Plum Island October 18, 2020

My first visit to Plum Island yesterday. Birders and Bicyclists out in numbers on a warm, calm day.

There were only a few late asters blooming, but the leaves and grasses were resplendent.

Picklegrass in its fall color.

On the muddy flats on the marsh side we saw many Greater Yellowlegs dashing, swimming, and spinning. No pictures, alas. Birds stymie me-

Up the trail to the overlook to Ipswich

Many colors-

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Sumac
Pink Lovegrass
Bittersweet

Bittersweet is lovely. When I was a child my mother used it as fall decorations. Unfortunately it has run wild, smothering shrubs and trees all over Plum Island.

I plan to go back in frigid January to look for Snowy Owls that winter in the dunes. I hope the seafood shack that sold me a lobster pie is still open. I will also go back in May for the tremendous spring migration this island is famous for. I regret that we did not tour Newburyport yesterday. I saw many fine front yard gardens as we drove through.

Lessons, not Mistakes

African Mallow

What a difficult year to start a new garden. A darkness over everyday life. A terrible drought. An early frost.

Yet here is the African Mallow I bought from Annie’s Annuals. An optimistic plant, if there ever was one. It was about 10 inches tall when it went into its container, and now is 4ft tall and 3 ft wide , even after three frosty nights. It did not shiver in our chilly June, it started blooming and growing and blooming more. I am going to cut it back, and bring it inside. It has all the qualities I want in a tender perennial asked to adapt far from its original climate.

Its equals in spunk and toughness are Salvia “Amistad”, still blooming on October 7th, and Euphorbia “Diamond Frost”. Almost as good is Salvia “Mystic Spires”, a small version of “Indigo Spires” , but an earlier and better bloomer. The latter is a laggard that blooms so much later in the season that its best fall display comes too late in this climate.

My beloved salvia “Phyllis Fancy” never bloomed as its buds and leaves froze. It is of no use where frost comes this early. Being sentimental I have potted it up, hoping that next fall I can grow it in a container and protect it.

Of the three nicotiana I grew only one had merit. As lovely as the candelabras of “Only the Lonely” were, the plant was out of bloom more than in, and its big leaves browned and and left its tall stalk naked. Nicotiana elata, a smaller plant bloomed better and kept its foliage respectable, but was not my choice for next years lease on limited space.

Nicotiana “Mutabilis” also from Annie’s Annuals in California was the best, and as long as I garden I will find it indispensable. It needed to be clipped and cut back only once, and it is still going. Its only flaw is its need for staking of the main stem. Its leaves never browned or dropped.

But gone from next years plans – Cleome and Dahlias. Cleome , to steal a phrase from Winston Churchill ( describing something far sadder and more serious) was a” good starter, but a bad stayer”. I do not want plants that collapse in the first week of August, leaving giant open holes that can only be cured by stuffing in something large and potted or buying something expensive at the garden center that might resent its new situation and sulk.

My two large dahlias had one bloom each, then looked like boiled lettuce after the three cold nights. After the frost, as I was vacationing on Cape Cod, I saw the dahlias in the wonderful small front gardens of Provincetown. They were magnificent in the sea air.

But I will not waste space on them again.

Here are some photos of a garden in Sandwich on the Cape. It has bloomed out its Siberian Iris and daylilies, but it is still beautiful-

October Garden

Wavy leaved and Heart leaved asters in a Bow garden

This garden was spared by the frost that blighted my garden in mid-September. It is at a high elevation, and cold air sinks right down into the Merrimack Valley. My garden, in New Boston is on a small river, and is in a frost pocket.

The asters in the photo are self seeders and can run all over a border. This does not bother all New Hampshire gardeners, who have welcomed these asters into their front yards-

Above is “October Skies”, the Aromatic aster. I have not seen it spread by seeds, but both here and in Nashville, its clumps can double or triple in size each season. It likes poor, dry soil in sun. Chanticleer, the stunning Pennsylvania garden ,has a rocky hillside border with masses of this plant. Next year I plan to add two of my seed grown Prairie Golden asters into this bed to contrast with it.

This is what I believe to be the Stout goldenrod, another fall flowerer of dry New Hampshire fields. One can see it everywhere under the power lines cut through on the South Bow Road.

This is Solidago “Golden Fleece”, a Mt Cuba introduction and a Missouri Botanical garden “Plant of Merit”. Another dry land plant minimally watered in this summer of severe drought. It is a front of the border dwarf.

Above is a feral chrysanthemum found on the side of a Bow country road. Its foliage is crisp and green and its flowers are pink, though not on this plant, which was visited by one of the resident four legged pruners that traipse on cloven feet through parts of this garden.

Lastly, golden in the spring, but burgundy and orange now- the common forsythia.

Sea Deserts and Marsh Prairies

Dried grasses tell time in the autumn dunes
Waves of grass in the Great Marsh

The marsh flooded behind us on this day. All you see here- became a lake in under 20 minutes. We walked out on a trail that had water almost to our knees. These photos were taken at Sandy Neck, Cape Cod.

The four photos above were taken in Orleans,Cape Cod. A view toward Nauset Marsh. The Coast Guard Station. The sublime words of Henry Beston, who spent a year on Nauset Beach in the “Outermost House”.

Two fine beach plants. Artemesia stelleriana , then the Seaside Golden Rod.

South of Truro
Reality Check south of Truro
The dunes at Sandy Neck
Fishermen at the Cape Cod Canal
Cape Cod Bay

This was my first time at Cape Cod. I spend my time now plotting to get back there, which should not be impossible since my sister and two cousins live in Sandwich.

New Hampshire’s Kudzu

It is everywhere. Along the roads. In waste places. In an Audubon preserve in Concord. The Japanese Knotweed.

Sometime in the past someone introduced it, thinking it was an ornamental, and in small clumps, it might be. If my eye was unbiased, I would find it attractive.

But I know better, having seen it smother 8 foot dirt piles in waste places, and having had to root it out in new garden beds.

Terrifying that this strangler escaped, and even worse is the carcinogenic poison sprayed to kill it.

The Blue and the Gold

The first photo above is of the Late Aster-Aster patens. Though this 4 ft aster is at the rear of my dry garden, it was a volunteer and in our current severe drought, it has had only the rain the sky gave it. The second photo is of the Rough Leaved goldenrod in the moist field across the road from where I live.

The third, smaller plant is the gray leaved, or Old field Goldenrod. This plant is in dry gravel on the side of a road.

Not one of these plants is weedy, not one would be out of place in a sunny New England garden. In the nursery trade one can find Solidago “Fireworks”, which is a cultivar of the Rough goldenrod.

Being autumnal myself, I have long preferred the late summer and autumn garden and its fiery colors. From now till freeze the tender salvias, spurred on by the short days, will bloom more enthusiastically. The magnificent marigold “Queen Sophia” will shine in the cool mornings.

This is the white goldenrod, the Solidaster. There are several robust plants that came into my dry garden before I made it a garden.

This is Ageratum “Dondo”, which I raised from seed. It has long stems and is used in the florist trade.

Salvia Windwalker, a floppy, but reliable bloom. In the driest, most sharply drained part of a sunny Zone 5B garden it will survive. My sister, who lives on a hill south of Concord, has one that lived through last winter.

Salvia “Amistad” may not be hardy, but it is the best and easiest salvia in my garden. Early blooming with an elegant bush like form, it will continue till freeze. It is not a dry garden plant, and it likes a bit of water and a bit of shade. It is a mystery to me why garden centers do not sell it.

Another four to five weeks and there will be only the hardiest of asters blooming. I saw the harbingers when I walked down along the Piscataguog today.

Re-Thinking Southern New Hampshire Summers

The Washington Post writes that this summer is the hottest in New Hampshire history, and I believe it, since two summers here have proved that this is not the New Hampshire of my youth . As I write this- it is over 90, and tomorrow will be 95. I have no air conditioning, and my garden is dependent on well water. A precarious situation in a drought, which we are now in.

When I visited my first New Hampshire garden center my first spring back, I was surprised to see lantanas in the annuals section, for surely it was not hot enough here for such a heat lover. Now, planning for next summer, I intend to limit the pink snapdragons, and to make room for “Miss Huff”, a lantana that can spread 3 feet in a summer. Here are two photos of her in the Nashville garden.

Miss Huff combines all my favorite sunset colors, and she will help me rout the excess pink I have in too many places. The pink Fireworks gomphrena, asters, and phlox can stay, but the pink cleome will not be invited back. Not just because they are pink, but because they shrivel in August and look awful. Exception will be made for the Coral Porterweed, native to Jamaica, shown here on the left in the Nashville garden-

The plant on the right is Celosia “Purple Flamingo”, and I will scour the earth to find seed for next spring.

The image above is of a first year plant in my garden here. It will come inside for the winter, and by next August should be shrub-sized.

Tender perennials do hesitate in chilly early June, but with the long, long days of the New England summer they grow fast. I grow them because they bloom all season, and they keep up appearances, a virtue in August when so much of a garden looks tired.

My next post, which I will get to later this week, will be about the fall garden, and a book about that season that has had more influence on my gardening than any other.

Plant Delights Nursery mails out Miss Huff. Almost Eden, in Louisiana, will send you Porterweeds and tender salvias.