It is so cold and windy today that I couldn’t get an in-focus picture of the pineapple sage (Salvia elegans) in my front bed. Here it is Oct. 9, and this plant is finally starting to bloom. Pineapple sage is a fall bloomer, but this one took a very long time to show any color. I’m not sure why, except that the start I planted last May or early June came from a supplier whose plants all took a long time to get going in the garden. (A tomato from the same company never did ripen fruit on the vine, though I have a few tomatoes ripening on the kitchen counter now.) Searching the internet for the name on the plant label, it comes up with nothing. Clearly, the label is just that–a label for plants grown by a mystery company. Several garden center owners have told me that many plants travel long distances in the spring, so it may be that my pineapple sage grew up down south and just couldn’t take it when it got to Minnesota. It’s a good reason to buy from local sources so you know where the plants were started.
Pineapple sage is a lovely plant. It’s a zone 8 perennial, but many people grow it as an annual in northern climates. The leaves have a rich, pineapple aroma, and some people make a tea with them. The bright red, trumpet-shaped flowers attract hummingbirds, though not on a day like today. It is said to take-root easily from a cutting, so I may try to overwinter some in my house and try again next year.
I stole this fall decorating idea from an item I saw in the most recent Gardener’s Supply catalog. The catalog was selling a ceramic, pumpkin-shaped pot to display fall-blooming plants. Very cute, but why not use a real pumpkin? The pots start at $19.95 (not bad, considering how expensive pots are) but my three pumpkins each cost $3 at the Bridgewater Produce stand outside of Northfield. I’ve been wanting to add some grasses to the area near my wildflowers, so I bought this nice grass at Knechts. I picked up an inexpensive mum at the farmer’s market and dug up a pretty purple petunia from my front bed.
I cut the tops off the pumpkins and slashed a couple of cuts in the bottom for drainage, cleaned out the seeds, added a little potting soil, and pushed the plants into their new home. I’ll find a place for the grass and mum in my gardens in a few weeks, and the petunias will go in the compost pile. My only concern for the planters is that the pumpkins will rot and cause some damage to the roots of the plants. We’ll see. For even better fall decorating suggestions, consider taking a class at MSHS. There’s one tomorrow on Winning Combinations with Ornamental Grasses, taught by the U’s grass guru, Mary Meyer, and one this Saturday on Gourd Crafts for Kids, taught by Marty Bergland of Heirloom House MN. The grass class is at the Bachman’s store on Lyndale Avenue and the gourd class is at Nathes 101 Market in Otsego.
Recently, I’ve read several garden writers rant against morning glories. These annual vines are easy to grow–and grow and grow. They reseed spectacularly, especially the popular old-fashioned variety called Grandpa Otts. It’s the purple one in the first picture. This variety essentially started Seed Savers Exchange, an Iowa supplier of heirloom seeds. I planted Grandpa Otts once about six years ago, and I admit, he has become something of a weed in my front garden bed. About halfway through this past August, Grandpa had a stranglehold on my phlox, a pineapple sage, and an old-fashioned rose, and it took some tugging to get him off.
But this is a defense of morning glories. Despite their tendency to spread and reseed, I love morning glories. First, they are climbers, so they help bring height to the garden, as long as you give them something to climb. They’re pretty, too. They come in lots of colors and they bloom from about mid-July through the first killer frost. On cloudy days, like today, the flowers bloom all day rather than just in the morning. I even like the big, heart-shaped leaves that can cover a wall or climbing apparatus. The tubular shaped flower attracts hummingbirds and other pollinators as well. Just yesterday, I saw an amazing creature buzzing in and out of the morning glories, its wings a blur. At first, I thought it was a hummingbird, but it seemed like one brave bird to be gathering nectar with me and my dog, Lily, only a few feet away. A little research showed that it probably is a hummingbird moth. Still a fascinating sight.
This year, I planted Heavenly Blue morning glory (right) near a tall wrought iron ornament in the front bed. The moonflower I planted with it for night effect died but the morning glory now covers the ornament, which is five feet tall. In the morning, when I get the paper, it’s covered with light blue flowers–with a few dark purple Grandpa Otts in there, too. It sounds hokey, but it’s a cheerful plant, the kind I’m happy to have in my garden.
Today I picked this bucket of raspberries from the small patch we have in our back yard. Raspberries are incredibly easy to grow, and unless you have a very small yard, they are a great use of garden space. I planted these last year in a 4-by-16 foot raised bed. I put in six plants and they have filled the bed already.
These are mostly a variety called ‘Caroline’, a huge, red berry with a nice sweet-tart taste. I also have some ‘Anne’ berries, which is a yellow variety, also large and sweet. The raspberries perform well in the raised bed, but I neglected (or was too lazy) to put in a trellis or other system to keep the raspberry canes upright. Picking is tricky because I have to lift the cane up to see how many berries are there, then hold it up while I pick. Not great for the back. So, my fall building project is to construct a post-and-wire system for training the berries.
Last year I cut all the canes to the ground to encourage spreading. This year, I’ll prune the top third of some of stronger canes. Those canes are supposed to bear a crop in July. New canes that grow up next spring will bear in the fall. The best thing about fall raspberries is how long they will produce fruit. Most will bear well into October. A vendor who sells berries at the Northfield Farmer’s Market told me she’s picked berries as late as the first week of November. Let’s hope for a long fall!
Normally these asters are my favorite fall flower. When they were planted eight years ago, I did not know much about perennials. I got the asters along with a couple of dozen other perennials at an end of season closeout. The next year, I watched the plant all summer thinking, “When is that darn thing going to do something? Is it a flower or a weed?” Then, one September day, I looked out the window and “Wow,” the color was amazing.
Now, it’s looking wimpy. It definitely has a fungus. I could spray, but I try not to use a lot of fungicides in the yard, so I’m going to take the low-tech approach. As soon as it finishes blooming, I’ll cut down the foliage completely, and throw it away in the garbage–not the compost. Because the plant was looking sickly, I consulted my perennial Bible, Growing Perennials in Cold Climates by Mike Heger and John Whitman. Mike is a contributor to Northern Gardener and also owner of Ambergate Gardens in Victoria, MN.
Mike and John recommend dividing asters every year or two. Mine have never been divided. So after I finish cutting them back, I’ll probably divide the crown and move it to the plant holding bed I’m setting up in the backyard. Plants sometimes benefit from moving around, so I’m going to move the asters to a different location in the garden next spring. We’ll see if that perks up their bloom.
It’s September, so every garden I know of is bursting with Clara Curtis daisies. These pretty fall bloomers are a member of what was once the chrysanthemum family. (It’s been broken up by plant scientists and classifiers, and these are in the Dendranthema genus now.) Whatever their scientific name, these hardy mums are incredibly easy to grow. They also spread. About four years ago, I bought one plant. I now have Clara Curtis daisies in four flower beds. I can’t bear to get rid of them because just when other parts of the garden start to look droopy, these guys burst into their pink and yellow glory. Many of the catalogs and plant web sites will say Clara Curtis daisies bloom from June on, but not around here. They always wait until September.
Market gardeners amaze me with their ability to grow melons. This is the first year I’ve grown a watermelon to eating size. I only got one off the plant–but hey, it tasted good. I harvested it a hair early because of the critter situation in my yard, but it was ripe and juicy. It was a Sugar Baby melon that I bought as a seedling at Frattalone’s Ace Hardware in Shoreview. My mom and I buy plants there every year and they usually perform well.