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Flirting with Frost: GBBD, October 2015

October 15, 2015

fall perennialsWe are now past the average date of first frost in my part of Maine, and the days to enjoy blooms in my garden are numbered. We have been flirting with frost for several weeks now. Overnight lows have been hovering near the freezing mark, and twice I have seen scattered morning frost on roofs in my neighborhood. On many nights, I have covered some plants, including the morning glories growing on the garden fence with old sheets, protecting their blooms for yet another day. In response to the cold temperatures and shorter days, both woody and herbaceous perennials have been putting on fall colors and going dormant.

october gardenBut in mid-October, I do still have some flowers to share. These include varieties of “summer” phlox (Phlox paniculata). ‘Blue Paradise,’ which bloomed first in mid-July and then produced a second flush of blooms in September, still has a few flowers hanging on, even as its foliage goes dormant. In the front garden, the late-blooming ‘Robert Poore,’ is still flowering, although its flowers have faded from strong magenta to pale mauve. ‘Bright Eyes’ still has buds, but these may not get to open.

october blue paradise october robert poore october bright eyes

All those nights of running out before bed to throw sheets over the fence have paid off; my morning glories (Ipomoea tricolor ‘Heavenly Blue’) are still blooming. Their flowers are having more and more trouble opening in the morning cold, however, and have become ‘afternoon glories.’

morning glories opening afternoon glories

Nearby, in the raised bed, the garden stalwart Geranium x oxonianum has been blooming continuously since the first week in June and continues to make new buds. In the newly planted Lavender Walk, there are also still flowers on Lavandula augustifolia ‘Hidcote.’

october geranium october hidcote

These lingering summer flowers are blooming much more sparsely than they did at their peak, but other plants put on their best show in late summer and fall. Sedum spectabile and its hybrid kin fall in this category. ‘Matrona,’ which is the earliest of these to bloom in my garden, has largely completed its transformation from flowers to seedheads, and ‘Autumn Fire’ is well along on this transition. ‘Neon’ has turned from hot pink to a deep russet color, and ‘Autumn Joy’ has turned a rich, deep wine red.

October Sedums

october bluebird The flower-power stars of the October garden, however, are not the sedums but the asters that are blooming on either side of the front steps in my new entry garden. Aster (Symphyotrichum laeve) ‘Bluebird’ is very happy in its new home in the Blues Border and is blooming much more profusely than it ever did when it was languishing at the back of the Blue and Yellow Border.
Nearby, the popular New England aster (Symphyotricum novae-angliae) ‘Alma Potschke’ is providing a vibrant splash of color in the Porch Border. october alma potschke

Perhaps the most lovely surprise in my garden this month, however, are the flowers of the native witch hazel (Hamamelis virginiana) that I didn’t even realize was growing at the edge of the woods along my driveway until a botanist friend pointed it out to me this summer. It’s easy to see how I missed it, however. When you first look, what you see is the golden color of fall foliage; only a closer look reveals the yellow fringe of its flowers among the leaves.

hammamelis foliage hammamelis flowers

Garden Bloggers’ Bloom Day is hosted on the 15th of each month by Carol at May Dreams Gardens and provides a wonderful opportunity for garden bloggers to get together and share their blooms. Visit her blog to see what’s blooming in other October gardens.

16 Comments leave one →
  1. October 16, 2015 1:04 am

    I smiled at your title Jean. After commenting on a few posts where flowers are already past their prime ready for the frost, your plants seem to be not ready yet. I always feel a little sad when my blogger friends’plants succumb to the frost or the flowers are still at their prime when the frost arrives.

    • October 16, 2015 9:18 pm

      Andrea, I have been making a conscious effort to add fall-blooming plants to my garden, so I can have flowers until frost (or even later, since some of the fall bloomers can shrug off a light frost). If the price is to have some buds that never get to open, I’m fine with that trade-off.

  2. October 16, 2015 5:46 pm

    afternoon glory has its own charm.

    • October 16, 2015 9:19 pm

      Diana, I agree; it does. And because flowers fade more slowly in the cold, once the morning glories open, they last a couple of days.

  3. October 17, 2015 12:13 pm

    Frost — yikes!! Keep holding on to that list bit of summer. I commend you for literally tucking in your little ones . . . They’re beautiful.

    • October 17, 2015 7:15 pm

      Tonight is it, Kevin. We’re supposed to have overnight lows in the low twenties; more than a few old sheets and towels can protect my plants from! It will be interesting to see if any of the asters (especially ‘Bluebird,’ which is in a protected spot) can keep going after two nights of such low temperatures.

  4. October 17, 2015 5:57 pm

    I love the sedum and the asters but that witch hazel is amazing. Happy GBBD Jean!

    • October 17, 2015 7:17 pm

      Kris, I used to admire the spring-blooming witch hazel plants on the Pennsylvania campus where I taught for 25 years, little dreaming that I had a fall-blooming plant (actually several of them!) growing by the side of the driveway back home in Maine!

  5. October 18, 2015 6:54 am

    Hi Jean, I thought we were due frost when the nights turned cold last week, but the forecast for this coming week sees the night time temperatures rise back up to almost 10C. I don’t know how long this is going to last, I could even put the Strelitzia back outside without worrying and the Phoenix Canariensis hasn’t even noticed. I think it’s called the “winter preparation” effect. Gardeners are all preparing their greenhouses, plants and pots for winter and when the work is done, the weather blows a big raspberry and turns warm again!

    • October 18, 2015 1:24 pm

      Sunil, When I woke up this morning, the temperature on my deck read 20F (about -6C). Our high temperatures for the next couple of days will only be about 6-7C. It will get warmer later in the week, but this cold was too much for most plants to withstand.

  6. October 20, 2015 10:18 pm

    Lots of color in your garden. I’m jealous of the Morning Glory, mine hardly bloomed at all this year. I really like your sedums as well.

    • October 22, 2015 10:28 pm

      Jason, Morning glories are always iffy here. This year, I tried starting seed inside in March, but that wasn’t a very successful effort, so I ended up buying a six-pack of well-developed seedlings from a local nursery. I put some effort into protecting the vines when the cold weather got here in late September because they were just finally hitting their stride! I’m never going to have the kind of morning glory blooms here that I had in southern Pennsylvania (40 or more flowers covering the fence in a single day); in my Maine garden, a half-dozen flowers blooming at once is a bounty.

      • October 24, 2015 10:44 pm

        Yeah, but if that’s all you get, is it worth it? Btw, Judy and I spent today in Gettysburg with friends, touring the national battlefield park.

  7. debsgarden permalink
    October 20, 2015 10:57 pm

    Flowers beautiful to the last! I love your “afternoon glories!” It is always sad to see them go, but then winter has its own glories.

    • October 22, 2015 10:34 pm

      Deb, The afternoon glories were lovely, but overnight lows down into the teens did them in. I’m amazed, though, that even after temperatures low enough to freeze the ground (albeit temporarily), I still have phlox and asters going strong.

  8. October 25, 2015 11:13 am

    Jean your garden is stunning still…we had a few flirts with frost but many plants were spared and even a wet snow….but my garden’s days are numbered.

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