Monday, September 14, 2015

Lovable Ruffians

This is my very first contribution ever to the advice column genre.

Not to worry....I'm not planning to critique wedding etiquette, offer comfort to the lovelorn, or solve your issues with troublesome faraway relatives.  No, this is my version of the infomercial that promises to clean your glasses, answer your phone, and make you disappear standing sideways to a mirror.

And it has to do with two troublesome but overlapping topics: 1) that awkward but unavoidable season between real summer and real fall...and 2) the ugliness of one's garden in said awkward time period just when the weather is finally becoming agreeable enough to brush the ubiquitous cobwebs off the lawn chairs and drink your morning coffee.
It's just not right.

But wait!  There's a solution!  I call these ''lovable ruffians", but someone else might call them "weeds".  And some of these plants are indeed vigorous, uncontrollably so.  Obsessively neat gardeners tend to classify plants out of bounds as pests, but more laissez faire backyard artists soften that pejorative and hail them as "volunteers".

Whatever your outlook, these flowers come up all by themselves, bloom late in the summery season and, in my garden, cover a multitude of sins.

Let's take a look around.....
Chief among these wildlings is the autumn glory clematis, a hardy perennial also known as Japanese clematis.  Small white star shaped blooms blanket the silvery leafed vine by the thousands and give off a pleasant scent.  Butterflies like it OK, but other pollinators are so attracted that the entire plant seems to be vibrating with activity. It is reliably hardy and carefree and fast growing and will cover a trellis or pergola in a season, no problem.  That's the upside.  Now for the downside.  Autumn Glory will also cover your porch railings and your rosebushes.  It comes up anywhere thanks to the poofy parachutes of seed heads produced after bloom.  In other words, it can be a pest.

Unless....unless you fall in love with a frosting of white woven amid your other vines come Labor Day...unless you allow it to duke it out with rogues like trumpet vines or black spotted defoliated climbing roses or the faded foliage of shrubs like spirea or lilacs.  I leave a certain number of these sweet invaders to clamber over my dusty fall garden like a wedding veil.  When it gets out of bounds, I will whack it off ruthlessly with my mower or my pruners. I know I won't kill it!
So fighting the good fight year after year doesn't appeal to you?  Can't say that I blame you.  How about something less permanent that still comes back...more or less...every year...with an element of surprise to boot.  Some untold number of years ago, I planted four or five kinds of annual morning glories alongside the cattle panels that pass for my garden fence.  They grew...(of course they did...unimproved morning glories are bona fide weeds in crop fields), but remained disappointingly green and leafy for most of the summer.  No rose picotee, no heavenly blue, no icy white.....

I was hasty with my judgment.  As the rest of the garden succumbed to various unpleasant leaf diseases and old age, the morning glories threw out long candelabras of twisted buds until, one morning, every single bud unfurled into a banner of brilliant hue, so thin as to be translucent, so numerous one forgave the months of green before. Morning glories do shut up shop and droop drastically on a hot afternoon, but they are refreshed overnight and give a little caffeine free kick to one's morning when they open anew.

I haven't planted a morning glory since that first year.  They sprout all by themselves from last year's fallen seed pods: the deep blue ones with the shiny heart-shaped leaves dominate one fence line while the rose blossomed vines with twining fuzzy leaves appear willynilly amid cannas or coneflowers or hibiscus without smothering any of their supporting cast.

Yes, it is fall and cooler weather beckons. Enjoy the great plumes of ornamental grasses.
 Anticipate the season of colored leaves.  Don't let me discourage you from acquiring such fall stalwarts as mums or kale or lovely fragrant pansies.

 Just be assured that a little benign neglect has its upside too!  Go a little crazy and let a wild free and reckless vine give your fall garden a fresh facelift.....

There are always flowers for those who want to see them.

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