garden photos

Asters "Pink Cloud" and "Monch" with a few last flowers of Rose Campion

Autumn Asters and Fall Fungi

I heard something recently about the two words used for this time of year (in the northern hemisphere). It’s the only season with two words to describe it. “Fall” is most commonly used in North America and “autumn” in Britain.

“Fall” is a one-syllable word that does the job of indicating the time of year when a lot of leaves hit the ground. Okay, there’s the additonal implication of failure and downgoing, as in the Fall of the Roman Empire. But think of “fall fair”–prize vegetables, flowers, and livestock. Deep-fried things to eat. Bales of hay. Fiddle music. Fall is fine.

“Autumn” sounds poetic and nostalgic. It actually works better in written form, at least in North America. People from the Old World, with suitable accents, can get away with using it in conversation, but for most of us it sounds hoity-toity and uber-refined. And of course it has that silent “n,” which adds a certain mystique.

I generally say “fall,” but sometimes I write “autumn.”

However you describe it, October is THE month. It’s not really cold, days have not yet been cut brutally short by the return to Standard Time (for which the mnemonic is “Fall back”), and the leaves are in a state of glory before they (yes, sadly) fall.

maple leaves, orange leaves, yellow leaves
Aster frikartii "Monch"
Asters are the thing to see in the garden right now. This is Aster frikartii “Monch”
Late-blooming purple aster (variety unknown)
These asters (variety unknown) don’t start blooming until October, and are sometimes flattened by early wind and rain storms.
Boletus mushroom October 2020
Mushrooms sprouted when warm days followed a week of rain. This is some sort of Boletus, probably edible. I didn’t nibble it, but something else did.
Amanita muscaria button
Amanita muscaria button. Cute, but definitely not edible.
Amanita muscaria mushroom
A week later, it’s all grown up, looking a bit out of place among hardy cyclamen flowers.
Allium christophii seed head
Another Covid-19 lookalike, otherwise known as a seed head of Allium christiophii
Fallen maple leaves and Geranium "Anne Folkard" October 2011
More beauty in decline–flowers of Geranium “Ann Folkard,” fading foliage, and fallen leaves.
Yellow rose; photo taken from living room window
What may be the last rose of the year; photo taken from a window.
Orb-weaver spider and web
Orb-weaver spider. They’re still with us…

I hope everyone is having a fabulous fall. Or an amazing autumn.

And a splendid spring to those in the southern hemisphere!

Spider webs by Japanese quince September 2020

Spidery Sunday

September was spider month. I couldn’t walk around the garden without crashing through webs or strands.

Spider web September 2020

On damp days, there was a veritable bonanza of webs, rendered visible by the drops of water clinging to them.

Spider web and hydrangea foliage

I think the spiders responsible for these creations are of the orb-weaver type. They’re yellow-brown, with stripy legs. Most of the time they hang out in the middle of their webs, waiting for victims.

Hanging out
Web of Orb-Weaver Spider in Japanese Quince September 2020

Sometimes, the “victim” is me, in which case no one is happy.


Otherwise, the garden has taken on its autumn wardrobe.

Light purple asters
Aster, variety unknown. It showed up here years ago and has made itself at home.
The usual autumn scene of the bench near the pond with Chinese witch hazel and hostas
I take a photo of this scene every year and never tire of it. Hostas and hellebores in pots near the bench made of a cedar stump, and the Chinese witch hazel taking on its fall colours.

Photos taken on September 17th, 2020, except for the rather out of focus spider close-up, which is from 2011

Echinops ritro

My Tough Plants #5: Globe Thistle

Tough plants often have common names that suggest they are weeds. Globe Thistle is no exception. Real thistles are prickly, deep-rooted weeds (although some are quite attractive). Globe Thistle (Echinops ritro) shares some of their qualities, but escapes true weediness.

This is a plant I can recommend without reservation to anyone with a dry garden. In moist soil it would grow weak and floppy and need staking. It prefers full sun but blooms well enough in my garden with only four hours of direct sun. Deer don’t eat it. Sometimes aphids appear on the developing flower buds, but can be washed off easily by spraying with water. The flowers look good for several weeks and may be dried if cut at their peak. To prevent uncontrolled self-seeding, it’s best to deadhead carefully before the flower heads shatter.

More information about Echinops ritro can be found here.

The flowers are indeed globe-shaped, about the size of golf balls, and a metallic blue in colour. I’ve seen them described as similar in appearance to the medieval mace, but in 2020, a different comparison is inevitable. A fellow blogger alerted me to it in the comments to this recent post.

Echinops ritro closeup
THE flower of 2020?

Globe thistle mingles well with other plants in the garden, especially with grey-leaved, drought-tolerant ones such as Curry Plant (Helichrysum italicum). In the dry, warm days of late summer, the foliage starts to morph into shades of yellow and rusty brown, which is somehow appropriate.

Echinops ritro and Helichrysum italicum
Globe Thistle and Curry Plant

Here are a couple of other plants that look good right now

Japanese Painted Fern (Athyrium niponicum) in Chinese egg jar
This Japanese Painted Fern (Athyrium niponicum) has done very well this year. Unlike the globe thistle, it prefers moist soil and is happy in the Chinese “egg jar.”
Garlic chives (Allium tuberosum) in bloom
The starry, pure white flowers of Garlic Chives (Allium tuberosum) freshen up the scene in the late summer garden.

The photos in this post were taken on August 21st and 29th, 2020.

Garden shed

August-itis

It happens every August. I decide the garden is a mess, a failure and a burden. The season is drawing to a close, and has not lived up to expectations.

This garden looks best in spring and early summer. Given our climate and the Norway maples that shade the place and suck more than their share (so say I) of water and nutrients from the thin, sandy soil, the August decline is inevitable.

dry leaves, drought
Maple leaves that fall before turning colour are often seen in August

Add to that the fact that many plants have achieved their maximum size and leafiness by now, and many of them look weary. Windy days aren’t unusual here, pummeling the plants and making them lean. Many just stay that way, as though resigned, giving the garden an unkempt look. Yellowing leaves on perennials that have been there and done that add to the effect. The gardener, already tired from lugging watering cans and dragging hoses, says, “To Hell with it,” and goes inside to commune with the computer.

I noted at least three major pruning projects that will have to be done sooner rather than later. The magnolia is a hulking monster, despite annual attention with the pruning saw. The trellis is getting shaky. The pond has a bad case of duckweed. Too many plants, such as Russian sage and Japanese anemones, that are in glorious bloom in other (sunny) gardens, barely manage a meager handful of flowers here. Why bother?

The tomatoes are smaller than last year, both in size and number, because of cool weather in June and early July. The plants are showing signs of late blight, so it’s not likely they’ll produce many more tomatoes. Daylilies failed to bloom this year. Nine tenths of an old climbing rose died after being blasted by cold winds in March. My latest (and maybe last) attempt to grow blue poppies has failed. Why bother?

Plants don’t say “Why bother?” They just get on with it.

August-itis is a disease of the gardener, not the garden. Despite failures of individual plants, the garden itself is just fine, going through its annual process. This is the way it’s supposed to look in August, and in fact it looks better this year than it has in Augusts past. There have not been a lot of faded green leaves falling.

When I allow the ideal of green perfection to interfere with my expectations, I regard that normality as a failure. Looking at other gardens, especially the ones perfectly manicured by hired gardeners and watered by elaborate irrigation systems, only intensifies that feeling.

There’s only one cure for August-itis. The gardener must engage with the garden and do something that improves its appearance, even a little. Something straightforward and not too difficult. Clip that lawn edge. Do some deadheading. Cut down the wilted stalks.

After that depressing tour in the glare of noon that concluded with, “To Hell with it,” I took another look at the place late in the day, when the magical light of near-sunset transforms everything. I did a bit of deadheading and a little raking. I noticed buds forming on the Chinese witch hazel. They will bloom in January. I saw a new frond unfurling on a struggling little fern. I topped up the pond and scooped out much of the duckweed.

I noted plants that are looking good.

Hosta "Stained Glass"
Hosta “Stained Glass,” a new addition last autumn, has done well.
Blue lacecap hydrangea
This hydrangea is blooming well due to diligent watering and removal of lilac suckers.
Pink dahlia and Echinops ritro
Old reliables–pink dahlia and Echinops ritro.

I’m on good terms with the garden again. For now, I’ve recovered from August-itis.

Lily "Golden Splendour" and Dryopteris fern

Lily Month

We are in high summer now, if you reckon by the meteorological calendar, in which the summer months are June, July, and August.

July is lily month in this garden. Spring and early summer bloomers are fading off and tiredness is creeping into the scene. But the trumpet lily “Golden Splendor” adds a flourish of drama, as well as an incredible scent. It drifts through the window as I write.

Lily "Golden Splendour" and Smoke Bush

This lily is one quality plant I’ve manage to grow successfully, despite dry, rooty soil. It declined for several years, but has recovered due to my efforts in removing some of the invading tree roots, adding compost and fertilizer, and paying attention to watering.

Lily "Golden Splendour" and Dryopteris fern and Meconopsis cambrica flowers

This summer has been relatively cool, with slightly more rain than usual. The lilies have responded with extra buds. Again, I’ve taken the precaution of draping light plastic netting over them to deter munching deer. We have a small herd of does (one or two with fawns) and at least three bucks that cruise around the neighbourhood.

Urban deer (doe)

I’m still learning what plants they like, although their preferences change from year to year. Last summer the bronze fennel was eaten to the bone. This year, fennel is ignored, but the flowers of Crocosmia “Lucifer” were nibbled. I hastened to apply deer repeller (smelly stuff made of eggs, garlic, and wintergreen). It works, but it’s best to apply it before the damage is done.

Crocosmia "Lucifer" with flowers eaten by deer
A close look reveals bare stems where blooms used to be.
Heuchera Dolce "Key Lime Pie"
Heuchera “Dolce Key Lime Pie” shares the big blue pot with Hellebore “Ivory Prince.”
Pelargoniums and other potted plants near front steps
A gang of pots by the front steps. I’ve managed to winter the pelargoniums (non-hardy geraniums) in this spot for several years now. The other plants are Rosemary, Santolina “Lemon Fizz,” and Dusty Miller (Jacobaea maritima)

Sunny and warm is the forecast for the next week. Perfect July weather as garden and gardener move through the season.

Plants along front walk: orange California poppies (Eschscholzia californica) in bloom; blue Ceanothus blooming in background

In My Garden

I recently rediscovered a book I have no memory of buying. As you can see from the price stickers in the photo, it was a bargain. Especially considering what a fun read it’s been.

My copy of In My Garden by Christopher Lloyd

Christopher Lloyd was an eminent British gardener (“horticulturist, ” as he called himself) and writer on gardening. This book is a collection of his essays first published in Country Life between 1964 and 1993. They are arranged by month, a practice that makes sense considering that gardening is an activity governed by the seasons.

Reading the thoughts of this longtime expert gardener who was also a good writer was an informative delight. I must have read this book whenever it was I bought it, but I somehow forgot doing so. That made this re-reading a fresh experience.

Gardening was both passion and profession for Lloyd. He was opinionated, but spoke from knowledge and experience. His garden at Great Dixter was open to the public, which led to opinions about the habits of garden visitors. And on the habits of plants, from trees to tiny alpines. Dogs in the garden. Thefts of plants and cuttings, including confessions of long-ago heists perpetrated by Mr. Lloyd and his mother and fellow gardeners. His thoughts on the sound of certain words — “cultivar” (ugly) or “inflorescence” (delightful). The virtues of rough grass, which made me think I’m on to something with my Boulevard Project. The death of a plant as an opportunity for something new to be added. The essays cover a dizzying variety of garden-related topics, from plant propagation to cooking.

Great Dixter Garden is now managed by a charitable trust as a biodiversity and educational centre and is open to visitors. Its official website may be found here.

As well as enjoying Mr. Lloyd’s thoughts on gardening, I’ve been bustling about in my own patch, so thought it was okay to borrow his book’s title for this post. Deadheading continues, as well as staking, snipping, weeding, lugging watering cans, and fretting about when to activate the soaker hoses and sprinklers.

I can’t really complain about the weather so far this season. We haven’t had unseasonable cold or heat, and there was adequate rainfall from April through June. Today (June 27th), as I write this, however, we have dull clouds and a blustery wind, but without rain. My least favourite kind of weather, since the wind batters plants and tugs on them and dries out the soil. And it’s unpleasant to be in the garden with flying debris whizzing by as branches clash and clank overhead. (Okay, I’m complaining after all, but whining about the weather is a gardener’s prerogative.)

Update: today (June 28th) has been a complete contrast — sunny and clear with a little breeze. And we had a few millimetres of rain overnight; not enough to make much difference, but it was nice to hear its patter on the leaves. Summer rain here is a blessing.

Since this is a Garden post, a few photos are obligatory. About the middle of June I ran around trying to get decent close-ups of flowers. Being a lazy photographer, I didn’t work too hard at it, and my camera isn’t intended for macro work. These are the best of a dubious lot.

Ladybug on rue flower
Ladybug beetle on rue flower
Single flower of Geranium "Ann Folkard" with grey foliage in background
Flower of Geranium “Ann Folkard” with grey foliage of Rose Campion (Silene coronaria, formerly Lychnis coronaria) in the background.
Single flower of orange California poppy Eschscholzia californica
California poppy (Eschscholzia californica), one of the best North American native plants for dry, sunny gardens. This is its normal colour.
Pink and cream California poppies Eschscholzia californica
Cream and pink California poppies, results of a packet of seeds of a type called “Thai Silks” I scattered around years ago.
Close-up of white mullein (Verbascum chaixii 'Album' with Hosta "Stained Glass" in background
Close-up of a white form of mullein (Verbascum chaixii ‘Album’). Hosta “Stained Glass” in the fuzzy background.

My patch of garden is not comparable to the size, sophistication, and magnificence of the one at Great Dixter, but all gardens and gardeners have something in common.

Blue Siberian irises, orange poppies and Libertia grandiflora, May 2020

This Was May…

Before May of 2020 fades into memory, here are a few memorable images from my garden, along with a thought or two.

As a new gardener, I read a lot of books and articles about garden design that suggested using plants as an artist uses pigments to create stunning colour combinations. In fact, I recall the term “plant palette” being tossed around. After years of striving to do this in reality, I’ve decided it’s not a realistic goal, outside of “great gardens” with staffs and resources. For the small gardener, failure and fits (apoplectic and otherwise) are guaranteed. Plants aren’t pigments. They won’t all bloom at the intended times. A key component of the design will die or rampage through the planting. Something else will creep in and introduce a clashing colour. But delightful conjunctions do happen. My best combinations are happy accidents, not carefully selected groupings. The thing is to see and appreciate them when they happen.

The header image shows a happy combination of Siberian irises (finally blooming well here), with orange poppies (Papaver rupifragum) and the white flowers of Libertia grandiflora in the background. I planted the Libertia a couple of years ago. It didn’t bloom last summer, so I was beginning to think the conditions here didn’t suit it (it’s a New Zealand native), but it’s performing beautifully this year.

Orange poppy, Papaver rupifragum
It would be tempting to use flowers like this as pigments. Papaver rupifragum, otherwise known as Spanish, Moroccan, or Atlas poppy, looks great against the grey foliage of Senecio “Sunshine.”

While “painting” with flower colours is a dubious proposition, it is possible to create effects of contrasting and harmonizing forms and colours with foliage. Leaves, after all, are present throughout the growing season, whereas flowers are fleeting whims.

Foliage: hellebore, hosta, variegated grass, and Chinese witch hazel, May 2020
A happy combination of leaves: Chinese witch hazel (Hamamelis) at the top, with hellebore, variegated grass, and hosta below.
Japanese painted fern in Chinese jar, May 2020
And then there’s this fern — Japanese painted fern (Athyrium niponicum). It’s a colour combination in itself, with shades of greenish grey, silver, and maroon.
Creamy yellow rose
A rose is perfect on its own. I have no idea what this one’s variety name is. I grew it from a cutting, so it’s on its own roots, not grafted. It’s blooming well this year, wafting fragrance all over the front garden.

The garden and environs are home to a number of wild creatures. Birds are the most numerous. I’ve come to recognize quite a few different ones since I began hanging up feeders in 2015. A couple of days ago, I saw a family of red-breasted nuthatches near the pond, and the following morning there was a family of Bewick’s wrens in the lilac bush. Sadly, I think one of the nuthatches is no more; today I found clusters of small grey feathers that match one of that species’ colours. I have seen Cooper’s hawks here from time to time, and I know they prey on small birds. So do crows, for that matter; I’ve noticed one visiting the bird bath recently.

Buck visiting the garden next door, May 2020
This guy was one of a group of four (a mini-herd!) visiting the garden next to mine. (Photo is blurry because I took it through the potting shed’s window.)
Slime mold on compost pile, May 2020
A rather bizarre “visitor” came after rain in mid-May — a slime mold that showed up on top of the compost pile. This one might be the type known as “dog vomit” slime mold. My first thought when I saw it was “Who puked on the compost?”

May really is this garden’s best month. June also, if there’s enough rain. By July, grass starts to brown off and the spring bloomers get that tired look. Of course, there are the drought-tolerant stalwarts, the “tough plants” I’ve mentioned in quite a few posts. And the gardener (that’s me) racing around frantically with watering cans and hoses, ministering to plants that aren’t so tough.

Part of back garden April 2020

More Garden Sights

I’ve been busy in the garden lately, but I managed to take these photos.

Heuchera and white Arabis
Heuchera “Timeless Orange” and white Arabis
Labrador violet (Viola labradorica)
Labrador violet. The purple flowers and hint of red in the leaves are a delightful combination.
Cedar bench and potted Hellebores and Hostas
The cedar stump bench near the pond — a familiar sight I keep returning to. Hellebore “Pirouette” in final bloom stage.
White camellia
White camellia visiting from my neighbour’s garden.
Tomato seedlings ready for potting on
Tomato seedlings ready to pot up.
Tomato seedlings potted on
Now potted up!

Gorgeous weather here — sunny and temperatures of 15+ C (60s in degrees F). Wishing everyone a Happy Easter weekend!

Blue hyacinths

Spring Sights 2020

To my surprise, I forgot to schedule the post I had intended for today (March 22nd). I’ll schedule it for next week, and in the meantime, here are some photos from my garden taken on the first day of spring.

Rhubarb emerging
Rhubarb leaves. Wrinkly when young, smoothing out as they mature.
Erythronium oregonum, Fawn lily
Fawn lily (Erythronium oregonum) and Chionodoxa lucilae
Daffodil, white and yellow
Daffodil (variety unknown)
Sedge, Carex and garden ornament
Huge clump of sedge (Carex morrowii) and garden ornament
Hellebore "Ruby Wine"
Hellebore “Ruby Wine”
Hellebore, white with purple spots
This hellebore was a nice surprise. It’s a seedling from one of my old plants, which are mostly pink and purple.

I was about to say something about the garden being a welcome diversion in these days of staying at home and “social distancing,” but that would be inaccurate. The truth is I prefer messing about in the garden to most kinds of socializing.

Fellow bloggers, how are you coping with whatever virus-avoiding situation you’re in? Are you reading, watching, or maybe even writing? Is anyone getting bored?