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  • Writer's pictureHeather Thomas

The Season Finale: August - October, 2023

Tour the Garden - Part Three: August through October

As the season hits the home stretch, fatigue sets in. Gardening in August takes resolve. The heat is unrelenting, the mosquitos are active. Many plants - much like the gardeners who tend to them - can appear worn and straggly this time of year. August can mean summer vacations, which brings time away from tending a garden. You might think that not much can go wrong in a garden that has been left to its own devices for as short a time as one week, but one week is long enough for the weeds. It's almost as if they take special delight in the break from human vigilance.

Depending on the amount of rain that year, you might return from vacation to see that the phlox or peony leaves have developed powdery mildew. Or that the poison ivy, which lives on the edges of the garden, has spread where it is not welcome. Or that it did not rain while you were away and your plants are dying of thirst.

Presented with these challenges and the unrelenting heat, the optimistic energy that propels a gardener in the early part of the season can flicker in the August humidity. In addition to these practical concerns, the mental awareness that the season is winding down enhances the sense that the season is slipping through your fingers, like grains of sand. Winter is waiting backstage, silently biding its time. You might not think it possible for someone to think of winter amid the heat of August, but for many years, as I watched the garden succumb to the heat and the sunbeams turn long and slanting, I could picture winter's chill in my mind. It took me many years but eventually, I developed a completely new outlook on this time of year. Do I still feel fatigued by the time August comes around? Yes. Do I grumble at the prospect of deadheading the roses again or giving the petunias another haircut? Yes. Do I feel a foreboding sense that time is slipping away and that the gardening year is almost over? Not so much.

So what changed? A few years ago, I researched and purposely integrated many plants into the landscape that bloom late in the season. These are plants that patiently wait in the wings all season for August, September, and October to arrive. Then, when most plants give up, they burst into bloom and shine. The picture gallery below showcases some of my late summer favorites.

Late Summer Bloomers: Clockwise from left: 'Great Blue' Lobelia, Coreopsis ‘Summer Sunshine’, 'Dark Knight' Caryopteris, Kale, Hardy Hibiscus, and 'Popcorn' Drift roses.

Late summer and fall blooming plants make outsized contributions to the late summer and fall garden at Cape Cottage Garden. These plants, when combined with annuals such as kale, cabbages and dahlias, the re-bloomers such as roses, salvia, and clematis, and the container plantings have all tipped me from dreading late summer and fall to enjoying it. Now, I have blooms to anticipate and enjoy during the last three months of the season. To experience the garden in August, September, and October, see the pictures below.

August, 2023

By the time August comes, I'm grateful for the role that annuals and containers play in the garden. Here's what's in bloom that time of year.

Containers of mandevilla, cabbages, helichrysum, and petunias brighten the garage

'Great Blue' Lobelia, phlox, and Feverfew 'Magic Single' in the East Garden

Daisies, roses, 'Boom Chocolata' geraniums and phlox brighten the August garden

Roses, marigolds and container-planted petunias front the hardy hibiscus on the left which is about to bloom

September, 2023

The summer heat breaks in September, giving the garden a chance to recover. Some plants, like the Rose of Sharon standards and 'Dark Knight' Caryopteris in the East garden pictured below, bloom for the first time.

Althea Hibiscus 'Lady Stanley Pink' in Tree Form

'Black and blue' salvia and 'Dark Knight' Caryopteris

Petunias rebloom after their late July "haircut"

October, 2023

Re-bloomers like 'Endless Summer' hydrangeas and new bloomers like the 'Montauk' daisies brighten the October garden.

'Endless Summers' hydrangeas re-bloom

Encore re-blooming azaleas (l) and 'Montauk' daisies (r)

Night (l) or day (r), the containers look like ballgowns

A Celebration of Fall

I don't refresh the garden every year for fall, but when I do, I never regret it. Here are a few pictures from the Fall of 2022 when I spruced up the garden in September with fall annuals such as orange celosia, purple fountain grass, kale, and 'Black Pearl' pepper plants.

As Deborah Silver once said, refreshing a garden for fall is not just about replacing summer material that is no longer looking its best. It is more about embracing and enjoying the season at hand.

Hope you enjoyed this tour of the late summer garden. This blog post is number three of a three-part series. If you'd like to rewind and view Part Two - Cape Cottage Garden in May, June, and July, click here. To read Part One - a tour of the garden in April, click here. -Heather
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