One gardener's observations, discoveries and random thoughts whilst simultaneously worshipping and dallying in a Cape Cod garden. "A garden," said Ralph Waldo Emerson, "is like those pernicious machineries which catch a man's coatskirt or his hand, and draw in his arm, his leg and his whole body to irresistable destruction."

Mostly Sunflowers

Hello and happy September, everyone. I hope you all had a great Labor Day weekend (that’s with a U if you’re reading from Canada, of course…). I find myself breathing a sigh of relief on a couple of fronts this morning.

First, I’m relieved for the good folks of the Gulf Coast and New Orleans, who seemed to have come through the landfall of Hurricane Gustav with minimal worries (well, besides that minor business of having to evacuate a couple million people)–schoolkids from NOLA are no doubt annoyed to hear that school will be in session next week.

Also, now that this last holiday weekend of the summer has come and gone, the roads here on the Cape (and the beaches, too, no doubt, though I’ve not had the chance to confirm this one) are emptier now, much easier to navigate. While we enjoy (don’t we?) the hub-bub and chaos of high summer, it’s always a pleasure to get our wonderful Cape Cod back for our own pleasure.

While the calendar page’s turning seems to have brought slightly cooler temperatures and lesser humidity, we know that September and the Gulf Stream will conspire to bring us some delightful weather to let us have our last hurrahs of summer without much traffic.

Of course, we are keeping our eyes on the latest tropical activity. There’s a storm called Hanna we’re especially keeping an eye on, as she seems to be stalking the east coast a bit. And after her are Ivan and Josephine.

We’ll keep our fingers crossed…but maybe do a thing or two to make ready, just in case.

Morning glories are back in the picture today. Not only are those early blue and pink ones still going strong, as you can see above, but yesterday morning I was caught off-guard – in the best possible way – by this all-white morning glory. I didn’t remember there being any of those suggested as included in the mixed seed pack these came from, but as we’ve seen before, every now and then something unexpected happens.

As surprises go, it’s a pretty sweet one.

Now I know I’ve been showing you a lot of sunflowers this summer, but let’s be clear on this point: there’s LOTS of sunflowers to show you. I’ve tried to work them in here and there with other flower shots, so as not to saturate the market…but the truth is, at this end of the season, the sunflowers are really dominating.

So today, I figured I’d give in and feature a whole bunch of them, so you can more easily see the variety of them I’m enjoying. Plus, Kelly will recently have or be about to return to school, and as she is the godmother of these fantastic beauties, why shouldn’t she (and you) get to enjoy them some more?

Perhaps you will think I am being needlessly humble, but I can’t help be a little amazed at the smashing sunflowers successes I’ve enjoyed this year. Many of you have written to say that you’ve never had that much success with them, and before this year, I was solidly in that camp with you.

I haven’t ruled out the idea that the Garden simply knew that I was going to need all these cheery faces as the season wore on, and that all this is merely a bit of good fortune, but for the sake of perhaps duplicating this success in the future, I figured I’d consider the factors which probably also contributed.

First, FULL sun. We simply cannot underestimate the value and power of those warm golden rays. Just about everything I’ve grown this year has done moreso than ever before, thanks to the bright rays of Ra, or Apollo, or Al Gore, or whomever it is you think might be in charge of the sun.

However, the full sun exposure will quickly bring an end to even the hardiest of plants without the other key ingredient in this recipe, which hopefully, is obviously water. Two thirds of the fence garden here in this year’s Midnight Garden is underlaid with a soaker hose, and except on or just after truly rainy days, I have let it run for about ten to fifteen minutes every morning, to make sure all the plants out there have gotten a nice deep drink down by their roots.

The last third, the end around the lamp post, has no soaker hose, though, and I’ve tried to do some careful top watering of that end of things to keep the balance. That bed is planted more heavily with sulphur cosmos, which is a little more drought tolerant, but sunflowers are also thriving and climbing toward the sky there, as well. I think that might be where some of the luck thing comes in.

Other factors which are no doubt contributing to the show are the quality of the soil. When I dug in this garden almost a year ago, I was pretty pleased to discover that there was some nice rich looking black soil, always a good place to start in the garden.

As spring began to flutter its wings, you may recall I amended the area with lots of coffee grounds…and once the garden got going, I fertilized a couple of times, usually about once a month through mid-July to give everything that extra shot in the arm…or stalk, as the case may be here.

So many people tell me that they actually have success getting the sunflower seeds to grow. That really is one of the easiest bits. They germinate quickly and their seeds are pretty distinctive, so unlikely to be accidentally weeded out of the bed. But they are often the prey of squirrels or chipmunks or bunnies…and so we can’t under-value the Liquid Fence treatments in all this.

Those are the secrets, as I see them. I’ve certainly been happy for the success, since it’s hard not to smile when you look out the window and see all these guys. I hope you’ll find yourselves a sunny patch and give some a try next year. I think I’ll be doing the same.

And so now we’ve gotten through the last busy weekend of the summer at work, which is also a bit of a relief. Time to turn my attentions to other things for a little while.

I hope your first week of the after-summer (even though the season lingers for another three weeks, I know it starts to feel like its over pretty quickly now that September’s here…it’s a slippery slope to Autumn, it seems) isn’t a mad one, and that you’re still able to find a few echoes of the summer…reasons to take a moment to sit in the sun, or admire a few flowers or have a good laugh at the antics of birds and bunnies and the like.

And don’t despair: September has treasures just barely imagined yet to come.

Spring flowers are long since gone.
Summer’s bloom hangs limp on every terrace.
The gardener’s feet drag a bit on the dusty path
and the hinge in his back is full of creaks.”

— Louise Seymour Jones


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