Charles Day is Wave Hill’s Ruth Rea Howell Senior Horticultural Interpreter.
Summer’s Last Blast
The summer pleasures of outdoor dining can often extend into early fall and the Kate French Terrace at Wave Hill House, an extension of The Café, is a great spot to enjoy lunch or cup of coffee al fresco, while admiring the surrounding planting beds, filled as they are with exotic botanical life.
After the early bulbs finished their blaze of glory in spring, Wave Hill Gardener Shane Pritchett installed a warm-season display of tropical plants in June. With a full summer’s growth, they now provide a dramatic backdrop and appreciate these last few weeks of mild weather just as much as do the patrons of The Café.
Groups of tall annual plants, such as giant lambsquarters (Chenopodium giganteum) and magenta-plumed wheat celosia (Celosia argentea ‘Cramer’s Amazon’), are interspersed with colorful foliage plants. Dusky, pinkish-red Mexican shrubby spurge (Euphorbia cotinifolia) and dark, glossy-red Pseuderanthemum carruthersii var. atropurpureum contrast beautifully with the chartreuse of an ornamental sweet potato (Ipomoea batatas Sweet Caroline Bewitched GREEN WITH ENVY™).
Sometimes, contrast and drama can be seen in a single plant. The foliage of an ornamental cotton (Gossypium herbaceum ‘Albe Red Variegated’), olive-green with splashes of pink, cream and dark red, looks as though it might have been a bystander during an explosion at a paint factory. Remarkably unstained are its pure white cotton balls, just beginning to open.
Potted succulents, arranged in groups, add structure and interest. Long leaf sotol (Dasylirion longissimum) has slender, slightly curving leaves, arranged in the shape of a perfect starburst. Dyckia ‘Burgundy Ice’, a small bromeliad, has tight rosettes of narrow, reddish-brown foliage, edged with white spines. Cactus-like spurges (Euphorbia avasmontana and E. horrida) evoke the deserts of southern Africa.
At the northern end of the terrace, a lofty canna (Canna × ehemanii) dangles rose-pink flowers from the tips of its arching stems. Nearby is the intriguing Mussaenda frondos, a large, white bract hanging under each cluster of its small, bright-orange blooms. Appropriately, given the proximity of The Café, it is a member of the same botanical family as coffee (Rubiaceae).
Shane is keeping an eye on nighttime temperatures. Once they start to dip much below 50˚F, he will start to move the more tender plants indoors. Some will remain for as long as there is no frost but all will be cleared by the end of fall, when bulbs will be planted in the empty beds, and thoughts will turn to next spring.