September Featured Plants
There is much to see in the gardens this month! The Cheekwood garden team has hand picked their top plant picks from 9 of our distinct gardens. Use this as your guide as you explore the grounds.
Seasons Garden: Summer Section / Trains Display
Gaura lindheimeri ‘Sparkle White’ / white gaura, whirling butterflies
Because Gaura tolerates heat and humidity, southern gardens are often seen softened with the white panicle of blooms set above reddish stems. This perennial tolerates poor soils, as well, if good drainage is provided. The species is native to Texas and Louisiana, and though gaura is such a common garden staple now (and presents itself as an old-fashioned element of Americana), it has not always been the case. Once an understated, obscure roadside wildflower of the midsouth, it is now sought after for the movement and informality it brings to the landscape due to breeding efforts performed in the 1980s. Gaura will sprawl and naturalize without much waiting around. Be sure to cut back blooms as soon as the flowers fade and are no longer gaining admirers; this will ensure rebloom until frost. The breeding work of ‘Sparkle White’ presents a more compact habit. The cultivar is award winning- the 2014 AAS Bedding Plant Winner and a recipient of Europe’s FleuroSelect Gold Medal award for garden performance.
Herb Study Garden
Native American bed
Eupatorium fistulosum / hollow Joe Pye weed
Hollow Joe Pye Weed is native, very winter hardy in Tennessee, and the perfect food source for butterflies such as Horace’s Duskywing and the Bronze Skipper. It provides an upright, clumping architecture to garden design. What is most wonderful about this native perennial is that it provides color and interest from late summer until fall (seed heads will persist well into the winter!). We often see a lull during this time due to tired gardens (and gardeners), but this is one plant that can help supplement that gap. Plant on the edge of rain gardens or other water locales.
Bradford Robertson Color Garden
Pennisetum alopecuroides ‘National Arboretum’ / fountain grass
‘National Arboretum’ is a late summer-blooming, clump-forming grass that produces dark purple plumes from August – October. The species is Native to West Australia and East Asia. As the name suggests, the cultivar ‘National Arboretum’ was developed at the U.S. National Arboretum in Washington D.C. The foliage isn’t anything too spectacular- it really is all about the feathery flower spikes with this grass, and some gardeners may even find the foliage more attractive as late fall and winter interest. The leaves take on a yellow-brown color when temperatures begin to turn in fall. Given full sun and an average amount of moisture, this grass can greatly benefit a garden’s texture palette and reach a height of 2-3 feet tall. It is a vigorous re-seeder in optimal conditions, but it does not come back true to seed.
Robinson Family Water Garden
Anemonex ‘September Charm’ / Japanese anemone
Well drained soils and partial shade are the 2 main ingredients for a winning anemone display. Although anemome can be slow to establish, after year 2 or 3, you may find that it’s a bit aggressive. The late flowering blooms are much appreciated here in the South when most other plants are preparing for winter or too hot and tired to put on a show. ‘September Charm’ is known for her abundance of single-flowered, upright blooms, an iridescent rose-pink in color. This is a clumping perennial that forms rhizomes and is known to naturalize. Plant in partial shade to avoid leaf burn and with ample room to colonize.
Shōmu-en Japanese Garden
Chamaecyparis obtusa / hinoki falsecypress
This evergreen conifer, pyramidal in form with a pendulous branching habit, supplies not only a structural backdrop element, but plenty of character to play as a specimen, too. Foliage consists of dark green scale-like leaves with white undersides that possess blunt, rounded tips, giving the specific epithet name, “obtusa”. The foliage tends to brown in winter. The bark is a very attractive reddish brown that sheds in strips when the tree is mature. It is native to Japan and was introduced to the United States in the late 1860’s.
It MUST have well-drained soil to perform well at all. Loamy soil is preferred, and full sun is the best siting for this tree.
Carell Dogwood Garden
Chelone lyonii ‘Hot Lips’ / Turtlehead
Native from North GA all the way up to Newfoundland and west to Minnesota (it has an impressive hardiness range of zones 3-8), the foliage of Chelone has dark, lustrous, green serrated foliage which provides a unique contrast with its rose-colored flowers. Large clumps will form given 3-4 years. ‘Hot Lips’ has red stems and begins blooming here at Cheekwood in the late summer. The puffy flowers are held on flower spikes and resemble those of snapdragon. Turtlehead performs best when planted in naturalized areas or boggy, wet soils and it fully appreciates afternoon shade. It is a host plant for the Baltimore Checkerspot butterfly.
Torreya taxifolia / Stinking Cedar
Our Torreya taxifoliacan be admired from the bridge leading into the Howe garden’s central lawn. Slightly pyramidal and slow growing. the Stinking Cedar is one of the oldest living plant species on Earth, dating back to 165 million years ago (to put this in perspective, Ginkgo biloba- the Oldest Living Known Plant-has been in existence for 270 million years). Once covering the Northern Hemisphere, it was pushed down by glaciers. When the glaciers retreated it became isolated in small pockets throughout the southeastern U.S. Our specimen came to us from the United States National Arboretum in 1985. Two distinguishing features of the Torreya are its sharp needle tips and the unpleasant aroma of its foliage and cones when crushed. You can see it in fruit this month. The olive-shaped fruit is attractive, turning from a blue-toned to a darker green with age later in fall.
Though native to Florida, it has been critical to plant and establish Torreya taxifoliaoutside of its native range for preservation reasons. Following the popular use and consequential overharvesting of the species for riverboat fuel, Christmas trees, and fence posts, was the twig blight, Pestalotiopsis. This finally put T. taxifoliaon the Endangered Species List in 1984. A recovery plan was established for the tree in 1986. Today there are between 200 – 600 (depending on the source) stinking cedar trees left in the wild.
Wills Garden and Frist Learning Center / Café 29
Ceratostigma plumbaginoides / Leadwort
True blue flowers and remarkable fall color are two attributes not commonly found in a low-growing, herbaceous perennial. Native to Western China, leadwort blooms from July until September and makes an outstanding groundcover during warm months (it is not evergreen) and does very well in most conditions. However, for the best performance, plant in well-drained soil and provide this plant with afternoon shade. It’s tricky to say that any plant is deer resistant, but leadwort is not the first plant that deer will go after. This plant pairs well with silver and gray tones, as well as with bulbs. Once bulb foliage begins to die back, Ceratostigmabegins to bloom, creating a beautiful distraction.
Burr Terrace Garden
Rohdea japonica / Sacred Lily
In difficult gardening spots like dry shade, sacred lily can be an attractive alternative to cast iron plant, providing a viable evergreen component at a considerably shorter stature throughout the winter season. This is definitely a plantsperson’s plant. There really isn’t anything stunning about the species. Perhaps a few of the cultivars with variegated foliage can provide more interest to some gardeners. I relate the appreciation of this plant to becoming more invested in artisanal tea-drinking later in life. Attractive red fruit is produced which adds the only real flavor. The best use for Rohdea is the reliably evergreen and contrasting texture it provides when paired with companions such as ferns and hostas.