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by Michael Kerkes, CPH, Co-Owner of Crazy Hill Garden & Botanical, published as the column “Ramblings of a Crazy Gardener” in the North Bay Review

September brings relief from the summer heat; the cooler nights and shorter days signal change to the natural world.

September 22nd is the Fall Equinox and also the tipping point when the leaves on trees start to change color and begin the process of falling. The fruit is ripe for the picking and our gardens begin to shut down and get ready for the winter.

There are some tasks to be done in the garden that can lead to fantastic results in the following year. I am going to list 5 of what I think are the most important fall tasks in your garden.

  1. Sit back and take a look at your garden. Take stock in what worked, what plants thrived and what you enjoyed. Take note of what plants did not thrive and what you did not enjoy. Now figure our how to make the changes to those things that did not work out so well. Make a check list, and move or remove the failing plants. Fall is the best time of the year to move (transplant) plants.

  2. Move, transplant and plant! Soon the rains will come and water your babies for you.

  3. Tend to the tenders. Fall is the time to figure out which of the tender plants you will need to bring in and which you will need to protect. The hardest decision of all is who will simply be allowed to perish.

  4. Clean the beds. Fall is a great time to thin and weed beds. I like to leave a lot of the cutting back for early spring. The spent flowers become seed heads and provide a winter snack for birds and other critters. The spent plants protect the crowns from frost, that is if you don’t mind looking at them.

  5. Make the additions. Now is the best time to plant trees, shrubs, perennials and spring bulbs (which is a whole topic unto itself – we’ll talk more about that in October)

Fall is an excellent time to visit your favorite local nurseries, as many will have perennial sales going on and they will be bringing in wonderful selections of trees and shrubs. Most importantly, have fun!

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by Michael Kerkes, CPH, Co-Owner of Crazy Hill Garden & Botanical, published as the column “Ramblings of a Crazy Gardener” in the North Bay Review

After this long, hot summer, some of usage looking forward to cool fall nights. The cooling weather and the shorter days bring on the brilliance of fall.

Fall color in leaves is intriguing, we all enjoy the kaleidoscope of changing colors but just what makes this happen? And The leaves on the trees are food factories, changing sunlight, water and carbon dioxide into car- bohydrates which is called photosynthesis.

The leaf is constructed of man cells that contain chlorophyll (the green pigment) which is the chemical the leaf uses to change sunlight into sugars and starch. Along with chlorophyll, the leaf contains other chemicals which create other colors. Yellow to orange pigments are created by carotenes and xanthophyll and reds are created by anthocyanin. These chemicals are present all year long but only become dominate when chlorophyll begins to exit the leaves in the fall.

Some trees that have beautiful fall color are:

Japanese Maples (Acer Palmatum). There are many shapes and sizes of these trees and they all do fantastic here in the Northwest. Stewartia pseudocamellia, a great tree with a beautiful growth habit. It is a summer bloomer with white Camellia-like flowers. Best of all, it has stunning fall color in fiery shades of red and orange. Parrotia persica. This tree is sure to impress in the fall with a brilliant show of golden yellow and orange.

There are some smaller trees and shrubs that give quite a dazzling show. Witch Hazel (Hamamelis), gives a fantastic fall show as well with a color-shifting display with brilliant reds, chartreuse, gold and orange. Once the color show is over this tree continues to stun with its ribbon like winter to spring blooms. My favorite variety is ‘Arnold Promise’. Fothergilla gardenii, there is nothing like this shrub for fall color. Bold reds, oranges and yellows all with a deep, rusty brown hue.

The best time to buy trees and shrubs for fall color is in the fall when you can see what each individual tree colors-up like. Trees and shrubs planted in the fall of the year also tend to take root better and become healthier and happier having all winter and spring to build a strong root system.

Most importantly, have fun and enjoy the changing seasons.

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by Michael Kerkes, CPH, Co-Owner of Crazy Hill Garden & Botanical, published as the column “Ramblings of a Crazy Gardener” in the North Bay Review

Your shade garden can be both a fantastic sanctuary and a great place to beat the heat. There are so many ways to create privacy and comfort, from plants to furniture. The most important thing about any sanctuary is that it be your happy place. It can be as simple as a hammock with a table for a cold drink or as carefully constructed as a full-on Zen garden. Whatever your choice, you can make a shady getaway that you enjoy spending time in.

Here are a few suggestions. Pick a spot with a tree or canopy that protects both you and your shade-loving plants from the sun. Watch how the sun travels across the summer sky and pay attention to the hot spots throughout the day. Morning sun provides gentle light and warmth whereas midday to afternoon sun is the most intense. Try to pick a location that has the least amount of afternoon sun.

Now that you have chosen your site, determine what kind of soil and water conditions you’ll be working with. Lush plants require generous water and good soil. If your chosen spot has poor soil or insufficient water, consider garden containers. “Pots” are much easier to maintain, yet they can still be very rewarding and give a lot of bang for your buck!

Here are a few fantastic plant choices for your oasis. For a tropical vibe there is nothing like the banana Ensete ventricosum ‘Maurelii’ – its gigantic, bronze-red leaves and striking red trunk will create jaw-dropping drama.

Clumping bamboo can provide shelter as well as screening from noise and sun. There are many types of clumping bamboo that are fantastic to work with and do not require barriers, such as Fargesia rufa ‘Dragon Head Bamboo’. This is a cold-hardy bamboo with a height of approximately 10’ of graceful, arching, peeling canes.

Fargesia robusta ‘Wenchuan’ is a larger, clumping bamboo reaching up to 15’ tall, with an open growth habit; it’s an amazing plant if you have the space. Neither of these bamboos will run so don’t worry about complaints from the neighbors!

Another wonderful tropical choice is Brugmansia ‘Angel’s Trumpet’, with downward facing blooms that are extremely fragrant in the late afternoon/early evening. And don’t forget the flowering maples, Abutilons, for an eye-popping tropical look. Hardy fuchsia and Hosta are “work horse” plants that will come back year after year in any shade garden.

Here are my top 3 favorites for a serene, shaded sanctuary:

  1. Fuchsia ‘Genii’: this erect, medium-sized shrub has handsome, small, golden leaves, and small to medium flowers that feature narrow, elegantly up-curved cerise sepals, a slender cerise tube, and reddish-purple petals.

  2. Fuchsia ‘Tom West’: a vigorous upright shrub with striking variegated foliage which reddens with sun exposure, and beautiful, elegant blooms in deep, dusky reddish-purple tones, from early summer to fall.

  3. Hosta ‘Drinking Gourd’: the deeply cupped and twisted leaves are nearly a foot around, blue-green in color and heavily corrugated. The near-white flowers are held just above the foliage and this Hosta is reputed to have good slug resistance.

Now that you have it made in the shade, enjoy and have fun!

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