Asters and annuals as summer comes to an end
The first asters started opening their starry violet-purple yellow-centered daisies as the last apricot tree to ripen in Basalt lit the mid-August landscape with a pointillist spangling of countless small orange fruit. When I planted my fruit trees, I counted on the lovely spring blossoms, but I had no idea how striking the fruit would be, especially the red sour cherries early in the summer and now the orange apricots.The asters, named after the Greek word for star, mark the peak bloom of the annual flowers and the final wave of perennial flowers. I have chosen species in shades of blue, violet and purple that stand out among all the yellow/gold flowers blooming from August to October, but blend harmoniously with the annual cosmos, zinnias and petunias I have this year. Aster novae-angliae “Purple Dome,” just starting to bloom, is the richest, most luscious violet-purple color, like a grape popsicle, with an orangey eye instead of the more usual yellow. The dark green leaves stay dense and healthy down to the ground, but the compact 18-inch stems are stiff and lack the grace of taller Aster laevis, or Aster novi-belgii, which have a billowing habit. Maybe if I move it out of the box beds and into the border, where it can be surrounded by softer plants, I will like it better. None of these are xeric, but if you water enough to grow Shasta daisies and coneflowers, you can grow asters. I don’t see nearly enough of them in the valley.There are wild asters blooming all over the place, and many are drought-tolerant. Machaeranthera bigelovii, an abundant annual or biennial laden with lilac flowers that blooms in the company of yellow-flowered chamisa or rabbitbrush, is the one that makes driving along many New Mexican roads in autumn such a pleasure. Macaeranthera canescens is a widespread perennial with a finer texture and masses of smaller purple asters. Seeds are best planted in the fall; I’ve added them to my fall seed shopping list.For the first time in years, my cosmos bipinnatus self-sowed. The tall plants, fresh green and bushy, have brilliant purple-pink petals and tiny yellow disc flowers growing up a prominent red conical center. Fascinating. I started the 3- to 4-foot-tall Zinnia elegans and the old-fashioned sprawling, vining Petunia integrifolia in the greenhouse, but the zinnia is exactly the same color as the cosmos! No two petunias are the same color; they range from white with the faintest pink tinge to lavender to bright purple-pink. Waving trumpets flaring from slender tubes on long gawky stems, they are scarcely recognizable as petunias. Every year I agonize over cutting the zinnias for bouquets. The heavy thick-petaled flower heads stand brightly above the other plants scattered throughout the flowerbed; the box beds along the driveway and in tubs look so wonderful I hate to pick them. (I buy them at the farmers market in Glenwood Springs instead.) The temperature has been dipping as low as 36 degrees Fahrenheit at night, and if the sky stays clear that first frost can visit us any day now. Enjoying them in the garden “just one more day” usually means good-bye Charlie, sooner rather than later. If I picked all the blooms and buds, I could admire their straightforward beauty indoors for several more weeks. Fortunately, before I had to make a decision, I was presented with an unassailable excuse to leave all the tender annuals alone and mourn their passing later.The hummingbirds are still here, bulking up for migration like the bears for hibernation, and they make the rounds of my flowers regularly. They come to my cerise/magenta zinnias as if they were feeders. A hummingbird perched on a pink petal, resting between guzzles and keeping an eye out for the competition is a most delightful and amusing sight. They visit the petunias and innumerable other flowers too, but none of them are sturdy enough to let the birds rest on them. I can’t possibly cut them off now.There is something that feels right and good about letting the first frost take the zinnias, the cosmos and all the other sensitive plants, even as the hardier perennials like asters soldier on until the bitter end in October or even into November. An offering to winter. It is a stroke of the weather pen underlining the end of summer, announcing quite simply that it is time to let go.Anna is enjoying her garden in Basalt too much to let go just yet, but she’s working on it. She’d love to hear from you at firstname.lastname@example.org or email@example.com. Please put “Anna’s Garden” in the e-mail subject line.
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The COVID-19 pandemic has caused untold amounts of suffering and disruption, and we’ll probably tell those stories for the rest of our lives.