Each year as we pass through the fabled dog days, I notice the changing angle of the sun in my garden even before the shortening days become evident. I love this anticipation of autumn. We think of spring as a time of renewal when many wildflowers dot the landscape, but Nature also puts on a spectacular show as summer draws to a close.
Unlike the subtle approach of spring, this meadow is resplendent, packed with towering flowering plants. We see the golden glory of rudbeckia, helianthus and solidago along with royal purple ironweed, frothy white Joe Pye and little blue asters. These flowers are vital nectar sources for butterflies and pollinating insects, many of which need to build up food supplies to survive winter.
There are great things going on in the garden as well. Cosmos are late summer bloomers. Dahlias begin blooming in mid to late summer, carrying on until frost. Who does not love the unexpected appearance of “naked ladies”, so called because the interesting pink or red flowers appear before the foliage. Another member of the same rain lily family has grassy foliage during the summer and six petaled little white flowers in early September. I got mine from a generous neighbor and just love having something fresh at this time of year.
Autumn crocus are another wonderful treat when they suddenly appear as flowers without foliage. These come in pinks, purples and blues. They look just like spring crocus and multiply when in a sunny well drained site. The foliage appears in the spring to feed the bulbs and fades before summer. They are a perfect companion for autumn-blooming sedum, the foliage of which is interesting throughout the growing season.
In our area, this is is the best time of year to grow cool-season annuals. Calendula, also so known as pot marigold, is a prime example. Buy the seeds in spring and start them indoors in mid-July. As the days grow shorter and the nights cooler, these edible flowers make a nice change from ubiquitous mums. They now come in an assortment of warm colors, some of which are very double.
I’d like to put in a good word for asters, perennials which are well adapted to grow here. They come in pink, purple, blue and white and may be quite small or tall or a knee-high dome. They begin blooming in September and carry on well into October. They are also deer proof!
I am not alone in claiming autumn as my favorite season. The weather is as close to perfect as it gets. We have the fabulous fall foliage to look forward to next month. Autumn is a beautiful and varied finale to the gardening season.
Master gardener Ann Bartlett gets excited in autumn as well as spring, manages to maintain a certain degree of horticultural ardor in the summer heat and remains hopeful during the winter. She is a gardener for all seasons, Email her at firstname.lastname@example.org.