Saturday, September 18, 2010

Late summer flowers

After the previous post, here's something lighter ....

My gardens are rich in plants that flower in spring and early summer, while there are a lot fewer flowers in the middle and later part of the growing season. I should have changed this, but I'm ultra-conservative in my gardening - if an existing plant is healthy and produces lots of flowers, I hate the idea of removing it just to put in something different.

Still, the later summer is not completely devoid of flowers and other interesting features. Here are a few:

In spite of its name, the Blackberry lily (Belamcanda chinensis) is closely related to irises rather than lilies. Its foliage consists of a fan-shaped pattern of long, straplike, pointed leaves, just like an iris, but the flowers look more like small orange lilies (hence the name). It's not a very showy plant, but I think it looks nice in a modest sort of way.

These flowered unusually early.

The small but colorful flowers only last for a single day, much like those of a Hemerocallis or daylily. Again like a daylily, a single plant will usually produce at least several days' worth of flowers.

Why is it called a blackberry lily? To understand this, you have to wait a little while until the seed pods start to burst open and reveal the clumps of seeds:

Each clump of small, round, black, shiny seeds looks remarkably similar to a blackberry. The resemblance is an illusion - each seed is separate, and they are hard and inedible. They do look pretty, though.

The blackberry lily is native to parts of China, and was brought to the US as an ornamental garden plant. One of the first people to grow them in the USA was supposedly Thomas Jefferson. This is especially significant because all of the blackberry lilies in my gardens are descended from a few seeds that my mother got at Monticello (where they are still grown in the gardens) about 12 years ago. The plant is a prolific self-seeder, and now grows in a number of different parts of the garden.

"Autumn joy" sedum is an extremely common, extremely hardy plant that flowers from late summer through late autumn. It is also a magnet for a variety of different insects. It started to attract bumblebees before the flowers were property opened:

Once the flowers open completely, they are a reddish-pink color.
As time goes on, they gradually turn more of a brick-red color, and then turn to a reddish brown as they go to seed later in the autumn. They last that way throughout the whole winter.

The Chinese lantern plant (Physalis alkekengi) has small greenish flowers that are difficult to see, but in late summer it develops bright orange coverings over its fruits - sort of a like a loose, natural "wrapping paper". These really stand out and make the plant worthwhile for adding color to the garden.
The plant's other outstanding feature is its ability to spread through underground runners and pop up in completely different places each year. It's actually pretty "weedy", and it would get pulled out quickly if it weren't for the nice orange "lanterns".

Some of the color in the gardens this time of year does not come from deliberately planted garden plants. This is the time of year when the goldenrods (members of the genus Solidago)
are in bloom. These are either weeds or wildflowers depending on one's perspective. Some people associate them with hay fever and allergies, but in fact they don't cause allergies. They just happen to bloom at the same time as ragweed, which does cause allergies, but has very inconspicuous flowers. For hundreds of years, people have been hit with allergies at the same time of the year that goldenrod has been the most obvious, colorful wildflower in bloom, so people naturally associated goldenrod with the allergies.

Falsely accused

There are lots of species of goldenrod, and I'm not enough of an expert to tell the difference between most of them.
One of the "golden rods" close up

Finally, in the category of "not especially pretty, but interesting", I put some of the grasses that pop up in the gardens. A lot of the weeds in my garden are grasses, and these fall into 2 categories. First, there are the usual grasses - the lawn grass encroaching into the flower beds, and the usual crabgrass. Second, there are the types of grasses that you don't see as often in a suburban yard. I suspect that most of these come from the field right behind out house, where they used to graze sheep and cattle but now let the grass grow and cut and bale it it twice each summer for hay.


Clio Bluestocking said...

Very pretty! There must be something very satisfying in having a garden, especially with the pretty changes always going on in it.

LOVE the red lanterns!

Daricia said...

really nice post. i'm glad you felt up to writing again.

Anonymous said...

Hi, very interesting post, greetings from Greece!