The golden glow and deeper shadows of the changing seasons are both delightful and a bit painful. I hate to say it, but summer is winding down.
The lush borders of July and August are slowly devolving into the sad state of autumn decay.
But we don’t want to rush things. The September garden also offers some of the most flamboyant show stoppers of the growing season. After all, they’ve had months to bask in the sunshine and drink up the soil’s nutrients, all to prepare for their late-season exhibition.
September is the month when ornamental grasses are at their best. Their vertical presence is captivating enough but seeing them sway in the breeze is a lovely reminder that we don’t necessarily need flowers to have beauty.
No space? Grasses can work charmingly in containers either alone or partnered with complementary plants.
Although some asters start blooming in July, there are many that wait until September. What I love most about them is how happy they make the bees. The nectar-rich flowers range in color — blue, purple, pink and cherry-red — and because the plants so easily expand, they make great pass-along plants.
Dahlias look their absolute best right now. With regular watering, deadheading and staking of errant stems, they’ll keep up the performance all month and into October.
Dahlias can be grown in a bed all by themselves but I plant mine in a mixed border.
The brightly-colored flower varieties look fabulous next to neighbors with dark foliage such as Nine Bark (Physocarpus ‘Coppertina’) or Smoke Bush (Cotinus ‘Grace’), while the darker-flowered varieties really stand out among chartreuse-colored foliage like Himalayan Honeysuckle (Leycesteria formosa ‘Golden Lantern’), for example.
These shrubs are low maintenance allowing the gardener to spend their efforts on the needier among the garden’s inhabitants.
Many of the salvias on the market look their best in September. The autumn sages (Salvia mycrophylla and S. greggei) with their lobelia-like brightly colored flowers are high on my list of favorite September bloomers.
But not just the gardener will love these guys. Hummingbirds also will take full advantage of their existence.
Typically, my sedums begin to bloom in August, but the plants keep their form and color well into September. They are bee-magnets and drought tolerant.
However, I’ve discovered that the deer will gobble them up, so I don’t grow them in my front yard where Bambi and his family roam freely.
One of the bonuses of cutting back and fertilizing spring and summer blooming clematis vines after their first flush of blooms is that they will re-bloom in September and October. One of my goals is to get my pink flowering bells of ‘Confetti’ clematis to scramble up and through the hot pink flowers of my crape myrtle.
Reliably, my red-flowered ‘Madam Julia Correvon’ puts on a beautiful show in September, sometimes even better than her July show.
If they’re kept watered, hardy fuchsias are September-blooming machines. Partnered with fellow September bloomers such as Four O’Clocks and Begonia grandis, it can make for a stunning display.
With so many fuchsia varieties available nowadays — with colors ranging from apricot to deep purple, and flower forms from tiny to voluptuous — the gardener should have no trouble incorporating these workhorses into the garden.
If you need to jazz up your September garden, visit a nursery now to see what’s blooming.
And because the season is winding down, don’t be surprised if you find many plants on sale.
(Grace Peterson is a master gardener. Find her blog at gracepete.blogspot.com.) ■