By Paige Patterson
The first day of September ushered in an afternoon dance of dragonflies and tree swallows in my yard. It was a beautiful day. Cooler now. And so fall has come. But instead of lamenting the passing of summer I am facing fall with a smile and a positive attitude. It’s actually fabulous gardening weather. And although everyone wants to start pruning, it’s still too early, so here’s the plan for this month. Let’s plant! Now we’ll be able to keep up with the watering needs of newly installed members of our green community, so let’s take advantage of all the sales at all the different nurseries that we are surrounded by and start shopping.
First of all, just because a plant is past blooming, doesn’t mean it’s bad, or dying or unhappy. It just means it’s slowing down a little. I picked up a whole crop of Echinacea and a gaggle of roses at 40% off and used them to fill in holes in all my perennial borders. And there are great deals out there on rhododendrons and other more expensive plants, which maybe seemed a little indulgent when they were at full price. I happen to have my eyes on some fabulous Chionoides over at Marder’s. These rhodos have a clean white bloom, and a perfect habit. A plant’s habit is the way it grows, it’s form and the structure it takes on as it matures, and the Chionoides rhododendron stays fairly tight and leafy and grows wider than it gets tall. It’s the best foundation rhodo on the block, and it’s a prime plant to pick up if you scout them on sale.
Plus, right now is the prime time to buy grasses. You can see them at the peak of their glory and make sure you’re choosing the right grass for the right place. I like the grass Molina Sky Racer. For reasons I don’t understand, it is not as common a grass as the miscanthus and pennisetums that everyone else has. The clump of grass itself doesn’t become overwhelming in size, perhaps up to three to four feet, but it’s plumes shoot up and out up to seven feet above the ground and sway with an elegant delicacy the seems quite ethereal.
Of course there’s also a whole group of plants that haven’t even started to show off their beauty. My lespedeza is just starting. It grows somewhat like a grass, tall and arching over and is covered, weighed down actually with thousand of tiny flowers in either white, pink or purple that look like the individual florets of wisteria. It’s a must have in the garden, especially since the deer have never touched any of mine. Two other fab deer resistant, fall bloomers are aconitum or Monkshood and leucosceptrum — a plant unblessed with the common name Japanese Mountain Mint. Now Monkshood is more common, with it’s tall blue spikes waiting until September to do their thing, and I put them in all the gardens I do, specifically because they extend the color display and because they multiply in a gratifying way and are easy to grow. Plus who doesn’t love blue in the garden?
But leucosceptrum is more unknown. I like it for fairly deep shade in that it grows a lot like a hydrangea but the deer don’t touch it. It isn’t as interesting or as impressive in flower, with small bottle-brush shaped inflorescences that come in either white or pink, but when you are working in the shade and without a deer fence, this plant is quite impressive. I have all three different kinds, a variegated one, the original which looks like it has quilted leaves and my favorite, a golden foliaged one. Combined with Hakonechloa macra ‘All Gold,’ the electric chartreuse shade-tolerant Japanese forest grass, it’s a perfect brightener of dark corners. And for those of us who are truly plant maniacs I have a stumper for you all. Who has rabdosia longituba? Who wouldn’t love a plant that can grow in the shade, is covered with billows of flowers in October and has a variety called Tube Socks? Hard to find, but worth the time, Jim Glover of Glover Perennials is the only local wholesaler to grow it; but ask at your nursery and if there’s a true perennial lover there, they can get it for you. Trust me, you want this plant.
This is also the time to start a Japanese maple collection or to begin an obsession with specialty conifers. I’ve always promised myself that I would grow a greater diversity of evergreens and I have my eye on this amazing dwarf hemlock at a local nursery that would look amazing with the Shishigashira Japanese Maple that’s sitting just a little farther down the path in the same area. A Shishigashira is very compact with tiny leaves that grow very close together, thus the plant’s common name, Lion’s Mane Maple. I’ve longed for one for ages and love it even more now that it’s costing less.
So I’m taking a hint from the creatures zipping across my skies and I’m starting my fall migration pattern and hitting all the nurseries I can over the next few weeks –– you should too. I promise I’ll even leave you some of the good stuff.
(Paige Patterson is making her husband crazy by cutting all her hydrangeas for drying and hanging them all over the house.)