I can’t believe I spent most of the summer fretting about too much heat too much humidity too much sun and not enough rain, and now that cool weather is here, I am already wishing I could have another go at those days of sun and sweat.
I look wistfully at the shreds of summer, which should be cut away, but I will leave many of them till spring for hungry winter wayfarers, and for me too. When cold dreary rain sets in they will remind me of those hot but colorful times in the garden.
Ask me next summer, when I’m complaining and hibernating, how I could ever consider writing today’s fractured reveries.
My chorus of Japanese Anemones was vanquished by the voles years ago and has declined to return for a full-up gig. Now I take pleasure in the casual blooms that pop out to say, yes, we’re still around. Upper right, a lingering bloom of Crepe Myrtle nods. (Anemone tomentosa ‘Robustissima’)
I rescued Blue Mist years ago, though I can’t say it looked particularly unhappy at the side of a road. Since then it has rewarded my rationalizations of covetous do-good-ness with gusto. I wait to pull them, rhizomes and all, until they dry up and brown out, so they have time to reseed. It’s a great late-season disco diner for insect dudes like this skipper seeking a pick-me-up. (Eupatorium coelestinum)
Who cannot smile at Boltonia snowing in late summer after a wild romp in my homemade concoction of soil in a raised bed (sand, compost and clay). Laid down years ago, the mix has become black and it feels good to the fingers. Earthworms like it, too. Red Turk’s Cap in the background. (Boltonia asteroides ‘Snowbank’)
Now here’s a plant that keeps its secrets. It’s called Turk’s Cap because, if you have imagination, it looks like a fez, or Sleeping Hibiscus because its petals don’t unfurl. This doesn’t matter to bugs, butterflies or hummingbirds because they have easy access to the protruding stamen and pistil. It’s native to the southwest and central America, so I had doubts when a friend gave me a small plant. But it has grown, and so have its seedlings. The green fruits look like tomato miniatures, but that’s probably only my imagination. (Malvaviscus arborea)
Quintessential flower of the South, they’re called Naked Ladies because their stems are leafless. (It seems to me the ladies are so flouncy they don’t need dressed-up stems.) When the strap-like leaves finally show up, rising from bulbs after flowers have passed, they smack of crocus leaves on steroids. Here the ladies spice up southern indica azalea foliage. (Lycoris radiata)
Magic Lily, another flower of old southern gardens, a relative of amaryllis, is a fine Chinese import of long ago. I confess, this is last year’s photo. From the rampant display of amaryllis-like foliage this spring, I expected an extravaganza in late summer – not so. Maybe next year? (Lycoris squamigera)
Who would think that a small tree with lush panicles would have a name like Devil’s Walking Stick. Look beyond the blooms and you find stems covered in vicious spines. Years ago it had a devilish hankering to poke through our garden. A decade of dry weather checked that tendency, except for one mysteriously robust tree splendid with dark, tempting berries, for, maybe two days. The night before I planned to photograph the splendor, the tree was vandalized. Torn apart and broken up. Weight of berries? Hungry raccoons who learned too late about thorns in their paws? That plant never recovered. (Aralia spinosa)
I’ll leave the darkening Joe-Pye Weed flowers till leaves go gray. Butterflies and beneficials give it A+ in season, so maybe a hungry bird will appreciate seeds in winter. Do you suppose that’s why I have clumps throughout the garden? Nearby Blue Star was shorn of its seed pods and is still fresh in November. (Eupatorium purpureum) (Amsonia tabernaemontana)
In wet weather or dry, these lovely white Rain Lilies bloom profusely in late summer well after their foliage has emerged from dormancy. Bulbs seem to thrive when crowded and clumped. Which means, if you don’t make a map (ha, ha) or mark the spot you may have to rely on fuzzy memory, and woe to that plant you locate in their territory. (Zephyranthes candida)
Woolly Summersweet’s long racemes of flowers never disappoint me – or the butterflies and solitary wasps that cavort through the shrub. The knobs on these spent flowers hold seeds and stay on as decorative accents all winter. (Clethra tomentosa)
Handsome Harry roams half the country, but I can’t figure out how this nondescript native with the pretty flower got that nickname. Meadow Beauty and Deergrass may be more appropriate but it still looks like a weed until it blooms. Fortunately, I’m casual about pulling. Here’s an interesting process I’ve not yet witnessed: solitary bees grasping the flower and fluttering their flight muscles to dislodge pollen by vibration. It’s called buzz pollination. (Rhexia virginica)
A tangle of stems, Goldenrod is summer’s splashy peace offering, and I can’t have enough of it even if, unchecked, it pushes its neighbors around. I leave seedheads (such a softie I am), so I always have some, even if it grows in the wrong place and I call it a spring weed and act accordingly. No matter, some always seem to survive. (Solidago sps.)
Late afternoon shadows play over the last Rose of Sharon in summer. I’ve never seen a seedling come true from it, so I treasure this plant which we’ve limbed up to a small tree in our front garden. (Hibiscus syriacus ‘Helene’)
I’d forgotten about the Sneezeweed I planted a couple of years ago, until it bloomed this year. Its stubby, deckle-edged flower petals were a surprise and hold a certain charm, though they might have more pizzazz if the plant’s posture weren’t so casual. Blue mist and boltonia mingle among lolling plant stems. (Helenium autumnale)
Twenty-five years ago I was so taken with a small shrub growing wild in my neighbor’s garden she let me dig up one or two. I fervently hoped they would live in our muck. (Everything else seemed to die.) But American Beautyberry is one tough shrub, and it is not small, and today it bathes our wild spots with purple berries and, later, chrome yellow leaves. Late spring blooms are barely noticeable, but oh those berries! Birds and squirrels can’t keep up with the berry blast here, but on the Outer Banks, where migration is heavy, berries are gone within 24 hours after they ripen. (Callicarpa americana)
That red plant in the ditch. What is it? Native Swamp Hibiscus. It’s a show stopper at 7 or 8 feet. Here, in drier soil the last solitary flower on a typically skinny plant is soaking up some rays while a rusty, red-eyed skinny heron with an attitude looks askance. I whack the plant down in late fall, and wait for it to come back in late spring. (Hibiscus coccineus)
They said you can’t ever get rid of it, but for a while I couldn’t even get it to grow. Today, Swamp Sunflower is a reach-for-the-sky plant anywhere the soil is damp. Here, a few sturdy stems have found a four-foot fence to lean on – note that they far exceed the usual 5 to 7 feet. Swampers need support, but their close relative, Maximilian Sunflower, stands proud and straight ten feet or more, and it grows anywhere – and everywhere, if you let it – but what a bloomer under gray November skies. (Helianthus angustifolium) (Helianthus maximillianii)
Grand finale. Obedient Plant is a flopper and an invader but I adore its lavishness. Restraining works early in the season, but even when I’m sure I’ve found out how to tame it, my smugness is shattered when, later, I see unruly stems that refuse to accept discipline. (Physostegia virginiana)
Au revoir, mes tres bonnes amies d’ete. Venez a moi visiter l’annee prochaine. S’il vous plait.