Tick-tock, winter is coming. I was greeted at dawn with a few hours of light snow this morning. It melted as it landed, not like the snows that have recently visited Watertown and plagued Buffalo. It is a warning that fall is at a close and winter is coming. I spent this past weekend digging up Cannas, Dahlias, and other tender perennials. It is always an onerous task and Iâ€™ve been putting it off but could postpone it no longer. Winter is coming. I canâ€™t help but hear those words as I work outside, closing down the garden for another year. Surprisingly, there are plants in bloom. These are the stalwarts that help me say farewell to another gardening season.
If there is such a thing as The International Society of Boltonia I should be paid for lobbying and proselytizing for them. Long ago, in another garden in a different place, a plant was needed for a tough gardening situation. I was looking for something at least three feet tall but very narrow for a small bed along a picket fence. There arenâ€™t many plants that could accomplish that without engulfing their neighbors. The plant selected was Boltonia asteroides â€˜Snowbankâ€™, pictured above.
Blanketing itself with white in mid to late fall, â€˜Snowbankâ€™ is aptly named. Other varieties can be had that are pink or are shorter or even petal-less, yet â€˜Snowbankâ€™ continues to be my favorite. Stems are stiffly upright and strong. Even hurricane remnants have found it difficult to bend them. Foliage is small and strappy looking, with an appealing green-blue matte finish. Plants remain clean and unblemished during the season with little or no appeal to pests and diseases. Add in hardiness from zones 3 to 9 and whatâ€™s not to love. My affair continues.
I like blue flowers, especially ones colored in the mid-blue tones found in Delphiniums. Itâ€™s uncommon to find that shade in fall-blooming plants but Salvia azurea var. grandiflora has it. Also known as S. pitcheri, Blue Sage, or Prairie Sage, this Salvia is at its best among sympathetic neighbors where its leaning habit of growth can be accommodated. I planted mine beside a stand of Buddleias to give it support and to screen its tall and sparsely leaved stems. One day I noticed little blue flowers laughing at me for forgetting it existed. I laughed along too, having thought the plant had died because it had yet to emerge from dormancy by mid-June. For readers not familiar with growing conditions in the Great Northeast, June is spring and summer compressed together as the coldest days of spring have finally ended. Saying itâ€™s a short growing season is being truthful. Prairie Sageâ€™s beauty is a welcome addition to the autumn palette.
Allium thunbergii â€˜Ozawaâ€™ is the last plant to bloom for me. Otherwise known in my head as â€œthat fall-blooming Alliumâ€, Iâ€™ve been known to accidentally weed-whack it, forgetting once again its mimicry of a small tussock of grass. If youâ€™re familiar with the rain lilies Zephyranthes and Habranthus you will understand my mistake. Triangular in cross-section, the shiny deep green leaves make a perfect backdrop for the flowers. Starting out as upright buds, the flowers nod as they mature, in a decidedly charming way. They look like groupings of small parasols with unusually extended ribs. Holding onto the illusion of summer, I picked a small bundle for display and noticed a light sweet fragrance that I would never have associated with an onion and garlic relative. Its looks and habit are deceiving because this Allium is a toughie. Seemingly weather oblivious, this little guy continues to perform while everything else has succumbed to frost. But eventually its time has passed, the leaves turn to orange, and the last blooms struggle and disappear. The gardening season is officially over, all the plants are sleeping, and dreams of next year are beginning to form.