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By David Yost, Plant Specialist

Careful observation of change and events in our gardens is one of the most enjoyable and important experiences in our gardening lives.

Watching the dramatic changes as forests and gardens turn from shades of green to yellow, red, orange and burgundy is always exciting. It can also be a bit disconcerting as this reminds us that the days are getting shorter, colder and winter is on the way.

That’s OK. We need winter to rest and restore ourselves to get ready for the following spring.

To me, it seems as though the fall color hasn’t been as intense this season as it was in previous years. In 2009 and ’10, the weather was very dry as we approached fall and this stress seemed to make the fall colors brighter. This year we’ve enjoyed ample rain since September, which has been great for our plants, but the colors are a bit muted.

Observing changes like this is interesting and we can try to use this information along with experience and judgment in managing our gardens.

During the past two summers, we’ve experienced record-breaking heat and prolonged dry spells. In the winter, we’ve seen back-to-back blizzards, very cold temperatures and now snow even before Halloween! I have lived in Virginia my entire life and the weather has always been erratic, but the past few years it does seem to be getting more pronounced. I’m certainly not qualified to comment on the circumstances of climate change, but it is changing the way I garden.

This past year I planted an assortment of Elephant ears and the hotter it got - the faster they grew! I’m using gardenia, previously only for Southern gardens, as one of the feature plants in a new bed.

Although the trend of using tropical and Southern plants started many years ago in our region, I’ve been reluctant to incorporate this into my own gardening. Of course, the real trick to this is how to get these plants through the winter, which also seems to be getting more extreme.

We accept crape myrtles, Southern magnolias and camellias as common landscape plants. However, when I started gardening 35 to 40 years ago, these plants were considered marginal for our region. Plant breeding and selection have improved their cold hardiness, and now we’re seeing the same thing happening with loropetalum, gardenias, rosemary and many others.

I still rely on coneflower, summer phlox, butterfly weed and Joe-pye weed for summer color, but love the option of including heat tolerant Southern and tropical plants.

Now my Elephant ears have been dug and are being prepared for winter storage. In the weeks ahead, I’ll provide some extra winter protection for the gardenia. I’m finding the extra work of preparing these plants for winter is more than compensated by the beauty and easy of care they offer during the growing season. I’ve been converted.

It’s always fun to try something new. I encourage everyone to come into Merrifield Garden Center for ideas and inspiration. Attend the seminars, look around at the displays, check out the plants. I’m sure you will find something you have NEVER seen before. We’re always changing.

As the seasons, the climate and the plants all seem to be changing around me, two things come to mind. Who says that you can’t teach an old dog new tricks and it’s all good!

Posted: 11/10/2011 2:11:52 PM

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