It’s mid-September, and my garden is begging for cleanup, overgrown as it is with a native plant called Clearweed. We’re supposed to encourage native plants, but after the wet summer Clearweeds have appeared by the hundreds to hoard the best soil in their roots. With stretched arms and practiced fingertips, I pull arms full of weeds so the garden – and I – can breathe.

Hosta seiboldiana ‘Elegans’

This time of year it’s all about taking a deep breath, and waiting. For fall. For winter to finally hammer down. But not yet. Now the New York humidity turns my hair into a curly mass falling over my eyes, and like a blind person my sense of smell leads me on. I’m intoxicated by winey garden odors, pulling weeds with my face only inches from yellow and green Japanese forest grass arching over leathery blue-green hostas and purple-leaved coral bells pitted after a summer of beetles and slugs.

Salvia ‘Wendy’s Wish’ in my garden

A few feet away Ruby-throated hummingbirds are deep in candy pink salvia and Jewelweed, drinking the natural nectar. My garden is a mix of the cultivated and the wild, and I like it that way. I encourage native Jewelweed to self-sow in select spots because in September it is covered with yellow-orange flowers that attract the hummers. I love to see them pull at each flower, doing what they were born to do. They seem to prefer flowers to feeders as they fuel up for their migration south, which I think started this week.

Jewelweed in my garden

Many would say the perennial garden is finished by September: the impatiens are clunky, the Black eyed Susans have turned into yellow rags waiting for goldfinches to pull out their seeds, and the hostas are tatty. But I love the ripened look as the sun changes its angle. I anticipate the golds and scarlets of October and November. I just bought some New York Asters to try out in the hottest, sunniest spot I can find. Maybe they’ll survive the winter to flower next September. For now, I’m enjoying their purple flowers blending with cute, spoon-petaled Black Rudbeckia ‘Little Henry’ that thrived for me this year. In my garden it grows to four feet because it receives less-than-adequate sun, but as the stems twist and lean into swaths of light I feel there is a plan, though not of my making.

Rudbeckia ‘Little Henry’ in my garden

Now that hurricane Florence is gone the rabbit is back, chewing down entire Black eyed Susan plants while I watch. My neighbor gifted me a Hosta plantagenea which I planted beside my doorway. I can’t wait for it to bloom next year so I can enjoy the scent of its large white blossoms close up.

I love this garden in all seasons and weather, but perhaps never as much as in September, because I know there is limited time to enjoy its last colors, breathe in the clean soil, plant smoothly sleeping tulip bulbs, and hope for spring.

Every year, to hope for another spring.


Here are the Latin and common names of the plants I mention in this post:

  • Pilea pumila = Clearweed 
  • Hakonechloa ‘Aureola’ = Japanese forest grass, aka Golden Hakone Grass
  • Hosta seiboldiana ‘Elegans’ = the classic large blue-leaved hosta, but there are hundreds of other cultivars in all sizes, shapes and colors
  • Hosta plantagenea = green-leaved fragrant hosta with large white flowers
  • Heuchera ‘Obsidian’ = my favorite dark-leaved coral bell. Another is ‘Palace Purple’. There are many others.
  • Salvia hybrida ‘Wendy’s Wish’ = pink salvia. The hands-down hummingbird favorite in the Northeast is Salvia guaranitica ‘Black and Blue’, but any salvia will be loved by these birds. The thumbnail picture on this post is of a hummingbird visiting Salvia leucantha ‘Purple Velvet’, aka Mexican sage.
  • Impatiens hawkeri = New Guinea impatiens. May be sold as ‘SunPatiens’. Vigorous garden and container annual, comes in white, red, pinks, lavender, and purple, with green or reddish leaves. Thrives right up to frost.
  • Impatiens capensis = Jewelweed. Tall native herb reputed to treat poison ivy rash, may also have other medicinal properties.
  • Rudbeckia fulgida sullivantii ‘Goldsturm’ and Rudbeckia ‘Little Henry’ = Black eyed Susan cultivars. There are many others. All love full sun, these two tolerate part sun.
  • for information on hummingbirds
  • Just published! An updated, comprehensive guide on 24 hummingbird flowers to attract pollinators to your yard. It is completely free and you can find it at this web site.