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Autumn Gardening

Standard Cyclopedia of Horticulture

Autumn-Gardening. There is wealth of material for spring, and summer-gardening; but to secure good garden effects in autumn requires mostly other material and a different intellectual conception of the problem. The common problems of the gardener in autumn grow out of two facts: First, the frost kills tender plants sooner than he desires; therefore he tries to save vegetables and flowers as lone as possible by protection and by choosing hardy kinds. Second, gardens tend to look unattractive and seedy in September, because this is nature's time for ripening fruits; therefore he desires fresh flowers. The popular demand is for fresh vegetables as lone as possible, color in the garden right into the teeth of winter, cut-flowers after frost, home grounds that will be attractive even after a summer's absence, and a note of welcome to the children in every school-yard. Also, there are enthusiasts who wish gardens devoted exclusively to autumn beauties.

Prolonging the vegetable-garden.

The ideal way to prolong the yield of fresh vegetables in late autumn is by means of greenhouse, hotbeds and coldframes. In frames, which are the cheapest, it is easy to have in November lettuce, spinach and radishes. The next best plan is to shelter the garden from cutting winds and frost by a windbreak, e.g., wall, fence, hedge, natural wood, or group of evergreens. Sheltered gardens often yield fresh vegetables two to six weeks after adjacent unsheltered gardens have been devastated by frost. It is also possible to prolong the season by raising late-growing varieties and by starting the ordinary kinds later in the year.

Freshening the flower-garden.

Parks and the grounds of wealthy people often rely chiefly on tender or temporary bedding plants, e.g., cannas, dahlias, scarlet sage, gladioli, geraniums and Pfitzer's torch-lily, for their largest masses of autumn color. This method gives the greatest show the first year, but is costly in the long run. Moreover, these plants are killed by frost, leaving gaps too large to fill. A grade higher is hardy bedding, which has become popular since 1900. The favorite plants are lone-blooming shrubs and perennials, e.g., Baby Rambler rose, garden and tree hydrangeas, Miss Lingard phlox, gaillardias, stokesia, Napoleon III pink, double ragged robin, Veronica longifolia var. subsessilis, Conoclinium (Eupalorium) coelestinum.

Unfortunately, the flowers of the two preceding lists do not really freshen the garden, because they are summer flowers or are being made so by the irresistible tendency to exploit earlier varieties of everything. As taste improves, there is a reaction against excessive use of long-blooming plants, and a desire has arisen for "season markers." Among the finer plants of this real autumn sort are Colchicum Parkinsonii, Crocus zonatus, C. speciosus, C. sativus, Crinum Powellii, Sternbergia lutea, Chrysanthemum uliginosum, gordonia, and the rarer plants to be mentioned hereafter. They are, however, plants of the skilled amateur.

For beginners, the favorite hardy autumn flowers include the following annuals or plants treated as such, —China asters, pansies (sown outdoors about May 10 in latitude of New York City), snapdragons, and cosmos; bulbs,—Colchicum autumnale; perennials,— sneezeweed, Helianthus orgyalis and //. Maximilianii, and pompon chrysanthemums.

Another way of providing fresh color in autumn is to make a second or June sowing of favorite annual flowers, e.g., sweet alyssum, candytuft, love-in-a-mist, common and pot-marigold, mignonette, nasturtium, phlox, California poppy, portulaca and zinnia. These usually fail in September from the April sowing. The June sowing will carry them beyond a hard frost, except nasturtium and portulaca.

Flowers after frost.

In early November, after frost had devastated the gardens in the neighborhood of Philadelphia, the following flowers were in condition at one of the largest nurseries of perennials. Only those are mentioned that gave decided masses, not mere dots or remnants of color: Aconitum columbianum, A. Fischeri, alyssum, antirrhinum, Aster grandiflorus, A. tataricus, Cimicifuga simplex, Napoleon III dianthus, Erigeron glabellus, gaillardias, gladioli, Helianthus Maximilianii, hunnemannia, kniphofias, pansies (sown in May), Miss Lingard phlox.

Nearly all the flowers in the two preceding lists are available for home decoration, although the quality may not be equal to that of early September. If long- stemmed, long-lasting flowers are needed in quantity, the most satisfactory, perhaps, are chrysanthemums, snapdragons, Miss Lingard phlox, gaillardias. To this list may be added delphiniums, Baby Rambler rose and Catananche caerulea.

Gardens based on the dominant color.

It is feasible to make a garden that changes its color every three or four weeks, based upon the idea that a garden may well reflect the dominant color in the landscape produced by the wild flowers of each season. Since yellow is the dominant color of autumn (witness the goldenrods, sunflowers and other composites) such gardens may be rich in sneezeweed and perennial sunflowers (especially Helianthus Maximilianii, H. orgyalis, and H. multiflorus var. plenus) since these are particularly appropriate to season and country. The following yellow flowers of summer may be prolonged into autumn by seed-picking, cutting back, fertilizing, and watering: Tufted pansies, snapdragons, Golden Glow rudbeckia, gaillardia, Iceland and horned poppies, Anthemis tinctoria and Lepachys columnaris.

Gardens of perennial asters.

The English make an exceedingly showy, yet artistic, garden based upon what they call "Michaelmas daisies" (asters), of which 137 species and varieties are catalogued by a single dealer. It consists of a double border devoted to the early kinds that bloom during the first three weeks of September; and a separate border for the October- and November-blooming species. The pictorial effect is improved by a definite color scheme, planting in drifts, and an ingenious system of training on hidden branches. This type of garden is of peculiar interest to Americans because the perennial asters are mostly American wild flowers, and it meets the general desire to grow a class of flowers which is too prolific for the ordinary garden. Owing to the notorious difficulties of identifying species of this genus, Americans find it more practicable to import collections than to assemble species from the wild. The true asters are generally supplemented by yellow flowers of other genera (e.g., Chrysopsis) in order to make the early garden a pink and yellow composition, while the later garden is devoted to purple, lavender and blue.

Woody plants for autumn bloom.

In larger gardens and on home grounds it is desirable to secure flowers by using more permanent materials, as woody plants. Unfortunately, the only tree that blooms in autumn (gordonia) has to be wrapped during winter in the North. The list of vines also is small, being confined to left-over blooms of trumpet creeper, Hall's honeysuckle, and panicled clematis.

The autumn-blooming shrubs, however, are excellent. Unluckily, the showiest of them all, Hydrangea paniculata var. grandiflora, is commonly used in such ways as to bring upon American yards the reproach of gaudine’s and vulgarity. It looks gross and over-fed compared with the slender grace of its prototype, H. paniculata, and its double flowers are artificial compared with the single ones. True, they last longer and give more for the money than any other flower of autumn, but such plants from their irresistible appeal to beginners, are planted in every yard and tend to make home grounds look too much alike and too common. The situation is aggravated by inartistic ways of using it, e.g., hedges from sidewalk to porch, great masses across the front of the house, borders of curving drives, and beds in the middle of the lawn. Again, it is pruned severely to make the largest trusses, which results in loss of height and dignity, and in top-heavy masses ill-concealed by supports. A better system of yard- decoration, is the use of informal shrubbery borders, since they give year-round interest and greater variety to yards.

To supplement the ubiquitous double hydrangea, the following may be recommended, subject to the limitations noted: Abelia chinensis, white, begins blooming in Georgia in June and is well covered in New England as late as September 30; Abelia grandiflora, pink, needs a winter covering of boughs North; Baccharis halimifolia. has tufts of showy pappus, like camel's-hair brushes, that look like white flowers; Buddleia variabilis, pink, is killed to the ground at New York but recovers and blooms freely; Caryopteris Mastacanthus, blue, behaves like buddleia; Hamamelis virginiana, yellow, not showy, but the last shrub to bloom; Hibiscus syriacus or althaea (only the single white variety here recommended); Hydrangea paniculata var. tardiva, which gives a fresh white after the double hydrangea has begun to assume its metallic colors; roses, hybrid teas, which are at their best on Long Island in early September; Vitex Agnus-Castus, lilac, hardy to New York.

A more artistic way of securing color.

Although the popular interest is in flowers, there is a far more important method of securing color,—by means of trees, shrubs and vines with brilliant autumn colors in foliage and fruit. This method is more artistic because more appropriate to the season, more permanent, and cheaper in the end. It is also more American, because we have more native shrubs than autumn flowers; because shrubbery is the only class of material (except water-lilies) in which we enjoy a climatic advantage over England; and because autumnal colors in America are more brilliant than those in western Europe.

For home decoration, cut sprays of multiflora rose, common barberry, bittersweet, and the like, are longer-stemmed and last longer than flowers. Those just named remain attractive all winter, even when shriveled.

Our climate naturally suggests flowers in spring, attractive foliage in summer, natural colors in autumn, and in winter the shrubs with brightly colored berries and twigs. The late season situation can be met by making 90 per cent of the planting consist of combinations of trees and shrubs with triple or quadruple attractions of flowers, foliage, autumn colors and fruit, e.g., Cornus alba and var. sibirica, C. Amomum, C. florida, and C. mas; Viburnum cassinoides, V. Lentago, V. prunifolium, V. Lantana, V. tomentosum, and V. americanum; Magnolia stellata, M. Soulangeana, M. glauca, M. acuminata, and M. tripetala; Herberts vulgaris and B. Thunbergii; Regel's privet and the best form of the Amoor River privet; Morrow's bush honeysuckle: prairie, multiflora, rugosa, and Wichuraiana roses and their sturdiest descendants; and the following vines: Euonymus radicans var. vegetus, trumpet creeper, wistaria, bittersweet, and the wild and panicled clematis.

Color harmony in autumn.

Sentimentalists aver that nature never produces discordant colors, although the famous poinciana of the tropics and the nemesias of the garden furnish a combination of magenta and scarlet in the same flower. A walk through a good arboretum in September will convince the unprejudiced observer that discords exist in flowers, fruit, and foliage. In practice, nine-tenths of the troublesome discords are produced by the magenta group of colors, including the strongest purples, crimson, lilac, and crimson-pink. The artistic way to handle these colors is to isolate them in nooks surrounded by green, or to put them in deep shade, where they are purified and softened, instead of allowing them in the open garden, where full sun makes them too strong and where they conflict with all other colors, except white and green. The list of "dangerous colors" includes the flowers of Japanese anemone, crimson-pink chrysanthemums and China asters (in all of which safer colors are available), the Anthony Waterer spirea, the sub- sessile veronica, Lespedeza Sieboldii and Clerodendron foetidum. Examples among fruits are Indian currant, callicarpa, burning-bush, strawberry-bush and several of the species of euonymus during the period when their highly colored capsules conflict with their scarlet arils. The purplish-twigged shrubs, e. g., Cornus alba, C. Amomum, C. stolonifera, and C. Purpusii (the last a species commonly but unwittingly distributed as C. Amomum), constitute an exception, since they are brilliant only in sunlight, and their color being dissipated, instead of massed, is less liable to produce discords.

In foliage, the colors bordering on magenta are so rare that they may be ignored in planning the home- grounds, although careful designers always consider autumnal colors. When discords occur they may be resolved usually by planting between the discordant trees or shrubs some plants that retain green foliage until late autumn. Wine- or claret-colored foliage, like that of the maple-leaved arrow-wood, or crimson, like that of Itea virginica, occasionally makes discords with nearby foliage of yellow or scarlet, but in the case of such small plants it is usually easier to remove one of the trouble-makers. The sweet-gum, however, often makes a large mass of very dark purple, which may seriously disagree with yellow-foliaged specimens, or with buildings of yellow or red, especially since it has come to be used as a street tree. In practice, however, flowers make less trouble than shrubs, and shrubs than trees, and discords may generally be abolished by moving the smaller plants. The commonest and greatest color difficulty in autumn foliage comes from over-planting the following class.

Scarlet foliage in autumn theoretically may be no more vivid than other colors, but it is popularly regarded as the climax of all the autumn colors. For example, persons who give little thought to planting for autumn effect buy the scarlet and Tartarian maples, the red variety of silver maple, and ask the nurserymen for "a sugar maple that is guaranteed to turn red." The aromatic, scarlet, smooth, and staghorn sumachs are in considerable demand. And, above all, the Japanese and common barberry are planted. At the entrance to public parks are often seen several hundred Japanese barberries planted in a bed for a blaze of autumn color. If disproportionately large, such masses of scarlet are perhaps only one grade higher than tender foliage plants. The brilliant reds commonly conflict with brick buildings and parti-colored houses of wood.

Deep red foliage in autumn is quieter, but rich enough. It is seen in the scarlet, pin, and red oaks, flowering dogwood, black choke-cherry, wild gooseberry (Ribes Cynosbati), and several native huckleberries and roses.

Bronze foliage is seen in most of the plants that become red, for they attain to it from green through many bronzy colors. But the richest bronzes generally are associated with thick, lustrous, persistent leaves. The most highly esteemed, because most costly, are the broad-leaved evergreens, e.g., the Hinodigiri and amoena azaleas, mahonias, leucothoes, Pieris floribunda and P. japonica, and galax. These assume their brightest colors in full sunshine and, at the northern limits of their cultivation, sometimes suffer a loss of foliage. In the higher latitudes it is often best to sacrifice color to hardiness, by sheltering the plants from winter winds and sunshine, in which case they usually retain a lively green. A cheaper list, because composed of semi-evergreen plants, comprises California privet, Hall's honeysuckle, Wichuraiana rose, sweet fern, and bayberry. These color poorly in some localities, but they are of special value in the latter half of November, when the landscape first becomes bare, except for evergreen and nearly evergreen plants.

Yellow and orange foliage in autumn is midway between the vivider and the quieter autumn colors, the former having an exciting, while the latter have a soothing, effect upon the mind. The yellow and orange group rises in vividness from pale yellow, through gold to orange, the three stages being exemplified by larch, witch-hazel, and persimmon. Here belong the striped maple, yellow-wood, Kentucky coffee tree, ironwood, Prunus pennsylvanica and P. serotina, cucumber tree, large-leaved magnolia, Crataegus punctata, yellow-root and sugar maple. The duller yellows merge with the next group.

Brown and neutral autumn foliage tones down the most brilliant colors and resolves nature's discords. Examples are the American and slippery elms, and perhaps even the brighter red and chestnut oaks.

Green foliage in autumn is even more valuable in harmonizing colors. It is well expressed in the evergreens and nearly evergreen plants. The sudden devastation of the landscape occasioned by the fall of the leaves (whence the Americanism "fall" as a synonym of autumn) excites fresh interest in all the plants that remain green. These are of three classes: (1) The broad-leaved evergreens constitute the most sumptuous class of hardy plants, because they often possess showy flowers or fruits in addition to broader and more lustrous leaves than the conifers. Of the fifty kinds that are hardy in the latitude of New York, the following have special autumn attractions: Osmanthus Aquifolium (flowers), mountain laurel (red twigs), American holly, climbing euonymus, fire thorn, Cotoneaster buxifolia and C. microphylla, partridge berry, and winter- green. In the South, the following have special attractions in autumn: English holly, Euonymus japonicus, ardisia, and nandina, all of which have red fruits, and pernettyas having fruits of various colors. Unfortunately, no plant of this class much exceeds 15 feet in height in the northeastern United States, and it is idle to hope for a 50-foot tree of this group, such as England possesses in the holm oak or ilex. (2) The narrow-leaved evergreen, or conifers, may lack showy flowers but they furnish more tall hardy plants than the broad-leaved evergreens. Their year-round uses are too numerous for mention here, but their autumnal functions are four,—(a) to harmonize discords; (6) to rest the eye from color; (c) to furnish contrast, which intensifies color; (d) to give greater dignity than showy colors possess. This dignity is due to the year-round beauty, longer life, and costliness of white and red pine, northern and Carolina hemlock, Nordmann and concolor fir, white and Douglas spruce, red cedar and arborvitae, as compared with cheap, showy and temporary deciduous trees like willows, poplars, silver maples, and the like. Even the Vermont sugar-bush which, in October, ,, is one of the most gorgeous spectacles, presents a finer ., appearance in the landscape when skirted by occasional white pines, which add greatly to the dignity and "paint- able quality" without obscuring its farm value or purposeful character. (3) The nearly evergreen or half- evergreen plants may be bare from one to three months, depending largely on latitude and season.

The plants that remain green until their leaves fall are mostly natives to western Europe, or to the warmer parts of China, Japan or Korea, and are usually associated with a moist and cloudy autumn. European examples are buckthorn, common privet, sea buckthorn, Cytisus capitatus and C. nigricans, Genista tinctoria, G. elata, G. pilosa and G. germanica. Far-eastern examples are California privet, matrimony vine, panicled clematis, Akebia quinata and A. lobata, Lonicera fragrantissima and L. Standishii, and Euonymus Hamiltonianus var. semipersistens. American examples are few, and Lonicera Ledebourii comes from California (climate like Europe), but the overcup oak and Leucothoe racemosa are eastern and southern plants. All these species were reported as being green at the Arnold Arboretum as late as November 8. The peculiar value of this class is as a substitute for broad-leaved evergreens. Unfortunately, the climate of the northeastern United States is not favorable to broad-leaved evergreens, compared with the South or Europe, and the lavish use of them requires a princely income. Consequently, some of these cheaper plants; e.g., California privet, Hall's honeysuckle, and Wichuraiana roses, are available even to the poor, while the whole list is of special interest to people who have summer homes.

Ornamental fruits of autumn.

The extraordinary beauty of shrubs with brightly colored berries was first publicly and sufficiently demonstrated in this country by the Arnold Arboretum. Compared with autumnal colors of foliage, the fruits present fewer, smaller, and more jewel-like masses. Amid the bewildering variety one may discern three groups.

First are the short-lived fruits, which drop soon after the killing frost, or present an unattractive appearance owing to decay. Here belong the vast majority of ornamental fruits, including crab apples, dozens of hawthorns. Viburnum Lantana. V. alnifolium, V. cassinoides, V. Sieboldii. The chief function of this class is to suggest the fecundity and variety of nature in autumn, but attractive thorneries have been designed, and the ornamental fruits of the Rosaceae are now used to connect the battle-scarred remnants of old orchards with modern ornamental planting, especially boundaries.

The second group comprises all the fruits that remain attractive until Christmas, e.g., the rugosa rose.

The third and most valuable group comprises those that remain attractive all winter, like the barberries. This and the second group are classified by color under Winter Gardening (Vol. VI.) Most persons are willing to sacrifice some degree of ornament in order to attract the birds. The following furnish food in autumn, when it is especially desirable to attract the migrants to the South: the flowering dogwood, red osier, and alternate-leaved dogwood, choke-cherry, black and sweet elder, arrow-wood, sassafras, kinnikinnick, crab-apple, hawthorn, fire- thorn, cotoneaster, buffalo berry, tupelo, and mountain ash.

Landscape forestry in autumn.

Private and public woodlands in the East are more beautiful than a decade ago, in spite of the destruction of magnificent chestnut trees, and this is true, although probably to a lesser extent, in other parts of the country. The sudden spread of the chestnut disease has brought cer.ain compensations. For example, the flowering dogwood, which was formerly kept down, has prospered mightily, making the woods showier both in May and September; and other vegetation changes are following.

There is arising a general interest in pleasure woods, as witness the term "landscape forestry," which was unknown ten years ago. We are beginning to make personal use of woods. Judged by English standards, American woods are too crowded by crooked and spindling trees for comfort, and the general lack of evergreens robs them of mystery and charm. Our most urgent needs, therefore, are thinning, drives, paths, and the restoration of evergreens, all of which are especially enjoyable during the autumn and nutting season. Mistaken zeal has denuded many woods of undergrowth, which should quickly be restored along drives and paths. To glorify the woods on dark autumnal days, it is well to use masses of witch hazel, the foliage of which furnishes one of the cheapest and quickest ways of getting great sheets of sunny color.

Unfortunately the eastern mountains have been devastated so often by fires and lumbermen that there is comparatively little variety, the chief masses of color being furnished by quick, short-lived species, like poplars, birch and balsam, which are mere weeds compared with the more enduring and valuable oaks and pines. Our greatest problems are the restoration of variety and of long-lived species. In such work the fashionable colonies in the Berkshire^ ought to take the lead, since the social season reaches its height at Lenox in September. The Arnold Arboretum presents one of the most artistic, and probably the most varied, autumn landscapes made by man.

The above text is from the Standard Cyclopedia of Horticulture. It may be out of date, but still contains valuable and interesting information which can be incorporated into the remainder of the article. Click on "Collapse" in the header to hide this text.

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