01 September 2006

Suddenly September, and Mum’s the Word

Whether I like it or not, we’re being dragged kicking and screaming into the autumn. No matter that technically, there are about three weeks left of summer. This is Labour Day weekend, and that’s the unofficial winding down of summer for many people. Next week, kids will be back to school, students back into universities, those who have such things as vacations will be looking forward to NEXT year’s vacations, and some idiotic merchant will start clamouring about how there are only X more shopping days til Christmas.


Well, yes, the Halloween junk IS already out in the stores, as is the Thanksgiving detritus. But we’ll ignore all that in favour of what’s popping up in the garden centres. Fall foliage favourites, fall blooming annuals, and in just a couple of weeks, bulbs. For now, let’s consider the plants that are available for our enjoyment as we do wind down the summer.

There IS still plenty of time to be planting perennials, shrubs and trees—most plants need 6-8 weeks to establish themselves before a hard freeze comes along, and we’re not apt to have one of those before mid-November. That being said, however, it does seem like the weather has been hopelessly out of joint this past year, and who really knows what we’ll have for a fall, let alone a winter? Be that as it may, I’m gonna keep right on working away in the gardens.

Last week my longsuffering spouse and I went on a bit of a road trip, and ended up on the south shore of the province. We dropped into an interesting garden centre I’ve only visited a couple of times, The Village Nursery, just outside of Bridgewater. The nursery’s famous Dazee Dome, the greenhouse where they display and sell their huge selection of annuals, is closed, of course, but the areas where the perennials normally are housed were home to row on row of fall mums. These aren’t hardy chrysanthemums—in this neck of the woods, I don’t know how well even the so-called hardy mums are about overwintering, because I just don’t bother with them.

In fact, I’ve never dealt with chrysanthemums since 1980, when I was a new graduate of the Nova Scotia Agricultural College and worked for a few months at a greenhouse that grew hothouse tomatoes and chrysanthemums—poms, they called them—for the cut flower trade. We spent hours working among those poms, planting the transplants, pinching them out, disbudding them, cutting them…and before I quit the greenhouse to go farming, I used to see the damn things in my sleep. I can still smell the hideous chemical that we had to use to fumigate the soil, which sent me home feeling sick more than once. Small wonder I started leaning towards organic gardening in earnest back then!

Despite that long-ago misadventure with chrysanthemums, I do enjoy them outdoors for autumn colour. Every year, I buy a couple of richly coloured varieties in large, 8 inch pots, and these will do yeoman’s service out in the front yard for weeks to come. This year, the offerings seem to be better than ever—some nice, rich colours are on offer, much more interesting than the dandelion yellows, insipid whites, muddy purples of years ago. There are rich burgundies, lovely russets and coppers, and dazzling oranges, all of which complement the autumn foliage palette.

However, permit me a little bit of bragging rights…our container plantings are mostly still looking really great, and I give the credit for that to Seaboost, the liquid seaweed fertilizer I use indoors and out. When I planted the containers I threw a handful of seaweed meal into the potting mix, and every other week I’ve been watering really well with Seaboost in the water, and the results are obvious/ The calibrachoas are still flowering their heads off, the nemesia, heliotrope, portulaca and helichrysum are all looking fine, and even the annual lobelia, which usually is spent and gone by now, is still sending cascades of rich blue out of several large containers. The only annuals that are looking bedraggled are the plantings of cerinthe, or honeywort, which I neglected to cut back after they flowered, so they’ve gone to seed and are starting to die back. That’s okay, though, because I’ve got a nice stock of seed for next year.

Though many perennials are winding down their bloom, there’s still plenty of colour in the yard. The tall phlox David, Bright Eyes and another unnamed magenta variety have been intoxicating us with their fragrant clusters of blossoms, and the last of the bee balm and daylilies are wrapping up their display. The perennial blue lobelia (which also has a white form) has been doing very nicely, AND a red perennial type, which I thought had died, burst into splendid flower a few weeks ago, delighting me and the hummingbirds alike. The coneflowers and seaholly are still doing their thing, though most of the globe thistles are beginning to decline. And there are still things yet to flower—the tall perennial silvergrasses, Miscanthus Silberfeder, Graciella and purpurea, are forming flowerheads, and likewise our lovely clumps of Helenium, an underused and marvelous perennial. All in all, there’s still plenty of summer colour left, although the segue to autumn flamboyance has certainly begun.

We had a nice surprise last week—the swallows that nest in our barn hadn’t gone—they had hatched a second set of nestlings, which they were proudly teaching to fly last week. We sat all one afternoon watching the junior zoomers darting and swooping and fluttering, pausing to rest on the ridge of the house roof, while their parents exhorted them to ‘come on! You can do it! FLY!” Now, however, they have left, and yesterday was the first day I didn’t see a hummingbird, so I think they too have departed. There are mourning cloak and fritillary butterflies around, among others, but the monarchs too seem to have left. Fly safely, all of you, and see you in the spring.

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