August garden reflections

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As I sit down in our gazebo to write this, I am sore from the middle of my back down to my ankles after spending about seven hours yesterday turning sod in the new front-yard garden. It’s nearly noon on a Sunday in August, yet the temperature hovers just over 70 degrees with cool, dry air carried on a light breeze. It would be easy to convince me I’d slept through the end of summer; Autumn feels imminent.

The list of garden tasks continues to grow. There’s soil to move from the soon-to-be-removed raised beds to cover the turned sod out front. The endless war against weeds has shifted back in favor of the invaders. It’s nowhere near last year’s drought, but soil cracks have appeared in the corners of the garden where our sprinklers tend to miss. The containers — more than 70 of them — are demanding a drink more often, likely from overcrowding. I expect the root zones in most of my containers look like a New York City subway at rush hour.

The garden carries on, and so do I with it. This morning, however, I’ve taken respite from the chores to reflect on my August garden.

Right outside our front door, Salvia Oceana® Blue is both upright and vining, with an undulating inflorescence of brilliant blue flowers. The blue in this species (S. patens) is the kind that makes the mouth water. The flower makes me think that perhaps a snapdragon slipped through the window of the breeding house on a hot summer night years ago.

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This salvia isn’t the only plant getting its blue on in the garden. The perennial blue plumbago might get the award for bluest flower in my garden.

 

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It’s this time of the season that foliage starts to truly earn its keep. As flowers struggle to keep up the pace, most of the foliage plants reach peak performance. Foliage plants — salvia, coleus, Plectranthus and ornamental sweet potato and begonias — have become the signature annuals in my garden, providing far more color and texture than their blooming brethren.

 

Of course, the garden isn’t all foliage. Some of the summer’s best flowering annuals are still producing blooms.

This may be the best year for the Rudbeckia I’ve seen in 13 years gardening here. A holdover from the previous owner, this gorgeous thug manages to pop up where I least expect it. Its brilliant yellow ties the garden together this month, bringing the viewer from border to border. It may end up in unwanted places, but I’d certainly never call it a weed. I’m quite smitten by this dark-eyed beauty, and will always share my garden with her. She’s apt to weave her way among the other flowers to make amazing and unexpected combinations.

 

This is a transitional season for the vegetable garden, as the front yard is prepared for food production next year. The kale, chard and nasturtiums growing in containers have been delightful additions to salads and sandwiches.

 

Some of the plants are being fooled by the cool weather, particularly the sweetautumn clematis that devours the south deck railing each summer. The first of the perfumed white blooms have opened and the vines are smothered in buds waiting to burst. Just a few feet away from where I sit writing this, this late season twiner will soon fill the gazebo with her sweet intoxication.

Although it’s starting to slow down, the Rose of Sharon (Hibiscus syriacus) still holds a large number of white, papery blooms. These grow at both ends of the back border, products of a neighbor’s prolific parent. I always chuckle when I see these for sale at garden centers, as I pull out countless seedlings every year. The flowers bloom in clusters, often snuggling each other at the end of its woody branches.

 

Whenever I’m missing the heat of summer, I can visit the northern corner of the front border, where Rudbeckia combine with coleus and canna in a melting pot of color against the cool of our Colorado blue spruce. This combination turns the morning sun into a hot-tempered artist, leaving glowing embers in his wake.

 

I wonder if we lose our notion of typical once we’ve gardened one place long enough. Perhaps we gardeners should just embrace the day, the month, the season for what it gives — without expectation. Some years, violas from spring will bloom alongside an autumn clematis. In others, only the heat lovers will survive summer’s challenge.

As I reflect on my August garden, I am thankful for what she gives me today. Tomorrow will come, a product of my creation and care, the offerings of the seasons, and a healthy dose of serendipity.

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