Color your fall world for the best winter memories

Franklinia alatamaha has never bloomed, but I'm pretty proud it's still alive. In its fourth year,and after suffering the death of its central leader, I'm holding out hope for a bit of improvement.

My husband bought it as a beautiful tree in the summer of 2007. We planted it in a spot sheltered on three sides by our house, a fence and a boxwood hedge. The downside to all of this is its proximity to a silver maple, a tree notorious for its moisture-hogging nature.

I won't lament its placement. It's really doing just fine. Time will tell whether or not it will recover from the brutal removal of its main stem. The year it died the tree also was attacked by borers. We've been babying it a bit, providing time-release fertilizer, a layer of organic mulch each season, and supplemental water during drought.

I can't help thinking, no wonder it hasn't been seen in the wild since 1803. Learn more about the Franklinia, which was discovered by American botanists John and William Bartram in 1765.

Cotinus c. 'Royal Purple'


Cotinus x 'Grace'
Cotinus is one of my favorites for its great color all season-long. Cotinus coggygria 'Royal Purple' has smaller leaves than Cotinus x 'Grace', which is a cross between our native species C. obovatus and C. coggygria 'Velvet Cloak'. 
At left is 'Grace'; at right, 'Royal Purple'
But unless you see the leaves side by side, you really couldn't tell the difference. Both offer a deep, dusky color that looks great with chartreuse-leaved plants, and provide a great backdrop for just about anything. Cotinus doesn't mind some shade, which is likely why I like them so much.

I keep them small by pruning them down by about two thirds each spring. This also creates a "smoke-free" plant, but it's a small sacrifice to keep them from getting too big.



Azalea 'Karen'
Azalea with fall color? We love our Azalea 'Karen', a hybrid that is reported to be one of the hardiest evergreen azaleas. Unfortunately, our deer herd loves them as much as we do and so blooms are a bit spotty after they've had their way with the buds in winter.

Making its home at the feet of a speck of woods consisting of mostly pin oaks (Quercus palustris), Azalea 'Karen' is quite happy, otherwise.

October Color Collage

October in the garden in this post comes in the form of a collage. All photos were taken in October; just two are not from my own garden but from Missouri Botanical Garden. Next year, at a glance, I can see what I need more of, what I need to repeat, and how I should perhaps rearrange some beds so that combinations can be found in the ground, not just in a vase.

From top right: Zinnia 'Queen Red Lime', Aster 'Purple Dome' and Thunbergia 'Blushing Suzie.
Second row: combination from Missouri Botanical Gardens, Vigna caracalla, Zinnia cactus flowered.
Row three: Aster 'Little Carlow' with Anemone 'Alice; 'Little Carlow' with 'Honorine Jobert'
Row four: Impatiens 'Fusion Glow Yellow', upright fuchsia, Mirabilis longiflora and Dendranthema 'Sheffield Pink'.

A Gardener's Winter Distraction


Brunfelsia jamaicensis occupied space on the patio all summer without doing much in the growth department. In fact, it actually lost many of its lower leaves.

According to Logee's, where I purchased the plant several years ago, it tends to bloom on the woody lateral growth. It's been in the same clay pot for at least two years, so it's happily potbound with excellent drainage.

After it finishes blooming, I'll repot it into the same pot with fresh new soil mix and prune it back.

This Brunfelsia, also referred to as "Queen of the Night," has flowers that are fragrant at night. In its native Jamaica, it's endangered due to habitat destruction.

Another species of Brunfelsia I've grown for several years is B. australis, AKA "yesterday, today and tomorrow." I found a good article about this species on an Austrailian site called Burke's Backyard.

Brunfelsia australis often blooms inside beginning late February. At left, it's just opened and will fade a bit each day until it turns white. The flowers on this species also are fragrant.

Brunfelsia species number between 30 and 42, depending on your source. They are in the nightshade family (Solanaceae), a group that is rich in alkaloids.

Although neither of my Brunfelsias have formed berries, I'll be on the lookout for them in case my dogs take an interest in them. The entire plant, particularly the berries, are poisonous.


It's time to think about bringing tropical plants indoors before a frost. I'm rooting for the ginger flowers, many of which haven't opened yet. I counted three gardenia buds as I shaped the plant once more before attempting to get it through the door.

Oh, and I ordered some bulbs to play with through the winter. More about those later...

Repotting amaryllis bulbs

I divided and repotted amaryllis bulbs into a Lechuza Delta 20 planter, which seemed the perfect choice for the trio. I used a combination of Jolly Gardener Premium Potting Mix with a specially-blended cactus/succulent mix from Ted's Greenhouse in Tinley Park, IL. The ratio of the two was about 12 parts potting mix with 1 part cactus/succulent mix.

One of the easiest ways to fail with amaryllis is to plant the bulbs too deeply and water too much, so the planter combined with the well-drained yet rich soil mix should keep the fungal monsters at bay.
The Lechuza Delta 20 planter is designed as a two-part system with a layer of light-weight gravel in the outer pot in which the legs of the inner planter sit to keep plants' roots from getting too much moisture.

I gave the pot a good soaking from above to settle the soil and make sure the excess drained out before putting the inner section into the outer pot with the gravel.

The amaryllis bulbs had grown on the patio all summer and had lots of fat, healthy roots. One of the reasons for repotting the bulbs at this time is to assure insects and diseases are caught before the next growing season. I will leave the newly-planted pot in a sunny window and won't water again until the bulbs show signs of growth.

Garden Blooms Day a Treat for the Senses!

Please head over to May Dreams Gardens, where bloggers post about what's happening in their gardens on the 15th of each month.

Enjoying the last bastion of color

Like it is in early spring, color is much more appreciated in late fall than it is in the height of summer.  Impatiens 'Fusion Glow Yellow' from Ball Horticulture has ramped up its blooms in the cooler weather along with Euphorbia 'Diamond Frost' and an upright Fucshia.  
A colorful stand-by that starts the autumn show is Aster 'Purple Dome', one of the easiest to grow and the showiest. This photo belies its deep purple color, making it a very welcome mixer with anything it's combined with. It tends to go bald on its lower stems, so I like to plant it amidst perennial Geranium, whose foliage disguises the flaw.
Gardenia 'Miami Supreme' offers a few sporadic blooms, which look even more enchanting with a backdrop of Chionanthus virginicus in its golden fall color.
Zinnia 'Queen Red Lime' enjoys a visit with Hedychium 'Anne Bishop', both cut to enjoy indoors before they're cut down by frost. 'Queen Red Lime' is more lime than red in the cooler temperatures, but nonetheless a gorgeous Zinnia.
Before the leaves from the giant pin oaks obscure what's left of the garden, I've come to cherish the flowers and foliage that remain. Meanwhile my "strong back with a malleable mind," husband is limbering up his back for the day the big potted tropicals are moved inside.

Simplicity reigns

There is something about Anemone that begs to be captured in an image. Maybe it's the simplicity of its daisy-like shape or its cute button center.  Whatever the case, I've snapped their photos each year since I became a gardener.

Anemone 'Alice'
Someone I know called Anemone japonica invasive. If I had hackles, they'd rise in protest each time I heard a declaration like this. The "I" word shouldn't be used so lightly. Kudzu is invasive. So is Hedera helix.
Anemone japonica is able to hold its own if combined with other assertive plants like Amsonia hubrichtii, named Perennial Plant of the Year in 2011. And the partnership couldn't be more pleasing, the Amsonia's foliage turning a striking gold in fall and providing the prime example of accessorizing when grown near fall Anemone.

A little more tricky to find partners for, but no less welcome in the late fall garden is Dendranthema 'Sheffield Pink'. The color portion of the moniker is not quite correct, however, as the flowers open in shades of pinkish-apricot. Still, it's gorgeous with the small-flowered asters like 'Little Carlow', a hybrid between cultivars of Aster cordifolius and Aster novi-belgii. I've been growing 'Little Carlow' for several years, and I fall in love with it each time it blooms.

It's hard to find the small-flowered asters at local garden centers. It's probably because it doesn't look as tidy as the ubiquitous potted mums, isn't pretty in a pot, and doesn't call out for the consumer's attention in the spring when it should be planted in the garden.

Nonetheless, it's certainly worth seeking out, because those in the know know to grow 'Little Carlow'.

Outstanding Color at Missouri Botanical Garden

In case you were thinking of waiting until next spring to see color at MOBOT, think again. I visited the gardens just this past weekend and the garden is a long way off from dormancy!


One of my favorite indoor spots is the Shoenberg Temperate House, with its distinctive Moorish Walled Garden shown here. The young man is pruning the diminutive hedge, which he said is myrtle. Myrtis communis is a tender plant that serves this purpose well in such a formal setting.


The Temperate House is just to the southeast of the Climatron, as is shown on the map. The Climatron covers more than half an acre and contains more than 1,000 tropical species, from edible to poisonous and everything in between.

Although we spent time in the Climatron, there is more than enough color outdoors to satisfy my craving.

This combination of mums, ornamental cabbage, helichrysum and alyssum really puts the wow in autumn bedding schemes. Just outside the Linnean House, this freshly-planted bed captures both the eye and the imagination.

The corkscrew vine lured us back again and again for a whiff of its gardenia/jasmine-like fragrance. Vigna caracalla is a tropical vine that grows quickly in full sun and hot summers, both of which were provided in MOBOT's Kemper Center for Home Gardening.

This eight-acre section is one of my personal favorite sites for its ever-changing displays that offer tons of ideas for home gardeners. 

And for me, ideas and inspiration are the best reasons for visiting public gardens.

Think about next May...


Geum x chiloense 'Lady Strathenden'
My garden begins to really take on serious color in early May. I've been gradually shifting toward injecting more interest earlier in the season, and I've made some headway.

One genus I doubt I'll ever want to do without is Geum.

'Lady Strathenden' an oldie but goodie, is one of the few Geum cultivars that grows true from seed.

Another Geum that looks interesting for its lipstick-red double flowers is 'Blazing Sunset', because a true red is hard to find in a perennial plant.

A newcomer in the red Geum world is 'Flames of Passion', a low-grower at 12 - 15" tall.

Geum 'Mango Lassie'




I couldn't resist 'Mango Lassie', an adorable double with a host of sunset colors. I bought three plants last year from Digging Dog Nursery.

Another old favorite, Geum 'Georgenberg', is still highly-rated. In fact, it's the only cultivar offered at Sunshine Farm and Garden in West Virginia.

So what goes with apricot-hued flowers? Start with lamb's ear and work your way through the deepest or palest blue Salvias or perennial bachelor's buttons.

Geum 'Georgenberg'
 Mixing peach-colored flowers can be a bit of a challenge, but consider foliage plants like black mondo grass or deep-colored Heuchera like 'Obsidian'.

Call it peach, mango or cantaloupe, but whatever you call it, it's a mouthwatering shade to mix with a variety of May-blooming plants or some of the myriad foliage plants.

I'd Rather Fight Than Switch

Monarda 'Raspberry Wine'
As I dug and yanked clumps of Monarda 'Raspberry Wine' out of the ground, an old commercial played in my mind. It was when cigarette ads were allowed on television and featured people wearing black eye makeup. They all said, "I'd rather fight than switch." It was my battle cry for pulling this rampant spreader, the only cultivar of Monarda I grow for its great flower color and resistance to mildew.

Yes, I know there are many other hummingbird magnets out there that aren't so pushy, but my hummingbirds actually sit on the electric wires to wait for my Monarda to bloom. Really.

I'm not saying that if I had more Lobelia or if I had room for Campsis radicans my hummingbirds wouldn't still love to visit. It's just that my dry and somewhat sun-challenged garden best supports Monarda.

Digitalis is another magnet for hummingbirds. But no matter the claim of its perennial nature, it sticks around for a couple of years and then peters out completely when its seed sprouts in places rapidly covered by stronger growing plants.

This photo, shot in 2007, reminds me I should get more of this lovely plant for the earlier hummingbird arrivals.

Of course, I'll always have Pentas. This nectar-rich tropical is still available in a tall form, which I think makes a better resident in combo pots.

At right, I used a compact lavender form in the ground with perennial Geranium and Dianthus.

But I guess the bottom line is this: Use as many different flowering plants as you can squeeze in and there are bound to be some the hummingbirds can't resist.