The garden right now

I hope you enjoy these pictures of the early fall garden, taken yesterday, on this rainy day.


The bright red fruits of cranberry bush viburnum (V. trilobum) glowed in the sunshine. This is the most sun-tolerant of our native viburnums. Like its cousins it wants to be a very large shrub or small tree, but it can be kept to a reasonable size by judicious winter pruning. Foliage color will be a lovely dark red quite soon, and the berries will hang on until winter.


The garden is bursting with fruit. There are so many raspberries this year that we actually get to eat some (I confess: the raspberries are everbearers from Burpee, planted with my kids when they were small, not a native species). I always let one pokeweed remain for the birds.You can also see elderberries and grey dogwoods in this shot; both have already finished fruiting.


This big fat monarch caterpillar was eating voraciously yesterday. It’s on a leaf of Asclepias tuberosa, orange butterflyweed. Notice the milkweed bugs of a variety of life stages on the seed pods at the upper right. They do destroy some seed pods, but plenty remain undamaged, and they do not hurt the plant in any other way.


This time of year, little bluestem shows the blue-purple tints that gave it its name; in autumn it will look silvery gold.


Great blue lobelia (Lobelia siphilitica) is a star of the early autumn garden. Unlike its red-flowered cousin, Lobelia cardinalis, blue lobelia is not fussy and will grow anywhere except in bright sunlight.


This bed, with poor, sandy soil on the north side of my house, used to be quite bare. Then I discovered northern bush honeysuckle, the shrub with the red-tipped branches. The tall shrub in the center is Aronia arbutifolia, red aronia, and the berries are beginning to turn from green to red. The bed also contains Christmas ferns, a volunteer sedum, and the original foundation plantings: Japanese azaleas, mountain laurel, a rhododendron, and a boxwood that just won’t give up.


Many shrubs are showing some fall color on their lower leaves–hints of what’s to come. Soon spicebush (Lindera benzoin) will turn this lovely lemon yellow color all over. If you look closely, you can see next spring’s fat round flower buds. Two weeks ago these plants were full of bright-red berries, but the birds devoured them the minute they ripened.


Many native perennials display beautiful fall colors. The tall plant with red leaves is Penstemon digitalis (white flowers in early summer); the short one is Oenothera fruticosa (sundrops; yellow flowers in late spring).



No time for a weekly post


Great blue lobelia (Lobelia siphilitica) is a joy in the late-summer garden, and unlike its red-flowered cousin, cardinal flower, it’s easy to grow and adaptable.

Refer back to last week’s In the garden this week for a list of chores for the week, but it’s time to stop pruning of shrubs and trees now, except for removing dead and diseased material, which can be done at any time. Do keep up on watering newly installed plants: it’s hot and dry out there, and I’m seeing signs of drought damage everywhere.

And if you’re planning to doing any fall planting, please check out my latest “Backyard Environmentalist” column, which explains why everything you think you know about planting is probably wrong.


Northern bush honeysuckle (Diervilla lonicera), a small, drought-tolerant shrub, is one of my new favorite plants. Consider it if you have a dry, shady area where nothing else will grow.