Autumnal Treats


Autumnal Treats


With the heat of summer behind us and shorter days and cooler nights ahead, it’s almost time for plant material to shut down and begin to go dormant. Cooler days and nights start to slow the growing and stretching of plant material and make it more advantageous for transplanting and planting. However, before this happens, there are some surprises we can still look forward to before we think about putting away our backyard furniture for the season.

Heptacodium miconioides (Seven-Son Flower) has features that have been developing over summer and are now ready to put on display.  Native to the Zhejiang Province of China this garden gem offers characteristics that are comparable to the popular southern beauty Lagerstroemia (Crapemyrtle). With an upright, open growth habit this one really puts on a display quickly. Starting off with four inch, dark green leaves in early spring which sticks through November, it is the bark, flower and fruit which make this a suitable candidate for smaller landscapes. The buds appear early on in summer, however it’s not until August that they open and really shine through September, maybe October. Six inch long terminal panicles are fragrant and creamy- white, with a fragrance reminiscent to jasmine. Heptacodium’s common name is derived from small single flowers that are borne in tiers, capped by a flower, thus creating a seventh flower. Exfoliating gray-brown bark creates a patchwork consistent with those beautiful Crapemyrtles we see all too often south of Maryland. Another bonus is the groupings of pink-red calyxes through the progression of the season. Known to attract butterflies and related to the honeysuckle, this horticultural delight transplants easily from containers and prefers moist, well drained soils. The growth of Seven-Son Flower can be exponential at a younger age. Mature heights are ten to twenty feet high and about five to ten feet wide. Suitable as a small specimen, try to keep this one out of direct sun in the hot afternoon. And by all means look, with anticipation, for the purple-bronze fall color.

Franklinia alatamaha (Franklin Tree) is just about the most impressive late summer/early fall flowering tree going. Almost perfect white flowers are borne in August and September. Made up of five petals and a yellow center, the fact that it’s fragrant is just an exclamation mark for an already impressive small tree. Trying to outperform this feat is the intense red and orange markings which take place in the cooler fall months. And for the real plant “weenies”, try staring at the peculiar fruit which is dissected into five-valved capsules, an instant give away in a plant ID class. Showcasing Franklinia should be a prerequisite for any gardener as its attributes are numerous. Even the bark, as it matures, offers vertical fissures affording a fluted appearance. Found and native to the banks of the Altamaha River in Georgia by John and William Bartram, Franklin Tree prefers moist, well drained soils and full to partial sun. Overall appearances for this specimen can reach ten to twenty feet tall by eight to twelve feet wide. For best results, try planting a container grown or smaller B&B type as the root system, which is not heavily fibrous, lends itself better for transplanting.  Franklinia’s common name is derived from the Bartram’s (Eighteenth-century botanists) association with friend Benjamin Franklin. Paying homage to Franklin and the old spelling of “alatamaha” (the river by which the tree was found in Georgia) make up this historical beauty’s nomenclature.

Windbreakers and sweaters will soon be moved to the front of our closets. Pumpkins, chrysanthemums and Montauk Daisies will be the foreground admixtures supporting more permanent plant materials.  So before you pack away all your outdoor garden furniture, try using it to relax and enjoy the splendors of fall. After all, autumn can be just as enticing in your garden as any other season.


Robert LaHoff

Hall’s Garden Center