My Cups Runneth Over (With Bees)….

(Hmmm. I just re-read my title and almost changed it, but decided not to. Snicker away – I’m going with “cups”.)

My second yellow-gold blog for July (the first was on companion plants for blackeyed susans) honours another composite prairie perennial that has pride of place in my meadows at Lake Muskoka.  Cup plant or Indian cup (Silphium perfoliatum) gets both its common name and Latin specific epithet from the way the leaves encircle the stem, thus making the stem appear to pierce the foliage – i.e. a ‘perfoliate’ habit.

Silphium perfofliatum-cottage

This clasping leaf arrangement creates a kind of ‘cup’ in which water can collect after rains, supposedly providing drinking water for birds and insects. Alas, insects are often found floating in the water, with some experts suggesting that it may actually act as a deterrent against insect pests that might climb up the stem.

Perfoliate leaves-Silphium perfoliatum

While it is a fabulous native, indigenous to moist woods and prairies in much of mid and east North America, including my province Ontario, its tendency to colonize makes it problematic. In fact, though it is classified as “threatened and endangered”in Michigan, it is “potentially invasive” and banned for sale in Connecticut. I received my fleshy roots from the compost bins of Toronto’s beautiful Spadina House gardens, and the gardeners gave me fair warning that it was invasive, and hard to dig up to control its spread. So I don’t; I merely enjoy it and give thanks for it when the bumble bees are nectaring on the big yellow flowers.

Bombus impatiens on Silphium perfoliatum

Here are bumble bees in action, along with a surprise visitor for whom those itty-bitty leaf pools are no deterrent, when tasty cup plant seedheads are the rewards for ascending that thick stem.

Honey bees love cup plant as well. There are no apiaries near my cottage on Lake Muskoka, but I photographed this one in the meadows at Miriam Goldberger’s Wildflower Farm an hour so south.

Honey Bee on Silphium perfoliatum

Butterflies like the monarch enjoy cup plant, too.

Monarch on Silphium perfoliatum (1)

I grow cup plants near my stairs so I can photograph the pollinators at eye level.

Silphium perfoliatum

But they’re in my meadows as well. Though they prefer adqequate moisture in the soil, they are surprisingly drought-tolerant (as they’ve had to be this hot, dry summer), but will develop yellow leaves and stunted flowers in time. Here’s a colony below my bedroom window amidst sweet blackeyed susans (Rudbeckia subtomentosa) still to come into flower.

Silphium perfoliatum in meadow

They make good companions to gray-headed coneflowers (Ratibida pinnata), which bloom at the same time.

Silphium perfoliatum & Ratibida pinnata

They are easily the tallest perennials I grow. Last summer (a season of good rains), I lay down the loftiest stems so I could do a measurement. Yes, 9 feet.

Silphium - 9 feet

I leave you with a little narrated tour…..

….and a cottage bouquet showing cup plant flowers in the bottom tier, surrounded by summer flowers like ratibida, perovskia, liatris and goldenrod.  Yellow/gold for July 2016, over and out.

Bouquet-Cup Plant & friends

21 Hot Dates for Blackeyed Susan

Here we are in July, my Paintbox Garden month for yellow/gold. and what more summery illustration of that sunny part of the paintbox than blackeyed susan!

Rudbeckia hirta closeup

When Carl Linnaeus named the genus of North American plants that include the ones we call blackeyed susan as Rudbeckia, he was honouring someone very cherished in his life, his Uppsala University mentor and fellow botanist Olof Rudbeck the Younger (1660-1740).  In 1730 Linnaeus moved into Rudbeck’s house where he became tutor for his three youngest children (of 24 in total by three wives!). It was Rudbeck who recommended Linnaeus as lecturer to replace him and as the botanical garden demonstrator, even though he was only in his second year of studies.

In Wilfrid Blunt’s 1971 biography, Linnaeus, The Compleat Naturalist, the author quotes Linnaeus: “So long as the earth shall survive and as each spring shall see it covered with flowers, theRudbeckia will preserve your glorious name. I have chosen a noble plant in order to recall your merits and the services you have rendered, a tall one to give an idea of your stature, and I wanted it to be one which branched and which flowered and fruited freely, to show that you cultivated not only the sciences but also the humanities. Its rayed flowers will bear witness that you shone among savants like the sun among the stars; its perennial roots will remind us that each year sees you live again through new works. Pride of our gardens, the Rudbeckia will be cultivated throughout Europe and in distant lands where your revered name must long have been known. Accept this plant, not for what it is but for what it will become when it bears your name”.

The painting of Rudbeck, below, hangs at Uppsala University.

Olof RudbeckYounger















I am a great fan of biennial blackeyed susans (Rudbeckia hirta). They have been an integral part of my little meadows here on Lake Muskoka since we built our home in 2002. In fact, they were the plants I sowed initially, along with red fescue grass (Festuca rubra), to retain the sandy soil we placed on the property once construction was finished.  And it’s a bit of an understatement to say that they grew well, given they had no competion yet from other tough customers.  They grew extraordinarily well here.

Rudbeckia hirta-Lake Muskoka

When I think back to the summer of 2003, it’s of having these amazing ‘lawns’ of blackeyed susans, which later evolved (with a lot of research and work on my part) into more complex meadow-prairies.

Rudbeckia hirta-Blackeyed Susan Meadow

I spent summer 2003 photographing them, and had a little photo show the next summer – long before I switched to digital.

Janet Davis-Rudbeckia hirta

I even wrote about them for Cottage Life magazine, given that they seemed like the ‘way back’ for our property from construction site to buzzing, fluttering habitat (and, ultimately, a much more bio-diverse place than our little shore had ever been).

Cottage Life-Blackeyed SusansThey became part of the pollinator landscape here, attracting all types of bees and butterflies.

Rudbeckia hirta - leafcutter bee

Over the years, I’ve chronicled the lovely plant pairings that pop up – because I never know where this little biennial will be next. Unlike its more refined, floriferous, multi-stemmed, perennial cousin Rudbeckia fulgida ‘Goldsturm’, which I’ll talk about later in this blog, common blackeyed susan is a single-stemmed will-o-the-wisp, its seeds spread by birds, its short 2-year lifespan all there is (leafy rosette the first season, flowers the next). Occasionally, depending on the length of the flowering season, it might emerge and flower in the same year, or it might even hang around to flower a second year, but that is rare. However, individual plants can begin flowering from June well into September, so its plant partners can be highly varied – as varied as the ones in this cottage bouquet I made years ago.

Rudbeckia hirta-in bouquet

Hot Dates for Susan

1)  In my own garden at the cottage, wild beebalm (Monarda fistulosa) is a hardy perennial that I adore for its attractiveness to bees and hummingbirds. In fact, I have two small meadows that I call my “monarda meadows”.  And this is how it looked growing alongside Rudbeckia hirta at Niagara Botanical Garden’s Legacy Prairie

Rudbeckia hirta & Monarda fistulosa-Niagara-Legacy Prairie

Here’s a closer look at this duo in another garden. Note the dark streaks on this blackeyed susan; it’s one of many selected strains that come under the heading “gloriosa daisy”. Genetically, they’re no different from common Rudbeckia hirta wildlings, but have traits that make them worth growing as separate seed mixes, in this case ‘Denver Daisy’.

Rudbeckia hirta & Monarda fistulosa

2) Here is blackeyed susan at the Legacy Prairie with swamp milkweed (Asclepias incarnata). Note that it will tolerate very dry, sandy conditions and remain quite compact, but if grown in the kind of moisture-retentive soil that swamp milkweed prefers, it will grow much taller.

Rudbeckia hirta2 & Asclepias incarnata

3) In contrast, this is how it looks growing in sandy soil with the more drought-tolerant butterfly milkweed (Asclepias tuberosa) here at Lake Muskoka.

Rudbeckia hirta & Asclepias tuberosa

4) Similarly, in dry soil blackeyed susan will be happy with hoary vervain (Verbena stricta), one of the toughest customers in my meadows….

Rudbeckia hirta & Verbena stricta

5) ….. while more moisture-retentive soil creates conditions for blue vervain (Verbena hastata) – and taller blackeyed susans.

Rudbeckia hirta & Verbena hastata-Niagara-Legacy Prairie

6) There is simply no better bee plant than mountain mint (Pynanthemum sp) (unless it’s calamint).  Here is Virginia mountain mint (P. virginianum) at Niagara’s Legacy Prairie growing with blackeyed susans.

Rudbeckia hirta & Pycnanthemum virginianum - Legacy Prairie - Niagara Botanical Garden

7) I grow the smaller veronica Veronica spicata ‘Darwin’s Blue’ in my meadows. Surprisingly drought-tolerant, it is lovely with blackeyed susans.

Rudbeckia hirta & Veronica 'Darwin's Blue'

8) Another blueish-purple plant that makes a good sidekick to blackeyed susan is English lavender (Lavandula angustifolia), shown below along with Anthemis tinctoria. A surprisingly hardy subshrub, its main requirement is dry feet in winter; it will languish and die if the soil stays moist.

Rudbeckia hirta & Lavandula angustifolia

9) There aren’t many glamorous plants in my meadows, but a brief flirtation with perfumed Orienpet lilies (half Oriental-half Trumpet) several years ago added a touch of the exotic. And I simply love the juxtaposition of a sophisticated lily like ‘Conca d’Or’ with the humble blackeyed susans.

Rudbeckia hirta & Lilium

10) Annual mealycup sage (Salvia farinacea ‘Victoria’) is beautiful with fancy gloriosa daisies (Rudbeckia hirta cv.)

Rudbeckia hirta & Salvia farinacea

11) I adored this colour-echo combination of golden Swiss chard (Beta vulgaris ‘Golden Sunrise’) with dwarf ‘Toto’ gloriosa daisies (R. hirta cv) at Montreal Botanical Garden.

Rudbeckia hirta 'Toto' & Swiss chard & carex

12) An ebullient assortment of gloriosa daisy cultivars mixed with blue cornflowers (Centaurea cyanus) was used in this mini-meadow at Montreal Botanical Garden a few years ago.

Rudbeckia hirta - gloriosa daisies - & Centaurea cyanus

Here’s a closer look at that pairing; the gloriosa daisy cultivar is Rudbeckia hirta ‘Irish Eyes’.

Rudbeckia hirta 'Irish Eyes' & Centaurea cyanus-closeup

The other blackeyed susan I grow is Rudbeckia fulgida var. sullivantii ‘Goldsturm’.  After being named Perennial of the Year in 1999, this bushy plant soared in popularity throughout the world. In the “new American landscape” made popular by Wolfgang Oehme and James Van Sweden, it was deployed alongside ornamental grasses in massive sweeps of gold. It continues to be one of the most popular summer perennials, and spreads very easily (too easily, perhaps, for some).

13) In my city garden, I grow a host of pollinator plants in my front garden, and Rudbeckia ‘Goldsturm’ is the perfect, long-flowering companion to purple coneflower (Echinacea purpurea). Since I enjoy it so much, I suppose it’s not a surprise that the neighbourhood rabbit seems to like the blossoms, too – as I discovered last summer, finding a large clump deflowered.

Rudbeckia 'Goldsturm' & Echinacea

14)  My friend Marnie Wright (whose garden I have blogged about previously) uses ‘Goldsturm’ throughout her Bracebridge garden. I especially like it with summer phlox (Phlox paniculata), and…

Rudbeckia 'Goldsturm' & Phlox

15) ….with agapanthus (Agapanthus africanus), and…. 

Agapanthus & Rudbeckia 'Goldturm'

16) ….with Marnie’s gorgeous daylilies (Hemerocallis ‘Jade Star’).

Rudbeckia 'Goldsturm' & Hemerocallis

At the Toronto Botanical Garden, Rudbeckia ‘Goldsturm’ is used in a few gardens.

17) Here it is with balloon flower (Platycodon grandiflorus), and ….

Rudbeckia 'Goldsturm' & Platycodon grandiflorus

18) …with ‘Diabolo’ ninebark (Physocarpus opulifolius) that has been coppiced to keep it compact, and….

Rudbeckia 'Goldsturm' & Physocarpus 'Diabolo'

19) .. with the prairie grass little bluestem (Schizachyrium scoparium), and…..

Rudbeckia 'Goldsturm' & little bluestem

20) …with great blue lobelia (Lobelia sophilitica).

Rudbeckia 'Goldsturm' & Lobelia siphilitica

At Toronto’s Spadina House gardens, Rudbeckia ‘Goldsturm’ provides huge colour from mid-to-late summer…..

Rudbeckia 'Goldsturm'-Spadina House

21) …. when it celebrates the beginning of autumn with a brilliant splash of gold from (appropriately) goldenrod (Solidago sp.) 

Rudbeckia 'Goldsturm' & Solidago

My work as a matchmaker is done. I hope you found a dance partner or two for your own blackeyed susans!

Not a Blog!

This is not a blog. I repeat: this is not a blog.  It is merely a taste of blogs to come this year. And they will be about COLOUR!  Or color (if you prefer it without extraneous British/Canadian vowels).

Flower Colour Array-ThePaintboxGarden

Yes, I thought it might be time for The Paintbox Garden to adhere to its stated theme. So each month of 2016 will be devoted to a different hue, beginning with JANUARY, which will be white as the driven (or walking) snow. White as in wonderland, appropriate to the season. White as an even paler shade of pale. And of course, white as in perfume – coming up soon.

White Flowers-ThePaintboxGarden

FEBRUARY will be red, as in better — than dead, paint the town —, roses are —,  and UB-40s favourite beverage.  And the longest, boldest wave length in Isaac Newton’s spectral light arsenal. Plus, of course, swamp hibiscus.

Red Flowers-ThePaintboxGarden

MARCH will be green (yes, I know, hackneyed Irish trope for St. Paddy’s). But it is the only really important colour in the garden paintbox, as all chlorophyll-lovers know.  Nevertheless, as Kermit is fond of saying, it ain’t easy being green.  My March blogs will help dispel that notion.

Green Leaves-ThePaintboxGarden

But being Kermit-green is definitely easier than being chartreuse, which is half-green and half-yellow. I will squeeze some limes… and chartreuses…into my March blogs as well.

Chatreuse Leaves-ThePaintboxGarden

Because it’s the cruellest month, as T.S. Eliot reminded us, APRIL will be blue. Actually, I chose blue for April because of all those lovely little azure bulbs that spring up from the snow. But there will be azure blues….

Blue Flowers-ThePaintboxGarden

….and lighter sky-blues for the entire gardening season, too.

Sky-Blue Flowers-ThePaintboxGarden

MAY will be pink, as in the darling buds. Think crabapples, weigelas, columbines, peonies, and phloxes and hydrangeas for later in the season. There will be lusty pinks…

Pink Flowers-ThePaintboxGarden

…and delicate, light pinks.

Light Pink Flowers-ThePaintboxGarden

I’ll skip magenta because I wrote a love letter to that neon hue in 2014.

JUNE will be purple. Riots often break out about what purple means (for the record it comes from the Greek word porphura, for little murex sea snails that bleed that dark crimson ‘purple’ dye). So let me say June will be about lilac-purple..

Lilac-Purple Flowers-ThePaintboxGarden

.. through lavender-purple…

Lavender-Purple Flowers-ThePaintboxGarden

… into violet-purple…

Violet-Purple Flowers-ThePaintboxGarden

… and finally rich, royal, Seagram’s Bag, Tyrian purple.

Purple Flowers-ThePaintboxGarden

JULY will be all sunshine: lots of yellow…

Yellow Flowers-ThePaintboxGarden

… and gold.

Gold Flowers-ThePaintboxGarden

AUGUST will be black(ish). And hopefully some good thunderstorms!

Black flowers & leaves-ThePaintboxGarden

SEPTEMBER will be every lovely shade of brown, as in grasses and seedheads.

Brown Flowers & Leaves-ThePaintboxGarden

OCTOBER will be jack-o-lanternly, clockworkly-orange.

Orange Flowers-ThePaintboxGarden

And I’ll throw in peach (even though it likes to party with pink, too)…

Peach Flowers-ThePaintboxGarden

…and apricot (even though it sometimes hangs out with the gold crowd)…

Apricot Flowers-ThePaintboxGarden

… and salmon for a well-rounded fruit & fish diet.

Salmon-Orange Flowers-ThePaintboxGarden

NOVEMBER will be wine or burgundy, because who doesn’t fancy a little vino in dreary November.

Wine Flowers & Leaves-ThePaintboxGarden

DECEMBER will be silver, as in bells, hi-ho, and Long John.

Silver Leaves-ThePaintboxGarden

And that’s a promise!

Fall Foliage: Yellows & Golds

This is a fact: red & orange fall colours would not be nearly so thrilling without the beautiful contrast of neighbouring yellows and golds.

Yellow and red autumn leaf canopy

If you’ve followed along as I offered up some lovely trees, shrubs and perennials whose leaves turn red in autumn, and a second group whose foliage turns glorious shades of orange, apricot and bronze, I’m sure you’re waiting with bated breath for the final installment. No? Well, anyway,  those would be the many species that turn yellow and gold.  As we know, autumn colours result from the breakdown of chlorophyll (the ‘green’ pigment) as temperatures cool and days shorten in late summer and early fall. Yellow leaves owe their brilliance to the presence of a group of orange-yellow pigments called the carotenoids, and within that group, the yellow xanthophylls (the other group being the orange carotenes on display in my last post). Not only are xanthophylls found underlying the chlorophyll in leaves, where they absorb sunlight in a specific spectral range, they are also responsible for the petal colour of yellow flowers – all those “damned yellow composites” (DYCs), i.e. daisies like coreopis, heliopsis and silphium, among hundreds of others. Even the yellow in egg yolks comes from a xanthophyll called lutein in the hen’s diet. And, of course, xanthophylls give us the brilliant autumn yellow of trees like our beloved North American paper birch (Betula papyrifera), its pure-white bark and golden leaves resplendent against a bright-blue October sky.

Betula papyrifera-Paper birch

Other birches turn yellow in autumn, too. Here’s the delightful cherry or birch (Betula lenta) in Mount Pleasant Cemetery in Toronto. One of its alternative names, spice birch, recalls its historic use in the extraction of wintergreen oil from the roots. It is a native tree that should be grown much more.

Betula lenta-Cherry birch

Hornbeams are also members of the birch or Betulaceae family, so it’s not surprising that European hornbeam (Carpinus betulus) should turn a lovely yellow-gold in fall in the right conditions. This is ‘Fastigiata’, the pyramidal form.

Carpinus betulus 'Fastigiata'-Pyramidal European hornbeam

What about maples? Well, perhaps the most ubiquitous yellow in our urban woodlands in eastern North America is the very one we wish had never been introduced, so invasive is it and so successful at elbowing out native trees. But there is no question that the Norway maple (Acer platanoides) does have beautiful yellow fall colour.

Acer platanoides-Norway maple

Sugar maples (Acer saccharum), of course, can be a mix of yellow and orange and even pure yellow like the one below, given the right chemistry.

Acer saccharum-Sugar maple

The same can be said for many red maples (Acer rubrum), like the one below growing in Mount Pleasant Cemetery.  (On a personal note, I was very disappointed to find a red maple I’d ordered as a city boulevard tree in front of my house – having been led to understand that it would be a blazing-scarlet fall companion to a ginkgo further down the boulevard – has fall leaves that turn dishwater yellow.)

Acer rubrum-Red maple

Silver maple (Acer saccharinum) has fall foliage of a lovely soft-yellow in most autumns, occasionally becoming a richer gold.

Acer saccharinum-Silver maple

So it’s no surprise that the pigments it adds to Acer x freemanii, the hybrid Freeman maple (Acer saccharinum x Acer rubrum), can often result in a tree with red-splotched yellow leaves, as below, rather than the rich-red Freeman maple I included in my blog on red fall colour.

Acer x freemanii-Freeman maple

The sycamore maple (Acer pseudoplatanus), below, often turns yellow in autumn, but cannot be depended upon to do so consistently.

Acer pseudoplatanus-Sycamore maple

In Toronto, where I live, the small Tatarian maple (Acer tataricum) turns a light yellow in fall. (Note that this is not the related Amur maple, Acer ginnala, which generally turns reddish tones.)

Acer tataricum-Tatarian maple

The majestic native hickories turn yellow in fall. The golden canopy of the shagbark hickory (Carya ovata) is a stunning crown to its handsome, peeling bark.

Carya ovata-Shagbark hickory

And the bitternut hickory (Carya cordiformis), below, another underused native tree, also turns brilliant yellow in autumn.

Carya cordiformis-Bitternut hickory

I live under a 70-foot black walnut tree (Juglans nigra) whose large green fruit rain down on my roof and skylight like billiard balls in autumn, so I may not be fully appreciative of its generally good yellow fall colour, seen here at Mount Pleasant Cemetery.

Juglans nigra-Black walnut

The pinnate leaves of thornless honey locust (Gleditsia triacanthos var. inermis) take on yellow autumn color. Doesn’t this one (likely the cultivar ‘Shademaster’) look gorgeous against the blue brick wall?

Gleditsia triacanthos-Honey locust

Speaking of pinnate leaves, is there any foliage more beautiful than that of the Kentucky coffee tree (Gymnocladus dioicus)? And it does this in fall!

Gymnocladus dioicus-Kentucky coffeetree

The native pawpaw tree (Asimina triloba) bears interesting maroon flowers in spring, edible fruit in late summer (provided a male tree is planted near female trees in order to fertilize the flowers), and has beautiful yellow fall foliage.

Asimina triloba-Pawpaw tree

Though under a half-century of siege from Dutch elm disease, our surviving American elms (Ulmus americana) put on a gorgeous autumn show, the leaves turning bright yellow to gold.

Ulmus americana-American elm2

Sadly, the specimen in these two photos, photographed at Mount Pleasant Cemetery, had to be removed.

Ulmus americana-American elm

With its heart-shaped yellow fall leaves, the eastern redbud (Cercis canadensis) is almost as lovely in autumn as it is in May, when its leafless branches are lined with magenta-pink pea flowers. This one is at the Toronto Botanical Garden.

Cercis canadensis-Redbud

Have you ever seen a yellowwood (Cladrastis kentukea) in flower in spring? It is a thing of transcendent beauty. This is my favourite specimen, at Mount Pleasant Cemetery. (Alas, this kind of show is not usually an annual thing, but happens every three years or so.)

Cladrastis kentukea-Yellowwood flowers

But every autumn, the yellowwood’s leaves can be counted on for a good yellow show.

Cladrastis kentukea-Yellowwood

Similarly, our North American fringe tree (Chionanthus virginicus) dangles its lovely white ribbons in spring, then turns yellow in October.

Chionanthus virginicus-Fringe tree

In late October in Toronto, our eastern witch hazel (Hamamelis virginiana) conjures up the year’s latest flowers, little yellow ribbons that often emerge as a double-bill with the shrub’s beautiful yellow fall leaves.

Hamamelis virginiana-Eastern witch hazel1

There are several witch hazels in Mount Pleasant Cemetery, and I love standing under them and looking through the rich golden canopy.

Hamamelis virginiana-Eastern witch hazel2

Speaking of golden canopies, you would be hard-pressed to find a more shimmering one than a forest of trembling aspens (Populus tremuloides) in autumn, something that tree-lovers in many parts of North America see as a spectacular geometry of white bark and yellow crowns. But I love the way their slim trunks create those graceful vertical lines in a forest of maples, and I especially love the fluttering sound of the leaves as they “tremble” in the wind.

Populus tremuloides-Trembling aspen

There’s also a native conifer that turns yellow in autumn before losing its yellow needles. That would be our lovely, moisture-loving Eastern larch or tamarack (Larix laricina), shown here in the bog at Ontario’s Torrance Barrens, a 4700-acre dark sky preserve near my cottage on Lake Muskoka.

Larix laricina-Tamarack

The lindens (Tilia sp.) turn yellow in autumn. This is littleleaf linden (Tilia cordata) just beginning its colour change.

Tilia cordata-Littleleaf linden

Most tree-lovers would likely agree that the most spectacular yellow fall colour in a large tree comes from the ginkgo (Ginkgo biloba). Given that the tree is dioecious and the female produces smelly fruit, most nurseries sell only male forms. To see a tall, old ginkgo in full autumn regalia is simply breathtaking….

Ginkgo biloba-Ginkgo tree

….and the contrast of those fan-shaped, yellow leaves with the dark spurs from which next year’s growth will emerge is quite transfixing.

Ginkgo biloba-spurs

Another Asian beauty for autumn brilliance is the Japanese katsura tree (Cercidiphyllum japonicum). A fine tree for a garden where it has room to reach its ultimate height of 60 feet (20 m), like this one at the Lake Joseph Golf Club near Port Carling, Ontario….

Cercidiphyllum japonicum & Actaea simplex 'Brunette'

its heart-shaped leaves first turn yellow…..

Cercidiphyllum japonicum-Katsura tree leaves

….then darken to gold…..

Cercidiphyllum japonicum-Katsura tree

…before falling to the ground in a brown carpet.  During that period of senescence (the dying of the leaves), those who walk nearby or under its boughs will often (but not always*) notice a unique and quite strong fragrance that reminds them of burnt sugar or candy floss or caramel. This isn’t surprising, since the leaves contain the carbohydrate maltose – or malt sugar – and its concentration increases as the leaves turn color, when the scent is often released as an aromatic.  The fragrance is ephemeral and transient, and *many people have never had the experience of inhaling it,  but those who do don’t easily forget it.

Cercidiphyllum japonicum fallen leaves-maltose

Less well-known than the katsura is the Amur cork tree (Phellodendron amurense), a good, hardy tree for a small garden and lovely in autumn, when the yellow leaves frame the lustrous blue fruit.

Phellodendron amurense-Amur cork tree

As mentioned in my blog on orange fall colour, some of the Japanese cherries turn beautiful colours in autumn. The weeping Higan cherry (Prunus x subhirtella ‘Pendula’) is one that takes on a delicious yellow gold.

Prunus x subhirtella 'Pendula'-Weeping Japanese cherry

How about a few vines that turn yellow in autumn?  One that many gardeners love for its lacy, white flower clusters in summer is climbing hydrangea (Hydrangea anomala ssp. petiolaris). This specimen is at the Toronto Botanical Garden.

Hydrangea anomala ssp.petiolaris-Climbing hydrangea

Bittersweet (Celastrus sp.) turns a luminous gold in fall as the fruit capsules are opening to reveal the orange berries. I wish I could say this is the native North American vine (C. scandens), but sadly I learned many years after buying and planting it that I (like a lot of fleeced customers) had bought the invasive Asian lookalike (C. orbiculatus). Fortunately, it does not seem to have spread in my garden or in the neighbourhood, even though the cardinals adore the fruit.


There are a few good perennials that take on yellow hues in fall. The most spectacular belong to the genus Amsonia,  whose icy-blue late spring flowers are indeed lovely, but its renown has come from the spectacular colour change in fall (when grown in full sunshine and moist soil). This is Arkansas bluestar (Amsonia hubrichtii).

Amsonia hubrichtii-Arkansas blue star

And this is eastern bluestar (Amsonia tabernaemontana), in the company of a fall-blooming New England aster (Symphyotrichum novae-angliae cv) in the Piet Oudolf-designed entry border at the Toronto Botanical Garden.

Amsonia tabernaemontana-Eastern blue star

Solomon’s seal (Polygonatum biflorum) is a favourite native perennial of mine, and very happy in my partly-shaded border. From late October into November, its gracefully arching leaves turn a beautiful, pale yellow.

Polygonatum biflorum-Solomon's seal

For all their ubiquity as foliage accents in our gardens, hostas aren’t always appreciated for their lush, gold decaying leaves in autumn.  This magical transformation tends to happen more with the thick leaves of the blue hostas, or those that have similar substance. Below is ‘Frances Williams’ in late October, jauntily sporting a Washington thorn (Crataegus phaenopyrum) leaf as a hat.

Hosta 'Frances Williams'-fall color

Some ornamental grasses will turn yellow in fall, and none is better than our native switch grass (Panicum virgatum). What a lovely addition this grass is to a naturalistic garden.

Panicum virgatum-Switch grass

Finally, from my own front meadow, come the succulent leaves of sedum ‘Autumn Joy’ (Hylotelephium telephium ‘Herbstfreude’). Long after the bees have disappeared and the spent flowerheads have turned a rich burgundy, there is this brief yellow farewell to summer.

Sedum 'Autumn Joy'-Hylotelephium 'Herbstfreude'

Like all the trees and shrubs above whose green leaves have worked hard for months to manufacture the sugars that feed the plants, it is now time for that mellow yellow goodbye. Let the snows come.

Sparing the ‘Rod, Spoiling the Bees

If seeding goldenrod on a property already bursting with goldenrod species is bringing coals to Newcastle, colour me soot-black.  Because that is what I did several years ago, on the basis of one September plant sighting in a border at the Montreal Botanical Garden.  It was my first introduction to Solidago speciosa and I was charmed.  The following November, I threw a few ounces of seed around our cottage property on Lake Muskoka, a few hours north of Toronto.

Showy goldenrod - a good wildling

When scores of seedlings with bright-red stems and rather large, floppy leaves appeared the following spring, growing less than 30 cm (1 foot) high in their first season, I was a little puzzled as to their intentions. Little did I know that the showy goldenrod was growing tenacious tap roots well down into our sandy-gravelly, acidic soil until they hit the hard granite of the Precambrian Shield on which I garden here at the cottage.  Then it was content and ready to grow tall the next season, though always with large, floppy basal leaves.

Solidago speciosa on Lake Muskoka

Speciosa means “showy” and showy goldenrod lives up to its billing.  Depending on the richness of the soil and its moisture-retentiveness, it ranges in height from 120-150 cm (4 to 5 feet) and its dense inflorescence packed with tiny golden flowers is indeed very beautiful.  As mentioned, the stem (not on all plants, but most) is rich red, adding to the visual appeal.  But, like all its golden-flowered cousins, it is not a plant to encourage if you’re nervous about invasive tendencies for it is not only showy, but a little pushy, too. However, its single-stemmed growth habit means it isn’t quite as difficult to remove as a tangled thicket of Canada goldenrod (S. canadensis) or even the rough-leafed goldenrod (S. rugosa) shown below, whose roots found a devious hiding spot under huge boulders placed to hold the soil at the top of our hillside.

Rough-leafed goldenrod-Solidago rugosa

What is very distinctive about showy goldenrod is its ultra-late flowering season.  Long after the bees have taken all the nectar from the Canada goldenrod, rough-leafed goldenrod, gray goldenrod (S. nemoralis) and stout goldenrod (S. squarrosa) and merging with the end of the season of stiff goldenrod (S. rigida), showy goldenrod comes along like an early autumn candy shop, ready to dispense its pollinator favours until after Canadian thanksgiving in October, barring a hard freeze.

Solidago speciosa with native bees

With the many fall asters coming into bloom, it is now the sweet game in town for the bees.  Bumble bees, other native bees and hoverflies are crazy about it and on a sunny day in late September or early October, the golden plumes are literally crawling with them.  As night temperatures drop, I often find bumble bees sleeping on them in the morning, waiting for enough solar heat to power their wings.  It will be the very last flower they see in their short lives.

Solidago speciosa - closeup

And like all the other goldenrods, of course, it is a great cut flower, and charming in a late September bouquet, especially with other late season perennials like magenta-pink New York ironweed (Vernonia novaboracensis), sweet blackeyed Susan (Rudbeckia tomentosa) and sky-blue aster (Symphyotrichum oolentangiensis).

Showy goldenrod with late wildflowers

And, no, goldenrods do not cause allergies – it’s the nefarious ragweed (Ambrosia artemesiifolia) blooming at the same time with its innocuous flowers that is the culprit.