Tuesday, November 1, 2016

So Long, Dry October; November, Please Send Rain!

We've just come out of an exceptionally dry October.  October is typically one of our driest months, but 2016 took things a little too far.  Many places in our area got zero rain for the entire month.  I can't recall if we had any rain nearer the beginning of the month, but if we did, it wasn't much.

I usually feel a little weird complaining about drought, because there are other places that have it worse, but this time I'm complaining anyway! ;o)  We need rain, but there's only the slimmest of prospects in the forecast.  At least the unusually high temperatures are expected to inch down this week.  Drought and highs consistently in the mid-to-upper 80s is just too much for what is supposed to be blissful autumn.

...That's what it comes down to, really-- Mother Nature's pulled a seasonal bait and switch!  I'm starting to feel cheated of autumn.  All summer, I look forward to October as a Golden Month, when the fever of summer has finally broken and cooler weather sets in.  This year, October didn't bring the anticipated level of relief.  The low humidity is nice, sure, but it doesn't feel truly autumnal, yet.

Oh well, I guess that's enough whining for one blog post.  I'll just add that I've delayed autumn planting, because I'm having enough trouble keeping the existing plantings watered and alive.  If my prayers are answered, November will bring rain, and then I'll be able to start planting things currently waiting (impatiently!) in the patio-nursery.

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Autumn doesn't bring as much colorful foliage, this far south, but there are a few leaves that change color.  Crepe myrtles sometimes provide a show.  (I haven't noticed any yet, this year.  Not sure if that's typical or if the color change may be delayed by the warm weather.)  Though an invasive pest, the Chinese tallow tree (a.k.a. popcorn tree) can be beautiful in fall.

This morning, I noticed that there are some orange and gold highlights in the white-flowered loropetalum.

White Loropetalum - Autumn Foliage

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I'd like to add more grasses to the garden, so I'm trying to find some that will do well in our climate (and be well-adapted to my garden's particular circumstances).

It's not as easy as I would've expected to find healthy-looking, interesting grasses locally-- and they can be pricey-- so I'm also looking specifically for some I might be able to start from seed.  (The downside to that plan is that those grasses might also tend to be aggressive self-sowers.)

One of the potted plants waiting out the drought is this grass-- Miscanthus sinesis 'Adagio'.  (No photo of the whole plant-- just some of the seedheads.)

Miscanthus 'Adagio'

I've been very pleased with the performance of the two Japanese sedges in the garden-- 'Evergold' (pictured below) and 'Everillo'.  It could be interesting to add another variety, but so far, all I ever see locally is 'Everillo'.  (Incidentally, 'Everillo' is by far the less interesting of the two I'm growing.  Its bright chartreuse color has darkened to a less interesting medium green.  Maybe it would lighten in a different intensity of sunlight.  'Evergold' has stayed strikingly variegated.)

Technically, Japanese sedge is not a grass, but to most of us, it looks like one and feels like one, and I think of it as an ornamental grass, even if it's not.  (So there, taxonomists!)

Carex oshimensis 'Evergold'

So far, I'm very pleased with the 'White Cloud' muhly grass.  It's still very small, but it should get to a better size in another year or two.

Muhly Grass 'White Cloud'

The pink muhly grass is of a decent size, now.  I'm not sure how long the inflorescence usually looks pink before it fades to tan, but this year, it seemed to fade very quickly.  Maybe it always does; maybe this was a result of the unseasonably hot, dry weather.

Pink Muhly Grass

(Most of what I've read online says that the color fades slowly in winter... I hope this early fading doesn't mean the plant is unhealthy.  Maybe I waited too long to water it, during this drought...)

Pink Muhly Grass

It's pretty even when it's tan, but I won't lie-- a longer-lasting pink would be even better.

Pink Muhly Grass

Well, time will tell... Maybe next year the color will last longer.

Pink Muhly Grass

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No sign of life from the in-ground Japanese shrub mint.  It could still re-emerge in spring, but I'm not holding my breath.  The ones in pots on the patio are still okay, though (knock on wood)!  They're even blooming.

Japanese Shrub Mint 'Golden Angel'

Japanese Shrub Mint 'Golden Angel'

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I'm not sure why fall is spiderweb season (apparently it has something to do with the timing of their life-cycles), but it definitely is.  There are webs all over the place, outside.  I don't mind them, so long as they're visible enough that I don't walk right into them.  Well, and so long as they aren't those BIG spiders.  I really don't want to walk into one of those.

Spider Web

I'm seeing the occasional banana spider, but more often "smiley face" spiders (a.k.a. crab spiders or jewel box spiders) and orchard orb-weavers, like the one below.

Orchard Orb-Weaver

There are only a handful of young leaves on the passionflower vines, but even so, Gulf fritillary caterpillars are still present!  (One of the Gulf fritillary butterflies landed on my hand-- and stayed a while-- as I was watering plants, this morning.)

Gulf Fritillary Caterpillars

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Curcuma elata was turning yellow with drooping stalks, so I cut it back to the ground.  I can't recall exactly when it "died back", last year, but I'm hopeful that it's normal for it to go dormant in late October-- especially since it was such a dry month.  It looked healthy enough until right before it started fading and drooping.  Most of the elephant ears have already gone dormant or are well on their way.

Curcuma 'Scarlet Fever' is lasting longer into the year, which makes sense, I guess, since it is so much slower to emerge in spring.  Even so, I don't think it will be long before it's ready to cut back, too.

Curcuma 'Scarlet Fever'

The Mexican bush sage is a little leggy-looking, but I can't bring myself to cut it back.  I doubt it would have time to grow enough to reflower before frost (?), and what's left of the flowers is still pretty (even if the "legs" aren't).  Besides, butterflies don't care if a plant gets leggy.

Mexican Bush Sage

The banana fuscata looks healthy and happy at the moment.  Most of the branches are lined with velvety little buds.

Banana Fuscata

I think I'll move the forsythia sage (Salvia madrensis) next year, assuming it comes back in spring.   I don't think it's getting enough sun where it is, because it's flopped to the point that it's lying on the ground... Well, the flowers are still pretty!

Forsythia Sage

Last year was better for the Salvia purpurea.  I'm not sure why.  Could be any number of reasons.  What blooms we have are the same beautiful magenta.  There just aren't as many of them (yet, at least), and the plants as a whole look kind of pathetic (which is why I'm only showing the flowers (g)).

Salvia Purpurea

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I have come to the conclusion that I am only a middling grower of succulents.  Part of the blame may go to this (usually) damp climate, but I probably bear a lot of it myself.  A few of the succulents are doing fairly well, at least.  I'll try to keep these few good ones going, but I don't think I'll bother adding any more to the garden (unless they're free or unbelievably cheap).


My favorite succulents are the rosette types.


They seem to do better for me, which is part of the appeal, but I also like the fact that they look like flowers.


The too-red rose has been blooming a fair bit, lately.  That plant knows how to perform under stress.

"NOID" Red Rose

There are also a smattering of blooms on the 'Joseph's Coat' rose.  By and large, though, I'm not encouraged by its appearance.  Lots of the canes look sickly.  I'll have to read more.  I know you're ideally not supposed to prune a climbing rose too severely for its first few years, but if it seems to be dying anyway, it might be worth cutting it back hard, anyway.

If it can't improve, I'll be taking it out and replacing it with something else.  While the flowers are lovely, there are easier-care plants that would look better for more of the year.

'Joseph's Coat' Rose

Below, a jumble.  Double pink Knock Out rose, Salvia purpurea, and volunteer cypress vine.  It looks a mess (ugh, must deadhead the roses), but I like the purple, pink, and red.

Autumn Pinks and Purples

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Black-eyed susan vine (Thunbergia elata) took its sweet time climbing anything, this summer, but it's finally done what I'd planned-- climbed up the two vertical supports I'd provided for it in a couple of places in the garden.

Black-Eyed Susan Vine

Black-Eyed Susan Vine

I'm not sure why the "eyes" of these two flowers are white instead of the usual black/dark purple.  I've noticed white-centered flowers before, but I'm unable to tell if they're all on the same vine, because they're growing in such a tangle.

Black-Eyed Susan Vine

Too bad the vines won't grow tall earlier in the summer.  It would make them more appealing, if they had a summer-long show.  Maybe they can, under different circumstances.

Black-Eyed Susan Vine

Black-Eyed Susan Vine

KO Rose and Black-Eyed Susan Vine

Double red Knock Out rose:

Double Red KO Rose

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The pincushion ginger (Hedychium thyrsiforme) bloomed for the first time, this year!

They're kind of strange-looking flowers.  Exotic, but not as showy as the pass-along butterfly ginger lily, really-- or at least, not as visible over a distance, since the flowers are smaller.  I think they don't smell nearly as much as the butterfly ginger, either.  The leaves are interesting, though, with a corrugated texture.

This is what the inflorescence looks like when the flowers have only partially opened:

Pincushion Ginger

In the background, you can see a pinecone-like inflorescence that has yet to begin blooming.

Pincushion Ginger

...And here's one that has been blooming longer, with the older spent flowers hanging from the bottom of the "cone".  (It may look a little messy, but that's just Nature's way. (g) At least, when the gardener's not willing to go pick off every brown part of a plant, that's what she tells herself.)

Pincushion Ginger

An interesting flower.  

Pincushion Ginger

Incidentally, the other ginger lily I was expecting to see bloom for the first time this year-- Hedychium 'Elizabeth'-- did bloom, a while back.  There were two "flower cones", and I did get a peek at the color.  However, the flowers were such pathetic things!  Embarrassingly puny.

This is another plant that I think needs more sun, so I plan to transplant it when it comes back in spring (apparently better for gingers than transplanting in autumn).  If I recall correctly, it might have been raining right when it started to flower, too, which I'm sure didn't help.

In any case, the flowers didn't look great, so I didn't bother taking photos.  Maybe next year they'll bloom better (unless they need another year to settle in after being moved around).  Rather than be disappointed by a sub-par show this year, I'm trying to see it as something to look forward to, since it's yet to bloom as it really ought to bloom.