Not that I want to say goodbye to summer and all that it brings, but I do look forward to the seasonal change to autumn. Its cooling temperatures, the foliage colors, children running around in cute costumes and hyperactive from too much sugar on Halloween – – you get the picture.
Officially autumn arrived last month and we’re surrounded by mums, so it must be that time of year, except that the thermometer climbs to 80 degrees. We actually need the cold temperatures to get that winter squash just right: it will make those carbohydrates sweeter and harden the skins for storage. And our gardens (not to mention the gardeners) need the rest that the seasonal change will bring.
Cold night temps will also initiate flower production for the phalaenopsis orchid you have been summering outdoors. Yes, that’s right — chill it down a bit with a few nights in the 50s and it will reward you (I secretly think it is just showing how grateful it to be brought back inside). Just remember to give it a soil drench with an insecticide so you don’t bring any hitchhikers in with it.
So enjoy the late season flowers. Maybe you’ll see some toad lilies (Tricyrtis)in shady spots masquerading like tiny orchids. Or monkshood (Aconitum), so called because of the flower form which looks just like its name. There are several varieties all of which come in some shade of true blue. My favorite is this deep royal blue one . It’s just about the last flower in my zone 5 garden. It likes dampish shady spots and the deer don’t like it. Perfect!
Dahlias are still to be found everywhere. If you don’t have them in your garden, make a note to try them next year. They are unbelievably easy to grow with just a handful of compost and deliver spectacular color when just about everything else is tired and faded. Not them! They march right on through the heat and won’t stop until a frost knocks them down. You could even cover them for a chilly night or two and extend the show until Thanksgiving in an unseasonably warm fall.
And of course, there are the tree hydrangeas (paniculata) which have been superb this season . The generous early season rains made for abundant flower production along with little or no premature loss of color or browning. It has made me envious of gardens with automatic irrigation systems.
When I’m bundled up against the wind planting my garlic in a few short weeks, I’ll have to remind myself that I somewhat put out the welcome mat. By then the die will be cast but maybe I’ll still have my dahlias and hydrangeas to enjoy and distract me.
By Lorraine Ballato, Garden writer and author