October 11, 2012

October Surprise

(Note:  I sat down this morning to write about the gorgeous Helianthis angustofolius at the end of my driveway.  Halfway through the process, I realized that what I was writing seemed hauntingly familiar.  I went back through the archives and found that I had covered the subject exactly two years ago today.  Re-reading that 2010 post, it says precisely what I wanted to say today.  I have never repeated a post, but this one is worth doing so.)

I walked out to the end of the driveway this morning to collect our newspapers (yes, we’re dinosaurs who actually subscribe to the print editions of multiple newspapers), and was greeted by our stand of Helianthus angustifolius. It’s part of the ‘Manhattan’ bed and is the penultimate bloomer in that three-season site.

Helianthus angustofolius in October bloom
This is one remarkable perennial: it blooms after the first frost. Very tall (six-feet plus) on bamboo-like canes, it lies in wait at the back of the bed, waiting for its moment. It is hidden by a tall rudbeckia that blooms from August into mid-September, after which the birds have reduced the rudbeckia to stalks. Meanwhile, low-growing asters at the front of the bed started blooming in early September and are still in evidence.

But the Helianthus takes you completely by surprise. Until it blooms, it is truly part of the tall greenery at the back of the bed. Once it opens up, there’s no overlooking it. There are multiple – up to half a dozen – blooms on each stalk and their weight bends those stalks to a confounding series of graceful arches.

I would like to take credit for first planting this specimen, but honesty forces me to acknowledge that there was a small clump of it growing in the original Old Stone bed. We divided it, moving half out to the Butterfly bed where it would get better late summer sun. It took off (it spreads by rhizomes) and the clump is now about ten feet wide and two feet deep, fully intermingled with the aforementioned rudbeckia. Some years ago, we potted up a single plant, took it to a nursery, and asked for a further identification. Many books and websites were consulted but the nursery was unable to come up with a specific cultivar.

Chelone lyonii
Bees love it, of course. It, along with the asters, is one of the last sources of nectar on the property. Betty spent part of yesterday cutting back daylily foliage and the bees were everywhere.

A handful of other perennials are still in bloom. The pink turtlehead (Chelone lyonii) is holding its own in our lower shade bed even as the rest of the bed turns an inexorable yellow. The two sidewalk beds closest to the house are still a pleasure to look at. In the ‘inner’ bed, a white David’s phlox is in its second month of bloom and a Persicaria ‘Painter’s Palette’ has both the beautiful, multi-colored foliage it has displayed all season plus, now, an abundance of pink spikes.

Persicaria 'Painter's Palette'
In the ‘outer’ sidewalk bed, a clump of balloon flower (Platycodon grandiflorus) eaten down by deer earlier in the season is making up for lost time by flowering long past its usual date. Because we’ve not yet had a hard frost, the cleomes are still in bloom, and probably prolifically self-seeding next year’s crop. Also, there’s a clump of pinkish-white Japanese anemone that, left to its own devices, would take over the garden. We allow this one clump to remain because of its reliable September flowering. To keep it in check, we spend much of the spring and summer pulling out its never-ending runners.

The outer sidewalk bed, with
Daphne Atlantica in the
The single most striking perennial in the outer sidewalk bed is a Eupatorium ‘chocolate’. Joe Pye weed never was more elegant than this. The foliage is indeed a purple-chocolate brown, but the bloom – huge puffy heads of tiny white flowers – is remarkable. We’ll have those floral clusters until early November.

Finally, although a shrub rather than a perennial, our Daphne ‘Atlantica’ is putting on an autumn show. We nearly gave it up for dead after last winter and it spent much of the spring and summer staked in hopes of strengthening its trunk. Whatever we did worked: the plant roughly tripled in size over the course of the summer and then began putting out fragrant white flowers. It is still going strong.

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