Tuesday, October 31, 2006

The best fall color shrub: Fothergilla gardenii

The leaves are now off most of the trees, but there are still a few spots of color, and good ones too.

My favorite shrub for fall color, though it turns later than many, is the dwarf Fothergilla (Fothergilla gardenii), which glows red, burgundy, yellow and orange all at once - and it's doing this right now.

Although native to the Southeast, ranging from the Carolinas to north Florida, and west toward the Mississippi River basin, Fothergillas are not a terribly well-known shrubs.

Dwarf Fothergilla only grows three feet or so tall, which makes it a very practical size for most gardens. In spring it has creamy white bottlebrush flowers that combine particularly well with 'Spring Green' tulips.

For more information on Fothergilla gardenii, and its taller relative, here's a good article from the Brooklyn Botanic Garden.

Thursday, October 26, 2006

Wet fall means fleeting color

It's been a lovely year for producing fall color, but not so great for keeping it long. The trees pictured above, Red Sunset maples, now have only about a third of their leaves left.

I can't remember a wetter, colder, more blowy October. In the eight seasons since we started our garden here, fall weather has usually been warm and too dry.

Not this year. We've had weeks of rain. Just last week (on my birthday, as it happened) three inches of rain fell in one day, when the ground was already saturated. Some present! May and June's weeks of drought are now a distant memory.

Monday, October 16, 2006

Frosty morning pictures

No time for words this morning, so pictures will do. It was one of those frosty mornings when getting out the camera is mandatory, no matter what else has to be done. Despite bad weather last week, the fall garden colors are still pretty splendid. I had my Nikon set on "Vivid" today as an experiment, kinda like the old Fuji Velvia 50 film I used to love.

Getting another shot of the sumac at the silo from the farm pond side:

Shooting from the silo side of the pond, showing the plantings beyond the pond:

This is shooting towards the house and barn over the farm pond:

Friday, October 13, 2006

Staghorn sumac in the country garden

We have plain old staghorn sumac growing around our old silo – all that's left of the old barn site – and it's the perfect landscaping for that spot, courtesy of Mother Nature. Before we came, a previous owner had also planted a few Scotch pines around the silo, and the pine/sumac combination looks wonderful. We keep the sumac in bounds by mowing around the silo.

Staghorn sumac (Rhus typhina) isn't often planted as a garden shrub because it is one of those great spreading shrubs, suckering from the roots to form a large colony. Maybe the other reason sumac is not much appreciated is that it grows wild all around us.

Woody plant expert Michael Dirr warns that it has to be sited carefully, and that it needs maintenance to keep it in bounds, but he adds: "Europeans have long appreciated R. glabra [smooth sumac] and R. typhina. Perhaps some day Americans will become more introspective and appreciative of our rich woody plant heritage."

That aside, staghorn sumac is a great plant for acreages, where its wandering ways can be appreciated. The cutleaf cultivars are very graceful and have the best orange-red fall color.

Perhaps foolishly*, I've planted the cutleaf sumac 'Laciniata' in a small bed at the corner of the house (shown here). The area is surrounded by an upper and lower patio, which theoretically should keep the plant contained. I just hope it won't damage the house foundation. (Dirr says not to use it as a foundation plant!)

I guess we can always tear it out if it gets to be a problem. For now, I just enjoy the great fall color, and I take heart from the advice about using this plant from the Brooklyn Botanic Garden:

Cutleaf staghorn sumac has ornamental possibilities that go beyond heavy-duty applications like highway landscaping. For large suburban properties it makes a good buffer plant for peripheral areas, where it provides not only summer privacy but food and habitat for animals as well; it makes an excellent "transitional plant" between tamed and wild areas.

With its size controlled by pruning and/or root confinement, cutleaf staghorn sumac can be used in manicured gardens. It can serve as a bolder, textured alternative to the ubiquitous dogwood and Japanese maple when planted off the corner of a structure to anchor a foundation planting. For hot outdoor plazas, it is a rugged survivor and makes a strong "statement."

For a mixed perennial border with a bold texture, try it as a specimen shrub to be cut back to the ground annually. Its wild appearance mixes especially well with grasses, and its spectacular fall color adds beautifully to any display of asters, chrysanthemums or goldenrod.
You can read the full article here.

(By the way, if you're wondering about the metal tower on the silo in the picture at the top, it's for our high-speed internet receiver. High-speed internet, can't live without it, right?)

*Three years on, spring 2009: We pulled that cutleaf sumac by the house out because it was taking over. The main plant was reaching everywhere and going under the patio with its amazing spreading root system. We've had to be vigilant to dig out all the bits all season long to keep at the ones we missed the first time. Lesson learned: this is a plant for the back 40!

Thursday, October 12, 2006

Fleeting fall color

I love this time of year. I don't think my garden is ever more beautiful than in October. And the same goes for all of nature up here in Ontario.

I took the above picture two days ago, but now the leaves on the 'Autumn Purple' ashes in the background have already been blown off. I've learned the hard way (many times!) that if you don't get out there with your camera the moment you see those "oh, my God shots", they're gone.

The weather is turning fast. After an achingly beautiful and very warm Canadian Thanksgiving weekend (Oct. 9th this year), we had pelleting rains all day yesterday, and there's frost and even a few flurries in the forecast for tonight, with tomorrow's daytime temperature in the single digits, around 8C! (That's 46F.)

Nyssa sylvatica - amazing fall color

We've planted a lot of trees on our 10-acre property, but the most impressive one for fall color is Nyssa sylvatica, also known as sour gum, black tupelo or black gum.

Our tree (shown above and below) is still quite small, less that five feet tall, but certainly nicely established after planting two or three years ago.

Although Nyssa sylvatica is a North American native - it grows in Maine, Ontario, Michigan and ranges south to Florida and Texas - it is not easy to find at garden centers. This is mostly because the tree is hard to propagate from cuttings and has a tap root that makes transplanting larger specimens difficult.

The best way to get it established is to buy a container-grown plant in a small size and site it in a moist area. But you do have to hunt around: I managed to get one at the University of Guelph Arboretum plant sale.

Nyssa sylvatica will reach 30 to 50 feet in height, and grows 12 to 15 feet over about 10 to 15 years, so one needs a little patience, but its glossy leaves and outstanding fall color make it worth growing.

Here's a link to a good article about Nyssa sylvatica with lots more growing information.