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Plenty of beauty in fall gardens

Plenty of beauty in fall gardens Plenty of beauty in fall gardens
By Ralph Purkhiser, Purdue University, Master Gardener

As late summer drifts toward autumn, we see a lot of changes in the gardens. We anticipate the season as a time of great beauty, particularly in the realm of foliage. However, there are other aspects of many plants that provide beauty and interest as the garden falls to sleep.

At Sandhill Gardens, I recently noticed this second season of interest in a sweet bay magnolia that grows along the sidewalk connecting the driveway to the house. Where there were sweet-scented cream-colored flowers a few weeks ago, I now see pods with red seeds bursting out.

The bright red seeds are eye-catching and, from afar, give the appearance of a second season of blooms. The seeds will eventually fall out leaving the pods, which may be collected for use in crafts.

Another tree exhibiting interest right now is the catalpa tree. Commonly known as the green bean tree or cigar tree, seed pods of 12 to 15 inches hang from the tree in clusters.

Many people find the catalpa to be a messy tree and avoid planting them, but I love the large leaves, the clusters of summer flowers and pods. Located at the edge of the garden, a catalpa not only provides visual interest, but offers food for birds in the form of catalpa worms.

Perhaps the most dramatic second show is from the seven-sons flower. Grown as a large shrub or pruned into a small tree, the plant provides clusters of late-summer blooms.

Once the blooms drop off, bright pink sepals remain. Many people have mistaken the sepals for a second round of flowers. However, the sepals last much longer than the flowers, hanging around until the leaves start to fall.

Many trees and shrubs provide late-season interest in the form of nuts and berries. Some of these are actually edible, but all of them provide interest and wildlife food.

I have several such plants at Sandhill Gardens, including several types of beautyberry. Actually, the berries may well be the primary season of interest here, as the flowers are rather small and plain.

The berries, which grow in clusters all along the arching stems, have a pearly sheen. The most common color for beautyberry is a bright purple, but I also have a couple with white berries and some with burgundy beads. I have heard of a pink-berried variety but have not found one for sale at this time.

Perhaps the most coveted berry of fall is that of bittersweet. The native vine was once quite common in fence rows, but habitat loss has made it a rare find.

Be wary of bittersweet plants being sold in garden centers. They may be of the oriental strain, which has become an invasive pest. If you want American bittersweet, be sure to buy it from a reputable native plant nursery.

Dogwoods of many cultivars offer drupes that are attractive and useful. Some, such as Cornelian cherry, are edible for humans. Even the raspberry-like drupes of oriental Koussa dogwoods may be used for jams and jellies.

Our native dogwoods, including the shrub types, produce drupes that are useful wildlife food sources.

Perhaps my personal favorite plant with a second season of interest is neither a tree nor a shrub, but a lowly herbaceous perennial. It is commonly known as the blackberry lily, but is actually an iris.

Delicate spotted orange flowers that close up at night will morph into a seed pod that has an uncanny resemblance to a plump blackberry. However, one would be sorely disappointed if he or she tried a taste of this berry. It is a great addition to dried fall bouquets.

Plants with a second season of interest are very valuable in the landscape. Consider adding some to your garden this fall planting season.

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