Late Summer Gardens

I spend the late summer doing two things: praising the
virtues of salvia, and getting ready for fall planting.

 My flower
garden tends to “pop” in May and June, then go into sort of a decline after
that. Many of the spring and summer
wildflowers are past their prime, the rhododendrons and azaleas have long since
taken their final bow, and by July the garden settles into a sort of green
complacency. That is, until the salvias
get going.

 I’ve planted
any number of large, showy salvias in a long, narrow border on the west side of
the house where they probably don’t get quite as much sun as they need. That tends to slow down their growth and
make them bloom later, but even if they were in full sun, many of these plants
would not start blooming until late summer and early fall.

favorites include Salvia ‘Purple Majesty,’ an enormous lanky shrub with
deep blue-purple flowers that has intertwined itself with the slightly larger
and equally impressive red Salvia gesneriiflora ‘Tequila.’ This
brilliant show of red and blue fills a corner that is dominated in spring and
summer by an overgrown hydrangea. By
fall it’s time to cut the spent blossoms off the hydrangea, so the salvia jumps
in to take its place. 

 To further
entertain the hummingbirds, I’ve planted Salvia elegans, or pineapple
sage, nearby. It puts up new growth by
suckers and covers the ground densely, crowding out weeds. From late summer through winter, the red,
trumpet-shaped blossoms are a wonderful nectar source. Finally, the many Salvia greggii
shrubs (available in a wide range of colors), can take summer heat and dry
soil, and they bloom non-stop.

 When I’m
not admiring my salvias, I’m getting ready for fall planting. Fall is the time to plant perennials, and I
get a jump start by clearing weeds and preparing the soil. This year I pulled weeds and brambles out of
the alley, laid down a thick layer of cardboard in a narrow strip behind my
fence, and topped it with the least expensive compost I could buy at the garden
center—a mixture of steer manure and composted wood products.

Over the next few
months, I’ll continue to top it off with fallen leaves, grass clippings, manure
and litter from the chicken coop, and compost. This will smother the weeds and decompose in place. By the time the winter rains begin, I’ll be
ready to plant a row of gorgeous winter and early spring-blooming shrubs to
brighten the alley and provide another nesting and shelter spot for birds.