Late Bloomers Grace an Autumn Garden Spring is glorious and summer is lush, but gardens hold a special brilliance in the fall. The Mary Livingston Ripley garden in Washington, D.C., remains lively with blossoms in mid-October. Adrian Higgins, garden editor of The Washington Post, leads a sun-dappled tour.
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Late Bloomers Grace an Autumn Garden

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Late Bloomers Grace an Autumn Garden

Late Bloomers Grace an Autumn Garden

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First it's one leaf, then another. Hey, if you live in Buffalo, New York, the leaves are still on the trees when snow hits. No matter. In much of the country now it's fall. The days may be growing shorter but gardens can be brilliant at this time of year, especially here in Washington. We went to find one of our favorites.

(Soundbite of footsteps)

LYDEN: To get to this special place, you walk across the National Mall in full view of the Smithsonian Castle, past the colorful carousel with its musical calliope.

(Soundbite of music)

LYDEN: We're going to an almost hidden garden, just a serpentine corridor, really, next to the brick red Arts and Industries building of the Smithsonian Institution.

We're standing here at the Mary Livingston Ripley Garden and we're going to take a garden walk. And accompanying us will be Adrian Higgins, who is the garden editor of the Washington Post. Adrian Higgins, hello.

Mr. ADRIAN HIGGINS (Garden Editor, The Washington Post): Hi, Jacki. How are you?

LYDEN: It's lovely to meet you.

Mr. HIGGINS: It's great to see you.

LYDEN: Each week you fasten on something wonderful about a garden. It might be just a particular plant; it might be the style of the garden. What do you love about this garden?

Mr. HIGGINS: Well, there are many things I like about this. I think the gardener is very inventive. It could be a really dreary, dull space in which one is just compelled to get from one street to the other, but it's absolutely the opposite of that. And this is one of the most beautiful gardens that I know.

LYDEN: Let's walk. Let's begin through. Let's just go over here. You have what I think you would call a fall moment. I see this bright water lily looking flower.

Mr. HIGGINS: Colchicums are a very showy bulb that brings forth in October in Washington. This is a variety called water lily.

LYDEN: These are a lavender color.

Mr. HIGGINS: They're highly poisonous. And that adds a sort of frisson, I think, to the whole experience.

LYDEN: The colchicum, the lavender water lilies are poking out, and then just behind that is this feathery stuff.

Mr. HIGGINS: The euphorbia, yeah.

LYDEN: Euphorbia. There are hundreds of kinds of euphorbia.

Mr. HIGGINS: There are indeed.

LYDEN: And then you've got the...

Mr. HIGGINS: The tiger lily.

LYDEN: ...are tall and they have tiny purple flowers. They bloom in the fall. It's just like a painting.

Mr. HIGGINS: It is, and it's obviously very carefully considered and composed. The gardener to this garden, I should point out, is a very gifted horticulturalist called Janet Draper, who works for the Smithsonian. And I think Janet's love of plants is evident. It's just brimming with very interesting, very vibrant and vital plants, you know, from April to November. I'm wondering, is that Janet over there now? It is indeed.

LYDEN: Oh look. She's actually gardening.

Mr. HIGGINS: Yes, she's...

LYDEN: Let's go and surprise her.

Mr. HIGGINS: Yes. Let's go over and give her a start.

LYDEN: Yes, let's do it.

She's a tiny woman dressed in a lavender fleece, as if to match the purples of the flowers. She's almost hidden by palm foliage up against the building. She mentions she's a Hoosier, from Indiana. We asked her to show us a garden star, a flowering plant she calls a redneck girl.

Ms. JANET DRAPER (Horticulturalist): It's a yellow blooming salvia. The salvia madrensis there. It's absolutely gorgeous, pale lemon yellow flowers, which...

LYDEN: And it's about, what, seven feet tall?

Ms. DRAPER: Eight, eight and a half, somewhere in there. And you know, the name redneck girl, you've got to have it. You got - I mean that's - I'm the official redneck here. So you know, hopefully it'll be blooming through maybe Thanksgiving time.

Mr. HIGGINS: And it'll make it through the winter, you think, with a bit of luck?

Ms. DRAPER: It did here, because this is a very protected garden. It's almost a Zone Eight, which is - Washington, D.C. is Zone Seven, but here we've got protection on both sides of us - bricks here, a lot of hot air coming from various areas in this city. So it really is almost a Zone Eight.

LYDEN: Show us another plant.

Ms. DRAPER: Okay. I'll show you the ones the public really gets excited by. Fall crocus are starting to come up. Here's a crocus right now. This is crocus speciosus that is supposed to bloom in the fall. Most people think of bulbs as only being spring bloomers, and there are fabulous fall bloomers also that are just lesser known.

LYDEN: Adrian, how do you bring order to a garden? All of us have gone into garden centers and looked at catalogs and said, oh, I've got to have it. And then the things don't live together well, or they die.

Mr. HIGGINS: Well, a garden is an art form and for it to work you have to follow design principles, and that includes creating some plants that form structure, some plants that provide accent.

Ms. DRAPER: It needs some form. It needs evergreens, it needs winter interests.

Mr. HIGGINS: Yeah.

Ms. DRAPER: Because a garden is something that - it's a piece of art that's constantly changing and there shouldn't be the lull. You had asked about an unusual plant.

LYDEN: Yeah.

Ms. DRAPER: Solanum is tomato family, and quitonense is referring to Ecuador, where it comes from. This is a plant with an attitude. It's spined both on upper sides, lower sides, stems; even the fruit has these little hairs that stick in your fingers.

LYDEN: It looks like a giant sort of oak shaped leaves, and pointy, and then its got purple spines coming out of it. It really looks like, you know, a komodo plant, a komodo dragon plant.

Ms. DRAPER: Wicked, nasty spines that draw blood.

Mr. HIGGINS: Do they?

Ms. DRAPER: And unfortunately I speak from experience. Yeah, you're doing exactly what teenage boys will do. And we'll have like teenage boys that are drug in here by their mothers and, oh, they don't want to see a garden and they're just bored silly, until they see this spiny, spiny, wicked looking thing, and every single one of them has to come up and do exactly what you do...

Mr. HIGGINS: Which is stroke the spine.

Ms. DRAPER: Touch the spine, see if that's really as sharp as it is. And usually they'll pull a finger back and then they're intrigued. They start looking at it, asking, where's it come from? Why does it have the spine?

LYDEN: It's cool.

Ms. DRAPER: And it'll keep your neighbor's dog out of the yard too.

LYDEN: I was just thinking that.

(Soundbite of airplane)

LYDEN: As we move into fall, Adrian and Janet, are there some general principles people should be thinking about?

Ms. DRAPER: Relax. Relax. I truly think people are too ready to close down the garden and clean it up and tidy it up. Just relax. Fall is my favorite season. The garden's still healthy and vibrant and things are happening. Let Mother Nature close it down for you.

Mr. HIGGINS: But the thing is, a full garden like this doesn't just happen. You have to be thinking of the fall in February, in March, and the whole point of gardening is that, you know, people think, oh, now the frost is here, the gardens are closing down, we're finished with gardening for the year. Well, nothing could be - could be more wrong, because what you're actually doing is preparing for next year, for next spring, summer and fall, and getting your brain ahead of the curve. This is what you can achieve - something really beautiful like this.

LYDEN: Adrian Higgins, garden editor of the Washington Post and Janet Draper, horticulturalist at the Smithsonian. We are at the Mary Livingston Ripley Garden. Thank you so very, very much.

Ms. DRAPER: It's been a pleasure. Thank you.

Mr. HIGGINS: Thank you, Jacki.

LYDEN: To see pictures and learn about caring for your roses over the winter, go to our Web site

There's something else she really wants to show us.

Ms. DRAPER: Oh, its too tall I can't - I can't get to it. Oh, aristolochia...

Mr. HIGGINS: Dutchman's...

Ms. DRAPER: Dutchman's Pipe, yeah. But I need to get a ladder. And there's another one over there.

LYDEN: I can see it. It has a...

Ms. DRAPER: Yeah, but you need to see it up close, because it basically - it's pollinated by flies. So it looks like a piece of meat. And what Mother Nature is doing, I mean every flower is a sexual lure. So I mean this girl is dolled up on a Friday night...

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