Season of Mists and Mellow Fruitfulness

Parfianka Pomegranate and Hidcote Lavender

The title of this post is from John Keats’ “To Autumn”.

I grew up on a wholesome diet of romantic English poetry. While mostly forgotten, a line or two often float up unbidden, and so aptly describe my own thoughts, I can do no more than salute the poet.

For a gardener, Spring and Summer is when all the action is – hectic, lengthening days, a near over-abundance of color, and in California especially, brilliant blue skies and intense sun. I enjoy Spring and Summer, but lately I find myself savoring the “mellowness” of Fall more and more.

The air crisp, like a perfectly ripe apple, the sunshine softer, as if through a veil. I especially enjoy the feeling of finally being able to put down my tools – the shovel, the sprayer, the pruner (at least until rose pruning after Christmas) and sacks of fertilizer. This is partly an illusion of course: there are still bulbs to be planted which have been over-ordered, which is par for the course.

This year, I ordered three varieties of fragrant daffodils – Bridal Crown, Geranium and Golden Dawn, fragrant Pink Splendor lilies, indescribable-colored Eye of the Tiger Dutch Irises, and since I’m all about California natives this year, two Brodiaea varieties Queen Fabiola and Californica Babylon. All from John Scheepers. These are going to be my last but one plants to go into the ground this year. I have some seeds to sow as well, mostly California natives again – California poppies, Baby Blue Eyes, Clarkias, from Swallowtail Seeds.

This Fall our fruit trees outdid themselves: our Izu persimmon, now in its second year in our garden, our Garden Delicious (yes, you read that right) apple, Parfianka pomegranate and Black Knight passion fruit all produced generous crops of flavorful fruit.

The Izu persimmon suffered last year from being underwatered and dropped all of its young fruit. This year, I carefully watered the still relatively small tree adequately resulting in perfect, large persimmons. We had to share part of the crop with squirrels/birds/fruit bats/some other nocturnal animal which took bites out of some of the especially delectable looking fruit before I draped the tree with bird netting.

The Black Knight passion fruit was a new addition this year from Raintree Nursery. It’s a Passiflora edulis cultivar with large, egg-shaped, smoky purple-colored fruit. It grew strongly in a 14 inch. pot and produced a lot of flowers, nearly all of which have grown into fruit. The fruit has the most enticing perfume, a mix of guava and mango, with a sweet-tart taste of mango and mandarin.

Black Knight Passionfruit

The Garden Delicious apple, which is a genetically dwarf apple, as opposed to grafted on dwarfing rootstock, is perfect for small home orchards. The fruit is quite small, not the most visually appealing, but quite perfect tasting – a satisfying crunch, a good blend of sweetness and tartness and excellent flavor.

And finally the pomegranate with the exotic moniker of Parfianka. She (well, it has to be a she) was planted from a pot to the ground and rewarded us with about 10 pomegranates. Deciding on the right time to harvest was a challenge; we finally plucked the fruit when we started seeing pomegranates in the farmers market. The fruit is good, and as with any pomegranate, the aftermath of getting the seeds out is rather bloody – we still need to learn how to elegantly manage that.

And so that’s the story of our “mellow fruitfulness”. I’m looking forward to more chilly evenings with mugs of steaming hot chocolate, day dreaming about how next year’s garden is going to be, while enjoying the respite from the work it all entails.

How about you?

Woman Proposes, Gardener Disposes

Yes, we have a gardener, more of a garden-clean-up-and-lawn-mowing person really. Just easier to say “gardener”. Anyway, he is a serious-faced young man, who takes the cleaning up aspect of his job a little too seriously. Clearly, he didn’t think much of the Gaura lindheimeri ‘Whirling Butterflies’ I’d planted this year. They were unceremoniously pulled out and the roots dug out with a vengeance. He said, he “thought it was a weed”. Which would have been a perfectly satisfactory explanation had the actual weeds been given the same treatment. He is a lot more benevolent towards those!

The two gaura (purchased from here) were planted this year, having received rave reviews on the online forums. They were all right. The 1 inch wide white flowers on long leafless stems were pretty. My plants seemed to have produced considerably more foliage than flowers though. I was somewhat disappointed to have them plucked out, but which gardener does not secretly relish the thought of yet more and newer plants to try?

Back to Annie’s Annuals, where gift cards are being sold at 15% off through the end of November. Alas, the gift cards are the physical ones, not e-gift cards. I couldn’t wait for them to be processed and mailed and then place my plant order. I ordered a couple of Dianthus plumarius ‘Hercules’ to occupy the places of the ill-fated gauras. I hope these live longer. The others are a lovely Campanula persicifolia or peach-leaved campanula, ‘Telham Beauty’; my first campanula, to be placed into a tight spot soon to be vacated by a struggling lavender. I also ordered a Verbena bonariensis ‘Lollipop’ for a middle of the border position.

Still going strong in mid-November, blooms of Argyranthemum frutescens.
Argyranthemum frutescens still going strong in mid-November
Lovely colors and form

I have some lovely plants, profuse bloomers, very cheery e.g. red Marguerite Daisy or Argyranthemum frutescens I bought a couple springs ago from Home Depot. It flowers throughout the year, even in winter, and appreciates a good shearing and some compost and manure dug around it’s base after flowering. However, I don’t think the nectar or the pollen of this plant appeals to bees and butterflies; I never see them hovering over it. On the other hand, plants like the Aromatic Aster Symphyotrichum oblongifolium, another Annie’s Annuals purchase which has just finished blooming, always had a buzz of activity around it – a pleasure to watch.

Single blooms of Symphyotrichum oblongifolium, fall bloomer
Symphyotrichum oblongifolium, fall bloomer
Last few blooms of Symphyotrichum oblongifolium
Last few blooms loved by bees and butterflies

My garden is in the backyard and completely invisible from the front of the house; very few people actually see it. I feel little pressure to grow plants purely for GAAP – Generally Accepted Aesthetic Pleasure, and let my personal whims and fancies rule. Life in the form of the littler critters whizzing from flower to flower gives me indescribable joy. Declining bee populations are now common knowledge. Having the land and the means for new plants is impetus to grow those which provide the food these pollinators need. More and more of my purchases in recent times have been with this criterion in mind. Although, these plants usually flower for shorter periods than sterile plants and then quickly go to seed. That is an acceptable compromise.

The Last Passion

For those stopping by to read about a tragic romance – my apologies. Here, I am placing my bets on some very fruitful passion next year!

Recently, I made a solemn promise to myself and everyone I know who cares (and some who don’t) about my garden, that I would not be buying any more plants this year. Technically speaking, I have kept my promise: the plants I bought today are not going to be delivered until next spring.

I have been fascinated with passionflowers for some time now – they are the epitome of exotic, tropical flora. I suspect the “passion” in the name had something to do with it too! I imagined these flowers to be capable of igniting passion, until research revealed the more somber origin of the name. Nevertheless, I had to have some passionflowers in the garden, preferably with fragrant flowers and delicious fruit.

Earlier this year, I started a few seeds of passionflower (exact species forgotten or never specified). I did all that the online forums recommended: soaking them for days in fermenting orange juice. The rationale behind this approach is that in nature, the acidic pulp surrounding the seeds helps to soften the outer seed coat and facilitate germination. People noted that seeds from fresh passionfruit germinate readily since some of the pulp clings to the seeds. I have never seen passionfruit being sold in the produce sections of the groceries I frequent, so I had to rely on mail order seeds. Anyway, none of the seeds germinated and my domestic popularity ratings took a serious beating thanks to the bowl of rotting and frothing orange juice.

Passiflora 'Mission Dolores', from Far Out Flora
Passiflora ‘Mission Dolores’
Source: Far Out Flora
Leaves of Passiflora 'Mission Dolores' from Flickr
Leaves of Passiflora ‘Mission Dolores’
Source: Flickr

With the active gardening months now done and all the bulbs in the ground, I was feeling a sense of vacuum. I found the online store Grassy Knoll Exotics, based in Oregon, that specializes in Passiflora. They even have ‘Mission Dolores’, a rare and prized hybrid of Passiflora parritae and Passiflora antioquiensis, which not only has gorgeous flowers (see picture above) but also tasty fruit. This went in my cart, along with Passiflora edulis ‘Frederick’ which also produces good fruit without needing another plant to pollinate it. I hope to be able to provide a taste review on these by this time next year.

Passiflora Edulis 'Frederick'
Passiflora edulis ‘Frederick’
Source: Trade Winds Fruit

And with that, I really have to reign in my plant passion for the year!

Have you grown passionflowers? What has been your experience? What conditions do they thrive under?