I hadn’t been down to my garden in a bit, but when I arrived there two weeks ago on the first day of fall, it was transformed. Seemingly overnight, my several large clumps of ‘Purple Dome’ asters had burst into spectacular bloom, covering themselves in a solid blanket of blossoms.
These shrubby asters flower in a violet so deep and rich it practically vibrates. At last, a player on the scene that was just as emphatic and outspoken as its neighbor, the equally loud obedient plant known as ‘Vivid.’ All of a sudden, the garden looked pretty darn lively again.
Of course, you needed your sunglasses -- this was purple-on-purple combat, high-volume amethyst and screaming magenta. In one spot, soft pink Japanese anemones overhung the clanging crescendo of purple flowers, adding a calm, understated grace note.
Such harmonies are the goal of scheming gardeners everywhere and so often they happen – as here – by accident. The confluence of color and form was so happy I picked an impromptu bouquet to lay upon my fence, in sight as I worked. Something about the perfectly round, thin-petalled asters, the densely-ruffled trumpets of the obedient plant and the simple symmetry of the frosty-pink anemones just sang to me.
How these plants came to live together is the gritty backstory. It wasn’t exactly by design.
I’ve had the asters for a while but they’ve often annoyed me by growing too large, splitting in the middle or turning brown in parts. I never really got around to dividing them this spring and I can’t say that I was religious about cutting them back to keep them compact, either. This season for some reason, they reached perfection without me – they couldn’t have been better if I tried.
The anemone is a dwarf variety I was testing out at the top of the garden, cautiously since the bottom of the garden has been largely taken over by a more aggressive cultivar, ‘Victor Jones.’ Victor likes it here. Victor is kind of pushy. Victor better watch himself or he’s going to be voted off the island. So far, the smaller dwarf is proving to be a well behaved version of this favorite flower.
The not-so-obedient plant, Physostegia virginiana, is only in my garden proper because I evicted it from its former home. It had been up in my entry garden but did not play well with others. Plus, from a slip or two, I already had a solid 4-by-4-foot patch.
To appreciate the problem, picture this gentle plant palette: Fleshy-pink ‘Matrona’ sedum; mahogany-leafed euphorbia; late-blooming heuchera with pale, greenish-white plumes; chartreuse ‘Angelina’ sedum, starting to show its orange autumn tints; cool, pinkish mums, soon to be joined by clouds of buffy salmon Korean mums. And…screaming magenta obedient plant? What was I thinking?
Well, I wasn’t. I just popped these hand-me-down plants in where I could get at them easily with the hose. They’ve been shocking me every fall since with their finger-in-the-light-socket color. Plus, you have to restrict their roots or otherwise confine and discipline this rapid spreader, a member of the mint family. I didn’t want it to get too comfortable, so I gave some away and moved the rest across the yard – to eventual great success.
This kind of fumbling toward spectacular results has underscored a few useful lessons:
-- Don’t be too hasty about plant decisions, especially impulses to banish troublesome characters from the property. Maybe they just need a change of scene.
-- Remain alert to the rewards of dumb luck. Sometime the garden gods (and goddesses) work in mysterious ways.
-- Don’t be afraid of strong -- dare I say gaudy – color. Yes, pastels are sweet, gentle and inoffensive, but sometimes what you really need is color that’ll knock your socks off.
-- A plan that gives you something to look forward to late in the season is a good plan. It’s easy to get carried away, filling your garden with high season flowers, but early and late peaks are especially sweet.
I will admit that there’s a hint of melancholy in the air once autumn has officially arrived. But it ain’t over ‘til it’s over, and winter is a whole season away. Go gentle into that good night? Nope – not in my garden.