TROPICAL TREASURES – E. Ginsburg

RITUALS OF SUMMER PASSING

I admit it. I have a hard time saying goodbye to
summer, even when the signs of its passing are painfully obvious. In early
September when the fall bulbs first appear in the stores, it is easy to ignore
those signs. The days may be shortening, but the light is bright and the sun is
hot and sticky at noon. I keep myself busy all through September by weeding,
mowing and putting in perennials. In fact, I avoid the whole fall issue by
pretending that it’s spring all over again.

Now though, we have had some chilly nights that even
I acknowledge are something more than unseasonable flukes. The white cosmos
along the front walk, that have bloomed so beautifully and steadfastly all
summer, have reached the end of vegetative growth. A few individual plants have
died already, but most of the tall bushy stalks persist in putting out buds.
Still, when I deadhead now, I also have to snip off four or five inches of stem
so that I don’t have a thicket of beheaded stems competing with my
blossoms.

If I look at the asters-tall, short and in-between–I
see that over half of the flowerheads are spent. The yellow centers have turned
dark and the petals will droop in another day. Even the marigolds, that I
sometimes suspect are as immortal as dust and cockroaches, are showing signs of
slowing down.

It’s not quite time for the fall clean up, but it is
time to start preparing. I have abandoned hope for some of the annuals that
have breathed their last, and have begun taking them out of the border. Mums
and pansies, those old standbys, will take their places. The aster stalks will
be cut back to a point where the plants can stand proudly for awhile longer as
foliage accents. It isn’t time to give the roses their winter haircut yet, but
as blossoms die, I don’t deadhead. I am not sure that my particular bird
population eats the hips, but I enjoy the orange-red berries, so I encourage
their appearance.

This week I am turning my attention to the tasks that
have to be done immediately. All those plants that are languishing in my
holding area must go into the ground. The two hydrangeas I bought will finally
be installed in the front. Of course that means that I have to finish the long,
arduous task of pulling out the yews, but fortunately I have been hacking away
at them these many weeks. The feat is accomplishable, and I may still have
feeling in my lower back when it’s over.

This past week I have relocated three poorly sited
dwarf shrubs to an area at the feet of the rosebushes on the southeast front my
house. In the shrubs’ old place behind the roses, I will add the lonely
euonymous that the previous owner exiled to the middle of my front box hedge.
The euonymous truly deserves a break, and hopefully, the added sunshine will
not make it grow like something exposed to radiation.

I have also just about completed the long-awaited
task of surrounding the unfortunate ornamental wishing well in the backyard
with perilla mint. The perilla had succeeded so well in the raised bed by my
garage, that it absolutely dwarfed everything else. To give the other plants in
that bed a break, and to hide the wishing well, which is not exactly my idea of
delightful whimsy, I have installed the perilla all around it. A card-carrying
member of the prolific mint family, it should have plenty of time to set seed
before it dies back for the year.

With the perilla out of the garage bed, I will have
room to install the unusual campanulas that I brought back from an excellent
nursery that I visited over Labor Day weekend. For some reason, probably
related to the lift-versus-drag equation, my resident groundhog can’t make it
up to this raised bed. By putting my campanulas there, I am insuring that they
will not get eaten until they have a chance to get some roots established. By
next spring when the groundhog is (temporarily) thin, the campanulas will have
sturdy roots.

When I finish with all the various end-of-the-season
installation chores it will finally be time to make an inventory of the plants
that have to come in for the winter. It is not time to dig up the begonia corms
yet, but it is certainly time to gather the fancy-leaf geraniums, lemon verbena
and lantana on the porch and let them begin easing out of the summer mode. By
the time they have adjusted by stages to lower light situations, I may also be
able to face the prospect of the shortened days of fall and winter.