed for mulching or mixing.
At the weary end of forking and shovelling the half-baked brown stuff (mostly leaves and fern fronds), I discovered a tool I’d been missing — a three-pronged cultivator with a wooden handle. I must have inadvertently dumped it into the heap along with a bucketful of garden debris. It doesn’t show much damage from its year in the heap, only a bit of rust. Painting the handle red might be a good idea to avoid reburial.
Watering anxiety and rain envy begin now. Our very dry May hasn’t had visible effects on plants here, but it has affected the gardener. I’m apprehensive about the next two or three (maybe four) months. If the trends of the past few years continue, we may see almost no rain until late September. Water from the end of a hose is a poor substitute for rain, which has the great advantages of even distribution and no cost.
For the past month, whenever I exit the front door of my house I’ve been getting a visual treat from the ceanothus or California lilac, its branches almost solid with puffs of tiny flowers of a magical blue. They’re really popular with all kinds of bees.
Years ago, I bought a packet of California poppy (Eschscholzia californica) seeds. They were called “Thai Silks” and featured colours other than the standard bright orange. I recall one plant, long gone now (they’re annuals or short-lived perennials) with double lemon yellow flowers. Even now, some of the unusual colours persist — cream, cream with pink or red flushes, different shades of pink, and extra-dark orange. It’s a surprise every year to see what colours show up.
I don’t know about other gardens, but here plants fall into three categories — those that struggle and eventually die, those that grow ferociously and try to take over, and some that prosper in a quiet, reliable way. Guess which one is predominant. Well, to be fair, the pushy plants attract more attention so it seems there are more of them. But they do need to be managed, i.e., pruned, restrained, or dug up.
The next Big Garden Jobs on the agenda involve pruning. That lovely ceanothus has a habit of growing sideways, which means it ends up overhanging walkways and getting too friendly with people who use them. And the Oregon grape you can see behind the ceanothus is frighteningly vigorous. I wrestle with it every year, trying to keep it shorter than 12 feet and digging up suckers. It’s almost too late, though; I should have tackled it right after it finished blooming in April. Well, there’s always next year…
When I’m not deadheading, edge-clipping, checking on recently-planted things that might be getting overwhelmed by the incumbents, or lugging cans of water around, I do stop to admire plants that are performing as expected.
Wandering around the garden, I found myself nudging aside foliage of vigorous plants to make sure less hearty subjects weren’t being shaded or squashed. That got me thinking about what I actually do in the garden and what roles I play. I’m no sports fan, but it could be the current playoffs (hockey and basketball) and new season (baseball) have influenced my metaphor-maker.
A gardener is…
A referee, who makes sure everyone plays nice and no one gets hurt. Except sometimes that means someone has to get
A coach, who puts plants into the right spots, so they’ll grow well and look good.
A trainer, who snips, prunes, and stakes, encouraging everyone to get into optimal shape.
A doctor, who designs preventive regimens, diagnoses ailments, and applies tonics and nostrums when needed.
A chaplain, who ministers to the dying and performs the last rites at the compost heap.
A general manager, who decides what changes are going to be made for success next season.
Which means all those plants out there are a team.
My home team is looking pretty good right now, but its season is just getting under way.
Green and white ribbon grass (Phalaris arundinacea var. picta) looks good with pink tulips. It’s a quick spreader, though, so eventually some management will be needed.
Ferns have finally unrolled their fiddleheads. Dryopteris filix-mas looks fine with the intense yellow-green of the ornamental grass Milium effusum.
One of the huge tribe of coral bells is Heuchera “Green Spice.” It does fairly well in dry shade, and the subtle shades of purply-red and greeny-grey invite artful colour combinations.
Another Heuchera, this one with the rather awkward moniker “Dolce Key Lime Pie,” lives in a big blue pot with the hellebore “Ivory Prince,” whose flowers are taking on shades of green and pink as they mature.
Those blue gentians again! Gentiana acaulis is doing its thing next to the front walk. I suspect the plants need to be dug and divided every few years, because this newer patch is doing much better than the original, which has been in place for almost 20 years.
Wallflower Erysimum “Bowles Mauve” is at its best right now. The magenta of the flowers and grey-blue-green of the foliage are a magical combination.
Recent visitors to the garden include two pairs of American goldfinches, who spent much of an afternoon loading up on sunflower seeds. A deer rested in my neighbour’s garden and stopped by here later to nibble on the lawn.
Apparently the chance of a white Christmas here is 15%, but on Christmas morning, we awoke to a couple of inches (4 cm) of white. It was a nice, polite snowfall, starting late evening Christmas Eve, and mostly gone by Boxing Day.
Can’t complain, really.
November departs and winter approaches…
I couldn’t resist posting a few more photos from the autumn garden…
That’s it for now — we’ve had some cold winds and even a taste of snow (!). All those coloured leaves are on the ground, and the season is shifting toward winter.
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