Private Gardens

Flower Phobia Cured By Fall Color

Back in June, while visiting the romantic garden of my friends Len Porter and and Peter Goldblatt, I confronted a chronic weakness I would have to overcome. Call it Fear Of Flowers.

I've justified it for years despite abuse from esteemed colleagues (just ask Nina Totenberg). I've even gone to great lengths to intellectualize it; consider this excerpt from my book, Plant This! :

As for choosing plants by their flower — well, given the fickle nature of beauty, I trust this ornamental feature least of all...Which is not to say I'm perverse enough to covet a garden without bloom. But when you balance their capacity for transcendence with their utter unpredictability, flowers can break your heart. Obsessing over them is much like throwing yourself into an unstable relationship that has no real substance only dizzying sex.

Fine, so grow plants for their flowers...

On the whole, I still stand firmly by the idea that flowers are the icing, not the cake. But that's still no excuse for a plant lover like myself to cop out when it comes to choreographing color. On this first day of October, with nary a leaf turning crimson or yellow, I'm more grateful than I've been all year for the flowers now in bloom.

two stages of a leonitis flower

hide captionMy hands down late season favorite is Leonotis leonuris. Other than its color (the same as my house), I also love the different stages of flowering on any given stalk. I spent a small fortune on a large Monrovia plant several months back; time will tell whether it'll be as robust next year.

photo credit: Ketzel Levine, NPR

For my favorite color, orange, I've got the tender perennial lion's tail (above) and the low-growing, self-seeding annual Begonia sutherlandii. I'm also trying a variety of unusual, orange-tinged dahlias from Cistus Nursery here in Portland.

For magenta, I rely on that ever-blooming, always-scrambling, black-eyed Geranium 'Ann Folkard'.

And for blue, I vote with the hummingbirds: hardy salvias including S. patens, surely the truest bluest of flowers, and that towering giant for the back of the border, S. guaranitica.

arrangement of orange and blue flowers

hide captionDon't hold the composition and light against me as you behold this little confection I threw together for Rosh Hashana dinner (which was complete with kasha varnishkes). Along with the Leonotis, I added a one-two punch of a plant, Salvia guaranitica 'Black and Blue'.

photo credit: Ketzel Levine, NPR

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