Friday, October 05, 2007

Finally Fall

Aiken is blessed with a number of good nurseries that offer handsome, healthy plants for our fall planting. One of them, Woodlanders offers many unusual and sometimes rare perennials, vines, shrubs and trees. I stopped by the nursery the other day and saw at least a dozen plants I was dying to try. At the top of that list was a vine called Evergreen wisteria. If I’d heard just the common name, I’d probably have stomped the thing to death, since I have spent the last twenty years trying to get wisteria out of my yard and wouldn’t think of introducing another Wisteria. Fortunately, Woodlanders never leaves us with anything so common as a common name, and I found that this plant isn’t another evil cousin in the wisteria family, but a more mannerly Milletia reticulata.

This Milletia is a vine that has beautiful deep purple flowers that bloom about now on racemes that resemble those on Wisteria and leathery dark green compound leaves that stay on through the winter. It has twining stems that grow twelve to fifteen feet or more and needs good support. It also needs full sun and regular watering. It is hardy down to zero degrees.

I can’t find anybody with a bad thing to say about Milletia reticulata, though I think it’s good to remember that it is not native to this area, but to China, and that probably when people first planted Wisteria here they didn’t know how invasive it would become. In any case, it’s a beautiful plant for a late summer show.

Years ago when I visited a Spring sale at Woodlanders, I asked Robert McKintosh, one of the nursery’s founders, if he could just buy one plant, a perennial, not a tree or shrub, what would it be. He answered without hesitation, “Lobelia Cardinalis.”

Lobelia Cardinalis (wasn’t there an Italian movie star with that name?) or Cardinal flower, as it’s also called, grows in clumps one to three feet tall, with tubular flowers that are the reddest red in your flower bed.

It’s a plant native to North America from New Brunswick west to Minnesota, and south to central Florida and eastern Texas. It grows in moist meadows, bogs and stream banks, so it needs moist soil and will even tolerate flooding, but not drought, in full sun to partial shade. If you grow it in ordinary garden soil, keep it watered.

Among the best things about this flower is that it’s pollinated by the ruby-throated hummingbird, and I’m told they are attracted to it in droves.
If you end your spring or fall planting season with a garage full of empty black plastic nursery pots that look like they will outlive the planet, recycle them! Woodlanders asks us to put our recyclable pots inside the gate on Beaufort Street. Cold Creek Nursery and Palmetto Nursery will take them also.
Sam Stephens at Palmetto Nursery has snapdragons ready, as well as lettuce, cabbage, broccoli, collard, and onion plants. Pansies will be ready about the second week in October.