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The great mystery of why things are as they are instead of some other way is always with us. We wonder at the sequence of flowering times: Why are there still shrubs and perennials opening blooms as the season heads towards dormancy? Leaves are turning and the sugars and proteins of most plants are being redirected from growth to storage, but there is a whole spectrum of late bloomers that are merrily roaring ahead.
David Lendrum is a master gardener and owner of Landscape Alaska. Responses or questions can be sent to www.landscapealaska.com.
Fireweed has been filling the atmosphere with it's fluffy explorers and colonists; currants have already gone scarlet; and the china-white berries of the big coastal dogwoods are softening to the stage of palatability (or so the crows think). It seems for all these local species that the season has turned and they are preparing for the next wave. There are other plants however, totally hardy and well-established in the local landscapes that are just now coming to flower.
The whole spiraea clan are late-summer flowering specialists, but some of them are really pushing the envelope. The bright red one we planted at Auke Bay Harbor is called Dart's Red, and it is just now opening to flaunt true scarlet blossoms in such great abundance that our phone echoes with the same question daily. It is paced by a clean white Japanese variety, which shares its shape and timing - Japanese white spiraea. These spreading forms have finger-shaped, light-green leaves that are turning multicolored at the same time as the blossoms are opening. They make for a great show.
Other spiraeas blooming lately include the tall, sturdy Billardi type, with those brilliant, pinkish-purple spires waving straight up like fingers. These make great hedges and have been part of the domestic landscape in Juneau for generations.
One of my very favorite shrubs is the Ural false spiraea (Sorbaria sorbifolia), also known as ash leaf spiraea since its leaves look like mountain ash and it blooms along with these spiraeas. It is not one, but shares some of the shapes and so has joined them popularly. It looks very native, having the divided leaves of the goatsbeard and knobbly stems of salmonberries, but comes from afar. It makes hedges and foundation plantings in the oldest neighborhoods, as well as being a tenacious erosion fighter in the newer subdivisions.
The blossoms have a distinct lilac quality, drooping gracefully and carrying a delightful aroma. White and long-lasting, they stand more erect as they open. Older plants that have been cut back for decades have so many blooms that one can scarcely see the foliage. Too bad - since the leaves are turning red at the same time as the flowers open.
These big, bright shrubs join those still carrying their summer colors, the strongly growing roses and potentillas. They are cousins - just look at the bloom shapes, count the petals and look at the stamens and you will see the family resemblance. Tough and desirable, they have been carrying the show for over a month now.
I have been trying out some Canadian rose introductions for the last couple of years. The Explorer series, including Henry Hudson, Samuel Holland, and William Baffin are still blooming - some have been continuously flowering for three months. There are also fuchsia pink blossoms covering the small slender branches of the Morden Centennial roses, weighing the stems down with their huge flowers.
There is little as attractive as walking out after a couple of stormy days and seeing the abundant buds of these roses still opening and still forming more for future pleasure. The climbing types have clusters of a dozen or so on the ends of each branch; the shrub forms grow in smaller bunches but have them all over the plant. I think we will have a lot of these in the next few years.
There are perennials blooming now, too: monkshoods, fall-blooming asters, heleniums and the perennial lobelias. But they will have to wait until another opportunity. The foliage-coloring, bulb-planting strategies and end of the summer jobs will have to wait, too.
Margaret and I are out landscaping at this time of year. The bulbs are in and it is still great planting time. Most of the summer staff have gone back to school or off to wherever they go for the off season. So if you come looking for these blooming beauties, you may have to just wander about until you find them. But please feel free to do just that.
David Lendrum is a master gardener and owner of Landscape Alaska. Responses or questions can be sent to www.landscapealaska.com