Sunday, September 8, 2013

Around the Garden: Is it Fall Yet?

Tiny White wood asters abound

The huge, floppy Rose mallow

We are in that in-between state, when meteorologists call it fall, but the calendar and the astronomers still call it summer. (And we don’t care much what the astrologers think.) Late summer’s bounty can be measured in many ways: the glossy heft of the eggplants, which fit snug in one’s hand like a football, the flagrant fruiting of the cherry tomatoes, and of course, the rampancy of the weeds. But the end of summer brings some miraculous flowering, too.
The tropical-looking Franklinia flower

White wood asters, a relative of the sunflower, have suddenly exploded throughout the garden -- not one of them planted by the hand of man. The dinner-plate-sized Rose mallow (Hibiscus moscheutos) unfurls like a sailboat’s billowing jib. And this year, at least, the Franklinia tree (right) has decided to offer up more than one jewel-like flower at a time. The bumblebees are ecstatic.

A single delicious fig
After several years of watering, fertilizing, and occasional pruning, the Brown Turkey fig tree has produced 6 figs. The squirrels and I will go mano-a-mano over them, you can be sure. Less appetizing to a northern squirrel, the potted lemon trees are producing shiny green lemons at a dizzying rate.

For the first time in years, we’re seeing more than one small snake in the garden – maybe a mother and son? They are harmless, but sudden, and shaky hands don’t make for good photos. Identification must wait.

Right on schedule, the Courant has called up the experts to ask whether fall color is early, late, something in between. It seems late to me, although my Japanese maple lost some of its ruddiness early in August. It’s one of the quirks of nature that green leaves turn red, while normally red leaves lose their color and turn drab in fall. (I know there’s a simple explanation, but, as with the formula to turn pink hydrangeas blue, the brain refuses to cooperate.)

Unlike me, the experts say fall is happening early – perhaps I need to venture into the scenic parts of the state. Certainly, Middletown has had less than its share of the bountiful rain over the past month. Even while admiring the accuracy of the weather radar map, one can’t help being discouraged to see storm cloud after storm cloud slipping by to our west without so much as a drop of rain. One drags out the hose – if one has planted delicate or expensive trees and shrubs – and risks running the well dry.

Up on the roof of the Community Health Center, it’s still summer, and the Middletown Garden Club and two groups from MARC have been harvesting the fruits of their labor. Five raised beds have been home to
strawberries, blueberries, three kinds of lettuce, kale, chard, sunflowers, nasturtiums, amaranth, marigolds, three varieties of tomato, green and purple string beans, cucumbers (well, actually, just one cuke so far), zucchini, summer squash, radishes, carrots, tarragon, sage, dill, fennel, rosemary, basil, tomatillos, grapes and peppers. Some alien-appearing winter squash have yet to make their identity clearly known.

The collaboration began early in May, with both seeds and plants donated by various groups and individuals. Succession planting has allowed the lettuce to be followed by carrots, the summer squash with winter squash and gourds. Next year, the groups hope to start their own seedlings, so that earlier planting can make the season more prolific.

Many thanks are owed to the Community Health Center for making this ideal site available, and providing helpful staff to coordinate. For the next few weeks, visitors may bring a bag lunch and view the gardens at noon on Fridays.


Unknown said...

I love my Rose Mallow! It has bloomed profusely winced I moved here 31 years ago. It is so strong! Moles, Japanese beetles have their fun but the Rose Mallow goes on producing dessert plate blooms. Cold, heavy snow, drought, no problem! Have I mentioned neglect? The only attention it receives is my admiring glance. BTW, it has gorgeous seed pods. I am sorry to say that does not self sow.

Tree Fanatic said...

I learned today that the Rose mallow is so popular that the Hibiscus sawfly is now becoming common in CT. Not much is known yet about its habits, but it is even more destructive than the Japanese beetle. Check the Ct Agricultural Experiment Station ( for more info if you see your leaves disappearing.

Anonymous said...

nice to know you have success with potted lemon trees. I just started one and my spouse joked that in 6 years we'll get one lemon. i'll show him!

Tree Fanatic said...

My successes have all been with small trees bought at Logee's or in Florida. The trees I've started from seed seem to take a long, long time. Most likely, growers have a freer hand with fertilizer than I do. One of the great things about growing your own lemons is knowing that it's safe to eat their grated peels, free of wax and chemicals.