Change for the changing seasons always brings an antsy-ness to this gardener, and autumn is one of the big ones. An avalanche of pumpkin spice covers nearly everything and so many people are just done with the summer garden and all its weather-worn tiredness and spent seediness. I’m with you. I keep eyeing the mess and think I might just be better off wacking it all down and calling it a year. It’s been months since the garden had that clean and controlled look when plants were bristling with anticipation, and I miss that, but still won’t give in just yet. Obviously laziness plays a part, but others with more enthusiasm might want to hold off as well. The waning garden has a purpose, and between the full seedheads providing food for birds, and the dried stalks protecting next year’s buds, there’s still something of interest out there. Frost and snow sit more attractively on waving stalks than on dull mulch, and honestly as far as cleanup goes it’s easier to crunch dried stalks in March than it is to wrestle with sloppy, soggy, heavy messes in October.
But it looks dull. and messy. and like you gave up… Unless you planned for it of course, and planted something that carries on until the pumpkin spice gets shoved over by cranberries, and a more relaxed season begins. For me annuals do the trick.
Abelmoschus manihot, an okra relative, soaked up the rain and humidity this summer and has never done better. These first flowers in late August were just the start of the show.
Ok I said it. I plant annuals. Yes, they’re more work, but the right annuals can pretty much take care of themselves, and they don’t have to be the same dull mat of color all year that even the bees get bored with. By their nature these plants just want to grow up and seize the day, filling as much space as possible with growth and flowers until whenever. They don’t care about next year, just flowering and seeding.
The fuzzy okra-like seedpods on the abelmoschatus (aka sunset hibiscus) are cool as well. Sure beats looking at spotty, diseased iris foliage (which is actually hidden behind the planting).
Late season annuals are my favorites. Something like the sunset hibiscus (Abelmoschatus manihot) comes up strong in the heat and humidity and quickly becomes a 4-6 foot presence if it gets enough water and warmth. Just as the perennial garden hits a late summer slump, the sunset hibiscus becomes a star, distracting you from the tired foliage of the June bloomers. This plant was also one of the stars of the book Annuals for Connoisseurs, by Wayne Winterrrowd… which by the way is a fantastic bargain at under $5 used…
Coleus, zinnias, salvia and Abelmoschatus in the front border
Ok, enough of me trying to sound intelligent and write coherently in what could be a useful post. Here are some other annual plantings from around the garden which are distracting me from all the gloomy skies and ever shortening days of really late summer. Coleus feature strongly. Nearly all come from a handful of cuttings I stuck in a glass of water and kept on the windowsill all winter. They look terribly pale and leggy by March but that’s when I pot them up and start growing them on under lights in the basement. By May I have dozens to fill in around the garden.
There were even enough leftovers this spring to branch out next door and fill in my neighbor’s mulch bed. Coleus, cannas, and a nice little single marigold I call “stole a seed head while visiting Kimberley last summer”.
I guess technically a lot of what I’m calling annuals can actually be grown as perennials in warmer climates, so I don’t want to upset anyone who lives and dies by those definitions, but in my garden these plants identify as annuals so I’m going to respect that.
The dogwood may be giving up and putting on some autumn color, but the potted caladiums are holding on a little longer until nighttime temperatures consistently drop below 60F. That’s when their sadly limp selves get thrown pot and all into a warm, dry corner of the furnace room and sit there dry and dormant until next year.
A real annual which has come up well this year is Browallia americana. In well watered spots of bare earth, close to where it grew last year, I keep an eye out for seedlings. All that’s required is take care and not pull them out as weeds, and by late summer the reward is a 1-2 foot bush speckled with flowers a little bit towards the amethyst side of blue.
Browallia americana with just a few tasteful selected marigolds.
A sort-of annual for me which sometimes returns from the roots is the borderline weedy Datura metel (aka moonflower). In good fertile soil it makes a large shrub which in the evening sports pure white, upward facing trumpet flowers. Some people call them angel trumpets, but that’s incorrect. Angels trumpet come from on high with downward facing blooms and are a different group of flowers (Brugmansia). These flowers always come from below and Devil’s trumpet is more accurate. You would think the more heavenly version would be more innocent, but both are extremely poisonous and there are deaths from this plant each year. I remember my mother evicting them from the garden one summer when she found out. I know she told us all how poisonous they were but still I was disappointed to lose them from the garden. I’m surprised she hasn’t questioned my parenting skills since seeing it in bloom here, but I guess there are always plenty of other questionable goings on which take precedence.
Devil’s trumpet (Datura metel) announcing an unwelcome arrival in the vegetable garden.
But there I go babbling again. As long as we’re in the vegetable garden, let me celebrate the pumpkins which have come on strong now that the sunflower thicket has died off from some likely disease. All this took were a handful of seeds ripped from the heart of last year’s halloween decorations.
Now that the sunflowers have died off it looks like the backup plan of pumpkins and glass gem corn might just work out. I love pumpkins and gourds, maybe that’s all I’ll grow next year.
The deck plantings are almost all just annual plantings which aim for all season interest. A drip irrigation system on a timer, a handful of slow release fertilizer, and this becomes one of my least-labor intensive parts of the garden… once it’s planted and set up of course…
The ‘Prince Tut’ water garden is ok. Goldfish have hopefully made a meal of any mosquitos, but a lack of fertilizer has left the papyrus healthy but a little yellowish in my opinion.
I tried for more foliage color this year but still ended up with a few curious flowers here and there. The firecracker plant (cuphea) was a Proven Winners thing that I’ve heard good things about, and here it is three months later still looking good.
Cuphea (firecracker plant) and some purple leaved oxalis. Both have been nonstop color and trouble-free from the day they were planted.
My popcorn plant (Senna… Cassia… corymbosa)? Still awesome 🙂 I was even able to get a few seeds to set, although it did seem to interfere with the flowering for a few weeks.
The yellow popcorn plant, coleus, purple fountain grass (pennesutum), oleander, and a bunch of other non-hardy stuff.
I’ve had that pink oleander for a few years now and was sure I killed it in the garage last winter. It eventually managed to come back, but the sparse branches were just calling out for a vine to cover them up. Black-eyed Susan vine (Thunbergia alata) to the rescue!
Black eyed Susan vine on the oleander. I would agree with the label “cringe-worthy color combo”, so don’t go thinking I have some undiagnosed color blindness that you need to tiptoe around…
The containers at the back end of the deck have officially taken over. The yellow coleus is my one new one for this year, the rest of the mess were just little overwintered sprigs and roots which I put out in May.
The coleus really should have been pinched back a few more times. They’re bushy enough, but even I can see they’re just a little too big.
Oh yeah. The tropical garden. Almost all just annual plantings, and almost all only just a little past peak now 🙂
I didn’t think elephant ears could reach six feet tall but between nonstop rain and a good mulch of grass clippings they and the cannas do seem happy.
So thankfully the garden is still filled with a few exciting things other than the new snowdrops I’ve been planting… oops, there I go mentioning snowdrops again…
Hope your weekend is filled with plenty of more interesting things to do rather than hauling off the tired remains of last summer. If it is, next summer suck it up, plant some decent annuals, and enjoy the slow crumbling of summer into winter which others fondly refer to as autumn. “Friends don’t let friends plant annuals” is only a guideline, I’m sure it refers to flats of wax begonias in one or two insipid colors and not to the range of much more exciting late season things that you have to remember next year. I’ll try to remind you 😉