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September in the Garden with Second Bloom

by Marsha Ackerman

Fall hydrangea, dahlias, and sunflowers.

Expectations. Ugh.

According to Buddhist philosophy, "unfulfilled" expectations cause suffering.

Yep, I'm on board with that.

As I sit here thinking about summer, I can think of a number of things that usually don't end up meeting my summer expectations. For example, how vacationing with children will be a time of blissful family togetherness, or that time will warp leaving me hours of extra free time, or that I will certainly...finally, achieve that time in middle-age where I no longer care what people think of me! Not so much.

I had pretty specific expectations for one of my gardens this year. I worked tirelessly putting in an English border last year and I just knew it would be amazing this year. Then came rain...lots and lots of rain. It also turned out that a few of the things I planted weren't the varieties that I had ordered. As the garden came in, I had to make a very conscious choice whether I was going to let my expectations of what that garden would be ruin what it actually was. Or I could try to release my attachment to these ideas and enjoy the gifts of beauty in front of me. Being a control freak with somewhat ridiculous standards for myself, that was not the easiest choice to make. It ended up being a choice that I had to remind myself of daily.

On the other hand, here we are in September and my hydrangea is in full gorgeous bloom all because of the late freeze we had this spring killing off the early buds! I didn't expect that, and it is all the more joyful for the unanticipated bloom. The garden is a gentle teacher. Yearly, I am reminded by it that I cannot bend nature to my will, no matter how hard I work or how detailed my plans. I can put my seeds of intention into the earth. I can pray for health and beauty. I can nurture them to the best of my ability. In the end though, I have no choice but to surrender my plan and watch as nature molds creation over the course of time.

Listening to the lessons of the garden has become more and more a part of how I try to cope with life. One of my children has been dealing with some intense anxiety this summer. From conception, I have done everything I could to guard him from the pain of having to manage the mental health struggles that clearly run through my family blood. It was a painful blow to feel his desperation as if it was my own. I wanted to prune every hurt and every moment of panic from his life. I was forced to remind myself that there was no productivity in blaming myself for this unwanted inheritance, so I tried to nourish him with all of the tools available. I begrudgingly accepted that he was separate from my flesh, no matter how much of my heart lived in his. I could only 'fertilize' him with compassion, understanding, and a hand to hold as we forged the best path forward in his own personal growth. Now that he is getting older, I can no longer be the only light in his life, but I can help guide him to the sunshine.

Each spring when I start my seedlings, I protect them fiercely at first, making sure to meet their every need. But once they have started to develop their first 'adult' leaves, I switch on a rotating fan close by. The stress of the blowing wind on the growing shoots helps them to develop strong stalks and healthy roots. Again, the lessons of the garden are gentle. How much easier it is to accept the necessary hardship a plant must endure than that of a child. But the gift of the garden is that I can look to its examples for comfort and faith. I trust nature to bear fruit in the end.

Breaking Ground on April 2, 2023

Backyard Sanctuary:

Last winter was partially spent planning the creation of a backyard sanctuary garden for our home. We had a large patch of weedy pachysandra and a couple of misplaced trees that I had been wanting to remove since we bought this house. I thought it would be fun to share a few of the pictures from the process with you. It was a learning opportunity for me because I usually don't do all of the physical labor and masonry myself when working with clients. It was exhausting, but now that it is complete, I don't think I have ever been happier with a garden than this one!

This is the mostly blank canvas we had once we removed the pachysandra and trees. A dear friend helped work the large machinery for that part of the process. The number of stones we pulled out of the ground was astounding!

I am a water girl, so the central focus of this garden was to be a waterfall... that flowed into a stream... surrounding the firepit... that ended in a nature pond. Adam (my fearless husband) is always there to help me bring my crazy plans to life.

We actually built the fountain using the boulders we dug out of the yard.

Bluestone rounds were an affordable way to put in the paths we wanted. Eventually they will be surrounded by creeping thyme. Adam and the boys built a bridge while I masoned the firepit.

And this is our sanctuary now! I can barely believe it has only been a few months since we installed it. This photo is taken from my favorite seat. Most mornings I come out here to breathe before the rest of my household is stirring. If I go missing from society for months at a time, don't worry, I am just hiding out here in my happy place.

What to do this month in the garden:

  • Continue to feed and water, as well as deadheading to keep blooms coming.

  • It can be tempting to let weeds go in the late season garden, but don't. If they go to seed, you will have a whole lot more work next year.

  • Collect seeds from plants as they ripen. Put them in a paper envelope and save yourself some money for next year. It really isn't difficult. This is also a great task to give kids!

  • Deadhead dahlias and perennials to encourage a constant display of blooms.

  • Keep camellias and rhododendrons well-watered through late summer while their flower buds are forming.

  • Prune lavender once flowering is over to maintain a compact, bushy shape, but avoid cutting into old wood.

  • Mow areas of wildflower meadow after the plants have scattered their seeds.

  • Remove any spent hardy annuals if you don't want them to self-seed.

  • Sow a last batch of peas, dwarf beans, kale, and lettuces for an autumn crop.

Something to read:

50 Beautiful Deer-Resistant Plants by Ruth Rogers Clausen and Alan L. Detrick

Because we live in CT, I must always consider deer when planning designs for my clients. I like this book because it offers both beginning design concepts for DIY-type people as well as specific plant suggestions and care requirements. This is a good standard book to have on hand.


Something to listen to:

This month you get two things to listen to! The first, written in 1940, is the original and one of my favorite pieces ever written. In my mind I can only imagine this being sung, while reclining on a chaise lounge, on a feverish day in late summer with sheer drapery blowing gently in the low afternoon sun.

Hotel from the set of songs titled Banalites by Francis Poulenc

The second, Sympathique, was released in 1997 by the band Pink Martini and is based on the same poetry. I love it almost as much!


Marsha & Celia

With love, Celia & Marsha

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