A change of seasons

Remnants of Hurricane Michael were hardly to be concerned about in this part of northwestern Virginia (except for another two inches of rain while areas nearby received three times this amount), but a breezy night as the storm exited was enough to dislodge many loosely attached leaves (and innumerable branches) of trees bordering the garden. Nothing that wasn’t nearly bare has gone bare, but today there are mounds of leaves where there were none a day ago.

Fothergilla colors dependably in autumn, the reason this one was transplanted in late winter from a far corner of the garden where it was seen infrequently.

With a chilly week ahead, and the first threat of frost, it’s likely that leaves will be turning or falling soon, and it appears that this will be a disappointing autumn for leaf watchers. The best coloring on trees in this garden are several Japanese maples that turn late, and though I am not a big fan of the end of the gardening year, I expect some brilliant colors despite our unusual weather.

The tall growing ‘Woodland’ toad lily is the last to flower this year. Though stems are tall, they have not flopped in rain or wind.

Depending on how far temperatures drop into the thirties, this could be the end for many of the flowers in the garden. Blooming of toad lilies, azaleas, and hydrangeas is brought to a close with temperatures nearing freezing, though the Encore azalea ‘Autumn Amethyst’ (below) has been known for a few stray flowers in a mild December.

Hybrid daphnes ‘Eternal Fragrance’ and ‘Summer Ice’ display sparse flowers in mid-October, and perhaps the last for the season if cold temperatures stay around. ‘Jim’s Pride’ (Daphne x transatlantica ‘Jim’s Pride’, below) is at peak bloom now, certainly a consequence of more sunlight exposure, though three daphnes are only fifteen feet apart. Like other hybrid x transatlantica daphnes, ‘Jim’s Pride’ has grown vigorously when given an area of dry ground and part sunlight. I am encouraged to try other similar daphnes with varied variegations, even if they must be purchased in small sizes from specialty mail order growers.

The first blooms of the autumn flowering camelia ‘Winter’s Star’ (below) have arrived. Flowers will continue for weeks, and another ‘Winter’s Star’ and ‘Winter’s Interlude’ in part shade will begin flowering no sooner than late December, though sometimes first blooms stray into January when they are often damaged by freezes.

Flowers of Canyon Creek abelia faded in late summer, but now there is a second flush of blooms to end its flowering season.


The colors of autumn, before leaves turn

While leaves are slow to turn with summer temperatures extending into October, the garden remains colorful with abundant blooms. Without a doubt, cold weather and colorful leaves will be here soon, but I’m in no rush to be rid of this unusual warmth. 

While the pink blooms of Encore azalea ‘Carnation’ (above) are hardly my favorite, the azalea is the most dependable for flowering in late summer and early autumn, and blooms persist for weeks. Flowers of another dependable autumn bloomer, ‘Twist’ are just beginning, much later than usual. Flowers of other Encore azaleas are more scattered in autumn, with some flowering through November if temperatures are not too cold.

Toad lilies (Tricyrtis formosana var. grandiflora ‘W-Ho-ping Toad’, above) are at peak bloom in early October. Flowers will persist through light frosts, but fade quickly following a hard frost or freeze.

The tall, coarse leafed clump of Tatarian daisy (Aster tataricus ‘Jindai’, above) was rescued as a wide spreading paperbush (Edgeworthia chrysantha) crowded it. The transplant of the tall growing aster was easy, but the location beside a second paperbush is only temporary until a better spot can be found.  

Seedlings of ‘Chocolate’ Joe Pye Weed (Eupatorium rugosum ‘Chocolate’, above) rise through a clump of variegated liriope (Liriope muscari ‘Variegata’). Foliage of seedlings is not as dark as the parent plant, which is long gone as far as I’m aware. 

Flowers of Autumn crocus (Colchicum, above) have been short lived in this early autumn. The white colchicum lasted only a few days in warm temperatures.

Berries of ‘Duet’ beautyberry (Callicarpa dichotoma ‘Duet’, above) are smaller than other beautyberries, but while other beautyberries are unremarkable through spring and summer, the variegated foliage is an added attraction.

A clump of several ‘Winterberry’ hollies (Ilex verticillata ‘Winterberry’, above) is loaded with berries. While leaves will drop soon, berries will persist into early winter.

While leaves of native dogwoods (Cornus florida, above) are scarred by black spot, and autumn coloring is late, trees are loaded with berries and buds for spring’s flowers. Another dogwood in the neighborhood is changing (below), but it has no berries, and no flower buds are evident. Berries are nearly ripe, so trees will soon be stripped bare by birds.

With plentiful rainfall through the summer, the ‘Orange Dream’ Japanese maple (Acer palmatum ‘Orange Dream’, below) in a container on the patio beside the koi pond has grown substantially in late summer. While foliage fades to green in summer, new growth is more colorful. Japanese maples display some of the most colorful autumn foliage, but this is the color of new growth, not leaves fading into winter.


Flowers after the freeze

Despite repeated pleas by my wife, we will not be heading south for the winter. Not that I enjoy the Virginia winter, but her plan sounds costly.

I’m not a fan of the cold, so I’ll be overjoyed if the winter is mild (again), though unusually warm temperatures through the winter did not improve productivity in accomplishing chores a year ago. The mild winter did encourage more abundant winter flowering, so I walked the garden more, and while many of the garden’s successes are mostly a matter of luck, careful planning brings one thing or another into bloom every day through the winter months, frigid temperatures or not.

The newly planted Marvel mahonia is a few weeks behind Sinter Sun in flowering, though Several Winter Sun, Charity, and Underway mahonias that are more shaded are just beginning to bud. These will flower into the new year.

A week ago, consecutive twenty degree nights brought ruin to an inordinately floriferous mid autumn in the garden, though some flowers survived the freeze. Blooms of hybrid mahonias (Mahonia x media ‘Winter Sun’ and ‘Marvel’, above) are just getting started, and only when temperatures drop into the low teens do they suffer a chill. While many flowers of camellias suffered in the freezes, several remain heavily budded (below), and these will open in coming weeks with typical late autumn temperatures.

Many Encore azaleas were flowering right up to the cold nights, and though many swollen buds remain, few will flower with temperatures regularly falling below freezing. ‘Autumn Amethyst’ (below) is the exception, and while this azalea is never covered in blooms, occasionally it will flower into December.

‘Ogon’ spirea (Spiraea thunbergii ‘Ogon’, above) typically flowers in mid March in this garden, but a few stray blooms are not unusual in November. Unexpected, is flowering of Rankin jasmine (Gelsemium rankinii, below). The vine paused through the chilly days, then resumed flowering. Certainly, this cannot continue much longer, though there are numerous buds ready to flower. This is most curious since Rankin performed poorly, with few flowers through the year. I suspect it prefers drier ground than I’ve planted it into, but this week I’ve no complaints.

After the freeze

A single twenty degree night changes the garden. A day before, coneflowers (below), azaleas, camellias (2nd photo, below), and toad lilies were flowering despite repeated frosts and a light freeze a few weeks ago. After this freeze, flowers remain, but in an altered state that shows effects of the cold.

This coneflower (Echinacea purpurea) seedling began flowering in early November. Predictably, the bloom is short lived after a typically cold November night.

The garden’s camellias were in full bloom until this freeze. It is likely that flowers will continue through the next month, or longer, with blooms damaging on very cold nights and buds opening after a few mild days.

While some extol the beauties of seedheads and browned grasses, I prefer leaves and flowers to the dormancy of winter. The silhouettes of Japanese maples (below), and particularly of Harry Lauder’s walking stick (Corylus avellana ‘Contorta’), can be quite marvelous, and colorful berries attract bluejays and cardinals, but these are small consolation.

With recent cold, leaves of the Fernleaf Japanese maple (Acer japonicum ‘Aconitifolium’) have turned mottled colors ranging from yellows to reds.

Paperbush (Edgeworthia chrysantha) holds its deciduous leaves until the first hard freeze. After a twenty degree night, leaves hang limply, and these will soon drop.

Though damaged blooms will not recover, unopened buds of camellias (below) will continue to flower for at least another month, and there could be additional blooms on Encore azaleas. Flowers of ‘Eternal Fragrance’ daphne are slightly damaged in the cold, but there are likely to be more blooms if mild temperatures return.

Though flowers of camellias remain colorful, damaged blooms will fade quickly to brown.

Numerous unopened buds remain on camellias that will flower through periods of mild temperatures.

‘Winter Sun’ mahonia began flowering in late October. Other hybrid mahonias are following, and most will flower into the the new year.

Flowers of hybrid mahonias are not damaged by cold. ‘Winter Sun’ (Mahonia x media ‘Winter Sun’, above) began flowering several weeks ago, and ‘Charity’, ‘Underway’, and the newly planted ‘Marvel’ (below) will follow and are likely to flower through repeated spells of cold into the new year.

‘Marvel’ mahonia is a new and welcome addition to the garden. One in part sun begins to flower while another in shade is just starting to bud.

Foliage and flowers of early November

After a lengthy delay through an unusually mild October, leaves of swamp maples (Acer rubrum, below) in the forest that borders the garden have turned to their typical yellow. Selections of this same tree, then called red maple, are preferred by local homeowners for red autumn foliage, but leaf color of most native trees is not so desirable. On a breezy afternoon, leaves fall from the towering trees, and with glowing yellow leaves of thickets of spicebush (Lindera benzoin) also dropping, nearby houses are visible that have not been seen for months.

Following recent frosts and a single freeze, the Fernleaf Japanese maple (Acer japonicum ‘Aconitifloium’, above) is beginning to show color that will intensify in the next few weeks. While other Japanese maples are often splendid in autumn, the Fernleaf is consistently extraordinary.

Seriyu Japanese maple is green leafed until early November.

Viridis Japanese holds its yellow autumn foliage for weeks.

While foliage colors of a variety of witch hazels are usually short lived, this first week of November is their peak. Hybrid witch hazels ‘Arnold Promise’ and ‘Jelena’ (Hamamelis x intermedia) display shades of red and orange, and portions of the vernal witch hazel (Hamamelis vernalis) turn yellow one large stem after the other until the shrubby tree has turned completely.

There are a surprising number of flowers in the garden for November, many of which have been featured recently on this page. As often happens, there are few strays out of season. The threadleaf spirea ‘Ogon’ (Spiraea thunbergii ‘Ogon’, below) flowers in early spring, but a few November flowers are not unusual. 

The autumn flowering hybrid camellias are at peak bloom, which is rare since flowers times are typically spread over weeks, and sometimes months. A year ago, flowering was particularly disappointing until the unusually warm January and February.

In mild temperatures, Encore azaleas continue to flower. A cold night will ruin flowers, but buds will continue to open with warmer days.

Leaves of Ruby Spice clethra turn to yellow in mid autumn.

Bluestar (Amsonia hubrichtii) makes an exceptional show in mid autumn,


Autumn’s Encore

I must begin today by stating that I am far from an azalea fanatic. Once, I declared that I would never grow another besides a grouping of three old Delaware Valley White’s that seemed indestructible. There were problems, lacebugs, clay soil, and diminishing health the longer azaleas were in the ground. Why bother? But, then I was introduced to Encore azaleas, and the possibility of azaleas blooming a second time in late summer and early autumn. Why not give them a try?

At times in the past I favored ‘Autumn Amethyst’ azalea over other rebloomers, but my ardor has faded a bit in recent years. Certainly, pick an azalea that could be flowering in a mild December that still has a fair share of nights below freezing, and that could only be ‘Amethyst’. An azalea with more flowers in November than September, and possibly May? ‘Amethyst’ again.

Autumn Amethyst is just beginning to flower in mid October. Depending on weather, it could continue to flower into December if temperatures do not drop below the mid twenties.

But, an azalea with sparser blooms than other Encores and azaleas in general, no matter the season, and that is also ‘Autumn Amethyst’. So, there’s a pro and a con, and once I valued the late blooms and minimized their scarcity. Now, not so much, though the late flowers remain a plus.

Autumn Sweetheart began flowering sparsely in mid October, but seems to be coming on as the month progresses. I’m guessing it will make a better show than Amethyst, but will not match Twist, Rouge, and Sangria.

A year ago, there were no flowers on ‘Amethyst’ in November. Daring deer not to invade (from forgetfulness or laziness, it doesn’t matter) I delayed spraying the repellent until the damage was already done. Along with daylilies and a few hostas, ‘Amethyst’ was one of the first to go. Every branch tip of two medium sized shrubs was nibbled, and while a few leaves remained, as well as a few buds so that there were a flower or two, the azaleas were pretty sad. And, spring was no better since new leaves had to grow on each branch, which started in late April, and then flower buds developed, which are blooming in early November.

This was a rare down year for Autumn Twist. It began flowering in August, which is typical, but flowers faded quickly, which is unusual. Twist is typically the most dependable and longest bloomer late August through early October.

The variations in how and when Encore azaleas flower is intriguing, and possibly a much wiser gardener could explain why ‘Autumn Twist’ and ‘Autumn Carnation’ begin flowering in August, while ‘Amethyst’ lags until mid October or later. The timetable can move weeks in either direction, depending on summer temperatures, or moisture, or whatever it is that effects the timing, but there are a few months between the first and last to flower. Spring flowering of most all azaleas is compressed into a shorter season, in this garden usually from mid April to the start of May, though that’s moved earlier in recent years.

Autumn Carnation is the most prolific bloomer for a second year, though I am far from thrilled with the color. For those who like this color, Carnation is a very strong grower and a superb bloomer.

Also interesting is why several of the Encores, ones that are plenty cold hardy, do not flower at all in my garden in autumn. There are fat buds that appear ready to open, and each year I figure this will happen any day, and then possibly if mild temperatures hold, but the buds don’t open until spring.

Autumn Fire is the slowest growing Encore in the garden. An earlier planting was too shaded, and this one is too recently planted to determine how good it is. The next Encore to be introduced, Bonfire, is said to have more vigorous growth with a similar red flower.

And, this is why I trialed Encores to try to figure out which ones would perform best in spring and autumn. The test conditions in this garden are far from optimal for a proper evaluation, but I’ve latched onto the few that seem to work best, given my sorry documentation, and varying soil, weather, and sunlight exposures. I wouldn’t claim for a moment that these will work best a mile down the street, or in more or less sun, but this is what works for me.

Bees in autumn

Last winter was so mild that the sight of bees and other insects was not unusual, though more typically these are rarely seen from late October until mid March except for occasional extended periods of warmth in the winter months. Early autumn has been quite warm, so on a sunny October afternoon a variety of beasts can be seen on flowers in the garden. 

Several toad lilies (Tricyrtis, above) continue to flower into late October, which is not particularly unusual since hard frost often does not arrive in northwestern Virginia until November. Most frequent visitors to toad lilies to gather nectar are bumblebees that are too large to fit beneath the upturned petals, so they “steal” nectar by biting through the underside of the flowers.

October weather has been ideal for flowering of camellias. With mild temperatures, and flowers several weeks earlier than usual, more bees and wasps are seen (above and below), though camellias are clearly not a favored flower.

The seedling purple coneflower (Echinacea purpurea) is a favorite of bees and the few Monarch butterflies (below, and the moth, or whatever above) that pass through the garden. Interestingly, the purple flowered coneflower grows through a dense clump of white coneflowers, which are largely ignored. Seedheads will not be removed until the time for spring cleaning in late winter, so there will be some food for birds, and certainly some seed will fall to germinate so that more purple coneflowers grow up through the ‘Powwow White’. I will transplant the two seedlings that are now growing so that they do not eventually crowd the white flowered parent plant, and as more grow next spring these will be moved until there’s no space for more. 

In spring or autumn, azaleas are not favorites of pollinators, but with fewer blooms in late October bees have little choice. Here (below), a bumblebee visits ‘Autumn Amethyst’ azalea, one of several reblooming azaleas still flowering despite several frosts.