The perennial border today, still in bloom despite the drought.
Despite this season’s drought, a garden of well-chosen native perennials can still provide plenty of late-season interest for you (and food for wildlife). The photo above, taken today, shows part of a perennial border that has never been watered this season. The plants were all chosen for their ability to thrive in full sun and very dry, sandy soil. The garden started blooming in May, with columbine, and will probably end sometime in mid-October. The late bloomers include several species of aster, Boltonia asteroides, and two species of Rudbeckia, plus the visual interest supplied by an abundance of colorful autumn leaves, seeds, and fruits. (Notice in the left foreground the golden leaves of a red milkweed plant.)
Below is a wider view of the perennial borders that surround the patio (sadly, we put the patio furniture away this morning). You can see the different colors of the two aster species; on the right,you can see the white and yellow of white snakeroot and goldenrod that volunteer from the miniforest that’s just outside the picture. And aren’t the grasses lovely in the sun!
I love autumn, and I particularly love watching it slowly unfold. And I most particularly love the colors of our native plants. Nowhere else on earth, to my knowledge, do leaves turn the brilliant scarlets and oranges our sugar maples achieve. Right now, every sugar maple seems to have one bright-colored branch, as if it’s teasing us with the beauty to come.
But even our native perennials turn gorgeous colors in fall. Following are three photos not of my garden but of a nearby garden that I designed and installed. Note the beautiful and harmonious effect of the remaining flowers with the colors of the leaves and even the seedpods. I’ve never seen milkweed seedpods turn such gorgeous colors as you’ll see in the second photo; in the third, note the contrasting reds of the penstemon and sundrops foliage.
Back to my own garden, where the delicate, silvery seeds of little bluestem grass are now a main focus:
In one perennial border, white now dominates, with little bluestem, heath aster, and white snakeroot vying for attention against a background of yellow elderberry leaves:
In another, purple asters and multicolored foliage compete with the silver grasses:
And amidst the signs of decay (which is what fall colors are), note the bright green foliage signalling lush and healthy growth next spring.
The edge of my mini-woodland is filled in with bountiful flowers of volunteer goldenrod (species unknown) and white snakeroot (Eupatorium rugosum). A month ago, this shady area was dominated by great blue lobelia (Lobelia siphilitica), which has now gone quietly to seed (as has the sweet joe pye weed on the right). There’s still plenty of food for pollinators and birds.
Look closely at this flowering dogwood (Cornus florida) and you’ll see lots and lots of bright-red fruit. These trees are growing in part shade, which is their preferred siting. A dogwood tree placed in full sun would be severely drought stressed now, after more than a month of low rainfall. In nature, these shallow-rooted trees always grow under the shade of canopy trees, often at the woodland edge. Dogwood berries are especially nutritious, and birds never leave them on the trees or shrubs for long. Migrating birds will stop to eat these berries within the next few days. And speaking of berries . . .
. . . back in July I showed you a picture of these cranberry bush (Viburnum trilobum) berries just as they were showing color. Compare that with the way they look now–ripe and juicy (edible to humans but very acidic). Usually birds don’t eat these berries until well into the winter, kind of as a last resort. This year they seem to be disappearing early, despite the abundance of other fruit. Maybe the cool nights have ripened them early.
I love to try to figure out the interactions of plants and animals in my garden and to watch autumn unfold.