Late Season Loveliness

Salvia splendens Pennisetum rubrum

Bidding adieu to the 2018 growing season. It has been bittersweet for me, as my joints are telling me I must garden differently than I have for the past 30 years. July/August/September bled together into one oppressive humidity marathon. Worst of all, I suffered the loss of my trusty groundhog hunting dog- Ares, my companion for the past 8 years in the garden. He succumbed to cancer in late June, and the dreaded herbivores devoured my zinnias, coleus and coneflowers. A killing frost sounds pretty good right now!

Despite disappointments, a spring planting has created quite a show in front of my house as October winds down. I anchored a copper urn on the left side of my walk with a ‘thriller’ of annual purple fountain grass (Pennisetum setaceum cultivar), definitely not a dwarf, clocking in at over 3 feet tall. It’s been unflagging through heat and drought, but any signs of the ‘filler’ and ‘spiller’ I planted alongside it are gone. They’ve been swallowed by the robust grass. It’s enormously out of scale, but I adore the fluffy wands that are glowing in the slanting rays of October sun.

Across from the urn is a contemporary shallow bowl, centered in a little bed that has held several dwarf trees, all doomed by snow removal from our driveway over the years.  After years of wanting a permanent feature in the bed, I concluded that a seasonal planting was the best way to go. This year it held a canna whose tropical leaves contrasted nicely with the grass across the way. As summer heat subsided, the canna has taken a backseat to its companion, one of my favorite late season bloomers- pineapple sage (Salvia elegans). Deer ignore its crushed leaves that smell like its common name. It’s taken center stage now, smothered in red flowers that sway with the breeze. I cut some branches to enjoy indoors, but leave most of the bright red flowers that perfectly complement the fountain grass.

No matter that the path to my front door is nearly blocked by container plants, they look wonderful and lush. They force my focus to the positive and, thankfully, the rest of the garden fades to the background. Like plants, old gardeners must adapt. Next year will bring some needed change, and some hired help, to my garden. Until then, I’ll plan and dream of next year’s garden.

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