Bucks County Herald

Elizabeth Ludlow Bowman: Tips for the Compleat Gardener

Beauty at the Peak



C. indicum “Sheffield Pink.”

I feel so lucky to live where seasons change so dramatically, where the autumn sun cascades through yellow and orange and rainbows of color all around. Plants in the landscape have altered the show with subtle and startling blends and contrasts, the deep maroon of the Dogwood (Cornus florida) with its startling red berries against canopies of orange-yellow maples, the deep purple of plums contrasting the light blue Atlas Cedar. The beauty keeps me gasping with delight as we move from garden to garden where the perennials have also dressed for the final show.

One of my favorite fall perennials is now listed in the Chrysanthemum family but I first knew C. rubellum “Ryan’s Pink” and C. indicum “Sheffield Pink” (pictured) as Dendranthus siblings. They grow like the common mum except have woodier stems and stay much shorter without pinching back. The leaves are somehow looser and the flower petals thinner. They bloom in October and November, not minding frosty mornings, and ultimately the leaves turn reddish, finishing the display in December or January.

I have noticed that these cultivars sometimes alter on their own and bloom in a variety of shades on a single plant, such as whites and shades of pink all with a distinct yellow center. They tend to be pest-free and don’t seem to attract herbivores either. They become a substantial presence in a fertile spot and should have a place in all but the tiniest garden.

One of the Chrysanthemum cousins, C. pacificum, is just getting started about now. This perennial forms a dense mound a foot and a half high and three wide of gray-green leaves with a silver edge and late clusters of yellow flowers which sometimes wait too late to bloom. Another cousin commonly known as the Nippon shasta, is just finishing up its display of large, white daisy flowers on a woody, shrub-like perennial. When you cut back this plant at the season’s end ( which usually means cutting the long stems about halfway down to where new buds grow along the stem) you will notice a pungent smell peculiar to this plant.

Still blooming in November is the dark blue Aconite napellus, aka Monkshood, Helmet Flower, Friar’s Cap, Soldier’s Cap, Blue Rocket and Auld Wife’s Huid. The books claim that this blooms in summer but I have found it to bloom in autumn. The leaves resemble those of delphinium and the roots are poisonous, known to be part of a Druid’s garden for their medicinal qualities and in a Witch’s garden as elements in a “Flying ointment” with Belladonna which rubbed on the skin could elicit hallucinations and heartbeat disturbances to make one lose grounding abilities.

Monkshood with all its intrigue was included by the Victorian gardeners and was in Shakespeare’s beds. It is a really beautiful cobalt blue in color, not attacked by pests but prone to die back in drought. It prefers partial shade and good, rich soil to thrive.

Many of the yarrows will send up late season blooms and I have recently seen re-blooming bearded iris still going strong. The annuals have been zapped in most places but a well-planned perennial bed can continue delighting the gardener until December. You still have time to plant bulbs for next spring so don’t be lazy at the last. Many garden centers are offering great deals as they clear out summer in favor of the holiday. Enjoy.

compleatgardener@comcast.net

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