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October 2012

Fall's Last Call

Leonard J. Buck Garden, Far Hills, NJ
Sedum ‘Autumn Joy’ and chrysanthemums are nice, but there are more options for the fall garden. We generally think of gardening as a spring and early summer activity. When fall approaches we buy a few pumpkins, drop in some chrysanthemums and call it quits. Autumn is a wonderful season and it should be displayed in all its brilliant glory.

You’ll discover that fall flowers are more vibrant and longer lasting than most spring and summer plants. These garden flowers prefer the cool days of fall and adding them to your garden will make your gardening season seem that much longer.

Some of the fall flowers coming into their own at the Leonard J. Buck Garden are: asters, black-eyed Susans, Japanese anemone, obedient plant, toad lily and turtle heads.

Rudbeckia nitida ‘Herbstonne’, black-eyed Susan, is a tall plant with bold splashes of color. It has high visibility growing to 7’ and is perfect for the sunny border and wildlife garden. The showy flowers display drooping, sulpher-yellow petals surrounding a green disk. It tolerates dry, heavy soils, coastal conditions, New Jersey’s hot and humid weather and deer. You can see ‘Herbstonne’ towering behind a garden fence in our perennial border. It has been blooming since the end of July! Deadheading spent flowers encourages additional blooms and it has no serious disease or insect problems.

Anemone hupehensis, Japanese anemone, is the summer anemone that keeps on giving. Many slightly cupped-shaped flowers are carried on branching stems, arising gracefully from a 3-4-foot mound of attractive deep green trifoliate foliage. Rose-pink or white flowers are 2-3 inches across with a tidy ring of yellow anthers in the center and a silky sheen on the backsides of their sepals. It’s good for the front of the border in full sun or partial shade, but prefers morning sun and filtered afternoon light combined with a humus rich soil. Anemones are deer resistant and have no serious disease or insect problems, though they do not tolerate summer drought, windy sites or wet winter soils. A. ‘September Charm’ has single rose-pink flowers, whose petals are darker on the backside. ‘Party Dress’ has pink flowers with long narrow petals that appear ruffled.

Asters are popular in many gardens due to colorful blossoms and their ability to grow in average soils, full sun and all hardiness zones. Coming in tall and short varieties and in various shades of blue and pink, asters provide a beautiful addition to a fall flower garden. Aster gets its name from the ancient Greek word meaning “star” referring to the shape of the flower head.

Aster novae-angliae ‘Purple Dome’ is a dwarf New England aster that explodes with color. It grows 18-24 inches tall and 3 feet wide and blanketed with dark purple flowers with cheery yellow centers. The blossoms contrast vividly with foliage of surrounding trees and shrubs of autumn. You can observe butterflies enjoying the flowers of ‘Purple Dome’ from August until mid-October. Grow it in any well-drained soil and mulch to keep shallow roots cool in summer.

Aster-novae-belgii ‘Peter Harrison’ is a dwarf New York aster typically growing 15-18 inches tall and 2 feet wide. ‘Peter Harrison’ features pink blossoms that cover the entire plant from early August to October. Just like ‘Purple Dome’, this pink cultivar stands out amongst autumn’s rustic hues and is also attractive to butterflies. Easy to grow in average to well-drained soil in full sun. Aster-novae-belgii is also known as Michaelmas daisy.

Aster tartaricus, Tartarian aster, is a tall, rugged looking late season plant. Growing 6-8’ feet, this aster offers papery clusters of single lavender flowers with yellow centers blooming on 2-foot stems. It blooms longer than any other garden aster, beginning in mid-September and continuing into November. Tartarian aster can become a rampant spreader forming large colonies in a few years. It is not for the polite perennial border or confined space.

Aster tartaricus, ‘Jindai’ is a compact form of the species and was selected from seedlings found in Jindai Park in Tokyo. ‘Jindai’ has the same clusters of light blue daisies but only grows 4-5 feet. Both asters are magnets for both local and migrating monarch butterflies. The Aster tartaricus is the variety of aster used in Chinese medicine. Its root is used in the treatment of coughs.

When so many other flowers end their growing season, asters continue to thrive and provide brilliant color and scent to an otherwise uneventful landscape. Asters have no serious insect or disease problems, but some are susceptible to powdery mildew.

Despite its funny name Tricyrtis, toad lily, is a very stylish plant whose lustrous foliage looks attractive all season. Orchid-like flowers are shaped like stars or dangling bells of white, yellow or purple mottled with lilac-purple or ruddy brown markings. Flowers are produced on 2-3-foot long arching stems from September to November. Toad lilies are Asian woodland plants preferring moist to wet, well-drained, slightly acidic soil in partial shade. Soil that is too dry may yield flowers, but foliage may be badly blemished. Here are some toad lilies blooming in the Buck Garden now.

Tricyrtis hirta ‘Variegata’ has mottled purple flowers and leaves edged in gold. Tricyrtis ‘Sinonome’ has upright facing garnet-freckled white flowers on arching stems. ‘Sinonome’ is known for drought tolerance and deep green shiny foliage that stays clean through fall. T. ‘Miyazaki’ has shorter arching stems than the species with white to pale lilac flowers with heavy purple spotting.

Tricyrtis formosana ‘Samurai’ features purple flowers with darker purple spotting and a yellow throat, held above green leaves edged in golden yellow. ‘Samurai’ has more of a spreading rather than clumping habit.

No matter the species of toad lily they are all attractive and bloom when many other shade lovers are long gone. Tricyrtis have no serious disease or insect problems.

Chelone lyonii, turtleheads, are wonderful garden plants that possess a quiet beauty and toughness. Hooded flowers are arranged in tight clusters at the ends of stems. The common name is derived from the fact that each flower resembles the head of a turtle with its mouth open. [In Greek mythology, a nymph named Chelone insulted the gods. In punishment, she was turned into a turtle.] Bottom line is turtlehead is a unique looking perennial that, in the wild, is found growing on the edges of streams, lakes, bogs and wet thickets throughout eastern North America. It grows 2-3 feet tall with a square stem with narrow, toothed, opposite leaves.

There are only four species within the genus Chelone, and you can find two of them growing in Buck Garden. C. lyonii ‘Hot Lips’ is a popular cultivar with lustrous foliage that emerges bronze-green before giving rise to red tinged stems and deep rose-pink flowers. Chelone glabra has white flowers amid deep green leathery foliage. Both species flower from August through September.

In the garden place turtlehead in light sun to light shade in rich soil that won’t dry out too quickly or where you can water them easily if they wilt. They do not require wet soil, but will suffer if the soil does not remain at least evenly moist. Turtleheads have no serious disease or insect problems.

Physostegia virginiana, obedient plant, is another plant valued for late season blooms. Its name is Greek meaning “bladder covering” referring to the inflated calyx of the seed. The common name, obedient plant, refers to the snapdragon-like flowers that can be twisted on the stem and remain as they are arranged. Obedient plant grows 2-4 feet with dense spikes of showy, rosy-pink flowers blooming from bottom to top from the end of summer to mid-October. It is a clump-forming plant with spreading roots.

They like full sun to partial shade in any soil, wet or dry. Plants grown in dry soil will not be as tall as those in wet soil. The plant can be a bit disobedient so division is recommended in the spring every 2-3 years to prevent its aggressive spreading. It is an excellent plant for naturalizing in a wildlife garden, native plant garden or meadow. No serious disease or insect problems. Rust is an occasional problem. Physotegia attracts hummingbirds and tolerates deer.

Fall is not the season when the garden loses interest; fall is the time to extend your garden. The color displayed by these perennials will extend your garden’s season and supplement autumn decorations in your yard, whether it be curved pumpkins, cornstalks or scarecrows. And yes, they make good companions with the long-lasting colors of chrysanthemums and Sedum ‘Autumn Joy’. Visit the Leonard J. Buck garden and enjoy the glories of this fall garden.

- Tricia Scibilia, interpretive gardener, Leonard J. Buck Garden, Somerset County Park Commission: www.somersetcountyparks.org
**Photos by Tricia Scibilia unless otherwise noted

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