Letting Go

containers-mid-september-7By mid September, change is in the air. As much as I would wish that the summer would persist past Labor Day, it never does. The summer season falters right on cue. The blazing heat generated by the summer sun is waning. The sun is lower in the sky. The garden is cooler. The night temperatures are a little chilly. We are beginning to get a little rain. The plants in my containers are beginning to look like summer is coming to a close. The petunias which have been sulking all summer are sliding headlong into decline. Any thin leaved foliage looks pale and unhappy. The bloom on any container plant is more sparse. The showy oregano blooms in the driveway pots have matured and turned brown. I am lucky for the licorice and nicotiana that has come on strong with the cooler weather. The big thick leaves of the alocasia have not gotten the message yet. They still look great. It is just about time to think about letting go.

containers-mid-september-6The upkeep of my containers is a summer long pursuit. The watering required by our very hot and dry summer was just about a full time job.  The driveway garden took a long time to water, as there are plants in ground there too. Once the plants became root bound, their need for water was insatiable. I watered. And watered again. Ordinarily, looking after the pots is generally a pleasure. The maintenance is relaxing. A plant that is unfairly crowding another may need some pruning back. Some flowers need dead heading in order to keep blooming well.  Old leaves mature, and need to be removed. Other plants need to be headed back to promote better flowering. Or staked. Most of this is fiddling, and not really work. But once the season begins to turn towards fall, I quit most everything except the watering. My last act was to cut all the flower stalks off the nicotiana mutabilis.  They had mostly gone to seed.  And I knew they would come on again once the weather cooled off. I favored more flowers over seed.  Why do I quit fiddling?  What I do to manage the plants is about what I think they need.  What plants do when left to their own devices is always an education. Plants grow at different rates. Some tolerate crowding while others do not. Some grow much bigger than expected. Others languish. How every plant in a container adjusts to a lack of intervention from me is interesting to watch.

containers-mid-september-9For whatever reason, nicotiana seedlings by the thousands appeared in the driveway in June. I have never seen this happen, not in 20 years. I have no explanation for this, beyond the fact that the nicotiana mutabilis started going to seed early – I suspect from the heat. And I was watering a lot. But these seedlings did not necessarily look to be mutabilis to me. Pulling them out of the bricks would have been no small amount of work. In spite of my propensity for order, it seemed like a better plan to just be grateful that I had all those volunteers working this garden. Any plant that wished to grow in the driveway this summer was welcome to do so.  Of course the most robust group of seedlings were those in proximity to the water draining out of the pots.

watering volunteer seedlingsI eventually took to watering them on purpose. Buck would sit on the deck so we could talk while I was watering in the drive. He had a lot of questions about why there were so many weeds in the drive, and my reason for watering them, but I waved him off. If I had set out to grow nicotiana in the brick, I am sure my efforts would have been an utter failure.  No doubt nature was in charge of this event. For some reason, conditions were perfect for nicotiana seed to germinate.

containers-mid-september-3The very first seedling to bloom was nicotiana alata lime – a cultivar which I am growing in the ground this year.  I never got a chance to take a picture of it, as I accidentally ripped the plant out of the brick dragging the hose over it. Dang it all.  If you are a gardener, you know that any plant you kill is a burden to be born by you alone. Anyone else would yawn.

nicotiana langsdorfii

The next to bloom was nicotiana langsdorfii, which I have not grown in these pots for at least 8 years. It could be my letting go in September many years ago resulted in seed that has laid dormant in between the bricks for years, only to be induced to sprout for some unknown reason this June. I suppose it could be that the frequency of my watering kept the sand between the bricks moist long enough for the seed to sprout. Nicotiana langsdorfii, from whence did you come?

containers-mid-septemberUp close it is easier to see how the letting go is creating a new dynamic. There was no reason to remove the variegated alocasia leaf that was shading the showy oregano.  That oregano had already given up. The green leaf hovering over the dead oregano was a much better look. The large lower leaves of nicotiana mutabilis in the upper pot covered the bare stems of the licorice close to the soil line. I have never had any trouble growing licorice, but this year all of the leaves on the stems close to the soil died back. I have no idea why. The licorice recovered, and had grown vigorously all through and on top of the puny petunias. These pots, left to their own devices, are looking better than they did 2 weeks ago. The alocasia is very happy, on the house side. The back side of this pot is in a fairly shady spot. The sunny side is the primary viewing side. Driving up the drive, the alocasia is leaning towards the light. One of the most difficult parts of container planting design is picking the plants that will be able to handle and perform in light conditions that vary.

containers-mid-september-5Buck has enjoyed the alocasia all summer. He kept me posted if a leaf was turning brown, or developed a hole or tear.   I have never grown them before, so I am giving them a serious look. They are slow to get started. Given plenty of heat, they thrive. They react very slowly to change. It’s clear they can anchor a summer container on in to the fall.

containers-mid-september-10I have learned that my driveway is not just a place to park.

containers-mid-september-2Welcome to the September nicotiana fest underway in the driveway.

 

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At A Glance: Fall Containers, Old And New

fall container plantings (28)rainy fall dayfall container plantings (25)a centerpiece

fall container plantings (26)fall container in cream and blue

fall container plantings (21)a trio

fall container plantings (40)lavender and orange

fall container plantings (20)wood tubs

fall container plantings (13)Sunny fall day

fall container plantings (7)weedy centerpiece

fall container plantings (1)lots of bittersweet

fall container plantings (6)grapevine and gourds

fall container plantings (4)broom corn and eucalyptus

fall container plantings (12)low bowl

fall container plantings (39)steel topiary forms

fall container plantings (38)black millet

fall container plantings (31)A note of caution.  If you like weeds in your fall containers, cut them, and place them up side down in a large garbage bag, right in the field.  We  shook the daylights out of these thistle stems-to remove all of the seeds-before we placed them in a pot. Teasel is beautiful-but there’s no sense to passing trouble around.

fall container plantings (15)center pieces with black eucalyptus

fall container plantinga Halloween motif

fall container plantings (14)fall plantings in  wood crates

fall container plantings (5)lavender and purple

dry hydrangeasdry hydrangeas

fall container plantings (37)orange eucalyptus

fall container plantings (35)ornamental cabbage and kale

fall container plantings (33)black millet

fall container plantings (22)pumpkins, gourds and vegetables

fall container plantings (29)fall color

fall container plantings (24)centerpieces

fall container plantings (27)wicker pot

fall container arrangement
red lettuce
fall container plantings (32)dry millet and hydrangeas. We have a few more weeks of planting to go. Whether you shop your local farmer’s market,  a garden center, your own yard, or a field down the road, there are great fall container arrangements out there waiting to be made.

Waning

October-garden.jpgThe pumpkins on the stairs flanked by my summer containers -visually jarring.  Different seasons with different plant vocabularies are duking it out. The past 3 weeks has been the best weather we have had all summer.  I haven’t taken these two pots apart, as I can’t get by the foolish hope that they will finally get better and be what they were meant to be.  In another the season, the nicotiana , tibouchina, angelonia and the  boston daisies would be blooming profusely.  The petunias would have kept up with the licorice. Instead, I have robustly green blobs of potted plants that continue to prosper-courtesy of the warm fall weather.

October-garden.jpg They don’t make enough visual sense to permit a decent photograph.  Can you hear me sighing? I can talk this way about them, as they are my pots.  If they were your pots, I would just be sympathetic.  Rotten bit of luck, this cold and rainy summer.   The saving grace of these pots?  The cup and saucer vine has finally decided to bloom.

Oct 12, 2013 (51)Cobaea scandens is a large growing vine that holds itself up by means of spiralling tendrils.  I grow it as an annual, though it is hardy in zone 9 and 10.  The vine is slow to get going, and really wants a warm and sunny situation.  They don’t ordinarily begin to bloom until later in the summer, but they do bloom on into the fall.  The flower buds are a pale lime green, the flowers a pale lavender.  The lavender deepens to purple as the flower ages.  The shape and size of the flowers make them well worth growing.

variegated-boxwood.jpgIt has taken the grass, scaevola and petunias a long time to grow to a size proportionate to the variegated boxwood.  I rather like the look of this pot right now.  I suspect that this is the best it is ever going to look, given that November is but 2 weeks away.

coleus-wasabi.jpgThe Wasabi coleus grew strongly, in spite of the cool rainy summer.  Mercifully, it has overtaken other plants that did not fare as well.  These boxes have that topsy turvy look that is a sure sign that the garden season is waning.

Persian-Shield.jpgThe Persian Shield has grown steadily all summer, and now dwarfs the pot in a way that suits me.  This looks lush.  It is also a reminder that annual plants do not make giant root balls.  They spend most of their growing energy above ground, as they only have one season to grow. At this late date in the season, I have to watch the water carefully.  This pot is full of roots, all of which need regular water.  Even though the daytime temperatures are cooler, the available water is being absorbed at a surprisingly fast rate.

summer-containers.jpgI did like how the thumbergia vines eventually draped over my olive jar, but they too need warm weather to thrive.  Most of the blooming went on between the plant and the wall-on the back side.  The brick absorbed heat during the day, and gave off heat at night.  My cannas are in their first round of blooms since they were planted in May.

angelonia.jpgAngelonia that is thriving and blooming well is a sure sign that the fall has been warm.  They like heat. The graceful habit is as much a pleasure as the flowers.  Many annual plants have a very stiff habit.  Angelonia can soften the mix in much the same was as a grassy plant. This new ageratum, “Artist”, has been a stellar performer.  I would plant this again.

fall-color-on-hydrangeas.jpgThe Limelight hydrangeas are at the height of their fall color.  This flourescent pink coloration I call the super nova stage.  Like a star that glows dramatically just before it dies, this color is a sure sign that the garden is waning.  Only rarely do we not have a hard frost before the end of October.  The forecast seems fairly benign fore the next week.  But as anyone who lives in Michigan knows, the weather can turn sharply at any time now.  The perennial plants, shrubs and trees have been preparing for this a long time already.  The growth of trees and shrubs slows dramatically the end of August.  Having a long season to prepare for dormancy helps them survive over the winter.  I have not cut the roses since the beginning of September.  They are seeding-forming hips.  I like the look of the hips on the roses.  I better like that there are no pruned stems which would invite disease or insects.

fountain.jpgBuck has been so busy at Branch that he hasn’t had time to clean the fountain.  I rather like that lime moss growing inside.  It not only looks great with my Scotch moss, it is a sign of the time of year.

Letter From Cice

Cice comments on my blog posts now and again.  The day she decides to write is always a good day.  Her latest in response to my post “Fall Color” is too good not to publish.  I think she expressed far better than I about the gift that is the fall.

“deb……i too would love the day off sitting right there enjoying the day as the ginko leaves fall down around……glistening yellow, and gleaming in the bright warm sunlight. sounds like heaven!! Ahhhhhhh…….listening to them fall and collect like that photo of the table and chairs you showed…..the gift of shedding.. i get that.
A Fall day what a joy, letting all the work of summer go and not clinging………..just like the leaves. we share the same love of all things natural and the older I get the simpler those pleasures get. thanks for always pointing us back to the natural incredible beauty that is everywhere around us. yours respectfully, cice”

The gift of shedding.  I have never heard it described better.  Thanks, Cice.