By Ruth Bass, Special to The Eagle
Every year the flower gardens remind me in September that I should have bought zinnias and marigolds in May. Most of the perennials have finished their work, with even the bee balm giving up its red tubular flowers before the last hummingbird has gone. In place of red brilliance, we have long stems with brown knobs on top.
Similar knobs top the stands of white daisies, and daylilies go into their ugly stepsister phase with brown stalks that look awful but are not quite dry enough to pull out. To hide their drab fall look, the perennials should get a chance to hide behind rafts of the bright annuals that we didn’t buy.
The few we did plant are happy spots now: a mound of bright pink petunias, the stately blue salvias, the lavender angelonia, a bronze coleus and a ring of potted flowers around the patio.
Perennially, the redeeming graces -- and they are so graceful -- are the ornamental grasses. White or burgundy feathers top the tall ones, fine-grained wheat-colored tassels shine in the sun on others. Not so many years ago it was hard to find grasses that were hardy enough for the winds of Berkshire winter but, along with new hydrangeas, grasses are varied and plentiful now.
And the sedums. Autumn Joy appeared everywhere a long time ago, and now variations that are either lighter or darker provide soft color in September. And in the field, preserved from the mowing machine for the benefit of the monarch butterflies, is a smattering of dusty pink milkweed flowers. Only this week, the monarchs started to float through the yard.
The flowers are fading, but the vegetable garden is really tired. Every remaining tomato is visible from afar because the leaves on the plants are shrinking, turning yellow or just falling off. It doesn’t seem to have any effect on the rest, which keep on ripening. Some are big enough so a slice covers a slice of bread -- very convenient.
The cucumbers virtually evaporated while we were on vacation in mid-August. We took a couple dozen with us, knew they were still blooming and came back to find that they had disappeared, blossoms and vines. The potatoes, as expected, went from lush and tall to brown sticks, so the dig for treasure is on. Interesting that the seed potatoes from a highly touted organic mail order place (new to us) produced tiny potatoes while our regular supplier’s offering is doing pretty well.
It was a most peculiar year among the vegetables. The carrots decided to go long, despite our clay soil. An animal - probably a deer - ate part of the beet tops and part of a lettuce row and never came back, apparently dissatisfied with the service. The first three plantings of beans were sickly, but the fall row is beautiful, filled with blossoms and wild bees. The zucchinis bred like rabbits, as usual, and the adjacent yellow squash produced little.
And the peas, our favorite, the peas. Every seed germinated and they were six or eight inches tall when the monsoon of June hit. They produced a few blossoms, then began to shrink and turn pale. Was it something we said? When pulled up, they had no roots, just a mean looking black stem. Too much to drink, perhaps.
Who can explain any of it? You do approximately the same things year after year, you move things around, you weed and hoe and fertilize and salivate. And most of the time, most of it works.
But blueberries get the Oscar. Despite the perils of the netting, they are the best thing on the hill. No spraying, weeding and fertilizing once a year, picking off the occasional Japanese beetle. Then eating your fill -- 60 pints this year -- in the patch or at the table. Little labor, lots of flavor.