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, has 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 a while 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 of 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 ensuring 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.
Contact Elisabeth Ginsburg
CHANGE IN THE GARDEN