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The Self-Taught Gardener: The other fall colors

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By Thursday, Sep 13 Home & Garden More In Real Estate
Kiss-Me-Over-The-Garden-Gate, an eye-catching heirloom plant that is also a prodigious self-sower, is a beautiful example of "the other fall colors."

As the season cools and reminds us of what lies ahead, we all dream of that morning when we wake up and all of the leaves arching over our bedroom windows take on the hues that have defined season after season of fall clothing for J. Crew and the like. But in the days before that magical moment, there are many other colors to take in, or at least other plants to admire for their own fall tones.

Amaranths range in color, but I love the deep reddish purple tones that appear at this time of year.

A quick walk around the garden this evening made me recognize a number of plants, often underrepresented in gardens, that add late season interest. The first of those are the amaranths, which capture my attention as their seed heads develop and glow in the ever lower-lying light. While I like some of the more upright forms we are trying out at the farm this year, I do have a favorite: ‘Hopi Red Dye,’ distinguished by purple edible foliage that enlivens the garden from its first germination in late spring until it flowers in the same tone in fall. I love the monochrome nature of this plant. It is like a man or woman dressed from head to toe in black, elegant and never out of place.

‘Red Hopi Dye’ amaranth has a wonderful monochromatic appeal that holds its own against a late season sky.

It is nicely countered by another long season favorite, Kiss-Me-Over-The-Garden-Gate, which self sows (See photo above.) I wonder if I should carry seeds of both of these plants in my pocket in spring and surreptitiously sow them in subdued gardens to surprise their owners with their high drama later in the season, kind of like Miss Wilmot did with the sea hollies now known as Miss Wilmot’s Ghost for a good reason – they pop up unexpectedly each season. But I will restrain myself and let others select these additions to their gardens for themselves. After all, Miss Wilmot was not always well received for her generosity.

Ethiopian eggplants are colorful and take on amazing tones as they start to mature.

Purples and reds abound elsewhere in the late season garden, with Ethiopian eggplants running the gamut from red and a jewel-like purple to the orange of a glowing sun. Perhaps eggplants need to be added to more ornamental spaces, particularly the smaller fruited varieties, which are ideal for steaming and topping with sesame oil, as I learned from my friend from Chanticleer garden, Eric Hsu.

Eggplants should be reconsidered as edible ornamentals. And for those of you who do not care for their taste, try another recipe or variety — or just grow them for their beauty.

But perhaps the most surprising color of all to see this week was an ornamental pepper with silvery purple foliage and fruits that run from lavender to more dramatic red tones that make me realize there is more to observe in the fall than simply the foliage of the trees. This season I may keep my head down and stop reaching for the treetops when I am craving a burst of color.

This pepper has such an amazing purple color that it could simply be grown as an ornamental.

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A gardener grows through observation, experimentation, and learning from the failures, triumphs, and hard work of oneself and others. In this sense, all gardeners are self-taught, while at the same time intrinsically connected to a tradition and a community that finds satisfaction through working the soil and sharing their experiences with one another. This column explores those relationships and how we learn about the world around us from plants and our fellow gardeners.


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