The Weekly Gardener 1


Early Fall

After the Rain


Everyone is familiar with this weird characteristic of mushrooms: they spring out of the ground overnight, fully grown, whenever they get a good rain and enough warmth to trigger their development. You go to sleep with a lawn and wake up to a mushroom hatchery.

The good news is that mushrooms need decaying organic matter, which is rich in nutrients, in order to grow, and if they sprout on your lawn that means your soil is very healthy.

They don't need sunlight or dirt, they'll grow anywhere: dark basements, rotting wooden logs, they'll even sprout sideways on the trunks of old trees. Some mushroom types, truffles, for instance, don't bother to break out of the ground at all and live their happy stealth lives completely buried.

That's where the largest part of the mushroom is anyway, underground; there it forms an intricate network of filaments which can span for miles and survive for thousands of years as long as there is sufficient decaying matter to feast on.

How do they grow so fast? My understanding is that the cells of their fruiting bodies divide and get fully formed beneath the surface of the soil, where the mycellium can accumulate large quantities of nutrients over time, and when moisture becomes available, the cells simply swell up with water and make the caps pop out of the ground. A mushroom is over 90% water.


Fall Princess

Toad Lily Buds

Every year I wait for this princess, the orchid of the northern garden, a plant whose flowers are as exquisite as its name is revolting. I'm talking about the toad lily.

For those who have long searched for late fall perennials, look no further: toad lilies start blooming mid-September and keep going until the beginning of November. They bloom until everything else has retired for the season, and keep good company to the fall equinox, the harvest and the Halloween pumpkins.

Toad lilies are fall bulbs (yes, there is such a thing), which means they bring to the garden all the advantages of their spring blooming siblings: they require virtually no maintenance, they are very resilient and in time they spread to form large clumps, which makes them great for naturalizing. They grow about three foot tall and are not scented.

Sometimes mid-October toad lilies start to look unreal, because the garden is already knee deep in fallen leaves and all the other perennials have died down, but their slender stems topped by polka dotted flowers are still going strong - the only things left standing on nature's battle field at the end of the ultimate fight.

Their unusual blooms used to come only in purple. Recent hybridization has added blue and pink breeds to the purple cultivar, but in my gardening experience those varieties are not as resilient as the original plant.