Sunday, October 19, 2014

This Week in the Fall Garden

Mid-October always makes me feel like I’m straddling the seasons. Leaves are changing and falling, birds are on the move and yet the last of the summer flowers are giving it their all. Those flowers know it is their last chance to make a few more seeds to continue the species. Let’s take a walk around and see what’s happening.

Symphyotrichum racemosum
Fallen leaves get tangled in aster stems, a lovely contrast of old and new. Who needs store-bought mums when this white aster (Symphyotrichum racemosum) is so full and alive? Unlike the non-native mums, this one offers pollen and nectar to still-visiting insects.

Symphyotrichum georgianum

Symphyotrichum concolor

Purple asters are still going. This Georgia aster (Symphyotrichum georgianum) that my friend Kim shared from her yard has been beautiful for weeks. The flowers seems especially large and prolific. Eastern silver aster (Symphyotrichum concolor) is just hitting its stride. 

Symphyotrichum patens with Symphyotrichum lateriflorum

Nearby two asters are tangled together: Symphyotrichum patens (late purple aster) and Symphyotrichum lateriflorum  (calico aster). Nature always knows how to make a beautiful arrangement. I found an aromatic aster (Symphyotrichum oblongifolium) that the deer forgot to eat - one bloom.

Solidago erecta

Solidago caesia

In my garden and on the roadside the goldenrods are still blooming, especially those that were mowed or munched on by deer. Here a bee enjoys a late flowering Solidago erecta. In the shady area of the garden, shade-tolerant bluestem goldenrod (Solidago caesia) is still in its prime and the bees are busy there too.

Seeds are puffing out from the earliest flowers. Yesterday I harvested several types of seeds to share with friends. I will store them in dry envelopes or in the fridge, depending what is best for each type of seed.

Puffy seed heads from plants in the Asteraceae family (like goldenrods and asters) will be stored dry. Of course, the envelopes need to be labeled properly while I can still remember what I picked!

Cotinus obovatus

Some leaves are changing color already, sometimes just a branch at a time. Winged sumac (Rhus copallinum) is one of the first to go. Sourwood (Oxydendrum arboreum) is starting too, but not all the trees go at once; we’ll have pinkish-purple leaves well into November on those.

American smoketree (Cotinus obovatus) is also changing and the clear yellow is like captured sunshine.

Salvia coccinea

The annual scarlet sage (Salvia coccinea) will keep blooming until frost. The cloudless sulphur butterflies take full advantage of that long bloom time and can be found fluttering around every afternoon.

This blooming stem seemed to highlight the color changes in the huckleberry (Gaylussacia) foliage behind it, reinforcing my feeling of having one foot in each season.

I think I’ll go sweep the driveway. The effort satisfies a need for order while giving me time to really look at what’s happening around me – before I lose that last bit of summer.


  1. Ellen, could you share the phonetics of the specific name of Salvia coccinea for me? I am trying "cock-ki-nay-a," but am not sure of this. Thanks.

  2. Here you go Joel: SAL-vee-uh kock-SIN-ee-uh
    And it comes from a wonderful resource:

  3. Ellen, love seeing your beautiful Georgia natives~especially the little ex-aster!

  4. Ellen, this is a wonderful blog filled with marvelous pics and great information. one of our volunteers has been following you for some time and we wonder if you take speaking engagements? We are planning a public program in April 2015 here in Pennsylvania and were looking for a native plant presenter. would you let us know what your requirements might be, please? thank you Susan Hyland