The Garden Life: Mother Nature can be a creative garden assistant

By Robb Rosser, Columbian Gardening columnist

Published:

 
photoRobb Rosser

One key to creating a garden is thoughtful planning. Another key is the willingness to change your perspective. Both of these ideas work best when we allow Mother Nature to have an equal say in the results of our creation. This is why we might buy a certain plant, such as the paperbark maple (Acer griseum) for its brick red autumn leaf color and find, in time, that the autumn show does not live up to your expectations. You could accept the results of your planting plan and be satisfied with the tree's lovely exfoliating bark and attractive winter silhouette.

However, a little research would confirm that this tree requires a certain amount of full sunlight to take on the rich red-colored foliage you had hoped it would have. This is a typical scenario that every gardener experiences as a part of their

gardening life. Rather than thinking of it as a mistake, consider it one more step toward getting the garden exactly the way you want it to be. Is there another location in your garden where the paperbark maple would be able to flaunt its best qualities? What would you do in this situation?

I feel like my garden had an extended season of fall bloom this year with the addition of late-blooming aster Frikartii and Wonder of Staffa. To ground this new flush of color to the perennial border I added a variety of Belgian chrysanthemums, supposedly hardier than many of the mums I have lost over the years. "Pobo Red" is compact with a ruddy coloration, like the side of a weathered barn, highlighted with a golden eye that fits the season admirably.

I'm enjoying the strength of these low-profile perennials that help define the edge of herbaceous beds and borders. Cutting them back before their first flush of bloom helped keep them from growing tall and leggy. It also held their flowers production off until late summer. Many stand only 8 inches high and spread more than a foot wide. Rain and wind can have an awful effect on leggy fall perennials, but even when splayed out flat these shorter mums hold the shape of a tight pincushion plant.

Planting schedule

Here is a planting sequence that should give you five months of bloom from bulbs planted this fall. Remember that dates for bloom can vary in an exceptionally warm or frigid winter. The order in which these plants bloom will remain the same.

January: Snowdrop (Galanthus), winter aconite (Eranthis), glory of the snow (Chionodoxa), and the early crocus. The latter include C. tomasinianus, C. susianus and C. ancyrensis.

February: Early iris (Iris reticulata), angel's tears (Narcissus triandrus), petticoat daffodil (Narcissus bulbocodium), miniature daffodils (Narcissus asturiensis and N minimus), snowflake (Leucojum vernum), species tulips (Tulipa kaufmanniana, T. griegii) and early daffodils such as Peeping Tom, February Gold and Tete-a-tete.

March: Dutch crocus (Crocus vernus), early tulips (look for cultivars labeled early single and early double); grape hyacinth (Muscari), squill (Scilla) and windflower (Anemone blanda).

April: Trumpet daffodils (Narcissus), checkered lily (Fritillaria meleagris), hyacinth (H. orinetalis), midseason tulips (Triumph and Mendel are examples) and Dutch Iris (Iris xiphium hybrids).

May: Crown imperial (Fritillaria imperialis), daffodil garlic (Allium neapolitanum), Persian buttercup (Ranunculus), poppy anemone (Anemone coronaria), and the late tulips such as Darwin, Parrot and Cottage tulips.

Great grasses

Autumn is one of the best times of year to determine where you want to plant ornamental grasses in your garden. It's also an excellent time to choose varieties for their fall stem color. Grasses are playing a larger role in many Northwest gardens for their year-round beauty. In my opinion, fall is when they truly come into their own. Plant them where the setting sun will light the colored stems and wispy flower heads from behind.

You can plant ornamental grasses at any time in locations with moderate winter weather. If you live in an area with very cold and wet winter microclimates, I recommend waiting until spring to add these grasses to your garden. Instead, make a list of your favorite grasses but wait until spring to buy and plant them in the garden. In my personal experience, unless planted in very early fall, grasses have a hard time setting good root growth by winter and often fail to thrive when spring returns.