Though a frost has yet to coat my roof with a thin sheen of white, I know it is coming. Leaves fell in great bunches last week, the hostas have browned up and my lawn has put out that last spurt of growth requiring a final trim. I’ve been building an increasing amount of fires in the stove during the evenings to take the chill out of the house and soon it will become more of an around-the-clock activity.
In the midst of this move to dormancy there are still a few things out that give the impression that a bounty of growing plant life will continue: fall flowers.
The flowers of autumn have always been a little special to me as they come late and welcome reaching their peak when everything else is going to sleep. Their late push for pollination seems strange as many of the geese have flown south and the only bees around should be wearing tiny little jackets to combat the cold.
Mums or chrysanthemums are the flowers that everyone expects to see but they have become so over bred and intolerant of the cold that they have become the new annual that gets planted in September and pulled out in the next few weeks. Arriving at the local nurseries in full bloom, you often don’t get to appreciate their life cycle. One mum that is able to stick around is the Montauk Daisy (Nipponanthemum nipponicum), which has become my largest fall-flowering bush.
During the summer as it fills out you wonder if it will actually bloom as its buds are difficult to discern. But around mid-September the buds start to form and swell and then by early to mid October an explosion of daisies hit. Now they are on their death throws exuding a pungent odor that only can come from a mum or some little creature that died.
Their cousins, the asters. don’t have as large a display, either by sight or fragrance. They tend to make a more understated statement though a few new asters I planted last year have exploded with growth and flowers. One I planted last year was only 2 inches high and this year has become full and bushy. Its neighbor, a marigold that came from a prior year’s self-seeding appear as a unlikely pair of comrades each challenging the other to put out more blooms. This marigold has been blooming since early summer and through drought and slugs continues to expand until the end.
The witchhazel has started to bloom sending out its delicate yellow flowers. It is early this year as last year it did not start to flower until December. My witchhazel sends out tiny and sometimes insignificant flowers as the thick maple and oak trees above still shade out much light. It struggles to bloom but every year manages to eke out a few flowers.
Then there are the plants that shouldn’t be flowering but continue to. The clematis continues to put on a show as does the butterfly bush. The butterfly bushes we have near the driveway appear impervious to the weather putting on blooms and keeping their leaves almost into Christmas. Perhaps the water pipe from the well that is near their roots is giving them just enough heat to keep them going deep into the fall season. Regardless while most of the blooms have gone to seed a few moths still visit, looking for a drink.
And the rose bushes often keep building buds that explode into flowers when they should be slowing down. Our roses are tricksters in that they serve up bountiful bouquets in the late spring and then just put on foliage. Then right before I need to mulch them they start setting buds and flowers again as if to say it is too early to put them to bed.
The nasturtiums are still giving us flowers, which will add to our salads daily giving them a nice, peppery kick. We haven’t gotten too many seeds from them as we are eating too many of the flowers. The strangest flower this year is the sweet pea, which has decided to bloom again and set more seeds. Its delicate blue flower seems to be no match for the cold and wind to come. Every morning I get up not knowing but hoping that it will still greet me when I go out for the newspaper.
(My wife suggests that I insert a color disclaimer into this piece as I am red-green color blind.)