The Late Summer Garden


Really I should call this the atypical late summer garden.  No, the toys above are very typical… what’s not typical is how green everything is.  I mean the grass is lush, verdant, and in need of mowing (I mowed a few hours after this picture was taken).  Halfway through August here in Boston-adjacent land we found ourselves already with more than our typical monthly allotment of precip and it is still coming.  I’m writing this post right now from my covered back deck while a steady rain comes down.  It certainly has led to some atypical garden behaviors this summer- but some pretty average observations as well.  Mainly- this time of year things get a little out of hand- a little explosive- and whether it’s the August heat or the declining light (it’s getting fairly dark by the time the kiddo is in bed, which is when I can find time to tend to the garden) the garden can get a little derelict…a little gangly.

Not that I mind.  Something about the profusion of life is very gratifying.  The squash vine that grows 3 feet while you’re at work.  The sunflowers covered in bees.  The Monarda that started as a small plug just months before that is now something that sprawls every which way.


And this super-sized and sprawling perrenials look is going to really benefit me come September.  As I mentioned not long ago, we are ripping out our small front lawn and replacing it with a garden.  Many of the plants from this process will come from dividing existing plants from around our yard.  So robust growth will enable me to split things more ways, or transplant larger splits.  The plants above, which include Columbine, Shasta Daisy, Dianthus, Rudbekia fulgida and coneflower were started 4 years ago from small hacked off bits from my mom’s garden.  Before that, when we moved in there were three mostly dead azalea.  It’s time for these guys to be divided for their health and to make way for the Ceanothus americanus (New Jersey Tea) that I planted from Prairie Moon early this summer.


The one aspect of garden gone wild that I don’t like is when plants flop into the grass.  It makes mowing hard and lots of times the best blooms become hidden.  The floppiness of plants is very apparent this time of year.  You can see it in this picture and the one below.  The hard rain beats them down (our raspberries are now sprawling like a giant octopus across the yard after the rain), but also lack of support plays a role.  Early in the season I staked some goldenrod & aster that always flop.  That has kept them looking fine.  Trying to stake floppy plants, like those Gaillardia after the damage is done is losing battle.


And while I love looking out my dining room window to this wall of sunflowers, I probably don’t need this many next year.  The flop makes this narrow side yard impassable.  The sunflowers in their voracious reach for sun are shading out some of my new milkweed varieties that I planted this year like Asclepia incarnata (rose/swamp milkweed) and Asclepia viridis (spider milkweed).  But nothing bullies the common milkweed.  It is the very definition of a weed.

Right below my feet in the above picture were several juicy mushrooms.  That is an atypical late summer garden feature.  Especially in this side yard garden that is usually baked and crispy this time of year.  These mushrooms were massive.

Massive perennials?  Flopping plants every which way?  Totally a normal summer garden.

Green grass?  Mushrooms popping up?  Not a regular occurrence.

And thus why we do it my friends.  The ever changing newness of each year.  Our plants generally adapt year after year and so, do we.






Doing Away with Needless Lawn (part 1)

In the native plant & water friendly gardening community folks can come down pretty hard against turf grass & lawns.  I hear ya.  They can be ecological dead zones.  Parasitic in their zeal for water, fertilizer & petroleum consumption.  Not to mention time and money.  As all of these resources become harder to come by and the awareness of the impact of individual consumption of these resources (particularly petroleum) increases I think we will see (hopefully) fewer lawns.  At least fewer needless lawns.

See, I have a young child and he loves to run around our (very small, non-fertilized and certainly non-monoculture) grassy lawn.  He would play all day out there if I let him, and I often do.  There is no way I’m going to take that away from him.  But our front lawn?  That thing is a waste.  Sure, we sit on it from time to time, but it is needless lawn.  After five years of successive failures to get any grass to grow there, I’m throwing in the towel.  The combination of baking sun, slight slope, neighbor dogs pee and road salt makes it a very tough spot for turf grass.  (Actually, the problem is 75% due to dog pee)

So, we’re going to  rip it all out.  See that below?  It’s gross looking, even after a week of rain.  And it’s too small to be a useful play area.


And what does that mean?  A whole new garden space to plan.  Not just add to, but a whole ~12×12 area to plant!


We’re planning on generally replicating & extending the look of what is next to the sad and sorry patch.  By our porch stairs is a ~8×8 square that I planted last fall after ripping out some seriously sad yew and half dead spirea that came with our house.  I had haphazardly added to it over the years, but without any plan.  This time around I had a plan, a plan I will continue, even if in this above picture it’s soggy looking and not in the best light.

Above there is some ninebark (Physocarpus opfulifolius  cv ‘Coppertina’), some fountain grass that I lost the tag to (might be Pennisetum setaceum), Liatris spicata in purple and white, coneflowers, wild petunia (Ruellia humilis) and Rudbekia hirta (black eyed Susan).  There are a few miscellaneous stonecrops in there that are serving as a living mulch for the moment.  In the spring the assortment of bulbs and Phlox subulata (creeping phlox) take the stage.

What I want to focus on in this garden extension is a good mix of grasses and heat tolerant natives/semi natives.  I really like the look of the coneflowers and dropseed in the bottom picture- it’s sort of a cultivated meadow.  That is a look I’d like to go for, but with some of the other plants and grasses.  The daisy will do well in some of the shadier parts of that space (there is a tree along the sidewalk that provides shade much of the afternoon).  I’ll plant daffodils because after a Boston winter I need daffodils, and some non-native allium will bridge the time of daffodils to the time of the daisies.  I love the bright pop of purple liatris against the splash of cheery rudbekia- it’s my new favorite.


So that’s the plan right now.  Many of these plants I’ll get through spiltting or thinning current ones in the yard.  Some will be bought at end of season sales.  So we’ll see what actually takes shape!  And of course, what ever happens will only be version 1.0.  Who knows what the following year will bring!