After my failure to resist the lure of mums this fall, I set out on my lunch hour today to the U of I Arboretum to visit the Miles C. Hartley Selection Gardens and Champaign County Master Gardener Idea Garden. I was particularly interested in finding some annuals and perennials that were still performing well after a hot, droughty summer and a short string of cool autumn nights. If I was going to find some potential mum replacements for my fall garden, these two gardens would be a great place to start.
A great many plants, especially those in the trial gardens, were well past their summer prime. Many of the zinnias and petunias that were amazing in August were shriveled, diseased shadows of their former beauty. A few plants, however, earned themselves a potential spot in next year’s garden.
Zinnia ‘Zahara Double Cherry’ was both floriferous and lush in foliage, an unusual combination in zinnia this time of year. Many of the other Zahara and Profusion zinnias were completely past their prime, but ‘Zahara Double Cherry’ remained in peak season form.
I’m usually not a big fan of Petunia, but the white-striped, deep burgundy-purple of ‘Littletunia Bicolor Illusion’ is one of the more unique petunias I’ve ever seen. The foliage of the plants was in great shape and just covered with the small Calibrachoa-sized flowers. I’ll like to see how this cultivar does as a trailer in a container combination next year.
Gomphrena is another annual that I’ve come to like this year, both in the garden and as a cut flower. I’ve grown ‘QIS Mix’ in my home garden, but this variety — ‘Las Vegas Pink’ — is even more outstanding. A true lavender color, the flowers are simply stunning massed in this annual border.
These Gazania ‘Kiss Bronze Star’ immediately reminded me of a tiny version of Rudbeckia ‘Cappuchino’. I attempted to grow ‘Big Kiss Yellow Flame’ at home this year, but I didn’t give it a sunny enough location and it quickly died. This ‘Kiss Bronze Star’ cultivar is getting the sun it needs at the Idea Garden, and makes a great fall performer.
I was pleased to find that Zephyranthes candida (Rain Lily) is a hardy fall bulb here in Zone 5. The pure white crocus-like flowers growing among rush-like leaves made October feel like spring when I caught sight of a small clump in the Idea Garden.
I consider myself fortunate to live in a town where we have such botanical treasures as the Idea Garden and the Hartley Selection Gardens. Not only do they provide a place of respite in the middle of the work day, but they also make for excellent window shopping for next year’s home garden.