Autumn can bring a state of dereliction in beds, borders
Posted: Tuesday, November 10, 2009 8:01 pm
By: By Jimmy Williams
A fellow gardener, quite expert and creator of a quality ornamental garden in only a few years at her India (Tennessee, not Asia) home, lamented a few weeks ago on the “jumbly” appearance of her fall borders and beds. “It seems,” she says, “that everything goes higgildy-piggildy about this time of year.”
We all know the feeling. I did my best to assuage her sense of helplessness on what she considered dishevelment by commiserating with her on a similar status in my own plantings. It is inevitable that some of this sets in late in the growing season, due, primarily, to the scraggly look of some gone-over earlier things. Then, too, the waning power of the extreme declination of the autumn sun tends to cause a more horizontal posture in late bloomers.
There are ways to thwart, at least partially, such a condition.
Those early flowering plants, some of which have been useless timber since June, can be removed from the scene when their appearance reaches a point of abject decadence. Just last week I took three or four barrow loads of top-growth from just two of my mixed borders and, somewhat surprised, noticed smugly the borders were still presentable and, in fact, still looked pretty full. In small areas, bare ground, disgraceful as it is, appears better than a fallen haymow of sticks and stems.
That leads to a second point: Borders should be well supplied with late flowering things. The late great Christopher Lloyd observed that if we take care to have early and late things in a mixed setting, the middle will take care of itself.
How right he was. It is no trick to have a full border in June and July, but April and November comprise another story. We have, as we speak, in those aforementioned borders, late Korean mums, salvias, the last of the sunflowers, other late mums including Chrysanthemum pacificum, ornamental grasses, second-bloom pink achillea, a few small heads of reblooming summer phlox, a pink camellia, two varieties of the irreplaceable Knockout roses and loads of yet-satisfactory foliage. The latter, to wit: hostas (some have rotted out but Regal Splendor is fine); variegated, green and chartreuse liriope (monkey grass); cannas and leaves of Lenten roses, which will crank into bloom in January or February.
If that weren’t enough, there are several annuals holding on or just starting, among them self-seeded impatiens and torenia and recently-planted pansies.
All this following a myriad of spring and summer bloom that has mostly faded from memory. Still recalled, however, is the host of bulb flowers spring provided without mitigating later things: daffodils, grape hyacinths, crocuses, ipheion, snowdrops and Spanish bluebells.
Another way to minimize the raggedy appearance of late borders is to use considerable evergreens: i.e. boxwoods, hollies, conifers etc. As herbaceous things fall victim to pest and pestilence and, ultimately, frost, then the evergreens jump forth and lend some sense of structure to what otherwise would be that jumble of stalks and stems and decaying leafage amongst patches of bare ground.
This kind of result isn’t something that is easily achieved. Admittedly, it takes years to get it right, if you ever do. But every move in the right direction is progress, even though in some bad years there will be two moves in the other direction.
Editor’s note: Jimmy Williams is production superintendent at The Paris Post-Intelligencer, where he also writes this column.
Published in The Messenger 11.10.09
Jimmy Williams, The Garden Path