Autumn in the garden is both dying and rebirth. As the colorful summer annuals cease to grow, the perennial plants -- natives and not -- cease to flower. Many set seed that will remain on the plant, providing food and shelter for wildlife. Wind and wildlife will scatter the seed, giving our gardens more colorful plants for the coming spring and summer.
Sunny, cooler weather has made this the best time of the year to be in the garden. There is so much going on. The monarch butterflies flit from one butterfly weed to the next; they share each flower with the tiny bees and sulfur butterflies. The tickseed is tall and elegant, with clusters of snow white flowers that soon will seed; pink morning glories decorate the azaleas; and the fall flowering mistflower has spread to form a carpet under a loquat tree. Soon, it will seed, and next year's carpet will expanded to the foot of an olive tree.
Let's leave the natives and take a look at the plants that have summered outdoors. They are not hardy and will need shelter come frost. They've thrived on warmth and humidity and have grown interesting and attractive seeds.
Not one to allow these seeds to fall and die, I've removed them and scattered them in containers that are growing summer flowers "soon to die."
They've sprouted. I have many tiny seedlings to transplant.
Here comes the embarrassing part: I've no idea what they are. Seedlings with only two pairs of leaves often resemble one another. Why do I not remember to label? It's a waiting game. Tiny nails have finally appeared on the leaves of the nail plants. Another pot has seedlings whose third leaf resembles the leaves of marijuana plants -- that's swamp hibiscus. A third container shows plants that seem to grow larger overnight -- that's the annual butterfly weed.
One last note on our continuing climate change: A first in my yard in October are the flowers appearing on spring flowering azaleas. This is the first autumn in more then three decades that my native butterfly weed, Asclepias tuberosa, has not flowered. And the tree leaves began falling in September.
QUESTIONS FROM READERS
Question. This comes from many including myself. You've lived in Hilton Head Plantation for 34 years. Your yard has many native flowers, shrubs and trees growing. Is there anything special you do to keep these plants flourishing?
Answer. There's no grass to water. I do not water the plants but let nature take its course. The beautyberries and buckeyes have come up by themselves, and I leave them in that place. I've learned that buckeye seeds cannot be planted; they must be left on the ground where they fall, and they will sprout.
Q. I'm from Suffolk Virginia and was visiting on Hilton Head Island last week. I read your column where you mentioned the red spider lily. I'd like to try to grow these. Where can I buy them?
A. McClure and Zimmerman Bulbs has Lycoris squamigera, white, red and golden spider lilies. Phone: 800-883-6998
Q. My live oaks make it difficult to grow colorful perennials. Any suggestions?
A. Growing under trees provides perfect drainage for many perennial plants that require it. Flowering native plants, spring and summer bulbs, and small woodland shrubs of native azaleas, Cherokee bean, sweet pepperbush, lyre-leaf sage for blue flowers in the spring; mist flower for blue flowers in autumn.
Q. I'm helping the Hilton Head Island Herb Society with its fall sale and will be selling herb plants. The local Greenery Nursery is providing the plants, and I note that instead of French tarragon, there is a Southern tarragon on the list. Could you tell me more about it?
A. Southern tarragon is a favorite plant for fish cookery. It's perennial and given sunlight will spread. It has all the scent and taste of French tarragon and makes great vinegars. French tarragon is not hardy here.
Q. Thanks for the plant of swamp or scarlet hibiscus. What are its cultural requirements?
A. Beth and other friends now have some of the perennial hibiscus plants that I seeded from my mature plant last winter. The mother plant produced huge hibiscus-like flowers sporadically this summer, growing in near total shade. It does require moist soil.