In the Garden:
Middle South
September, 2009
Regional Report

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'Flamingo Purple' celosia has become a late-season favorite.

Celebrate the Season

After months of hiding indoors from summer's extreme weather, Mother Nature has tempted me back outside with a week of cool temperatures and bright blue skies. This morning, I greeted the day with a cup of coffee and a leisurely stroll through the garden.

Packed with summer-blooming perennials, the cottage garden snuggled around the perimeter of the front porch has seen better days. Daisies, daylilies, and coneflowers are all worse for the wear. Five huge heads of Joe-Pye blooms bob and weave above other plants, abandoned by bees and butterflies now that their bright pink flowers have faded to buff and tan.

There is still interest to be found, however, in the striking burgundy foliage of 'Summer Wine' ninebark, the flashy variegation of 'Bengal Tiger' cannas, and the brilliant blue blooms of 'Mystic Spires' salvia. But the real saving grace of this fading beauty is to be found in the frequent visits of bold yellow goldfinches, pecking for a meal among the stiff cones of brown-eyed Susans.

Around back, the woodland garden is a cool haven of green. The flower display of spring-blooming shrubs is long past and the flaming foliage of fall is yet to come. Toad lilies, which should be in bloom, were nibbled away by rabbits, but there is still hope among the Japanese anemones, which are unpalatable to Peter and his kin.

Behind the house, a parterre filled with red Knockout roses is holding its own. Now reaching above my head to 6 feet and more, each of the dozen shrubs sports a full range of growth -- from new foliage with tiny buds, to blowsy open flowers, to apple-green rose hips. At their feet, recently sheared catmint is again cloaked with silver foliage and purple spires.

In the early light, I found an orb web sparkling with dew between two shrubs. Centered above a zipper of white silk I saw the homemaker, Argiope aurantia, commonly known as the black and yellow garden spider. She was the first of her kind I've seen this season, with typical black and yellow markings on an uncharacteristically thin abdomen. Perhaps she was waiting for her first meal.

It was the nearby entrance to the backyard garden, though, which attracted beaucoup insects. Ornamented with annuals (both planted and self-seeded), as well as a few perennials and small shrubs, it buzzed with activity.

It was the type of place where I could pull up a lawn chair and sit for hours. In just the few minutes I lingered, I saw a half-dozen species of butterflies, many types of bees and wasps, a dragonfly, several flying bugs with iridescent bodies, two green lynx spiders, and briefly, a hummingbird.

Chief among this smorgasbord of blooms was African blue basil, a sterile hybrid that doesn't produce seeds and never has to be pinched. Grow this shrubby plant once and you'll never want to go without it again. Though it smells and tastes more like cloves than sweet basil, it can be used for cooking. I just cultivate it for the bees, however.

Nearby, a 'Blue Chip' butterfly bush and a 'Luscious Citrus Blend' lantana were doing their part, too. Both a yellow and a dark tiger swallowtail flitted over their flowers, sipping nectar.

Standing tall at the back of the border was the eye-catching celosia 'Flamingo Purple'. A prolific self-seeder, it has become one of my late-season favorites. Just when many plants are giving up the ghost it kicks into high gear, blooming with 4-inch spikes of fuchsia blooms that can be cut and dried for flower arranging.

Soon, many of these plants will be felled by frost and the garden will become more spare and open, like the house after holiday decorations are packed away. But, I don't have to go there yet.

For now, I'm happy to relish the season. I'll feed the birds, water the container gardens, sip coffee in the rocking chair on the back porch with my two dachshunds, Bella and Rudy, warming my lap, and count my many blessings.


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