Photos by Lynette L. Walther
When we see those purple asters blooming along with roadsides, we can be certain the jig is up, and fall is on its way.
It seems like just yesterday I was filling sixpacks with potting soil and starting seeds—lettuce, cucumbers, zucchini, pumpkins, chard, kale, herbs, and flowering annuals. Seems like only last week I was getting the hanging flower planters set for the summer. On the bright side, the gardening season is not yet over. Now is exactly when we need to be paying attention to those late-season vegetable crops and flowering annuals and perennials.
Some of my dependable late bloomers in the perennial garden are the rose of Sharon bushes. These blooming shrubs are cold-hardy to the max, an excellent choice for Maine gardens. Most of the summer they are simply there, providing structure to the landscape all year long. Rose of Sharon is a woody perennial, meaning one that does not die back to the ground in winter.
Hybrids with sweet pink double blooms include “Sugar Tip,” a variety with variegated foliage in a cream and blue-green. “Little Kim” is a more compact variety with big, hibiscus-like white blooms that have stunning crimson centers. And my all-time favorite is “Blue Chiffon,” a cherished true-blue with big double blooms. Talk about a contrast with fall flowers like goldenrod, tiger lilies, or golden yellow brown-eyed Susans.
My Sheffield pink mums are always a late-season surprise, lurking at the edge of the sunny perennial border all summer. They get frequent pinching back until midsummer, so they will end up a compact mound of cheerful blooms.
All summer the burgundy foliage of Cimicimfuga was a stunning contrast to blooming annuals and perennials. But in late summer this stately plant lights up with tall “candles” of sweetly fragrant blooms that are absolute bee magnets. Nearby, the late-blooming deep blue spikes of monk’s hood make for a handsome contrast. Asters and ornamental cabbages are also great additions to fall landscapes.
Plan on starting seeds of ornamental cabbages next year for that purpose. Noting what ornamentals are in bloom now can help direct your spring planting next year to ensure color throughout the growing season.
The second crop of lettuce is already in, and we are still enjoying the kale which has been a mealtime staple since spring. I have my neighbors Fred and Carol to thank for a bunch of kale leaves they gave us a couple of summers ago. Of course, we had heard of kale, but we had never tried it. What a revelation! There really is something to the kale revolution.
Kale is a great addition to fresh salads, cooked dishes, and soups. Contrary to what we had expected, it isn’t bitter. Thankfully, this vigorous green thrives throughout the growing season. At a perennial exchange last spring, I scored a few plants of something called “Beedy’s Camden kale,” named after a local gardener who discovered this unique variety that is reported to survive winters here.
Nutritionists extol the virtues of leafy greens as excellent sources of nutrients and antioxidants. Kale has become our go-to green. Give it a try, if you haven’t already become fans. We add julienne strips to tossed salads, soups, or casseroles, and they virtually disappear. One person I know likes to add a handful to scrambled eggs, and I suspect it could even be added to a few baked goods for more “hidden nutrition.”
Elsewhere in the vegetable garden, many of us are cleaning up and cleaning out spent plants. This is a great time to harvest open-pollinated seeds from vegetables like beans and peas or ornamentals such as lychnis, foxgloves, poppies, calendula, zinnia, and the like. (Wikipedia defines open pollinated as “generally refers to seeds that will ‘breed true.'” When the plants of an open-pollinated variety self-pollinate, or are pollinated by another representative of the same variety, the resulting seeds will produce plants roughly identical to their parents.)
Make sure seed pods are dry before picking. Label envelopes of clean seeds with variety and year, and store completely dry seeds in sealed containers in the freezer. Saving seeds is a great way to make the most of this season. It saves money, too, and gives us the opportunity to grow those favored varieties again next year. Pumpkins, zucchini, cucumbers, squash—all members of the cucurbits or gourd family—often cross-pollinate and cannot be trusted to produce seeds true to their parent plants. But toasted pumpkin and squash seeds make great snacks.
There is still plenty to be done in the garden, while we enjoy the changes there and the change of season, too. For now . . . take a deep breath, look around, and enjoy the beauty.