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).



Late August


Despite the lack of rain over the past two weeks (and the fact that I have no sprinkler system and haven’t owned a hose or sprinkler in two years), the garden is going strong. Little bluestem glows in the sun, framed by Rudbeckia and Boltonia.


Nodding pink onion (Allium cernum) looks down shyly. Here little bluestem becomes the frame for the picture. Only 18″ tall, this is a useful plant for edging late-summer gardens. It loves my dry soil.


Great blue lobelia (L. siphilitica) glows with blue flame that lures you to cross the backyard and examine the intricate flowers more closely.


Now that the elderberries and grey dogwood berries are all gone, pokeberry (Phytolacca americana) attracts birds from near and far. Birds plant it everywhere; do you think of it as a weed? I let one or two plants remain because of their enormous value to wildlife. I also think they’re interesting to look at. Notice the flowers and fully formed fruit on the same cluster.


 About 20 years ago we planted 5 everbearing raspberries from Burpee. They’re making their second crop of the season right now (the first one was in July). Despite being crowded by the many shrubs and perennials I’ve planted since, they continue to produce luscious raspberries for the birds (and even a few for us). If you’ve got sun, try raspberries.