Monday, October 27, 2014

Garden at the Curbside: Still Shining in October

            The curbside garden in front of our house -- known in the how-to books as the "sidewalk strip" -- is rich in sedum, a plant that not only tolerates, but loves heat and dryness. If you're trying to grow between the asphalt of the roadway on one side and a paved sidewalk (asphalt in our case) desert-like conditions are what you can expect. A row of Autumn Joy sedum provides the biggest hunk of foliage and "plant material" in the strip (rivaled only by high-summer weeds) for most of the growing season. This year the sedum flowers showed and exhausted their color early in autumn, so I've moved on to coaxing what color I can get from the other plants.
            Following the sedum, come the mums; a mixed bag of new 'hardy' ones  purchased this year and a few still hardy returnees from previous years. This year I went for the small-size on the new mums, betting less on their capacity for surviving a winter and coming back next year,and leaving more space for annuals the rest of the season. The top photo shows a sedum bloom at left; a couple of orange nasturtium flowers, an annual; and a red-flowering mum.
            By the end of October, the new hardy mums have mostly exhausted their blooms, though a few of the returning mums are still showing color. I had to nurse these, watering them frequently through our long dry September and deadheading off the dried or failed blooms. The yellow-flowering mum shown in the second photo is the best of these.

            A personal favorite because of its modest persistence, the summery, warm-weather portulaca is an annual that just keeps seeding itself and coming back each year in the same spots in the poor, crowded, beleaguered soil of the sidewalk strip. They take all summer to sprout and most remain small when they flower in September, often only a single flowering stem: little buttons of color in the strip's flayed soil and mulch (third and fourth photos). I bought a couple of these in August this year; larger plants, larger flowers. They're hanging in there; after surviving a cool and rainy week, they're making new buds for another flowering. I would have bought more if I could have found them locally.
            Curbside strips naturally attract certain activities that make life tougher for plants. Dogs are frequently walked down the sidewalk in front of our house. Plants get stepped on. Occasional litter, sometimes following neighborhood curbside trash pickup day, settles there. These areas require policing.
            But the curbside garden offers its own little ecosystem, with a stable of persistent, heat-loving plants, warmed by the concrete jungle of the surrounding pavement, surviving the pollution of the passing cars and trucks, squirrel predations, pet visits, and the regular arrival of tossed garbage lids. They keep blossoming straight through autumn.
            To top it off, the strip is crowned by a tall maple, which at this moments happens to be looking very orange.