By Dandy Lion
As the days start to shorten, plenty of plants are telling us that fall is here. Ornamental grasses explode like fireworks, berries ripen for the birds, sasanqua camellias begin to bloom and mums create vibrant mounds in the Garden. Actually a chrysanthemum’s bloom date is not determined by cool weather or a short day, but the amount of night hours it enjoys. Yes, the clues are everywhere.
Another hint that fall is here is the occasional visit by the residential bald eagles to their nest – getting ready for the winter nesting season. Once they start their work in earnest, the Garden must close off a section around the nest to avoid disturbing the eagles as they begin a new family. I like to call the few theme gardens within this area “the forbidden zone” since the public is not allowed in and the gardeners can spend only limited time there as well. While this is great for the eagles, it means some plants don’t get to show off like the rest of us. But that is a few months away – right now many of the plants of the forbidden zone are looking really great.
I suggest you head to the Matson Garden in the next few days. As you approach, you will be greeted by a wonderfully sweet smell – an offering provided by two fragrant tea olives. Rising around 15 feet, these large evergreen shrubs flank a small stone path coursing through the garden. One had outgrown its bounds and was rewarded with a trimming at the bottom, turning it into a tree with multiple bare trunks. The other still drops its green skirt to the ground. Both display clusters of pale orange flowers hiding tightly against the stem. They are not particularly showy, but they pack a powerful punch when it comes to perfume.
There are other plants that require a closer look as well. Standing near the road, a dwarf elm mimics a medium-sized Japanese maple with contorted branches. However, it is clothed in small jagged, elm-shaped leaves instead of the palmate maple leaves. At the end closest to the colonial garden stands a tall sprawling shrub with leaves similar to a butterfly bush. While the leaves are a close match, the flowers certainly aren’t. Instead, the false butterfly bush dangles long rope-like flower heads featuring many small blooms attractive to bees. Nearby, echoing the cascading blooms of the false butterfly bush, are drooping branches of the purple beautyberry covered in clusters of bright berries true to their name.
Other charming plants can be found in this garden. From the smoky blue foliage of a dwarf deodor cedar to the soft pale-green leaves of the tamarix, from the fuzzy leaves of lambs ear to the thick spiky form of a yucca, there is a plant for any taste. There are plenty of discoveries waiting for anyone willing to venture down the small stone paths of this garden.
While in this forbidden area, don’t forget to walk across the road to the figure 8 garden. A polyantha rose stands at the entrance of a mulched path entering this woodland. A small stream flanked by low growing plants traces the path along the right. The mottled flowers of a toad lily peek out from surrounding foliage. This perennial is remarkable for its unusual flowers and name and it makes a great addition to any fall garden because of its bloom time. Further into the wood stands a sculpture of St. Francis, greeting visitors and watching carefully the eagles’ nest above. As the fall season progresses, a variety of leaf color will brighten the meandering path that heads back towards the perennial garden.
Plan to visit these fascinating plants before the eagle fence shuts them off from the public in December. After that, they are just forbidden fruit in our garden.