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Autumn Colors: GBBD, October 2020

October 18, 2020

As the days get shorter and cooler and the nights get colder, many of the plants in my Maine garden have already gone into dormancy. The foliage of plants like Hosta and Amsonia have turned from green to yellow, and many shrubs are sporting orange or red leaves.

Amsonia fall foliage viburnum fall foliage

red geraniumEven as overnight lows go down into the twenties, however, some flowers continue to bloom, and their scarcity makes these late blooms all the more special. Somehow this annual geranium (Pelargonium) has escaped multiple frosts and continues to bloom in its container.


The fall sedums are near the end of their bloom and have turned a deep wine red. Sedum Neon late color


hammamelis flowers october As the leaves fall from the trees, the fringy yellow flowers of our native witch hazel (Hamamelis virginiana) become visible along the edges of the woods.
coreopsis lanceolata late bloom coreopsis & iron butterfly

On the front slope, the lance-leaf coreopsis (Coreopsis lanceolata) has opened new flowers, here blooming charmingly in front of Vernonia lettermanii ‘Iron Butterfly’ (a plant that lives up to its name by looking delicate but being tough as nails).fading asters

alma potschke flowersThe species New England asters (Symphyotrichum novae-angliae), which were just beginning to bloom a month ago, are now fading fast. The cultivar ‘Alma Potschke,’ however, began to bloom later and is still going strong.

And the late-blooming smooth blue aster (Symphyotrichum laeve) ‘Bluebird’ is at its peak in mid-October.

aster bluebird in bloom

Garden Bloggers’ Bloom Day is hosted each month by Carol at May Dreams Gardens. Visit her blog to see October flowers in other gardens.

Seed-Sown Plants and Genetic Variation: Aster Colors

October 2, 2020

Alma Potschke colorPlants can reproduce in two ways, sexually and asexually. In sexual reproduction, the pollen from one flower meets an ovule from a different flower and the result is a seed that mixes genes from both parents. Just as two children of the same parents will not have exactly the same mix of the parents’ genes (unless the children are identical twins), seeds differ genetically from one another. In asexual reproduction, by contrast, a living plant is cloned by taking root divisions, cuttings, or tissue cultures; and each plant produced in this way is genetically identical to the parent plant.

Many of the perennial plants available to gardeners through the nursery trade are named cultivars. Cultivars are either deliberately bred through a series of sexual crosses to get certain desired characteristics or they are selected from seedlings because they have distinctive desirable characteristics. Either way, the plant with the desirable characteristics is then cloned over and over again. If I include three plants of Echinacea purpurea ‘Magnus’ in my garden, those three plants are genetically identical to one another and to all other ‘Magnus’ plants sold in nurseries. Those making a living in the nursery trade prefer cultivars because they are predictable; you can tell a customer with confidence that the plant will mature to a predictable size and will have flowers of a predictable color. The trade-off for this predictability, though, is a loss of genetic diversity.

When I decided to add New England asters (Symphyotrichum novae-angliae) to my garden, I bought the only variety available at local nurseries, a cultivar named ‘Alma Potschke.’ ‘Alma Potschke’ was selected to be cloned because it has an unusual color, a bright reddish pink that is outside the usual purple-magenta-pink color range of the species (photo at top of page). When ‘Alma Potschke’ bloomed in my garden, I realized that I didn’t like its color as much as I like the colors of wild asters blooming along roadsides in Maine. The following year, inspired by Heather McCargo of the Maine Wild Seed Project, I collected seeds from a wild aster growing in my neighborhood. By the time I was ready to plant more asters in my new front garden, I had some seedlings grown from my collected seeds and additional seedlings purchased from Prairie Moon Nursery in Minnesota. Now those New England asters are blooming on my front slope, and I am thrilled with the genetic variations of color on my seed-grown asters.

NE Aster Color Variation

The Season of Asters: GBBD, September 2020

September 18, 2020

orange bounty last hurrahAs August turned into September, someone flipped a switch in Maine from summer to fall. Our unusually hot summer gave way to cool days and overnight lows in the thirties and forties (Fahrenheit). The garden is starting to get a fall look to go with the fall temperatures. The tall summer phlox are fading fast. My very late daylilies failed to make flowers this year, which leaves ‘Orange Bounty’ as the last daylily blooming. A few late roses are also in bloom.

late roses

Many plants that have been blooming for weeks are still going strong. heliopsis bountyThis is especially true of the false sunflowers (Heliopsis helianthoides), which had a banner year this year. There are also still flowers on Geranium x oxonianum, Callirhoe involucrata, and Coreopsis lanceolata. The many self-sown plants of Monarda punctata (spotted beebalm) continue to show off their pink bracts and spotted yellow flowers.

coreopsis still blooming monarda punctata still blooming

Some sedums begin to bloom at this time of year, and I’ve been enjoying the flowers of Sedum spectabile ‘Neon’ and Sedum ‘Matrona.’

sedum neon 2020 sedum matrona 2020

liatris aspera & heliopsisThe real stars of the fall garden, however, are the members of the aster family. These include the tall spires of Liatris aspera and Liatris ligulistylis blooming among the false sunflowers (which are also members of the aster clan). Many wildflowers blooming around the edges of my garden at this time of year are members of the aster family, including at least two species of goldenrod (Solidago) and some wild asters.

stiff flax-leaved aster Stiff aster (Ionactis linarifolia) is the first aster to bloom in my garden each year in late summer. It is a native wildflower that grows happily in my sandy soil and which I have transplanted into the garden.
Narrow-leaved ironweed (Vernonia lettermanii) is just beginning to open it’s tiny asters. vernonia opening

The big aster show will be provided by the New England asters (Symphyotrichum novae-angliae). These have also just begun to open their first flowers, but they are loaded with buds, promising lots of color in the weeks to come.

NE aster buds NE aster opening

I am even later than usual this month to Garden Bloggers’ Bloom Day, which is hosted on the 15th of each month by Carol at May Dreams Gardens. From her blog, you can link to September floral displays in many gardens.

The Front Border

September 9, 2020

imageIn year six of my five-year front garden project, I have managed to complete the big border at the front of my property. This runs from the shrubbery to the driveway and extends from the property line to the grassy path. I began this border last summer, but only managed to get enough done to plant a row of shrubs (northern bayberry, Morella pensylvanica, and beach plum, Prunus maritima) along the property line.

front border shrubs

During the winter, I spent some time creating a plant design for the rest of the border (see Looking Forward: Plans for the New Front Border), and in late June, I finally began preparing the soil. That work went on until the end of August.

front border dug

During the first week of September, I finally started putting plants in the ground. I already had most of the plants for this border on hand. Some would be relocated from the old circular bed that was to be dismantled and incorporated into this larger border. Some were gift divisions from gardening friends that were waiting either in pots or in my holding area. Some were plants that had been moved to my holding area when I dismantled my old front garden seven years ago in preparation for my house addition or that I had brought north with me from my Gettysburg garden six years ago when I retired. A few were divided from plants elsewhere in my garden, and a few were bought new this year from nurseries.

Front border partially plantedI worked on the planting over the better part of a week, beginning at the end furthest from the driveway and moving plants from the old circular bed as I went. As always happens, the design on paper was just an approximation to the actual garden area on the ground, and adjustments had to be made as I planted. There are still some blank spaces for a few plants that I wasn’t able to get this year and that I’ll need to purchase and plant in the spring. The new transplants always look a bit limp and bedraggled, but I know they will come up looking perky and fresh next year. It will be exciting to see this come into bloom next year and even more exciting to see it turn into a mature planting the year after that.

front border planted

Now I only have one small area left to design and create in my new front garden, a woodland border that will sit along the edge of the grassy path above the shrubbery. But that is for year seven of my five-year front garden project.