Tuesday, November 1, 2016

A Look Back at October

The month of carnival of all the year,
When Nature lets the wild earth go its way
And spend whole seasons on a single day.

~Helen Fiske Hunt Jackson, "October"

October is an unexpected and unpredictable month to me.  The cold, frosty nights are expected -  though not necessarily the good several degrees below freezing that the temperatures always seem to dip.  Like usual, we play the October Games, where we try to see if we can get through the month without turning on the heaters.  (We finally lost when outside temps hit 26°F/-3°C.)  And, like usual, we know that first frost is coming but are still somehow always startled when it does happen.

However it is not the cold snaps but the pleasantly warm days in between that really throws me off.  After such low temperatures, I never expect to be able to work out in the garden in shorts and short sleeves or to see the bumblebees out and foraging just shortly thereafter.  But those unexpected warm spells are appreciated.

bee on 'Miss Molly' Butterfly bush
In October, the veggie garden winds down.  With the bad drought we've had, it's been an underwhelming season.  I harvest the last of the green beans and pick the baby turnips, and the greenhouse gives me the ending tomatoes and (finally ripe!) spicy hot peppers.  The veggie garden beds are prepared for next spring, and garlic is planted - hopefully to do better this next year.  But the main event that I look forward to every October happens right outside the veggie garden: the blooming of my Willowleaf Sunflower.

I was rather worried that, like many other plants this year, it wouldn't do as well due to the drought.  However, this is one tough prairie plant, and this year it was bigger and better than ever.   No other plant in my garden gives quite this riotous level of October blooms.

In the flower beds, the striking Beautyberry also makes its presence known as other plants fade.  It's hard to not love a shrub with such an unusual color of berries!

I normally also look forward to the blooming of the Montauk daisies, but this year my plants were nibbled down to nubs by either the deer, Peter Cottontail, or naughty Norman the groundhog.   Thankfully they left the Asters and the lovely 'Sheffield' Mums.

'Sheffield' Mums
Many of the annuals and other flowers start dying off in October, so I always appreciate the few that soldier on through the cold.

'The Fairy' Rose
I can hardly believe it is already November.  It's time to put the garden to bed and time to get all those bulbs that carry the promise of spring into the ground.

frosted Sedum blooms

Winter is coming...

Tuesday, October 11, 2016

Azure Blue Sage

Alongside my driveway is my 'blue and gold' garden, which is one of my favorite flower color combinations.  While there is a plethora of different types of yellow flowers, blue flowers are more rare, especially in perennial plants, and can be a little hard to find sometimes.  A couple of years ago I saw a plant at a nursery that had flowers the prettiest shade of blue I'd ever seen, and it just had to go home with me for my blue and gold garden.

Azure Blue Sage
Salvia azurea, known as Azure Blue Sage or Prairie Sage, is a perennial native to central and southeastern United States.  It flowers over quite a long period, blooming for me from the end of August through the beginning of October.  In warmer climates it can start blooming in June or July.  It is one of the taller sages, growing 2 to 5 feet or taller, and making a clump about 2 to 3 feet wide.  It has a very airy and delicate appearance, with the spikes of clear blue flowers hovering above other plants.

Azure Blue Sage mingling with my other plants on the right
Even the leaves are fairly delicate and thin.  This is one plant that is pretty easy to squeeze into the garden among other plants.  Indeed Azure Blue Sage is actually better with neighboring plants to support it, as it tends to flop unless it is pinched back in late spring or early summer (which of course I never get to.)

leaves of Azure Blue Sage
Azure Blue Sage is a true prairie plant; it likes full sun and is extremely hardy and drought tolerant.  Its branching roots can reach eight feet deep during times of drought in search of water.   It is hardy in zones 5 to 9 and is tolerant of heat and humidity.  It does like well-draining soil, however, or else the roots can be subject to root rot.  Like other sages, Azure Blue Sage is deer and bunny resistant.  Hummingbirds, butterflies, and bees love it, however, and my plants are usually buzzing with bumblebees.

There are some slightly different varieties of Azure Blue Sage.  Salvia azurea var. azurea grows mainly in the southeast, while the better-known Salvia azurea var. grandiflora has a larger native range, also growing in central US.  They look very similar, but grandiflora has larger flowers and is usually the one grown in the home garden (and the one I probably have).  Var. grandiflora is often also called Pitcher Sage in honor of Dr. Zina Pitcher, a 19th century army field surgeon and amateur botanist.  (This plant used to be known as Salvia pitcheri and is sometimes still sold as such or as Salvia azurea ssp. pitcheri, just to make things more confusing.)  There are also a couple of named strains of Azure Blue Sage: 'Nekan' is a seed strain of grandiflora found in Nebraska that is supposed to be more upright and robust with even larger flowers, and 'September Snow' is a rare white flowering form.

Though in the mint family, Azure Blue Sage is not very aggressive, though it will politely reseed itself somewhat in the garden.  The new plants bloom the first year, so it can even be grown as an annual in places where it is not hardy.   Other than its flopping habit, it's been a great plant for me.   I never take care of it, but it slowly spreads, the critters don't bother it, pollinators love it, and every fall I am treated to those amazing blue flowers.

What more could you ask for?

Tuesday, September 20, 2016

In the Cottage Gardening State of Mind

Cottage gardening is an attitude, not a location.

When I read that sentiment about cottage gardening, I immediately identified with it.  As a busy mom, I tend to just plant the things I love and enjoy and then let the garden do its own thing.

Some describe a cottage garden as artful chaos, another sentiment I like. Chaos I have definitely nailed. Artful?  Well, as they say, art is in the eye of the beholder.  I try to at least keep colors somewhat harmonious.  (Matching colors is an art thing, right?)

'Spanish Eyes' Black-eyed Susan Vine growing on veggie garden fence
For some reason, when I call what I do 'cottage gardening', I feel a little less guilty about my lack of weeding this hot and droughty summer.  Weeds or no weeds, the bees and butterflies still come, which makes me happy.

Monarch butterfly on 'Miss Molly' butterfly bush
My goal is to have all of the garden plants fill in so fully that there isn't any room for the weeds to grow, another inclination right in line with the philosophy of cottage gardening.  (Though I have to admit that in certain areas the dense planting is going a little too well, and I have to keep pruning the cosmos so that visitors can reach the front door.  Cottage gardening bonus: I don't get any door-to-door salesmen!)

the plant gauntlet
There is definitely more weeding and pruning and editing to be done in the garden, which I am starting to do now that the weather has turned cooler.  But more than anything, I'm just enjoying the garden...

...which I think is definitely in line with the cottage gardening state of mind.

bumblebee on native Azure Blue Sage
Happy gardening!

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