When we last talked, we were discussing drought, which is still an issue in many states, particularly in the southeast US. In our part of NC, we have been blessed with two major rains, a 3.5″ storm in mid-September and a 4″ rain in mid-October. Mind you, we’re still in need of much more, but at least the trees are in better shape going into fall.
The drought has already had a huge effect on nurseries in the region. In NC, the drought took out Messenbrink’s Nursery, and the owners are in the process of liquidating their assets. Mark and Louisa’s retail booth has been a popular anchor at the NC Farmers Market in Raleigh, while their wholesale division supplied garden centers throughout the region.
Just south of us, Georgia-based Pike Family Nurseries filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection after the severe drought severely impacted their business. Pike Nurseries is probably the largest independently-owned garden center chain in the US with 22 stores in the southeast and, at one time, over 700 employees. Pike’s have secured enough funding to continue operations for now, and we wish them the best as they deal with the continuing drought.
Here at PDN, we’re winding up our 2007 shipping season with only two weeks left before we suspend shipments on November 30, until mid-February. That being said, we will do our best to accommodate any legitimate gardening emergencies during this down period… weather permitting. While plant shipping ends, the busy season for gift certificates is just cranking up. If you have trouble finding gifts for the gardener in your family, consider a PDN gift certificate.
It’s always interesting to see what looks good in the garden in the fall, so I’ve just returned from a stroll around the gardens here at Juniper Level. We’re at the tail end of Cyclamen hederifolium season… a time where the winter-growing foliage has just emerged while the flowers are still in bloom. If you still haven’t grown cyclamen in your garden, you have missed one of the truly great garden plants for the late summer and fall season. Cyclamen hederifolium is best planted at the base of trees and shrubs so that they will stay dry in the summer months while they are dormant.
I mentioned several of the late summer flowering mallows back in September, but three of them are still in full flower here in mid-November. While most commonly grown garden hibiscus are summer flowering types, the giant-growing Hibiscus mutabilis is a fall bloomer which is just getting started. Because of their late flowering, they aren’t particularly useful north of Zone 7b, but south of here, they are highly prized… hence, the common name, Confederate rose… despite their Chinese heritage. This is also peak flowering season for abutilons, which are true stars of the fall garden. Visitors from the Atlanta Botanical Garden last week told us that many of their abutilons flowered all winter due to unseasonably mild winter temperatures last year. The last genera of mallows that are still in flower are the malvaviscus, which have been in full flower since early summer and continue unabated in fall … even through a very light frost. A hard freeze will knock out the malvaviscus and hibiscus flowering, while most abutilons will continue down to at least 20 degrees F.
It’s hard to imagine a better group of late season flowers than the fall-blooming salvias. The most spectacular has to be the 8′ tall yellow-flowered Salvia madrensis. You’ll need some room for this one, but darn it’s showy. One step down in size to the 3-4′ range is Salvia puberula (hot pink), the Salvia leucantha cultivars (lavender-purple), and the brilliant orange red flowered S. regla. If you’re looking for something smaller in the 2′ range, the Salvia greggii forms and hybrids are all in full flower now, as well as the blue flowered S. chamaedryoides. While we don’t recommend planting marginally hardy salvias in the fall, just remember them when you shop in spring and also remember to give them good drainage when you’re planting.
Other long-blooming perennials continue to strut their stuff including Geranium ‘Rozanne’, Alstroemerias ‘Sweet Laura’ and ‘Freedom’, the obscenely long-flowering Cestrum parqui and C. ‘Orange Peel’. Lest I forget, one of the most striking plants is the brilliant red Bouvardia ternifolia. If you’ve tried the commercial bouvardias and they didn’t survive the winter, you need to try our form which is from a colder area of Mexico.
One of my all-time fall favorites is a hardy gladiolus that we introduced several years ago as G. ‘Halloweenie’. For us, it typically starts flowering on Halloween day and continues until a hard freeze. This fast multiplying glad produces enough stems for countless fall arrangements with colors of bright orange and yellow … perfect for adding seasonal color. Another great geophyte (underground storage such as a bulb, tuber, or corm) for fall is the giant tree dahlia, D. imperialis. If we have an early fall, we miss the flowers, but this year, we have already enjoyed a few weeks of Dahlia ‘Double or Nothing’, which is the earliest of the D. imperialis cultivars to flower. From here south, they are truly superb.
A couple of other great perennials that only strut their stuff in the fall include the many cultivars of Farfugium japonicum which are all topped with stunning spikes of bright yellow daisies right now. One plant that isn’t as widely known as it should be is the Mexican Verbesina microptera. This garden giant tops out at 15′ tall with huge leaves and is in full flower now with gigantic flower heads of yellow.
Although we typically don’t think of grasses as having flowers, their plumes just seem to fit the fall season. Some personal favorites that look great now include the giant Saccharum arundinaceum that doesn’t open until mid-October, the re-flowering Miscanthus ‘Andante’, and the splendid Muhlenbergia capillaris … especially the cultivar M. ‘White Cloud’ that simply must be seen to be believed.
Another great late fall and winter interest plant is the arum. These mostly Mediterranean natives are emerging now and will grow all winter before flowering in the spring, then go dormant in the summer months. Because of this reverse growing season, arums are amazingly drought tolerant. If you get serious about this group, be sure to pick up a copy of Peter Boyce’s book, The Genus Arum.
We typically don’t think of perennials for fall color other than flowers, but several of the amsonias, including A. hubrichtii and A. ‘Georgia Pancake’, have great fall foliage color, as does the popular solomon’s seal, Polygonatum odoratum. Another plant that provides dramatic fall color sans flowers is the group of Ruscaceae that includes the genera danae and ruscus. These tough as nails evergreen perennials were born without the benefit of leaves, but with an amazing show of bright orange and red berries respectively in fall. Add another plant that you don’t normally think of growing for fall fruit – the species peonies, P. japonica and P. obovata. Both of these produce amazing seedheads of bright red berries that look great now.
Have you got your 2008 calender handy? I briefly mentioned this in our last update, but here are more details. From September 25-27, 2008, the nearby J.C. Raulston Arboretum will hold a symposium titled, ‘Surround Yourself with Shady Characters’. The don’t-miss speaker list includes:
Bill Cullina – Author and Consultant, New England Wild Flower Society, MA
Sean Hogan – Editor of Flora: A Gardener’s Encyclopedia, Owner of Cistus Nursery, OR
Dave Demers – Plant Explorer, BC
Richard Olsen – Woody Plant Breeder, US National Arboretum, D. C.
Larry Stanley – Stanley and Sons Nursery, Inc., OR
John Grimshaw – Author/Garden Manager, Colesbourne Gardens, UK
Thomas Bonnicksen – Author of America.s Ancient Forests, retired professor Texas A&M
If you are looking for a job, Mississippi State University is looking for a director for the Crosby Arboretum. If you are interested, you can find out more about this and other exciting jobs in public horticulture at www.publicgardens.org/web/2006/06/careers_center_home.aspx.
The great folks at the Birmingham Botanic Gardens asked if we would spread the word about The Central South Native Plant Conference on Oct. 17-18, 2008. The conference, held every 3-4 years, includes lectures, field trips, and tours. For more information, go to www.bbgardens.org (and click on “events”).
If you find yourself indoors by your computer one evening, you might want to visit the JC Raulston Arboretum website, where all of J.C.’s slides (87,000+) have now been scanned and are viewable on line. This is an amazing account of J.C.’s wonderful life and extensive travels.
We had several interesting moves in the late season Top 25 list. The biggest mover was Lycoris radiata, which zoomed from nowhere to reach #5 on the list, thanks in part to a big article in Southern Living magazine. The next biggest move was another lycoris, L. aurea that zoomed to #18 from off the list. Musa ‘Siam Ruby’ jumped to #21 and Eucomis ‘Sparkling Burgundy’ followed close behind at #22. So, how are your Top 25 predictions faring? Only a few more weeks remain before we award the $250 Plant Delights gift certificate to the person who came the closest to predicting the correct finishing order of sales. If you don’t see your plants in the Top 25, you better get your friends busy ordering!
As always, we thank you for your continued support and patronage.
Please direct all replies and questions to firstname.lastname@example.org.
Thanks and enjoy -tony