Tuesday, October 5, 2010

Plant of the Month: September 2010

The containers have been hauled away, the garden art removed, and the tools duct-taped and trucked off.  If the prospect of moving had been a mere germ of an idea, tucked safely away in the back of my mind (under the rug in a spare room there), having a garden empty of ornamentation and tools has made me think seriously about it.  Well, as seriously as the Last Frontier Gardener thinks about gardening and moving, which sadly isn’t very.

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With this new minimalist palette sans junk (see photo below for a visual of a bit of the junk packed off) I have, choosing a favorite for month number 9 should be simpler than usual.  No more being influenced by my favorite garden decor in the vicinity.  Scrolling through months past here, here, and here, I notice almost all of my choices for “favorite” are in the immediate vicinity of the rusty salmon.  Rather than think I’m shallow enough to be swayed by fish made of an old bathtub,  I’ll just content myself with thinking all my favorites have been repeated throughout the backyard therefore I can’t help but choose one near the three groups of fish.  There, that sounds better.

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Now that my conscience is assuaged, I can finally get to the point: the most useful plant for September in my garden.  For those further south (which is pretty much everybody, right?), September is sometimes known affectionately as “early winter” here in Alaska.  The plant palette is, how shall I put this…subdued.  Many plants touted to transform into bright reds or oranges freeze just as they are showing their beautiful color, become brown, and hang in the tree or shrub until the gale force fall winds take them.  And perennials, don’t get me started on “selections for autumn”.  Sedums do all right.  The salvias and veronicas are iffy.  I kill Asters by the score (including the orange one in my first photo), so don’t even think of recommending one to me.  If I had a dollar for every time I’ve planted ‘Alma Potschke’, I’d be able to bankroll a political candidate.  (No, not really, but I can’t help but have politics on the brain.  Every news website has ads for them, every street has signs for them, and every radio station projects their voices.  Thank heavens for democracy and the ol’ republic and all, but I am so sick of the political ads!  Some wise soul remarked they’d rather be governed by 300 people randomly chosen from the phone book, than by the choices we have now.  Amen brother!)

OK, now I am really getting to the point after a lengthy ramble.  For those that stuck it out, my choice for September is Alopecurus pratensis ‘Variegatus’, or golden foxtail grass.  And just to be difficult, you can also find this one under ‘Aureovariegatus’ or ‘Aureus’.  Locally this grass is unusual, so check the Alaska Botanical Garden nursery first: it’s where I got mine, as divisions of display garden specimens.  No one else wanted them, if you can believe it.  Or check out Fritz Creek Nursery in Homer, which does mail order in Alaska.  

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What: a cool-season grass, one of the first perennials to show it’s face in spring, mostly clumping and not invasive/cheeky/seeding around for me

Alopecurus pratensis 'Variegatus'

Where: full sun (more upright) to shade (floppier, in my experience); tolerant of many soil types, moisture levels (the more moisture, the floppier, also in my experience)

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When: early spring emergence almost electric chartreuse, yellowish (in sun) in summer, yellow to dull yellow/green in autumn, under snow in winter so no clue as to winter performance other than it survives zone 3/4


1. smashing leaf color, excellent with blues, violets, reds, oranges, anything with an electric hued flower;

2. as with other grasses, the contrast of linear leaf shape with the bigger leaves of other perennials/shrubbery is a textural delight (no flowers necessary);

3. low maintenance (I do remove the inflorescences as they are rather sparse), no bugs, staking, or fertilizing necessary at my garden

4. looks good in a mass or by itself

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And an autumnal boost for those of you that stayed with me: it’s 46 degrees Fahrenheit in my back yard right now.  Makes you feel better, doesn’t it?  (Except you poor lot in Fairbanks and beyond…so sorry.)

Any favorites for the month of September?  Any political ads driving you up the wall?


  1. It is 46F here this morning too. Brrrr It will get up in the 70's today though. I love this kind of weather. A good thing because Mother Nature doesn't care about my likes or dislikes. That grass is gorgeous. I don't think I have heard of it before. I shudder at the thought of moving, however it would be fun to have a new garden to plan. I hope you enjoy your move. You will have all winter to put the new home together and dream about your garden. As to political ads. ugh! A necessary evil to my way of thinking.

  2. Ah yes, 300 random folks from the phonebook. Maybe. Maybe. You should get some asters for your garden.... Where are you moving to? Somewhere a fuzz warmer I hope?

  3. I'm sold! It's on my list for next year.

  4. LOL, your postings are always so much fun to read. And I'm always glad to hear about a kind of grass I'm not familiar with. Sorry, but if I had to pick a fall favorite it would be asters. You will be putting up the fish at your new place, won't you?

  5. Where to next Christine? Staying in Alaska? Or not?

  6. I had never noticed this grass, never having had much use for ornamental grasses until I recently started experimenting with them in my parents' new Michigan garden. It really does look great with that bright blue Geranium!

  7. Hi Christine~~ This plant looks like a stellar performer in your chilly climate. Methinks it would look good in my borders too.

    As for those confounded election ads, I think they should be banned. All the candidates do is smear each other around with half truths. You can't believe a word of it. And the worst thing is that people actually cast their vote based on what they hear and see rather than by gathering the facts. I think the 300 phone "candidates" idea is a great one. This would be a CHANGE I could live with. Okay, 'nuf said. Thanks for "listening."

  8. Christine I might live south of you but I garden in a colder zone, 2-3 . :) The grass sounds and looks lovely. If I had a more formal garden I would consider it but in my messy wild garden it would just get lost.

  9. Dear Christine, Good Choice!! Pam x
    PS My garden is a real mess right now, I am NOT taking pictures.

  10. really pretty grass.

    were you sad to remove the garden art?

  11. I bought a couple of grasses last year and lost both of them in our one week of 'really cold' weather. That's my guess anyway.
    My choice would be asters also. I'm really enjoying mine right now and went and bought 3 more.
    Are you staying in Alaska when you move? I hate moving.
    Grace hit it right on about political ads. It is sad people believe everything they see and read. I get horrible political emails and just send them back and tell them to look things up before sending them out to everyone!

  12. So many liked the golden foxtail grass, but not being familiar with it, it reminds me of a bad hair day. The color is a nice bright spot for the garden,but I prefer it to stand at attention a little more.

  13. Love your photos! Love grasses! So glad I've discovered your blog.

  14. Lovely choice and I love your background bergenia.

  15. Christine, The grass is a great color. What is that gorgeous blue geranium that you still have blooming? (Mine all stopped blooming ages ago.) -Jean

  16. @jeansgarden
    My 'Johnson's Blue' plants stopped blooming quite awhile back, just put those Geranium pics in to show a good neighbor in summer.

    Yes, I was sad to pull out all the garden art. My legs are still aching from pulling out the giant rebar pinwheels in the front yard. I forgot I had buried them quite so deeply....

    @EE and Benjamin Vogt,
    Yes, we are staying in Alaska. Staying in Anchorage, too. I'll never get out of here.

    Yes, the fish are going up wherever we move. Unless there is some wierd homeowner's association rule about rusty garden art at our new place.



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