Fall glory

  • By Sarah Jackson Herald Writer
  • Wednesday, September 26, 2007 5:13pm
  • LifeArlington

Fall is a dreaded time for many perennial gardeners.

After partying all summer like rock stars, many popular plants need not just tidying, but serious deadheading and eventually a good whack all the way back to the ground.

But for savvy gardeners like Tina Wilson, autumn is a time for joy, not hangovers.

“Many think the party’s over in the garden this time of year, but my plant selections prove otherwise,” said the master gardener who lives in rural Arlington. “Spring seems to be the season for flowering shade perennials.

“Summer and fall are times for sun lovers.”

Indeed, Wilson’s garden is alive with fall beauties.

You’ll find classic favorites such as Autumn Joy sedum with its rusty pink blush, bright yellow black-eyed Susans and asters sprinkled everywhere, contributing brilliant splashes of lilac, lavender and violet.

But you’ll also discover, walking her many crushed-gravel garden paths, unsung heroes such as lavender-hued hyssop, pale-yellow coreopsis and even creamy-blossomed hops.

Then there’s Lemon Queen helianthus, a perennial sunflower that positively pops in a bed once dominated by mid-summer bloomers.

Sure, Wilson’s favorite summer stars — daylilies, lavender, shasta daisies, geraniums, astilbe and clematis — have stopped blooming for the most part.

But somehow her nearly 1-acre garden doesn’t feel at all “done.”

That’s thanks, in part, to Wilson’s constant attention to deadheading and, in some cases, only partial cutting back.

While many gardeners take plants all the way back to the ground the minute they stop blooming, Wilson, who works as a part-time garden designer, approaches cleanup in stages.

Her shasta daisies, for example, were sporting black-brown seed heads and none of their characteristic white petals on a third and final visit from The Herald as part of a three-part series on growing perennials.

Instead of ending the plant’s season entirely with a dramatic take down, however, Wilson cut the perennial back only halfway, leaving the bright green leaves in place.

When frost hits or when the wet weather gets the best of the cheerful foliage, she’ll come back for a final cutting.

“This is deadheading for something kind of interesting,” she said, taking about 1 foot off the 3-foot plant, adding that gardeners shouldn’t wait until fall to start doing the tedious chore of tidying. “You can deadhead all summer.”

In fact, Wilson cuts back her burgeoning asters and Autumn Joy sedum in late June or early July, usually by about one-third or one-half. Doing so delays the blooms until fall and keeps the plants tidy and short so they don’t end up looking floppy and sad in September and October.

“It makes the size more manageable and you get a lot more blooms,” Wilson said. “You can just do the front if you want tall ones in the back.”

Another secret to Wilson’s late-season garden is structure.

First, there’s plant structure. Her collection of shrubs, trees, ornamental grasses and perennials with long-lasting foliage — daylilies, yarrow, hostas, heucheras, lamb’s ears and geranium — combine in a riot of shapes and textures, the perfect backdrop for her late-summer stars.

Second, Wilson’s garden boasts a wide range of wood, stone and metal structures, ranging from small pieces such as bird houses, metal grasshoppers and other folk art to large pieces including arbors, a fading white picket fence, a bench in a distant knoll and even a porch rail separating the garden from a quaint front porch.

Wilson’s husband, Larry, who works at Fluke in Everett, likes to read the newspaper outside amid the plants, bees, birds and, often, their dog, Jenny, cat, Cosmo, and the neighbors’ dog, Ginger.

“I like to go out and sit and look,” he said. “It doesn’t matter where I sit around here, the view is always wonderful.”

Larry Wilson, of course, is a major garden contributor. Over the past 15-plus years, he’s been in charge of mowing, building arbors and all kinds of other grunt work.

When his wife brought home two black lamp posts one day, he agreed to install them and wire them to the house so they could be turned on with a switch just inside the front door.

“Sometimes her inspiration is my perspiration,” he said. “Any time she needs a birthday present, I just go to a garden store and pick something out.”

Many of Larry Wilson’s gifts, ranging from planters to metalwork accents, have helped add structure to the garden.

“That’s the thing that’s so neat is that every one of these things has a story behind it,” he said, noting the picket fence, constructed in honor of his wife’s cousin, Gaye, who died of breast cancer. “It’s like the story of your life can be told through the garden.”

Reporter Sarah Jackson: 425-339-3037 or sjackson@heraldnet.com

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