Three great plants are stars of my fall garden

The past year's weather was awful -- winter was too snowy, summer, too rainy -- but three great plants overcame all that to become garden stars in fall.

Courtesy of Craig Summers Black
Usually bulletproof, my Liberty apples got a little blemished during this sorry, soggy summer. But they still taste scrumptious.
Courtesy of Craig Summers Black
Rugosa roses thrive in my too-hot/too-cold climate. Topaz Jewel is one of the most reliable.
Courtesy of Craig Summers Black
Lablab bean takes a while to flower with our short growing season. Start them indoors for a longer, earlier bloom time. They're easy.

After just about the snowiest winter on record (almost 50 inches!) and the third-worst summer in the nation (rain, rain, and more rain), we out here in fly-over country are finally catching a break -- Indian summer.

Three weeks after our average first freeze date, we’ve had only a couple of light frosts – just enough to kill the crabgrass and leave almost everything else green and lush, looking as if I had actually finished weeding the place.

Somehow the veg garden is still pumping out beans, peppers, and tomatoes. The Yukon Gold spuds are all in, but the sweet potatoes – which need a longer growing season – are still half in the ground, waiting to get bigger and sweeter. And it just may happen.

Three other things I like about this time of year:

Apples: More than 10 years ago, when I first started the orchard, I was enchanted by heirloom/antique apples. I figured, hey, they didn’t have chemical sprays back then, so they must do OK now without it. And every time I saw the words “one of Thomas Jefferson’s favorites” in a catalog, I bought one.

Evidently, Tom never met an apple tree he didn’t like, because I ended up with about 30 of them. (Unfortunately, I found that many of them suffer from all kinds of awfulness.) For insurance, I planted a couple modern-day, disease-resistant trees in the backyard. They are both Liberty, and, to my mind, the best- tasting of this genre.

When I swing by on my weekly marathon with the lawn tractor, I usually grab at least one to munch on while performing this dreary chore. The dogs like them, too. Not always a good thing.

While not as disease-resistant as originally thought, Honeycrisp is another hardy modern with great taste.

Roses: I have a large semicircular border of roses out back – probably 25 bushes – dividing the formal garden from the more wooded, informal area and the three-row evergreen windbreak.

In central Iowa’s usually nasty Zone 4/5 climate, our selection of roses is somewhat limited, but rugosas feel quite at home and are blooming quite handily even now. My faves:

– The double pink Therese Bugnet.

– The semidouble white Sir Thomas Lipton.

– Another hybrid, the exceedingly fragrant, semi-double white Blanc Double de Coubert.

– And the clear-yellow, hybrid single Sir Thomas Lipton.

Lablab bean vine: Annual vines area sadly underused utility player in the garden. They don’t take up any room, they are quite colorful, and they bloom forever. Unfortunately, one of my favorites takes a while to really get going – especially after such a dark and stormy summer as the last one. But when lablab (Dilichos purpureus) -- also called hyacinth bean -- finally shoots its nearly radioactive purply-pink pods on high, it is a glorious thing.

Also: With the warm weather lasting so long, we may actually be able to finish painting the house, which I tend to think of as the backdrop for my garden. A three-story Victorian takes a while. But it’s now all scraped and primed, awaiting our latest Painted Lady color scheme. (Decisions, decisions …)

Unfortunately, right now the place kind of looks like something from war-torn Beirut. Here’s hoping the weather holds out, so the house doesn’t have to suffer the indignity of spending the winter clad thus.

Also. too: Do you have any favorite things gardenesque about this time of year? Post them below – and tell us why.

What else I’m into this week: The Throwdowns, the best slice of post-punk power-pop I’ve run into since … well, I can’t remember that far back. Think of them as the No Doubt for the next decade.


Craig Summers Black, The Transplanted Gardener, is an award-winning garden writer and photographer who blogs regularly at Diggin' it. You can read more of what he's written by clicking here. You may also follow Craig’s further adventures in gardening, music, and rural life on Twitter.

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