Bulbs, Perennials, Vegetables

Gardening in September

By —— Bio and Archives--September 7, 2007

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“The first three men in the world were a gardener, a ploughman, and a grazier; and if any object that the second of these was a murderer, I desire him to consider that as soon as he was so, he quitted our profession, and turned builder,” according to the English poet Abraham Cowley (1618-67). Somewhat earlier in his play concerning the melancholy Dane Hamlet, Shakespeare opined: “There is no ancient gentlemen but gardeners, ditchers and gravediggers; they hold up Adam’s profession.” Alas, as the days shorten and high summer turns to low fall, we occasionally reflect upon how others view us.

Fortunately, the garden summons, ordering a cease to such meanderings and encouraging engagement in the sterner things of life. The perennial border beckons with abundant seasonal growth.

Although too early to start wholesale hacking at this verdant vegetation, a certain amount of judicious removal will not go amiss. Dying and dead foliage, flower stems that have ceased to produce blooms can be cut and consigned to the composter. Likewise mildew-afflicted phlox and similarly diseased perennials can be clipped back to an inch or two above ground level.

Now take a breather from anymore hacking of the horticultural kind. Resist the urge to rip away more until as The Epic Gardener magazine so wisely observes, until following several heavy frosts. Late October at the earliest, more likely well into November. But then there is the wormwood ...

One has to wonder what do so with the vast quantities of Artemisia the perennial border produces each year. Start up a herbal wreath business? Supply traditional Chinese medicine practitioners with a supply for moxibustion? Follow the French custom of hanging in the clothes closet to repel moths—it is garderobe in la language other? Make an ointment of the ashes, present to others (male) informing them that is how you cultivated a magnificent beard? Then again they might discover that the ancient William Coles recommended the same for use against the “French disease ... and likewise it killeth Lice in the Head.”

The genus Artemisia is named after the Greek goddess of hunting, sworn to remain a virgin. A most definitely heterosexual hunter stopped one day to enjoy the sight of Artemisia and her nymphs bathing. Angered, she transformed him into a stag, to be torn to pieces by his own dogs, which must have been painful in the extreme.

In her fascinating book, All Good Things Around Us (1980), Pamela Michael seems to have missed out on all of this. She was possibly somewhat discombobulated to discover that that Coles also wrote: “It is said that if a bunch of southernwood be laid under one’s Bed, Pillow, or Bolster, it provoketh carnall Copulation, and resisteth all inchantments that hinder the same.”

Isn’t it wonderful what you learn from gardening when you should be gardening?

One gardening chore totally unnecessary this month: Uprooting the vegetable patch. Why some otherwise perfectly normal gardeners decide to indulge in an orgy of mass destruction is a mystery. There are still four to eight weeks left in the veggie growing season, perhaps twelve depending on crops chosen and weather gods.

Stop! Before you buy another bulb, consider the completion of a recently completed bulb/perennial combination evaluation at the University of Guelph. Rodger Tschanz supervised the program and reported on it in the trade periodical Horticultural Review. Which bulbs combined well with what perennials and did the bulb return for second and third years? Satisfyingly, since it confirmed what we have suggested here for many years, the only tulips worth bothering with are early-flowering ‘botanicals.’ Tschanz recommended dwarf tulip cultivars such as ‘Heart’s Delight,’ ‘Scarlet Baby’ and ‘Toronto’ combined with the Geranium cultivar ‘Buxton’s Blue.’

Other suggestions from the fertile mind and observations of this outstanding horticulturist are Ligularia dentata (big-leaved ligularia) and giant alliums; Gallium odorata (sweet woodruff) and Crocus; Hosta species and Scilla species; Hyacinthoides hispanica (Spanish bluebells) and Pulmonaria (lungwort); Muscari armeniacum (grape hyacinth) and Convallaria majalis (lily-of-the-valley); and, finally, Iris reticulata and Polygonatum multiflorum (Solomon’s seal).

Still looking for bulbous bright ideas? Mark 14 October on your calendar, when Janis Ruksans will speak on small bulbs to include in the garden at the monthly meeting of the Ontario Rock Garden Society. Be at the Toronto Botanical Gardens (Lawrence Avenue East at Leslie Street) before 1:30 pm.

Attempting to bring herbs indoors for winter use? Many an expert gardener is forced to declare failure. Then again some, well let the afore-mentioned Pamela Michael elucidate reason to make an attempt: “There are occasional references by modern herbalists to the aphrodisiac properties of savoury and its beneficial effects on the reproductive system,” she advises, noting that the old herbalist, Coles, was very emphatic about this, saying the Latin name saturiea came from satyrus, a satyr, ‘because they used it to provoke Venery.’

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Wes Porter -- Bio and Archives | Comments

Wes Porter is a horticultural consultant and writer based in Toronto. Wes has over 40 years of experience in both temperate and tropical horticulture from three continents.

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