August 20, 2012

Sweet September Cometh

As we roll into the last weekend of August, there are clear signs autumn is on the way

Steve Whysall, Vancouver Sun Garden Columnist

Can it really be the end of summer? No, say it ain’t so. It feels like it has only just arrived. And yet, the official first day of fall is only a few weeks ahead, commencing Sept. 22. That’s the day of the autumn equinox – the day when the sun hovers directly over the equator, giving equal day lengths to both hemispheres. But as I stand in my garden and look at the golden yellow flower of Ligularia dentata, I must admit I feel like the little green man on the Just For Laughs TV show who at the end of all joking laments, “Mommy, it’s over!”

As we roll into the last weekend of August, there are clear signs autumn is on the way. The pure white fragrant flowers of Hosta plantaginea say it is so. The arching stems of Actea simplex ‘Brunette,’ with super-fragrant white blooms set to pop any minute, confirm it. The uninitiated won’t believe me. They look around and think nothing has changed. Phlox is still blooming like crazy. Petunias and impatiens in hanging baskets appear unfazed by cooler nights. Brugmansia continues cranking out its giant yellow trumpet-shaped blooms.

Large bushes of Hibiscus syriacus (rose of Sharon) haven’t run out of steam. They are still delivering a great show of colour. And the inexhaustible mallow, Lavatera ‘Barnsley,’ refuses to quit. Pretty much all of my late-blooming lilies have been and gone, but the red-flowering Persicaria amplexicaule ‘Taurus’ still soldiers on, along with solid drifts of yellow rudbeckia. Elsewhere, I see red flowers of Fuchsia magellenica. They want to convince me that nothing has changed but then I see the canary yellow or burnt-orange flowers of sneezeweed (Helenium autumnale) and I know differently.

The stunning white and soft pink flowers of Japanese anemones can’t tell a lie – they know they are heralds of autumn, so I am reconciled to the fact. People are fond of saying the best is yet to come and that in some cases the best is saved for last. It is certainly true that late-summer bloomers are some of the most cherished flowers in the garden. I have a special reason for welcoming the days of sweet September – it’s when my plumbago starts to bloom.

In Italy, plumbago blooms virtually year-round, but here, I have to wait until September to see mine flower, but the wait is worth it. How I look forward to the beautiful periwinkle blue flower clusters when they finally arrive, usually around the end of August or early September. Other signs of September’s magic are here already. The broccoli-like flower heads of Sedum ‘Autumn Joy’ have turned from green to pink and I see the nodding yellow, lantern-like flowers of the golden clematis (Clematis tangutica) spilling over an arbour.

Joe-Pye weed (Eupatorium) is another perennial that whispers, “Summer is almost over, but let’s keep on partying.” But I know for sure we are into a new season when I see the dark blue-hooded flowers of Acontium carmichaelii ‘Arendsii’ and the shiny black berries of Aronia melanocarpa. There is still much to look forward to. I will be waiting in eager anticipation for the ash trees to change colour along with the maples, sumacs and ginkgos.

And I will be watching for lovely pink drifts of autumn crocus tucked under trees, orchid-like blooms of toad lilies, and the marvellous clusters of cape flowers (Nerine bowdenii) with their bright pink blooms on leafless stems. Hmm, now that I think about the beauty of autumn, it doesn’t seem so bad to say so long to summer.

Steve Whysall is The Vancouver Sun garden columnist:

Mum’s the word

My response to the going down of the summer sun is to give my garden its last splash of colour.

This involves placing beautiful big pots of cushion ’mums all around, especially to beef up the colour in the front yard. These huge domes of colour can last well into October.

Expect to see tens of thousands of pots of cushion chrysanthemums in shades of red, yellow, orange and pink pouring on to the market over the next few weeks.

You can get three-gallon pots with a large mound of Belgian ’mums for under $20 at places like Costco, some supermarkets and big box-stores.

Fantastic deal when you consider the work and effort that goes into producing them and the glorious colour they give you for at least six weeks.

Most of these plants are grown as a field crop at Darvonda Nursery in Langley. They are grown to perfection and mass-marketed to keep the price fantastically affordable.

There is no need to plant them in the ground. Just plonk the pot where you want to see the flowers and walk away; it’s the easiest gardening you will do this year.

Don’t bother keeping them over winter. Trying to keep them for another year can lead to the spread of a fungal disease, which can be carried by the wind or on clothing and find its way into a nursery and damage future crops.

– Steve Whysall


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