Much is made of the aesthetic difference between the season long “show” of flowers and the end-of-season vegetable harvest. Keen gardeners know that a garden can be more nuanced than this; and, on closer inspection, most gardens are successional in both vegetable and flower form, from the beauty of the spring lettuces to the harvest of summer and fall cutting gardens. All garden plants “accompany” each other, literally and figuratively.
I love the late summer and fall gardens most of all. Perhaps the joy of an early September birthday sets my original sensory impressions—58 “feathers” strong—aloft. Sometimes I fancy that my totem animal is the hawk . I often see them this time of year flying so high that they disappear. A few seconds later, they lower their arc and reappear—faint and tiny wings, auguries hundreds of feet high. Why do they circle so high in September? Fatter mice? Not likely. Taking their bearings for the day’s journey south? Cooling off? Looking for a newborn to announce? I like to think so. For every heron visiting Fordhook Farm, we have a dozen hawks.
I like the tallness of autumn plants. Maturity makes even the small tall. The garden’s effulgence is deeply satisfying. Even the shortest plants grace the height of the tallest trees. From toe to head, the garden surrounds and comforts us. In return, I meditate on them during long walks. I accompany them, strumming some with my hands. Their branches brush my shoulders, especially the late summer grasses.
I asked our excellent photographer to “strum” some plants last week. Mary Kliwinski, a naturally gifted artist, acquitted herself very well. As did our gifted gardening staff.
Hydrangea ‘Limelight’ adds luxuriousness to the Springhouse Garden at Fordhook Farm, framed by a branch of the old magnolia that broadens itself to cover the 200 year old original structure, now ruined and beautifully aging.
Rudbeckia maxima, also aging its seed heads, standing tall. A great “strumming plant”.
Grasses and their accent companions are serenely strummable. An Echinacea peeps up lower left to set the greats into relief. Near it is an upright brown Calamagrostis acutiflora ‘Karl Foerster’, named for the great Swabian horticulturist. Right foreground is Pennisetum orientale ‘Karley Rose’. At a distance it is truly rosy. Miscanthus sinensis ‘Silberfeder’ and ‘Cosmopolitan’ strum across the back, with Eulalia blowing up in the middle. This lovely landscape is just a small part of our “Happiness Garden”.
A wetter strum can be found by simply turning around about 100° in the “Happiness”, as we call it. Eupatorium ‘Gateway’ on the right, the fulsome and exquisite Panicum virgatum ‘Cloud Nine’ in the center, and some Iris and Ferns helping the frame.
A few strums along the Happiness path is a more classic late summer scene. Fordhook Farm is a poignant place. It may not be Blenheim, but it’s not unlike it. Phlox, Physocarpus and Helenium autumnale ‘Red and Yellow Shades’ at right; Solidago ‘Fireworks’—one of the greatest recent cultivars due to its truly explosive looking inflorescences; Rudbeckia ‘Herbstonne’ (“Autumn Shades” in German); with Eupatoria ‘Gateway’; and Rudbeckia triloba filling out the scene.
A closer look still. The Physocarpus opulifolius or Ninebark by its common name, is the cultivar ‘Summer Wine’, a real beauty. The Rudbeckia nitida ‘Herbstonne’ again perks up back right. Eupatorium ‘Gateway’, or Joe Pye Weed. ‘Gateway’ is spectacular in every setting; it is species purpureum and subspecies maculatum: a real knockout selection. In the back is our new (last year) Cedrus deodara or Himalayan Cedar.
Speaking of plant exploration, I often wonder how the apple became so phenomenally great. It is perhaps the greatest fruit tree in the world, if not the greatest small tree period. It can grow almost everywhere. While the fruit varies widely, it always bears in as little as a few years from planting. Civilization wouldn’t be the same without it. To the right is Coreopsis tripteris or Tall Tickseed, giving the apple a little strum. What’s your favorite apple? (Mine is ‘Macoun’.)
To the right is one of the many stars that make up our galaxy. We are extremely fortunate to have it just so. Lucky also to be able to photograph it. On the left is Hibiscus coccineus, the most brilliant red of the mallows.
Here she is again, peeping up behind the strumming Coreopsis tripteris or Tall Tickseed. One of the more elegant photos Mary Kliwinski has taken, and she’s taken many such ones.
Once more. Her common name is Scarlet Rose Mallow, but it hardly does her justice. She is a complicated species, as you’ll see a bit later.
Lagerstroemia indica or Crupe Myrtle. Many breeders have dwarfed it, compacted it, shaded its many colors—but Lagerstroemia indica is my favorite. Like a spruce-top, maple-backed and sided 6 string acoustic guitar, it’s both common and beautifully made.
More to strum in the “Happiness”. Lobelia siphilitica or Great Blue Lobelia is up front with Eupatorium ‘Little Joe’ at its left and the great Rudbeckia laciniata in the back. Note how the brown-eyed Susan “laces” as she begins going to seed here in late summer.
Mary has caught here one of my favorite flowering plants. I used to produce a special strain of Lobelia cardinalis in Costa Rica when I worked for the great breeder and seed grower Claude Hope 30 years ago. We grew it for Benary, a German seed company. It is especially luminous in its native subtropical environment. Yet observe how sensationally strong its color holds even here in North American during an extremely hot and dry summer.
This deceptive view shows a Helianthus giganteus or Giant Sunflower (but not the common sunflower), a blowsy 7 foot tall stunner, most of the year bedecked with hundreds of small yellow blooms. At least 7 feet. Front and center is a common version of Hibiscus moscheutos Rose Mallow—not a far different selection from “Scarlet”, but lighter colored and earlier to go to seed. Eupatorium coelestinum or Blue Mist flower skips along the bottom of the frame. “Coelestinum” means, more or less, “heavenly”. Flowers are notoriously difficult to photograph, with the blues being the toughest to duplicate. It actually looks a bit purplish here, but it’s actually more sky blue.
See what I mean? Hibiscus moscheutos or Rose Mallow has many varied traits at its stages of growth. A great personality. Eminently photographable too.
Hibiscus coccineus – The aforementioned Scarlet Rose Mallow shows her underside. These are seed pods just beginning to form. Note the spidery sepals and handsome red stems.
In the Burpee Kitchen Garden at Fordhook Farm we like to plant tall, “strumming” cut flowers, including the recent cultivar Gomphrena ‘Fireworks’, and here it earns its name.
More strummable cuts: Zinnia ‘Purple Prince’, Cosmos ‘Sensation Mix’ and Zinnia ‘Jazzy Mix’, left to right with some excellent strumming Cosmos shooting up the back, as typical of most plants in the late season.
Laden with seed, his job done, ‘American Giant’ bows his head to the sun as if in homage.
A “later” cultivar, both chronologically in terms of its recency and metabolically in terms of its days to maturity, than the much older ‘American Giant’, ‘Kong’ keeps watch, so to speak. Quite a spectacular cultivar, if not quite as large-headed. Here it is at least 12′ high.
‘American Giants’ again. It’s huge head is almost a foot across and it is consistently 10-12 feet high. I like how it “flows” as it bends from the weight of the seed heads. It ages gracefully, as they say. Suggestive of the many photographs of the now common “flowing” grasses, such as Hakonechloa macra ‘Aureola’, an extremely popular grass with our customers.
Back at the Burpee Kitchen Garden, a view of the uniquely handsome ‘Cappuccino’, the brownish-red sunflower on the right, and ‘Sunny Bunch’, a popular and very floriferous and pollen-free cutting sunflower on the left. Mary catches them cinematically through dried out sweet corn tops.
Salve, centurions! Something Roman movie-like about this scene. But this is how it’s done in an experimental row trial. These are all experimentals—soon to be in your garden, we hope. They are strong stemmed, tall and distinctively petalled.
Strumming with light this time. The sun plays here on the leaves and spikes of florets of the moisture-loving Pontaderia cordata. Already the late summer asserts its sharply angled afternoon light. Soft but sharp—nothing quite like it, since the sun meets so little vegetation in spring. Note our new pond in the background of our shade gardens at Fordhook Farm.
Panicum virgatum ‘Cloud Nine’ expresses the essence of “strumming plants” in the late afternoon Happiness Garden. In gardening, the sky can be your canvas.
Our Gingko biloba out in the front, near the welcome sign to Fordhook Farm.
Thanks for listening.