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Tips for the Compleat Gardener: Breathtaking last acts


It is that time of year when casual acquaintances are likely to comment that things must be winding down now in the realm of gardening, asking about winter plans, and it is true.

The uncommitted gardener probably has some raggedy-looking annuals and few blooms and has turned thoughts to indoor decoration. The true gardener continues to delight in just emerging pleasures, often exposed while taking all those slug-eaten, done for the season specimens away.

Right now fall-blooming saffron crocus are popping up in rock gardens.

If you collect the stamens from 1,000 flowers you can accumulate a quater-ounce of saffron powder to season your rice.

Another crocus-like bloomer is the Colchicum, a tall, pale lavender bloom that sends up leaves in the spring for nourishment, blooming leafless in autumn. These can be purchased where spring-blooming bulbs are, garden centers and catalogs, and at this point you may find some good deals.

Certain seeded annuals are usually coming into their best show about now, particularly nasturtiums and calendula. This is a picture of a calendula opening in the October garden. A frost will take out the nasturtiums but the brilliant-hued calendulas will need more than that to discourage them.

Until the nasturtiums get zapped, try using the flowers and seeds, which look like succulent capers, in salads for their tangy twist, beautiful and nutritious. Calendula is used in skin lotions as a healing balm.

Roses are putting on a late season show even in neglected gardens. They seem to love the fringe of winter and don’t care if their leaves are bedraggled or spotty; they bloom with gusto into November as a rule.

Plan to prune them in late March.

Newly planted roses would prefer some kind of protection from winter winds such as a wire cage packed with straw or wrapped with burlap. Newly planted crape myrtles would also like a high winter mulching or even rose-like protection and wait to prune them until spring.

Asters are having a great year everywhere. I recently drove up north to Vermont and the roadsides were purple with wild asters. My own woodland areas are resplendent in the pale violet wild aster rampant under the walnut trees and persistent despite browsing herds. Wild white woodland asters can be found in almost any non-manicured wooded setting – rows of tiny daisies bedecking a variety of growth types from long and arching to upright and woody. Deer do tend to munch the cultivated varieties.

In the garden one of my personal favorite asters is the purple dome, which blooms in a compact, dark purple mass of flowers at a height of about one foot and it behaves itself while its more aggressive kin spread sideways and crowd out weaker perennials.

Behind that short, stocky plant tower the lavender torches of A.tartaricus. At 6 feet tall it belongs in the back of the border. One stem is large enough to be a small bouquet and it is invasive and tough to control while being an impressive late-season show, especially when planted with the late perennial sunflowers.

This is a great time to plant gardens and shrubs and great deals are generally available from garden centers anxious to change the décor to Christmas. Take the time to prepare the garden bed you want to plant by digging in mushroom soil or compost at least 12 inches and be sure to water the new specimens after planting even if the soil is wet.

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