Spring blooms may have their legions of fans but Sue Barton unabashedly favors the flowers of fall.
“Fall is, by far, the more interesting time in Delaware’s landscape,” says Barton, noting the juxtaposition of flowers, grasses, foliage and fruit in shades of yellow, red, orange, blue, purple, white and more. Barton, the ornamental horticulture specialist for University of Delaware Cooperative Extension, points out that the ever-changing colors make for a new and different landscape every week.
The autumnal equinox is Sept. 23 and the fall wildflower season already is shaping up to be a beauty.
“The fall wildflowers actually start around the end of August, are in abundance now, and continue through Thanksgiving, when the late-blooming asters put on final show of color,” says Barton.
Native wildflowers currently in bloom include goldenrod, tickseed, ironweed, goldentop, ladies’-tresses, some species of coneflower and asters.
One of the best places to see fall wildflowers is Mt. Cuba Center. Along the woodland paths and in the meadow you’ll find white wood aster, purple dome New England aster, golden fleece autumn goldenrod, fireworks wrinkle-leaf goldenrod, blue-stemmed goldenrod and showy goldenrod.
Other fall highlights include black-eyed Susan and two varieties of Joe-Pye weed, (Eupatorium maculatum ‘Gateway’) and (Eupatorium dubium ‘Little Joe’), according to Jeanne Frett, horticultural research manager of Mt. Cuba.
Plus, goldentop is abundant in the center’s meadow and ladies’-tresses dots the woods. One of Frett’s favorite fall wildflowers is Chelone, commonly known as turtlehead because the flowers are shaped a bit like a turtle’s head. The species that Frett prefers sports hot pink flowers and grows throughout Mt. Cuba’s woods. She also likes Gentiana clausa,aka bottle gentian, which features vivid purple-blue flowers.
Winterthur Museum’s gardens also are a good place to check out colorful native wildflowers. The museum’s Quarry Garden woodlands feature asters and alumroot. Barton says that this woodland is a great place to observe the way that nature creates patterns in the landscape, such as the drifts of blooms often found under trees.
“For those plants that are dependent on distribution by birds, you’ll find a lot more plants directly under the trees or near the trees,” says Barton. “The birds distribute fewer seeds the further you get away from their nests.”
Barton enjoys looking for patterns — both natural and human-made — in the landscape. “There’s often an element of surprise, you wonder why a particular species is abundant in one spot and not another, and then you realize that the conditions are different in terms of moisture or sunlight or some other factor,” notes Barton.
“I like change in the garden and in the landscape,” she adds. “Natural patterns in the landscape provide that element of change, and so, too, do the varying colors of fall’s flowers, grasses, foliage and fruit.”
Mt. Cuba and Winterthur both offer wildflower walks. Events at Mt. Cuba include “Autumnal Wildflower Garden” tours through Oct. 2. For tour days and more information, go to www.mtcubacenter.org or call 302-239-4244.
At Winterthur, “Wednesday Garden Walks” are held each week; wildflowers can be seen on the Oct. 5 walk, titled “The Purple and Red of Sycamore Hill,” and on the Oct. 12 “Harvest-Time Hike.” For more information, go to www.winterthur.org or call 302-888-4600.
Article by Margo McDonough
Photo courtesy Mt. Cuba