Fall flower garden dance

Centratherum punctatum, Brazilian button flower given to me by Cindy from My Corner of Katy blog.

A week ago, when I started this post, it was cold, bitterly so, after a very long and warm fall. Any tropical I didn’t get moved into the greenhouse froze. Deciduous trees and shrubs started their leaf fall and began pulling in their sap to wait until spring to rise again. The asters, garden mums and other flowers are all finished too, but they had their moment of glory. Let’s look back at their reign.

Tagetes lucida, Mexican tarragon is truly a thug so plant it in an area where it has room to roam.
Tagetes lucida, Mexican tarragon is truly a thug so plant it in an area where it has room to roam. It does bloom school bus yellow, but the smaller pollinators love it so much, and it’s great for fall color. Plus, the leaves taste good, like tarragon.

Summer in Oklahoma is hot and usually dry. The sun bakes the sky until it’s only a soft and hazy blue. In fall, that same sky is the most glorious color. Fall reminds me that God loves us. Autumn color is astounding against the green grass and blue sky.

It's not just about the flowers. Fall color in the front border from a 'Viridis' Japanese maple and 'Cherokee Chief' dogwood behind.
It’s not just about the flowers. Fall color in the front border from a ‘Viridis’ Japanese maple and ‘Cherokee Chief’ dogwood behind.

I can’t get enough of fall. It’s when I enjoy the garden most of all. I don’t worry too much about garden chores or spend my time working. Instead, I take my time walking around and gazing at the flowers and foliage before everything dies back to become one with the ground once more.

Variegated plectranthus and coleus were two tropical plants I grew this summer on the east side of the house. The plectranthus lost much of its variegation by the end of summer. I don't know why.
Variegated plectranthus and coleus were two tropical plants I grew this summer on the east side of the house. The plectranthus lost much of its variegation by the end of summer. I don’t know why. I probably won’t plant it next year.

Fall is usually balm to my weary nerves. It’s been hot this year all the way into November. I’m ready for hot chocolate or tea, cookies and sitting around the fire. Instead, temperatures remained in the mid-80s, and I had the air conditioning on in the house as late as two weeks ago. When I heard it was going to be a hard freeze last week, I thought, finally!

'Jessica Louise' mum with another mum friend. I lost the tag to the other, but I'm trying to locate the name in my purchase orders. If I find it, I'll update it.
‘Jessica Louise’ mum with another mum friend. I lost the tag to the other, but I’m trying to locate the name in my purchase orders. If I find it, I’ll update it. I bought them at the same time, but I don’t remember where. I should keep better records.

I never wish for winter, but if I wanted summer temperatures for Christmas, I would head to Australia. Rather, my winter heart resides in Vermont. I’ve not been to Vermont. Never been to Australia either, but there are other places I would go first, like Italy. We plan to go there in March.

Mexican bush sage up close and personal reveals its velvety texture. I find that the solid purple variety is more cold hardy than the one with the purple calyces and white flowers.
Mexican bush sage up close and personal reveals its velvety texture. I find that the solid purple variety is more cold hardy than the one with the purple calyces and white flowers. This is a photo from 2015, but it’s representative of what’s blooming in my garden until the freeze.

Back to the fall floral display. All of my gardens are designed with fall flowers in mind. If we get a hot summer, there won’t be much blooming then so I choose tropical plants to fill in those empty spaces. Then, I plan and plant for fall.

Centratherum punctatum, Brazilian button flower given to me by Cindy from My Corner of Katy blog.
Centratherum punctatum, Brazilian button flower given to me by Cindy from My Corner of Katy blog.

When I spoke last spring in Sugar Land and Tomball, I spent time with my friend, Cindy From My Corner of Katy. Cindy and I have been friends for almost nine years, and she never lets me leave her home without giving me some wonderful plant. This year, it was Brazilian button flower, a/k/a Brazilian bachelor’s button. My plant grew to be about two feet tall and wide, and I have it planted in clay. It simply shrugged off the terrible dirt and began blooming in mid-summer. Then, in fall it really hit its stride. I love this tender perennial which isn’t hardy in Oklahoma, but I’m sure it will deposit plenty of seeds for next year. Cindy says it can be a bit of a thug.

“Bring it,” I say. Not many plants are thuggish in Oklahoma. Garlic chives and autumn clematis are two thugs I can think of off the top of my head, but not many others.

Symphyotrichum laeve 'Bluebird' with a small bee.
Symphyotrichum laeve ‘Bluebird’ with a small bee. One of the best “asters” I have in the garden.

In past years, I’ve written several times about favorite fall flowers and trees. You can plant fall-blooming flowers for pollinators like the Mexican tarragon, above. Remember, simple flowers are always best. That way, small insects can really get their nectar fix. You can also plant fall eye candy for yourself. Mums and asters make good companions. And, while you’re going around admiring your gardens, don’t forget that planting bulbs is an act of faith. I’ll be outside on Friday planting the rest of mine, 200 or so. I planted some tulips, but I waited for a couple of cold snaps to let foliage die back and give me space to work. It also helps cool the ground off. We had a very warm fall, and we’ve had to wait. Wait no longer. Get your bulb on now so you’ll have a beautiful spring. Remember that good gardens take planning, and bulbs are part of that too.

'Emperor of China' mum in the border along the garage.
‘Emperor of China’ mum in the border along the garage.

Much love to all of you. Thank you for reading my blog in this, its ninth year. You don’t know how much I appreciate you still stopping by and leaving a comment. It makes the writing and photography worth it.

Ornamental grasses breathe life

Side borders with Mexican feather grass, Nassella tenuissima (f/k/a Stipa) and Setcreasea pallida 'Purple Heart.'

Ornamental grasses breathe life into your garden and knit your landscape together blade-by-blade.

Let me count the ways.
  • As the wind blows, grasses sway with feathery grace and swishing sound.
  • They provide cover, summer through winter, for pollinators and the small creatures that make your garden sing.
  • Often, they bloom in late summer and early fall when the rest of the garden is winding down.
  • They offer elusive winter interest. Unless we get heavy snow, grasses stand straight and tall until spring.
  • They look good during every season of the year except in early spring when you cut back most, but not all. Even then, they blend in with other plants until it’s their turn to shine.
Pink muhly grass always reminds me of my friend, Faire, who turned me onto this pink confection.
Pink muhly grass is a garden superstar. Until September, it waits patiently looking like a small bluish grass. Then, Kapow! Everyone should grow this beauty if its hardy in your climate. I know it’s hardy in Zone 7a. I grow both Regal Mist and Fast Forward.
Last week, I did a Facebook live video showing off some of my ornamental grasses.

As you listen, picture me waving my arms while saying, “What can ornamental grasses do for your garden? So much!”

Miscanthus sinensis 'Adagio' with one of my pretty coleus, maybe 'Gnash Rambler.' Also, purple smoke bush or tree is peeking out from behind the coleus.
Miscanthus sinensis ‘Adagio’ with one of my pretty coleus, maybe ‘Gnash Rambler.’ Also, purple smoke bush or tree is peeking out from behind the coleus.

Do you remember a time when these superb plants weren’t part of garden design? I do. Older landscape styles were much more static. Designers relied heavily upon a few standard shrubs and trees along with exclamation points of annual bedding plants like begonias and impatiens in summer and pansies and violas in winter. The next time you’re out driving look at some commercial landscapes to get an idea of this aesthetic.

Tightwad Red crapemyrtle with Miscanthus sinensis, maiden grass behind.
Tightwad Red crapemyrtle with Miscanthus sinensis, maiden grass, behind. Notice how the stiff dark crapemyrtle is enhanced by the soft and flowy grass. That’s one way grasses breathe life into the landscape.

Bah. It bores me to tears. These days landscape designers are much more conscious of beauty, sound and movement in the garden. Plus, customers accept more divergence. Ornamental grasses are definitely part of this design initiative.

Can you see P. virgatum 'Hot Rod' behind the plants in these pots? I placed it to give some upright growth for the fall season. Then, I'll replant it somewhere.
Can you see P. virgatum ‘Hot Rod’ behind the plants in these pots? I placed it to give some upright growth for the fall season. I’ll replant it somewhere in the garden once we get a freeze because it’s a perennial.
Ornamental grasses are pretty easy too.

Other than cutting them down in late winter/early spring, there is very little maintenance. Some, like Nassella tenuissima, Mexican feather grass–shown at the top of this post–don’t even want that. You comb it instead. There is no deadheading and pruning. In my labor-intensive landscape, I find grasses a huge relief. Occasionally, they need tying up, but that’s about it. Click on the gallery below to enlarge the photos and see how my husband tied up the zebra grass. Snort. Subtlety is not in his nature.

A few weeks ago, I planted five P. virgatum ‘Heavy Metal’ switchgrasses along my basement wall to break up its hard surface. To soften the retaining wall next to my basement, I planted a large variety of plants in a naturalistic border. Things are starting to take shape as you can see in the gallery above.

Because grasses are now so popular, there are many choices for your garden. Some of my favorites are:
  • Maiden grass, Miscanthus sinensis. ‘Adagio’ is a favorite selection.
  • Melinis nerviglumis, ruby grass. I like ‘Pink Crystals’ and ‘Savannah.’
  • Panicum virgatum ‘Cheyenne Sky’
  • P. virgatum ‘Hot Rod’ is a new selection I found for my front pots. After the freeze, I’m going to pull it out and move it somewhere in the garden. I haven’t decided where yet. It’s also supposed to be a bit shorter than some switchgrasses at 3′ to 5′ tall.
  • P. virgatum ‘Northwind’ is still a tall favorite in my garden. I divided it last fall after the tour and placed at the end of all four beds in the back garden. It should be back to its normal self next summer. I hope.
  • P. virgatum ‘Heavy Metal’ and ‘Dallas Blues.’ These are two older ones, but they’re still great.
  • Muhlenbergia capillaris ‘Lenca’ Regal Mist® pink muhly grass. ‘Fast Forward’ is supposed to bloom earlier than Regal Mist. I grow both of them and haven’t been able to tell the difference.
  • Pennisetum purpureum ‘Princess Caroline’ purple fountain grass.
  • P. purpureum ‘Fireworks’
  • Pennisetum alopecuroides ‘Ginger Love’
  • Muhlenbergia reverchonii ‘PUNDO1 S’ UNDAUNTED® ruby muhly grass
Grasses don’t require much, but most like well-drained, somewhat sandy soil.

Don’t plant them in heavy clay. If you have heavy clay, amend the soil with compost or shredded leaves and work it into the clay breaking it up. Many grasses don’t require a lot of nitrogen so basic compost or leaf mold should work. It does for me.

Some grasses like little bluestem just want regular prairie soil. I water too often in my garden for little or big bluestem so I just enjoy it in the acreage we own across the street. We let the grass grow there all summer. Sorry I don’t have a photo.

If you’re wondering what to put with grasses, mums and asters are excellent choices, as are native shrubs and other perennials. ‘Fall Charm’ chrysanthemum is new to my garden, and I just love its bicolor blooms. So much so that I shared this beauty shot on Instagram, Facebook and Twitter.

Chrysanthemum 'Fall Charm'
Chrysanthemum ‘Fall Charm’ new to my garden this year.

So now you have some ideas for ornamental grasses. Where will you grow yours? I’d love to hear which ones are your favorites. If you haven’t ever considered growing these worthy plants before, plant some and watch your garden come to life.