September 9, 2013

See You in September

I walked out to get the newspapers this morning, got fifty feet down the driveway, and headed back into the house for a camera.
The conventional wisdom is that New England gardens are shadows of their summer glory by the beginning of September.  Annuals are overgrown and rangy and perennials are spent.  Trees and shrubs are saving themselves for an October burst of dying splendor.
The accompanying photos (double-click on any one of them to get a full-screen slideshow) demonstrate that the conventional wisdom sometimes gets it wrong.  Each of these shrubs and perennials are within fifteen feet of our driveway.  Some notes about each one: 
Asters:  I’m not certain that we’ve ever actually purchased any asters.  Those that are in the garden – like the ones at left in the outer sidewalk bed – were transplants from elsewhere, but they’ll bloom from now until the first hard frost.  The trick to getting them to bloom like this is to cut them back hard in the last spring and early summer.  The other trick is to pull them out when they self-seed. 
autumn clematis
Autumn clematis: This is the only clematis on the property and one of a handful of perennials still around that were here when we purchased our home in 1999.  This grows up a shady corner of our library and our lone contribution to its success is to provide it with a trellis to reach a height where it can get adequate sunlight.
Caryopteris ‘Sunshine Blue’ is one of the three cultivars of that shrub that we have growing on the property.  From mid-April when it leafs out until the end of August, it is an unobtrusive part of the shrub bed at the front of our 
Caryopteris 'Sunshine Blue'
property. Then, overnight, pale blue flowers appear and the bees go bananas.  The blooms fade by the end of September but are worth the wait.

Daphne ‘Transatlantica’ has both dazzling clusters of long-duration white flowers and the added bonus of an intoxicating perfumed scent.  It will keep blooming right into winter.  The shrub’s lone shortcoming is that its evergreen leaves collect 
Daphne 'Transatlantica'
snow and so the branches are prone to tearing.  Each October we build it a burlap enclosure to keep its branches upright.  The pink phlox in the background is the fading remnant of an August bloomer.
Japanese anemones (Anemone hupehensis var. japonica) are more of a curse than a blessing.  We keep them in one spot only through a rigorous process of digging out their runners several times a year.  Yes, the flowers are lovely, but no other fall bloomer requires so much maintenance.
Japanese waxbells
Japanese waxbells (Kirengeshoma palmata) are a terrific plant to have around.  You see them here at their maximum height and vigor.  Once we get a hard frost, they’ll die back to their roots.  Why is this good?  Because it means I can dump six feet of snow on them from our driveway’s turnaround every winter and the plant doesn’t resent it a bit.  The beautiful yellow flowers are a September-only event. 
New York ironweed,
with hydrangeas below
New York ironweed (Veronica noveboiracensis) is, amazingly, a member of the daisy family.  We have two stands of it and, after seven or eight years, it is well established and sturdy.  The strong purple/lavender color is striking, and the bees cover it from dawn to dusk.  Some gardeners may be put off by its height (ours’ is nearly six feet) but you just don’t get color like this in autumn.  The photo at right also shows some of the late-blooming hydrangeas in our garden. 

Sedum 'Autumn Joy'
Sedum ‘Autumn Joy’ may be the most overused stonecrop in gardens today, but you can’t argue with success.  From early May to late August, it’s a terrific ‘filler’ in several of our beds; providing beautiful green-gray succulent stems and leaves.  Then, at the beginning of September (hereabouts), the flower head opens deep pink and stays that way for at least a month, then gradually turns a coppery color that provides structure even when the flower is spent.
Pink turtlehead
Pink turtlehead (chelone obliqua) is another garden standard that hides in plain sight until the end of August when, seemingly overnight, it is covered in blooms that persist through September.  Until last year, we had a companion white turtlehead (chelone glabra) that is a less aggressive grower and got crowded out of the shade bed where it was attracting the rare Baltimore checkerspot butterfly.
Joe Pye weed (eupatorium) comes in many varieties, and this variegated cultivar with
Variegated Joe Pye Weed
white flowers that graces our xeric garden (probably’ Jociuis Variety’) at the front of the property is a show stopper.  We also have eupatorium ‘Chocolate’.  They bloom profusely from September until well into October.

That’s a literal snapshot of the September bloomers.  I have omitted a few that have been blooming since midsummer such as agastache (also called the ‘giant hyssop’), rudbeckia, and various helianthius.  Among shrubs, we have a plethora of hydrangeas (notably the 'City Lights' series) that have been blooming since June and will keep up their show through most of the month.

What I hope I've shown is that September doesn’t have to be the intermission between summer blooms and the 'main attraction' autumn spectacle that attracts the leaf peekers.  If you garden in New England, take a look for these gems. 

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