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A Few Last Flowers: GBBD, October 2022

October 17, 2022

red maple color 10-22By mid-October, my Maine garden has experienced several frosts and freezes and most plants are well on their way into winter dormancy. Color in the garden is more likely to be found in the leaves of deciduous plants that have stopped photosynthesizing than in flowers.

Nevertheless, there are still flowers in bloom. I am amazed to see that I still have a few unopened buds on daylilies (Hemerocallis). These include the tall cultivar ‘Autumn Minaret’, which put on an exceptional display this year, with flowers opening every day from late July until mid-October.

Spiraea x bumalda ‘Neon Flash’ has also been blooming for months. Here and there, a few last flowers appear on Phlox paniculata, on false sunflower (Heliopsis helianthoides) and on lavender plants. Neon flash 10-22
last rose 10-22 There is even one last rose (Rosa ‘Cinderella’) blooming in the fragrant garden outside my bedroom window – although it is now too cold to enjoy its fragrance through open windows.

bluebird survivors 2022Although I do not have any New England asters (Symphyotrichum novae-angliae) blooming in the garden this year because they all succumbed to the attentions of the local woodchuck (aka groundhog), this smooth blue aster (Symphyotrichum laeve) ‘Bluebird’ has a few flowers that somehow managed to survive that animal’s voracious appetite.

Some of the flowers still blooming are in protected microclimates in the garden. Others are members of especially hardy late-season species. The latter include the tall Rudbeckia cultivar ‘Herbstsonne’ (‘Autumn Sun’) and ironwood (Vernonia lettermanii) ‘Iron Butterfly.’

Herbstsonne 10-22 iron butterfly 10-22

witch hazel 10-22This is also the time of year when our native witch hazel (Hamamelis virginiana) blooms, and its fringy yellow flowers shine particularly strongly as the trees lose their leaves.

Garden Bloggers’ Bloom Day is hosted each month by Carol Michel at May Dreams Gardens. Visit her site for links to October blooms from other gardens.

Bittersweet Season: GBBD, September 2022

September 19, 2022

September garden 2022I’m even later than usual with my bloom day report this month. In Maine, fall is in the air, and my garden is beginning its transition to winter dormancy. Here and there, plants are showing hints of autumn foliage colors.

hints of fall - rhododendron hints of fall - geranium

volunteer oxonianumThe exuberant floral displays of summer have been replaced by a much sparser flowering in which each individual flower is a star. Even Geranium x oxonianum, a garden stalwart which has been blooming continuously since late May, has only a few flowers left.

Daylilies (Hemerocallis), too, are mostly done, although a few late bloomers still grace me with their presence. These include ‘Autumn Minaret,’ which has been blooming since late July and is still going strong, the very late variety ‘Richard,’ the re-blooming ‘Rosy Returns,’ which has many as-yet unopened buds, and ‘Whir of Lace,’ which struggled to open its last flower on a very cool morning.

late daylilies 2022

Other summer flowers still blooming in September include spirea, balloon flowers, heliopsis, and a few last coreopsis.

still blooming September

Asters are normally the stars of the September garden, and along the roadsides, New England asters are blooming in colorful splashes of purple and pink. Alas, not a single New England aster can be found blooming in my garden; they were “pruned” so determinedly and repeatedly by woodchucks earlier in the summer that they have given up trying to flower. Fortunately, I do have other, more understated asters in bloom, including big-leaf aster (Eurybia macrophylla) and flax-leaved aster (Ionactis linarifolia.)

big leaf aster 2022 flax-leaved aster 2022

zig-zag goldenrod flowersGoldenrods are another member of the greater aster family that reach peak bloom in September. I have about six different species of goldenrod blooming. Most are volunteers that were growing here before I created a garden. They are found most often on the wild edges of the garden, although they occasionally seed themselves into flower beds. I am happy to have them all, but the one that I have deliberately introduced is zig-zag goldenrod (Solidago flexicaulis), which is now blooming in the new woodland border with a profusion of tiny aster-like flowers.

Vernonia letermanii 2022Ironweed (Vernonia) is a relative and frequent companion of the asters. V. lettermanii ‘Iron Butterfly’ is often the last plant to begin blooming in my garden and has just opened its first flowers on the front slope.

Sedums also herald the arrival of fall. Two currently blooming in my garden are ‘Matrona’ and ‘Neon’

sedum matrona 2022 sedum neon 2022

Garden phlox (Phlox paniculata) is normally the glory of the August garden. This year, however, the phloxes also suffered from the attention of the woodchucks. Two varieties have nevertheless managed to bloom in September.

phlox Robert Poore 2022 phlox david september 2022

Herbstsonne September 2022One of my favorite flowers in the September garden is the aptly named Rudbeckia cultivar ‘Autumn Sun’ (‘Herbstsonne’ in German). This statuesque plant has bright yellow flowers that light up the back of the border from late July until frost.

There are still many beautiful flowers blooming in September, and I take extra time to enjoy each one during my morning walks through the garden. The joy these flowers bring me is bittersweet, however, because I know that the garden season is waning and that blooms will all too soon be replaced by frost and winter snow.

Garden Bloggers’ Bloom Day is a celebration of flowers hosted each month by Carol Michel at May Dreams Gardens. Visit her website to see what other gardeners have blooming this September.

After the Peak: GBBD, August 2022

August 16, 2022

As quickly as my daylilies burst into bloom when June turned into July, their blooms declined as July turned into August. A month ago, I had dozens of daylily varieties in bloom, with more opening their first flowers each day. In mid-August, only a handful of varieties are still blooming, and each day one or more open their last flowers. The late-blooming varieties still gracing my morning walks through the garden include the orange ‘Invictus’ and ‘Olallie Star,’ the purple flowers of ‘Ripe Grapes’ and ‘Beau Chapeau,’ the pale yellow of ‘Whir of Lace,’ and the lovely flowers of ‘Autumn Minaret’ which float far above the foliage on slender stems. August daylilies 2022

phlox david 2022Normally, the stars of the August garden would be the tall garden phlox (Phlox paniculata). This year, however, these plants were eaten repeatedly by woodchucks. Some phlox plants gave up altogether, and others have only a few flowers on short stems. Thank goodness the woodchucks somehow missed the clump of Phlox paniculata ‘David’ growing against the back fence.

front slope august 2022There are still plenty of flowers in the August garden, however. On the front slope, abundant blooms of false sunflower (Heliopsis helianthoides) mix with a few daylilies and two species of beebalm.

Monarda fistulosa 2022 Monarda punctata 2022

It is not just the bees who love beebalm. In addition to a variety of bees and wasps, I have also seen their flowers being visited by at least three species of butterflies, a hummingbird, and hummingbird hawkmoths.

Liatris spicata 2022 blue platycodon 2022

Herbstsonne 2022Elsewhere in the garden, I am enjoying blooms of Liatris spicata, balloon flowers (Platycodon grandiflorus), and the tall rudbeckia ‘Herbstsonne’ that dominates the back of the blue and yellow border in August.

Perhaps the most important blooms of my August garden, however, have been abundant monarch caterpillars – about two dozen a day visible feeding on plants of butterfly weed (Asclepias tuberosa).

monarch caterpillar1 2022 monarch caterpillars2 2022

monarch chrysalis 2022Currently, I am watching two chrysalides in the front garden (although I have no doubt that there are more that I haven’t spotted hidden in plain sight). And recently, I saw this newly emerged monarch butterfly, with its wings still visibly wet, fluttering around the rhododendron by the back door. I hope to see more of these in the days to come.

new monarch

Garden Bloggers’ Bloom Day is hosted each month by Carol Michel at May Dreams Gardens. Visit her website for links to August blooms in many other gardens.

Time for a Makeover

August 8, 2022

Now that I have finally finished creating my new front garden, I am turning my attention to areas of the back garden that were neglected during this seven-year project.

The back garden was created to go with a large deck that I had built onto the back of my house twenty years ago. The first flower beds to be created were the deck border (2001-2003) and the blue and yellow border (2003-2004), and these are now showing their age and looking a bit tired. Although the deck border is the older of the two, the blue and yellow border is the focus of my attention this summer.

Here’s how it looked when I chose it for my blog header in 2009:

Blog Header

Here’s how it looks now:

Blue&Yellow tired

The daylilies have done well here, but the tall spires of delphinium that were meant to be the stars of this display in high summer are long gone. Some plants that did well for a while have gone into a decline in recent years.  Hostas, for example, have been struggling after being eaten repeatedly by deer. Many of the Siberian irises have been getting shorter and blooming more sparsely. And as some plants have failed to thrive, areas of bare soil between plants have grown.

I think the main problem with this flower bed is that, over the years, organic matter has leached out of my sandy soil, reducing both the availability of soil nutrients to plants and the ability of the soil to hold water. Therefore, my plan for renovating this border mostly involves digging in organic matter. I am working the soil in 24-square-foot sections. The most time-consuming part of the process is lifting and relocating the plants currently growing in each section. Many of them go into my holding area, some get parked in open spaces elsewhere in this flower bed, and some go into pots. Once the plants have been removed from a section, I spread a couple of wheelbarrow loads of compost and a cubic-foot bag of composted cow manure on top of the section and then fork it in. When I have the soil prepared in an area eight feet wide and twelve feet deep (four 24-square-foot sections, about 40% of the total area in the flower bed), I will put plants in place before going on to the next segment.

Most of the plants currently growing in the blue and yellow border will remain in the renovated border – but most will change location within the border. The exceptions are two large perennials, a blue star flower (Amsonia tabernaemontana) and a false indigo (Baptisia australis). These are thriving and have grown into large shrub-like clumps, and because they have deep taproots, they would resent being moved; so I am leaving them where they are and working around them. There is also a large clump of the tall Rudbeckia x ‘Herbstsonne’ that lights up the back of the border in late summer and fall; a division of this will be added in another location, but most of it will stay where it is.

Generally, though, I am using this renovation of the border as an opportunity to re-think the design. The blue and yellow color scheme will remain, and I’m planning to create a lusher look by planting more densely. (A garden design course I took this summer recommended spacing plants at 75% of their mature width. This means spacing daylilies, for example, 18” apart rather than 2’ apart.)

Here is the new planting design:


Planting more densely means being able to include more plants. Where previously there were three clumps of yellow daylilies, for example, there will now be five. Two clumps of Siberian irises will become three. The number of balloon flower (Platycodon grandiflorus) and false sunflower (Heliopsis helianthoides) plants – both of which have done well in this planting and both of which are inclined to self-sow in my garden – will double. Some of the plants in the original design that did not survive (Aconitum, Delphinium) will be replaced by plants that I have not grown before that are more suited to my soil conditions. I am also adding some shrubs to create structure at the back of the border, particularly on the right side where several trees have come down in the past ten years, opening up space and light.

Right now, this is hard, dirty work. But I’m looking forward to the reward of enjoying this renewed, refreshed flower bed in the years to come.