August 8, 2010

Maine Gardener: A refreshing glance at late-season possibilities

For some people, the best of the gardening season is just arriving.


THINK NOW about fall crops.

THERE IS STILL time to plant beets, carrots, lettuce, chard and other plants to eat late in the season.

"Everyone does garden tours in spring and summer," Steve Palmer of Plainview Farms in North Yarmouth said while he was giving me a tour about a week ago. "But what would be really good is to have a tour in September or October."

Such a garden tour probably will not come to reality, but it would be an interesting change, filled with berries as well as flowers and seed heads waving on top of tall grasses.

Plainview Farms offers a series of well-labeled demonstration gardens, open to anyone to tour during business hours. As we walked, Palmer was drawn especially to plants just coming into bloom, the ones whose flowers will last well into fall.

Silphium perfoliatum, or compass plant, was just coming into bloom. It stood about 8 feet tall, with yellow daisy-like flowers that attract birds and butterflies. It is a native of the American prairie, and is a plant that would go well in the back of the border with a couple of layers of shorter plants in front of it.

Hydrangeas are hugely popular, and have been for more than a decade. They begin to bloom in July and hold their blooms until March, but the blossoms change color as the season moves into fall.

Plainview has a paniculata that I hadn't seen before called Unique. It has the tapered bloom of all the panicle hydrangeas, but the individual flower petals are larger, and it is supposed to be one of the hardiest.

The phlox paniculata were in full bloom during the walk, and that is another plant that Palmer enjoys.

"People say they get mildew, but look at these, they are fairly clean," he said. True, it has been a dry summer. And even if the plants do get mildew, it is perfectly easy to ignore. He particularly pointed to Bright Eyes, a variety that has light-pink blossoms with a bright-red eye in the center.

I'm a big fan of coreopsis, a plant that usually begins blooming in July, holds its blooms for several weeks and will bloom even longer if you are faithful in removing the spent blossoms.

Coreopsis Full Moon will bloom from mid-July all through August.

"It makes Moonbeam (a popular coreopsis) look like a shrimp," Palmer said. It grows close to 3 feet tall, and its blossoms were larger and brighter yellow than Moonbeam.

The asters were not in bloom during our walk, but Palmer is fond of them, both the New England asters (nova angliae) and the ones from New York (nova-belgii). In good years, these plants will continue blooming into November. They come in a variety of colors, from white and pink to blue.

One Palmer especially likes is aster turbinellis, which has lavendar blossoms that start in September and last well.

Heliopsis begins blooming in late July and continues a bit beyond August. One that looked especially good was Summer Nights, which has red stems and red highlights in the foliage to go along with bright golden flowers.

Echinacea and rudbeckia are the stars of the late-summer garden. A new introduction of rudbeckia, or black-eyed Susan, is Early Bird Gold, which has a free-flowering habit and stands out in the garden.

For echinacea, Palmer pointed out the green-petaled varieties, Green Envy and Green Jewel, which might not be to everyone's taste but are unusual.

Getting into the berries, Palmer especially likes the berries that form on false Solomon's seal. This year, the viburnums are forming excellent berries.

And we haven't even started talking about the grasses.

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