October Featured Plant List

October Featured Plants

Mums aren’t the only fall plants in our garden! The Cheekwood garden team has hand selected their top plant picks for October from 9 of our distinct gardens. Use this as your guide as you explore the grounds.

Bradford Robertson Color Garden

Codiaeum variegatum ‘Mammy’/ Croton

A popular houseplant commonly used to spice up a room, it is currently growing in the Color Garden and has been since early summer. It’s vivid and rich foliage coloration lends an unlikely, but uniquely festive and attractive punch when paired with mums and pumpkins. ‘Mammy’ is among the shorter cultivars and boasts twisted foliage of red, yellow, dark green, and orange. The contrast between the dark green and the other, brighter colors, creates an intense and stunning effect. With more sun exposure, that intensity is increased, though, the color is quite vivid when grown in part shade, too. Native to Malaysia, Australia, Indonesia, and the Caribbean, it is often seen planted in groupings or as a hedge in tropical climates such as Florida, Southern California, and Hawaii.

Low maintenance, though not very tolerant of wet soils, crotons are in the Euphorbiacea family, the same as Poinsettias, and contain a milky sap that is poisonous and will irritate the skin. It was once used in the outdated medical practice of purging-not recommended. If you own a croton and are a cat parent, this could be a reason for your cat’s vomiting. Keep it out of reach for the health of your feline friends.

Herb Study Garden

Native American bed

Ilex verticillate ‘Sunset’ / Common Winterberry

When many of us think fall color, it’s usually that of foliage that first comes to mind. Depending on the time of flower, fruit of many plants appear in the fall, some in the form of berries or drupes, as with the common winterberry, Illex verticillata. The bright reddish-orange fruit can persist until December or January, depending on the whether it is on the local (and migratory) birds’ radar. It withstands wet soils very well. With a deep dark green foliage color that can have a purple tinge in fall, the best effect of this shrub is seen when planted in a mass. Full sun to part shade is the recommended sun exposure, though it well set more fruit when given more sun. It appreciates acidic soil, though it is open to a variety of soil tilths. It is crucial to plant at least 2 winterberries for pollination to take effect. Without fruit set, what’s the point?! The cultivar ‘Sunset’ has been around for a few decades, and its pollinator is ‘Southern Gentleman’. With a vigorous spreading habit and potential to reach 6 – 8’ tall, this selection will certainly make a statement in any landscape.

Robinson Family Water Garden

Maclura pomifera / Osage-orange

Currently producing fruit and located by the stream, alongside our arboretum lawn, the Osage-orange has a few outstanding qualities: drought and heat tolerance, pest resistance (including deer), as well as an extreme tolerance to high pH in limestone soils (which is common around parts of  middle Tennessee). This native and durable tree of the mulberry family is very effective for problem areas. Basically, the windiest, worst soil quality, driest, and post-apocalyptic of sites make wonderful placements for this tree. And that is admirable.

The fruit is bizarre-looking, grapefruit-sized, not palatable, looking something like a brain, and can potentially cause harm if you happen to be standing underneath a tree after ripening season (a.k.a. now). It is made of a conglomeration of small individual drupes, filled with a latex-based juice.

Maclurapomiferacan reach a height of 50 or 60’, though usually in the range of 20 – 40 feet. As the scaly bark made of longitudal fissures ages, it takes on an orange patina which is very attractive. The tree’s wood is extremely remarkable, especially for furniture-making. The wood contains a compound called tetrahydroxystilbene which is toxic to a large population of fungi, therefore, making the wood and furniture made from it very decay-resistant. To use within your landscape, and not the back 40, select a male, thornless variety to avoid the messiness that the fruit can produce.

Photo courtesy of Joseph M. DiTomaso, University of California – Davis, Bugwood.org

Shōmu-en Japanese Garden

Thuidium delicatulum/ Common Fern Moss, Delicate Fern

In our Japanese Garden, past the viewing pavilion, a carpet of bright green moss is growing. Not a planned planting, this fern moss occurred naturally, and, being so appropriate for the space, was nurtured to be the expansive groundcover that it is today. Called “fern moss” because of the resemblance the leaves have to that of a small fern, it often forms mats of leaves in areas that that can seem unfit for other plants. If given part sun to medium shade, soil on the acidic side, periods of wet to moist conditions, and protection from prevailing winds, you will indeed have an inviting space for moss to thrive. Moss is one of the most drought tolerant plants, though needing water for photosynthesis to occur (which will lead to faster growth) and to reproduce sexually (though not asexually), it does not need it for survival. During a dehydration period, the moss appears dead; it’s brown and dried up. With added moisture, fern moss quickly springs back to life. Humidity plays a larger role in the health of moss than actual rainfall or irrigation.

Thuidium is found in an extremely wide range,  primarily in Europe, the Middle East, Siberia, and Asia, but has also been documented in Alaska, S. Dakota, Iowa, British Columbia, the Yukon, N. Carolina to Michigan, Mexico, and South America, as well as Newfoundland to Manitoba. It’s uses are almost just as varied, once utilized as “caulking” for log cabins, stuffing for bedding, mattresses and coffins, it is presently seen as hanging basket liners, soil covers for terrariums and elements of floral displays (under the moniker “sheet moss”).

In Japanese culture, moss is regarded as a symbol of age, tradition and harmony. It invites self-forgetfulness. If moss is looked at closely, its tiny details resemble images of larger plant life- even the trees that protect and shade it. The culture also attributes a great amount of respect to history. As moss is slow to spread, the plant is symbolic of the precious passing of time, and therefore is nurtured with reverence and care.

Photo courtesy of Charles T. Bryson, USDA Agricultural Research Service, Bugwood.org

Burr Terrace Garden

Begonia ‘Looking Glass’ / Begonia hybrid

An annual that can never outstay her welcome, this Begonia provides a unique and cool tone to raised planters and containers. In the Burr garden, it is stunning with large silver leaves cascading over the brick. A cane type, often called “angel-wing” for the shape of its leaves, the stems are long with swollen joints, or nodes, resembling that of bamboo. Easy to grow (especially easier than rex begonias), this category of begonia is grown primarily for its foliage. ‘Looking Glass’ possesses olive-green venation with cranberry-colored undersides.

Bred by Patrick J. Worley in 1981, in climates with mild winters (south Florida, zone 10 and higher), ‘Looking Glass’ and others like it can reach 4 feet in height with a width of 5 feet. During the growing season, pinching the tip back will induce growth of new canes from the base. This will help stabilize the plant as it can be quite leggy, rarely branching above soil level. Flowers are pink but pale in comparison to the foliage. For those of us not living in tropical climates, all begonias make perfect houseplants, especially during the winter.

Carell Dogwood Garden

Corpus kousa ‘Big Apple’ / Kousa Dogwood

A dogwood of many virtues, Cornus kousa ‘Big Apple’, located where the Carell Dogwood Garden meets the Burr, is in full fruit, dispersed heavily, but elegantly throughout its branches like ornaments on display. Pinky-red in color, these drupes resemble raspberries and are edible and possibly enjoyable, if you can get past the mealy texture. The flowers appear in mid-May, about 2-3 weeks after Cornus florida.

As with all dogwoods, the winter interest is great with the characteristic horizontal branching, an architecture that only becomes stronger with age. For landscape value, C. kousais a supreme choice. Its lateral branching habit is effective at breaking up the monotony of vertical branching trees and shrubs, the flowers provide color before the mass explosion of summer color, it is small enough to plant near a house, and the bark takes on an exfoliating quality as it matures. In addition to the large fruit (1.25 – 1.5” sized drupes) of ‘Big Apple’ that develops and persists through October, the fall color of the foliage varies from amber orange to reddish-purple and is very frost resistant.

Photo courtesy of T. Davis Sydnor, The Ohio State University, Bugwood.org

Howe Garden

Aster shortii/ Short’s Aster

Located underneath the leaning ash in the Howe Garden, this native aster provides a soft overture as the season turns from hot to bearable. Blooming from late August to October, the radial-shaped (and larger than average) flowers of this species appear either lavender or light blue, depending on the light and surround yellow disks that will turn a reddish tone with age. Beside flower size, to distinguish from other woodland aster, the leaves can also be telling. Short’s Aster has smooth leaf edges and not toothed, like others.

Found in upland oak-history woodlands, rocky woodlands and slopes, as well as woodland borders and paths, you will often find this species in areas where limestone is close to the surface of the ground. As middle Tennessee is rich in limestone, Short’s Aster is a common site in our natural areas and provide nectar for many of our pollinators including the long-tongued bee, small-tongued bee, butterflies, skippers, and flies.

Turner Season’s Garden: Fall Section

Colchicum hybrid ‘The Giant’ / Autumn Crocus, Meadow Saffron

Fall-blooming and often called “autumn crocus, it is not a crocus at all. It belongs to its own family, Colchicaceae, while Crocus belongs to the Iridaceae family.  They are visually similar, until you take a closer look. First, count the stamens. Crocus have 3, Colchicum have 6. Colchicum have 3 distinct styles, while Crocushas 1 that is divided into 3 just below the tip. The leaves of Crocus are very narrow with a white stripe down the middle. Colchicum has leaves that are wide, with no stripe and have long died back by the time of flower.

Colchicum is a corm, a swollen underground plant stem that stores nutrients, which aids in the plant’s winter survival. If it’s instant gratification that you seek, this plant will send up 5-10 shoots per corm. Colchicum are to be planted in later summer to flower only a few weeks later in early-mid fall. For the best results, plant Colchicum with friends like hosta and artemisia, or a groundcover that will help stabilize the plant as it is known to flop over without support.

‘The Giant’ is a hybrid between speciosa, giganteum, and others.It has a checkered pattern, or tessellation, of dark and light lilac and is white at its center. This Colchicum is one of the tallest and most free-flowering of the genus, its blooms frequently being compared to a goblet or chalice.

Martin Boxwood Gardens

Reflecting Pool

Euphorbia characias / Mediterranean Spurge

A native to the Mediterranean, you will find this most commonly planted spurge located around the reflecting pool. The foliage is a verdant blue green and lush with healthy, helix-arranged foliage. Needing well drained soils (they dislike heavy clay), euphorbias prefer all the sun they can get and grow to a height of 3 feet in optimal conditions. In the months of May and June, you can see these spurges blooming in chartreuse. The contrast between the robust flower heads and the blue-toned foliage is very attractive, especially when used as a border planting.

Mediterranean spurge reseeds well (perhaps too well for some gardeners?), puts on a fabulous show with little care, and is deer, rabbit and drought tolerant. After flowers have gone to fruit, and seed is set, you can hear the seeds popping, dispersing into the surrounding garden. In milder winters and in zone 8, this euphorbia can be evergreen. Like croton, another submission for this month’s featured plant list, Mediterranean spurge has a milky sap that is a skin irritant.


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