As I write this, too much rain is taxing my enthusiasm for my garden. For me, even under the best of circumstances, this is the most challenging time of year. I do love the arrival of fall with the changing light accompanied by cooler, crisper air. The evolving fall palette, as spectacular as it is, comes with the knowledge that my flower garden season has peaked, and I must transition to this new season.
Greg cutting and removing broken branches
Travel on our backroads and highways is teasing me with the early red leaves of swamp maples, and the late wildflower blooms of goldenrod, Queen Anne’s lace, and black-eyed susans. But in my garden, I am disappointed by fallen plants with their water-logged blossoms. Stems have snapped as they do not support the full weight of the flower (poor horticultural design by our plant designers), and non-ideal staking. At this moment, my garden feels dreary after what seems like infinite rain, and forecast of more to come. My tree hydrangeas that form the backbone of my fall garden appear as if half the branches have broken. Even before sipping today’s morning coffee, I step into the muddy soil and gently shake water off the flowers. After our breakfast, Greg will tackle this task with a long bamboo pole AND pruners, dressed in his foul-weather gear, because I am experiencing a melt down. How will these blossoms and my cherished garden survive yet another tropical storm on its way!?
Fall presents other challenges as well. It seems no matter what planning and work I have undertaken, the garden spirals out of control. I sometimes find myself pining for the pure joy of my spring and early summer garden with poppies literally popping out of their pods, peonies unfolding, and foxgloves, baptisias, and gasplants standing tall with their naturally strong and stately stature. Leaves are a beautiful green, mostly unblemished, soft and smooth to the touch. There are treasures to discover everywhere. On the other hand, the late summer garden requires some “selective vision”. In addition to the flowers now in their prime, one must find the beauty in those plants now past their peak. Sometimes, I find myself looking at my garden too critically and wonder what my garden visitors see that I do not.
Greg’s morning shower
Even though a bit tired by months of gardening efforts, I must find the energy to carry out what I call “plants on the move”! My garden composition needs reworking, much like artists and musicians who work hard to find the right color or phrase or note to express their desires. So, the bee balm, which looks quite messy this time of year, will be thinned out. Hummingbirds and butterflies are attracted to this less than “ideal” invasive plant. I have many ligularias (a magnet for butterflies) with rich dark purple leaves that produce orange daisy-like flowers from a most interesting bud. I have divided and propagated this plant for over two decades. They are now the size of shrubs, and I have way too many! I have a friend, Nan, who has said that “orange” is the new beige; but in my garden at this time of year, there is simply too much! So yes, this year I will remove a few, divide a few, and share a few.
Greg has already dug out the towering (and falling) helenium, the senna (of laxative fame) that is no longer serving my garden vision, and an ornamental grass that has greatly expanded in its ten-plus years in the garden. Instantly, I felt so energized by the paring down/purging of this bed. With renewed vigor, I reworked the soil, added compost, and planted several newer varieties of cone flowers in bright colors to complement my late flowering yellow daylily. Once again, I am excited for what next years’s late-summer garden will be.
Fall in the garden arrives with its own energy whether I am ready for it or not. I shall relish the successes, cut back, thin out, dig out, pass on, and most importantly, move my plants around to shape next year’s garden. This is resilience, and I am indeed lucky to be practicing this skill on a garden that I love. I have included a few photos of my late summer garden. There is much beauty, some chaos, abundant wildlife, and boundless joy, all of which “fuels” my passion to garden. Sometimes, I just need to ”fill up”! For me, the work one does in the fall garden is all about the future.
Sideways toad lily from too much rain!
Rain on spiders web and seed head of rudbeckia in the morning light
Broken stem of cosmos
“Cupcake” cosmos, bent, but still lovely, with rain
Butterfly on ironweed…..which is mostly still upright, like its name
Resilience! In the distance, my crane installation is suspended by trees with a new woodland path underneath made of chips from our fallen trees. In the foreground, variegated joe pye weed, a gift from a friend.