Garden Notes : No lovelier time on earth Martha's Vineyard
Agricultural Society Events
Saturday, the 8th, from 7:30 to 10 pm: the 15th annual Barn Raisers' Ball at the Agricultural Hall, with the great Johnny Hoy and the Bluefish providing the beat. Admission is free and the Agricultural Society invites all friends and supporters, and the general public. Please bring a dessert to share.
Wednesday, Nov. 12, at 7:30 pm: the annual MVAS members' meeting and election of officers and trustees. The agenda includes bylaw changes.
Sunday, Nov. 16: debut meeting of Homegrown, a vegetable gardeners' "meeting place," to be held at 3 pm on the third Sunday of each month, except for December. There is no fee for Homegrown, to which all vegetable gardeners are welcome but especially those starting their first gardens. It is intended as an exchange of ideas and know-how.
Photos by Susan Safford
The autumn garden
Right now is a fleeting moment on the great seasonal wheel. Vineyard residents so frequently speak of "glorious fall days" that it has become clichéd (but a nice one Islanders are privileged to utter.) As I watch richly colored leaves floating down under a peerless blue sky and checkering the still-lush lawn; the light low but piercing the thinned canopy in exhilarating, novel ways; the undergrowth a burnished cerise - all this is a mere moment in cyclical time. But when that moment crystallizes around me, I believe there is no time lovelier on earth.
Attempting to capture and amplify this moment is what intrigues me about the autumn garden. Foliage effects, a richer color palette, and near-horizontal sunlight, all unique to the season, are paramount elements in its creation. An ingredient essential to my enjoyment of the autumn garden is placement of plant material to achieve backlighting. The witch hazel (above right), Hamamelis virginiana, catches morning, midday, and afternoon light from various vantage points. At times it positively blazes with light, adding greatly to the appreciation of its pale spidery bloom and sparking the rich gold of its leaves.
Exciting autumn color is admittedly the primary, most noticeable thing when we speak of foliage effects. Today just one narrow window of our house frames a completely unplanned trio of intense reds: crimson Viburnum carlesii, oxblood Cornus kousa, and scarlet Japanese maple. But my eyes are also dazzled by the gloss and reflectivity of foliage due to the more horizontal angle of light. The least-bit smooth leaf surface of any tree or shrub becomes really shiny; and those we don't tend to think of as shiny, like forsythia and rhododendron, nonetheless reflect light in a newly lustrous way. The novel illumination makes me see much more and appreciate the leaf shapes and arrangements on the branch.
In my garden two glossy-leaved shrubs stand out in autumn with shimmering fine-textured foliage: the boxleaf honeysuckle, Lonicera nitida, and the abelia (Abelia x grandiflora 'Edward Goucher'). 'Edward Goucher' adds to its autumn interest with lilac flowers and the persistent coppery bracts that surround them.
Among well-known plants grown for their foliage, hostas may change their color entirely and become a focal point in a new way, turning an eye-catching tawny golden brown before finally collapsing after hard frost. Some of the epimediums and heucheras (alumroot) acquire bright autumn coloration beyond their already decorative leaves. Epimedium x versicolor 'Sulphureum' and E. perralchicum 'Frohnleiten' both color well in autumn. 'Dale's Strain,' a heuchera with marbled celadon foliage, sports red stems and occasional orange-to-cherry leaves as autumn progresses.
Quintessentially associated with autumn and the late garden, ornamental grasses come into their own when flowering. The many species, hybrids, and cultivars of Miscanthus and Pennisetum are well known, but there are hundreds more, many of them native and gorgeous. Most, but not all, grasses must be grown in open, well-lit positions to do well and these situations seem also to provide the best lighting to show off the seed heads.
In my woodland garden two grasses that do perform well in shade are northern sea oats (Chasmanthium latifolium), native to North America though not Martha's Vineyard, and frost grass, Spodiopogon sibiricus, from Asia (illustrated). They grow among sedges, fall-blooming anemones, heucheras, native asters, and epimediums. Many of the sedges, grass-like plants I have mentioned before, are well adapted to shaded sites and evolve subtle color changes in their foliage as autumn continues.
Each autumn garden has its own particular standouts, but even a brief overview like this is incomplete without mentioning several additional long-time stalwarts: annual Nicotiana sylvestris, garden mums, and fall-blooming anemones. N. sylvestris, the bold-textured woodland tobacco, usually self-sows if it has been planted in a congenial situation. The volunteers mature in August, punctuating the late garden with fresh focal points that bloom continuously until cut down by frost. Garden mums are taller and more graceful than their pot-grown nursery cousins. Beautifully colored are the new "dance" series, Dendranthema 'Rhumba,' 'Bolero,' and 'Samba.'
"Fall-blooming anemones" is a catch-all phrase for a group of species, hybrids, and cultivars, sometimes also known as Japanese anemones, to distinguish them from other ones that bloom in spring. If you are unfamiliar with them, be assured: almost any anemone will please. My garden contains hybrids pink 'Party Dress' and rose 'Pamina' in shade and a mauve pink colonizing species, possibly A. hupehensis, in sun. Anemones deserve the colloquial name, windflower, having wiry, tall stems that need no staking but allow the flowers to sway to the breeze, along with ornamental grasses.
Further inspiration can be found in the pages of a classic work on creating the autumn garden, "The Garden in Autumn" by Allen Lacy (Henry Holt & Co, 1990, 229 ppg.).