The pears and apples are dropping by the bushel, and the flowers are so thick that one doesn’t know where to turn. But this column is about gardens, so I will stick with the flowers. Fill your vases. Fall is a great time to bring your garden indoors.
Rough summer storms have driven your zinnias and leggy cosmos down to the ground. Pick them! Velvety celosia is starting to fade. But it lasts forever in a vase, and can be dried for winter – display some and hang some upside down in a dark closet.
Annuals should be grown for cutting purposes and to fill your landscape with pops of color. Particularly beautiful this month is amaranth with its many varieties, from long upright spires to strings that droop down from a vase. They can be dried; they can even be eaten. The leaves can sauté like spinach and their seeds are a healthy grain, though I’ve never tried to harvest them. Birds will collectively feast on the large seed heads once they open. Lion’s Tail is another stunner, with orange blooms and evergreen leaves. Basils are not just for pesto – many like Cinnamon and Oriental Breeze can add beauty to arrangements for their leaf color and scent. Gomphrena also takes my heart with its pink lollipop heads that bob back and forth in arrangements. It can also be dried.
And dahlias, ooh how we love you so. They don’t last more than a week in vases (use a floral preservative or make your own – a mixture of vinegar or bleach, sugar, and lemon juice works well). Try Café Au Lait for its size and perfect creamy white glow or Romeo or Juliet for their black leaves and red and pink heads. I treat my dahlias as annuals. Without a cool, dry basement, digging them up to overwinter has not worked. This year I am giving the tubers another go by placing them in sawdust in the barn.
Perennials should be the bedrock within your landscape, and now is a good time to harvest them as well. Fall contenders that can last for two weeks in vases include the chrysanthemums, salvias, spirea for pink spikes, sunflowers for golden glow, and sedums for their rosy haze. Use Rudbeckia and Monarda for the dark seed heads, and asters, especially the Tataricus. Miscanthus and Pennisetum “Feather Top” grasses are great for height. Two of my neighbors have fun making arrangements that last forever with red Chinese Lanterns and green Hairy Balls (yes, a plant!)
Can I suggest taking a bucket of your cut flowers to Middleburg Floral Gallery? Gerry Chittick has been at the helm for more than 30 years and now has Adina Proffitt as her cheerful horticulture sidekick. Together they make magic, turning wild blooms into beautiful displays. I carved three green pumpkins and took them over along with a bushel of flowers harvested that morning, bugs and all. Within minutes, the ladies were trimming the leaves and popping the stems in hot water, their trick to stimulate the plants to drink. The next day the pumpkins were stunning Cinderellas, filled with my flowers.
If you don’t grow flowers, there are great flower farms in the area that also offer a la carte. Firefly Flower Farm in Bluemont has a fun flower bar where visitor’s can pick and choose by the stem. Fields of Flowers in Purcellville is pick your own (my favorite method) and also family-run.
Soon your blooms will fade. When they do, keep the wildness. Don’t chop everything to the ground. Gardens should stay with you through their seasons. Your perennials will lend skeletal winter structure. The bugs and wildlife appreciate it. Cut back with abandon early next spring. Dutch garden designer Piet Ouldolf’s enlightening film “Five Seasons” shows his team mowing the beds down
Of course a little housekeeping is always in order. Clean up by removing any unwanted invaders like celosia growing in your pepper patch. Mulch everything. Collect seeds. Divide your plants. Plant bulbs for next year. In a few weeks, pull some of your dried flowers out of the closet to display or turn into wreaths as the air finally turns cold.
Story and photos by Ashley Bommer Singh
This article first appeared in the October issue.