Chesterton Tribune

October brings change to the garden

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October is for ..... a changing view from the kitchen window.

The axis of my garden is the 36-inch by 27-inch window above the sink from which I watch what’s going on in the yard throughout the changing seasons while I do the mundane tasks homemaking and cooking require. I’ve looked out this window for 30 years and it always amazes me how one day I will get a totally new idea about the garden I never thought of before.

This year it was ripping out the 12-foot-tall, multi-truck Rose of Sharon (hardy hibiscus) that had reached its mature six feet across and, well, looked pretty ugly. Rather than stand straight it arched over, casting way too much shade on the adjacent rose bed, attracting Japanese beetles like a magnet and dropping dead flowers over everything. This wasn’t a lovely, special hibiscus flower but a rather small, ordinary pink one. The decision was made: it’s outta here.

Fortunately, my husband is a retired operating engineer and with the right equipment he skillfully popped the whole tree out in one piece without disturbing anything around it. Immediately, the entire area opened up visually and from the kitchen window I could see the tree we had planted across the yard and the major new perennial area I’ve been developing for two years. Best of all, the roses would get improved air circulation, more sun and hopefully, less black spot than they usually develop.

Taking a good look around I realized many, many things were too crowded. In one area alone I had five plants in the space for just two. That was it. I embarked on a mission to thin out, divide, pitch or move anything that was in the wrong place. I’ve only just begun, and it’s a project that will continue into next year. That’s part of the reason sharp-eyed readers will note I did not write a September column, the first time I ever missed one.

I quickly saw my fervor to clean out and clear out was causing a problem: what would I do with the good plants I was taking out? Even if I wanted to keep some fragrant pink daylily ‘Barbara Mitchell,’ did I need the whole overgrown clump? Sharp-eyed readers of the Chesterton Tribune classifieds again may have noticed I had a plant sale last month. It rained and I didn’t make a lot of money, but it was a good exercise in how to do a sale and giving my surplus plants a good home was my real goal. Some people stopped just to look around.

I’m so glad this year we haven’t had a hard freeze yet because it gave my dahlias time to recover and bloom (albiet smaller than normal) after a big woodchuck that took up residence under our sun porch ate them (and many other plants). We paid the deposit and rented a large live trap from Chesterton Feed and Garden. They suggested we use lettuce as bait and within hours Woody, as I came to call him because he was becoming unnervingly tame, was caged.

Woody looked pretty helpless until he put up a good fight trying to get out. Woody now lives somewhere in the country, not within walking distance of Burns Harbor.

This is the perfect time to be planting trees. The International Society of Arboriculture recommends taking into consideration a tree’s mature height, width and overall shape before buying. Site selection is important, too, leaving plenty of room for the eventual canopy and the underground roots. Since most of a tree’s roots grow horizontally, the planting hole should be about three times as wide as the root ball but no deeper than the ball itself. For more information, visit

A friend let me borrow her $18.95 “Tree & Shrub Gardening for Illinois” by William Aldrich and Don Williamson published this year by Lone Pine Publishing International. It’s small but jam-packed with great information like the ginkgo tree sheds all its golden fall leaves in nearly one day. As for the Rose of Sharon, they recommend I should have pinched it when young to encourage bushiness or chose one strong stem, cut out the others and made a tree-form out of it. Now you tell me ....

It’s time to cut the hydrangea flower heads that have turned funky colors on their bushes to dry them for winter interest and Christmas decorations. It’s also fun to look really closely at the seed heads that are bursting on many flowers. I might even take a magnifying glass out or set the camera for extreme close-up and see what I can’t see with these aging eyes.

Remember when I accidentally broke a limb of a ‘Jade Plate White’ tree peony and cut off the soft tips, planting them with high hopes in soil and in water? None rooted, which likely is why tree peonies are so expensive to propogate and buy. But I did have great luck this year finally figuring out how to root the little daylily plantlets that sprout on some cultivars along the flower stalk after the blooms fade.

I broke the plantlets off, put them upright in a small, plastic bottle to support them with water just touching the base of the green leaves and roots formed on three different daylily varieties. At first I left the plantlets on their section of the stalk in the bottle; for the last ones I broke the plantlets away from the stalk and inserted just the plantlet upright in the bottle. Both worked, and I’ve begun planting the rooted babies in pots. But will they transition to soil and survive the winter? That’s the real test.

I also wonder if the stalk-generated plantlets will be identical to the parent plant? That’s a question I plan to ask Kevin Walek when he speaks Sunday, Nov. 7 in Merrillville at 1:30 p.m. at the Pruzin Center, 57th Avenue and Tyler Street in Merrillville. The meeting, sponsored our Hosta and Friends Garden Club, is free and open to the public. Kevin is current president of the American Hosta Society, co-authored the AHS “The Hosta Adventure,” and will talk on “How to know the hostas you want to grow.”

Kevin, a D.C.-area attorney by profession, was founder and president of the Northern Virginia Daylily Society and has a great interest in daylily propagation. He also wrote a chapter in Diana Grenfell’s “The Gardener’s Guide to Growing Daylilies”. In 1995 his own garden won a national Landscape Design Award, and until recently it was a national daylily display garden.

Besides all this, I once ate lunch with him at a hosta seminar and Kevin’s a really nice guy.

I stumbled on two fine new perennials this year and they’re both Zone 5 so they should survive. At Carol Wright’s Lilies of the Field plant nursery in LaPorte County I purchased a ‘Sonoran Sunset’ anise hyssop or agastache. The label said extended bloom time and they weren’t kidding. The 14-inch-tall, delicate blue-green foliage has been loaded with spikes of lavender-rose flowers. In fact, early this summer a branch broke off, I stripped the lower leaves, stuck it in the ground, it rooted and now is flowering.

The second plant came from The Planter’s Palette on Roosevelt Road in Winfield, Ill. I cannot begin to tell you how beautifully the plants and garden merchandise are displayed here, and their selection was impressive with a number of unusual plant cultivars and varieties new to me.

Among other things I chose a kalimeris yomena ‘Shogun’ or Japanese Aster. If the thing never flowered the variegated, cut-leaf green foliage is eye candy enough. It hasn’t reached its 18-inches by 20-inches at maturity, but the light lavender tiny daisy flowers starting last month are still plentiful. It was odd: as the flowers opened, the variegation faded somewhat.

Think we can push the first killing frost/freeze into November? Let’s click our gardening clogs three times and make a wish.


Posted 10/27/2004