Category Archives: Arranging

gardening by the calendar

The garden chores get accomplished around here usually when I have time. I find it hard to follow any kind of schedule . Much as I love phenology and enamored as I am with the romantic notions of gardening by the moon phases, most of the time it’s catch as can and stuff gets planted way too late or pruned according to my schedule as opposed to the plants best interest. But, Independence Day, celelbrated as it is on July 4, means two things always and always.

First, it is the last safe day here to cut back late summer and fall bloomers to either delay bloom, decrease the height of a tall variety, or enforce bushiness as opposed to legginess. July 5 ( and later) is a no-go for pruning anything you want to bloom late in the season, there just won’t be enough time for it to recover.

Second, like clockwork, July 4 is when the iris ensata will start blooming. Why? I have no earthly idea why they are so prompt. I could probably investigate , but sometimes  it is best to just enjoy the mystery of  it all. :)  iris ensata DSC_0003 (2)

Happy Independence Day!in

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american flowers week

This  is week 25 of the Slow Flowers Challenge, and it has also been declared

“American Flowers Week” by those in the slow flowers movement. As such, it is time to celebrate growing our own or using locally source flowers in our homes and for our events  . There is such a wealth of choices when planning a garden you can use for cutting  and I am overjoyed every time I walk outside ,clippers in hand, to make something beautiful. To celebrate I will be filling a vase a day and hopefully posting them all here  ( and on pinterest and instagram)  although the rest of the posts will be wordless, just photos with descriptions.

Today is my favorite little English china vase filled with sedum ‘October Daphne’, rosa glauca foliage and hips , clematis’Ernest Markham’, as astillbe plume, and heuchera’ Magnum’ . In the back are two ‘Dolly DSC_0003 DSC_0004 DSC_0005 DSC_0006 DSC_0007Madison’ lilies you can’t see well . The astillbe will last only for a few days, but the clematis should last a week or more, as will all of the foliar  elements.  If any of you are celebrating with me, please link back or add a link to your photos on any social media so I can check them out!

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Now the fun begins

The months of June July and August are just phenomenal for the flower gardens. there is such bounty to choose from to cut  it seems every day I am inspired by something else. It also seems at this time I can relax a litttle and just cut a few beauties to look at up close and personal instead of doing full blown arrangements , and switch them out as much as I want.

Today when I went out to do a little pruning I could not keep my eyes off this new hydrangea called Let’s Dance Moonlight”. It is a reblooming hydrangea that was recently introduced by Proven Winners and it has just amazingingly vibrant color. DSC_0008 I have planted it in a container as it is relatively small ( 2-3 ft) and at planting time I added a little aluminum sulfate to make the flowers more blue than pink. WOWZA are they ever beautiful. I have also been eyeing this honeysuckle called  ’Scentsation’, also a Proven Winners selection for it’s intense color .DSC_0009 Putting the two together is just perfect and add in the fragrance and it is over the top!DSC_0002

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Slow Flowers week 17

Today was 80 degrees, to heck with Spring let’s just jump on into Summer.  Grrrrrrr. Angry face. Now that the snow has melted the ground is dry enough to work in the gardens the weather is getting too warm too fast. The chirpy little weather girl grinning ear to ear telling us all ” No rain in the forecast for days and mid 70′s to low 80′s” is seriously ticking me off. We need Spring people!!! Nice 50-6o degree days with cooler night, lots of rain , so the tulips, daffodils and  minor bulbs can put on their show. Today I had top ut the sprinklers on for gosh sakes  .   Hellebores that were in the last bit of  frozen ground here less than two weeks ago haven’t even opened up yet   , tulips that are  just opening  and quickly fade. Which is all the more reason to get out and cut  . The earliest of my tulips are usually the species t. clusiana , but this year the purissimas beat them. Tulip  fosteriana purissima and t.  fosteriana ‘Flaming purissima  which are also known as  Emperor tulips , are some of the best tulips you can add to your garden because of their willingness to perennialize  , meaning they will reliably come back year after year unlike many of their brethren.

Flaming purissima  has a very cool color story. Some will bloom all red , some very red with cream  streaking, and some cream with reddish streaking. you never know what you are going to get. I added them to the garden a few years back and woke one day in Spring to see about half the bulbs had  been dug up and dragged off   by some critter . ( who left very neat holes by the way). Since then those that were left have come back  without issue, so last year I added some of the  plain cream colored Purissima  or White Emperor .Click for Options Both are blooming right now in different locations, but it is the Flaming Purissima I used in this weeks arrangement.DSC_0025

I used an old galvanized chicken feeder I lined with a large ziploc bag to hold the water. I walked around and around and around the garden looking for foliage, not a lot has leafed out here yet. I cut twigs off three different spireas, the branches of a pear tree, and then placed around the edge the leaves of the scented citronella geranium I just hacked back  as it gets ready to spend the summer outside. There is also a branch of lindera benzoin in there, for no reason other than I wanted to  cut it.DSC_0016

It feels like every year we climb this very steep mountain in the garden where slowly ,almost one by one, things come into bloom. Then one day out of the blue ,  we crest the hill and go full barreled all out rolling down in an avalanche f flowers that come wave after wave for the rest of the season. I fell like today I was standing on the top of the mountain . Bring it on!DSC_0014

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Slow Flowers Week 15

DSC_0290Spring flowers are finally starting to appear in the garden en masse this week making the work of arranging all the easier, Daffodils , once they have begun blooming in The Burrow , will continue on well  into June ending with the very latest of the bunch ‘Baby Moon’. Unfortunately ( or fortunately depending on how you look at it) I plant countless daffodils a year that come in mixed bags from wherever I can find them so they are cheap, but unnamed. The earliest that are blooming now fall into the cheap and unnamed category, except one little miniature that I am sure was intentionally bought and planted, I just can’t find the label. Oh well. DSC_0224

 

I have been waiting patiently to use the container  in this weeks arrangement.DSC_0222 It is a little frog in the shape of  turtle and is sweet beyond words.When I found it at a consignment shop  I envisioned using very short stems and covering the shell  , and still plan on doing that, but today went for a different look.  There are 10 or so holes on the top making it easy to insert and support the flowers and it’s diminutive stature made it the perfect vessel to incorporate minor spring bulbs, in this case siberian squill.   Sweet turtle boy has been sitting on my bookshelf looking adorable even without flowers in it since the depths of winter ( I remember ever so clearly  climbing through a 5 ft. snow banking outside the shop to get to the parking meter  the day I bought him) but I am glad the time has come to start using him to arrange.

The only flowers used in this are three different daffodils, including the miniature, and squill, no foliage or fillers. I love how the sunlight plays with the very translucent tepals and coronas of the daffs and bounces off the glass and shiny silver of the container.DSC_0247DSC_0244

I am going to leave this in the kitchen that gets flooded with sunlight every  morning where I can enjoy it as I start the day. sfweek15

 

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The Slow Flower Challenge

For those of you unfamiliar with her work, let me introduce to you one of my flower arranging heroes, Debra Prinzing. Debra is a champion of what I call loca-flor and what she calls Slow Flower arranging, which is using material that is locally sourced ( either farm grown, garden grown, or roadside picked) to make beautiful seasonal arrangements for your home year round.

As she has done  in the past, Debra is carrying out a Slow Flower Challenge in which participants cut and arrange using whatever they have and post their work onto Pinterest.com.  ( this link will take you to my personal board). You can find all the official  details here.

I plan to add as many arrangements as I can throughout the year and also to spend lots of time enjoying the creations of others. What is so fun about it is that everyone has  different climates, and different taste in what they grow and cut, and therefore although you will see a few things you may grow, you will see many that you don’t ( and even some you immediately add to your ever growing wish list!)

My first arrangement was a little cheat. I found the gorgeously colored carnations at the local supermarket for dirt cheap and just had to make something with them. I scavenged outside and came back in with lavender and santolina stalks that remain as yet unburied by snow ( sigh),curvy  branches of Harry Lauder’s Walking stick with their fancy catkins hanging down, magnolia branches with fuzzy gray flower buds, a single stem of the reddish rosa glauca, and some branches of butterfly bush that remarkably  are still holding gray foliage.Seed pods of poppies, leaves of the arrow head plant ( a houseplant) and vines from a bougainvillea that is overwintering in my window finished it out. DSC_0138

As an added bonus, weekly misting of the magnolia will hopefully make those buds open to reveal  gorgeous purple flowers .

Even if you only follow along and enjoy the creativity and eye candy , it is worth checking out this year’s Slow Flower Challenge!DSC_0153

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A Nice Break? well not really ….

I decided over the holiday season to try to simplify things a little this year. There is always the usual load of Christmas activities; shopping, wrapping, baking , decorating, and my plan was to cut myself some slack in the work arena ( blog, presentation writing, social media upkeep etc)  and enjoy the season. But this year we added in to the holiday stress the arrival of a new niece and  in some ridiculous trick of karma, the worst case of the flu any of us ever had. I was well on my way to a happier more relaxed season ,enjoying  puttering around decorating and menu planning and wrapping to Christmas music on the Sonos. I thought I had it all figured out. This was great, no pressure , only one day of real work ( a workshop in Natick) and I was ahead of the game shopping because I was prepared for new baby to arrive  and I would have  my sweet little niece Scarlett while her mom and dad were in the delivery room. It was all good.

And then, the baby didn’t arrive on time. She finally arrived late on the 23rd, just at the exact time the worst flu  ever was starting to hit our house. Wil got it first, or should I say, brought it home. Let’s place blame where it belongs ;)   then one by one we were all stricken. Sore throat, then fevers aches and chills. The congestion, coughing  and sneezing and wheezing. Then , as if that were not bad enough  a mean trick was up it’s sleeve and for two days each and every sufferer had bloodshot swollen eyes . All of this happening in waves as we all got sick on different days. Wil usually  takes his vacation time around the holidays, which this year he spent mostly in bed or on the couch. We missed parties and gatherings. I saw the new baby the night she was born, and then not again for almost two weeks.

I  did not work, no photos taken, no blog posts, no presentations written. I vegged on the couch, slept, and then slowly recovered.  The  workshop I did in  Natick  sat unfinished for two whole weeks…so unlike me! When we all felt up to it we made little outings to try to have some fun, and then napped from the exertion.

Now that we are recovered,  I am playing catch-up. I actually worked this week in  North Andover with a group of delightful ladies, and am busy getting ready for a crazy February. In addition to a bunch of  lectures all over the state, I will be at Tower hill  Botanic Garden  on February 8th at 1:00. The presentation there  will be on  growing cutting and arranging “stuff” from your own garden  year round and without decimating the view outside. In tandem with that I will be doing two demonstrations; one on floral arranging without floral foam ( oasis) which I abhor

- ( an aside rant:  how can anyone use and sell this stuff loaded with proven carcinogens and  completely non-biodegradable.? Why has no one taken up the course to invent and sell an better alternative?  In the UK  a biodegradable and non-formaldehyde laden product is just coming to market but by the time it crosses the pond all our florists will dead from poisoning.)

…and back to the demos, one on Forcing Branches. The dates and times for those are still being worked out, but all of the above will be free with admission to Tower Hill.  To get ready I  have been venturing outside cutting  and  the whole left side of the living room in adorned with vase upon vase of twigs and branches, misters , and  watering cans.  I  was also asked to design an arrangement for their annual Flora in Winter display on the weekend of the 30th.DSC_0169

I have cut two different forms of honeysuckle,  cherry ,pussy willows, flamingo willow, quince, , rosa glauca, azaleas, magnolia, filbert, lindera,  viburnum, pear ( which looks so lovely from a distance but smells awful)  two kinds of forsythia, and  yellow and red dogwoods that are mostly for branch color. It is very early for a lot of it. The closer to when something blooms that you cut it , generally the more successful you are at getting it to flower or leaf out. Some things are wrapped in plastic, some covered in trash bags  and all are being misted and monitored for bud swelling and  breaks of color.DSC_0161DSC_0163DSC_0162

Some things, like pussy willows and forsythia are beyond easy to force.  every year I  cut forsythia branches on a weekly basis so there will always be some  sunshine in the house until spring arrives. other branches are more difficult. Here are some general guidelines.DSC_0166

- most shrubs form their buds in fall and need at least 6 weeks of cold to vernalize and then break dormancy to  flower/leaf out again. Watch the weather  so you don’t cut too early.

- Try to cut branches on a warmer day ( above freezing) . It has been so cold here that I have been immersing everything into a bath of warm water for a few hours after cutting to get them going.

- re-cut the branches right before they go into water indoors and either split the bottom or shave some bark off very gently with a vegetable peeler…never ever crush with a hammer as you will disrupt the very pathways you need to get water up to the buds

-change the water on a frequent basis to ensure good water uptake , cloudy water with decomposing material in it will block the water from reaching the buds.

- keep containers out of the sun and away from a heat source so the buds don’t dry out. After they come into bloom and hot and sunny location will also shorten their vase- life considerably

-mist buds daily if you can. with forsythia this is unnecessary , but with something like magnolias, invaluable!DSC_0167

-make note when each shrub you want to force comes in to bloom.  If you look at timetables offered by many extension services and arboretums that will tell you generally what to cut when, keep in mind that there are many varieties within a plant species and they all bloom differently.

Take  lilacs, syringa vulgaris, the common lilac, comes into bloom very early and if you follow a timetable of three weeks before to cut for optimal forcing  that would be mid February-ish. But here I have lilacs that span the whole of spring and for the later bloomers ( like Miss Kim  and Donald Wyman) that would be way too early.

-Try everything!  What have you got to loose? Make note of what you cut and when and see what succeeds and what does not. After time you will learn which shrubs and trees from your garden  will force reliably , then you can plan great displays all through the dreariest part of winter.

As for me, I am under the gun , and have no choice but to dunk and mist, and pray, that somehow the timing will work out and I will not have everything come into bloom to early and thus need to be moved to a really cool location to keep it going, or too late and not have a decent showing .  The stress almost makes me miss laying on the couch shivering and sniffling.DSC_0170

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Take a Penny-Leave a Penny

The 15th of the month is when many Garden Bloggers gather virtually at a wonderful site called May Dreams Gardens to share what is currently spectacular in their gardens. Here in New England there are months when the list of what is blooming on the 15th  is so long that I have to edit down to a few plants that are currently holding my heart  by the strings to write about. As the year wanes on, it gets easier to pick what to show, and in November it is usually chrysanthemums that appear here.

This year, for whatever weather or any other of Mother Nature’s reasons, it’s  the the sheffield mum called Chrysanthemum x rubellum ‘Copper Penny’ *that is at the height of bloom. I love this mum for all it brings to the fall garden, and as an added bonus for me it is the “right” color for the autumn. ( …For those that know me will be perfectly aware that plants like evergreen holly ripening  their  red berries on green foliage conjuring the Christmas season too early , irritate me ) . True to its name these adorable blossoms are indeed coppery  in bud and beginning of bloom and open to a lighter russety-orange with bright yellow centers as time goes on. I have divided this plant a few times to increase its visibility in the garden, and will do so again in the spring (BTW  NEVER divide and transplant perennial mums in the fall).

I have been cutting this for arrangements since a couple of weeks before Halloween, and , in fact, one of the pumpkin shaped bowls that adorned the buffet on Halloween is still sitting there looking as beautiful as the day I cut them.DSC_0010 (6) When I went to speak to a Garden Club in Welsley/Dover on Thursday I brought a little tussie-mussie  bouquet to starring Copper Penny to give away. 001008I meant also to tell the gals in attendance that if anyone is looking for a division of this plant ( that is unavailable in commerce to my knowledge) they can come for a visit and I will give them a plant division .  Now I will extend the offer out to all the locals, if you visit ( and ask ) in the spring , I will gift you one. I will also be potting up its cousin , the pink sheffield and a few Red Mammoth and maybe some Wil’s Wonderful as well. fall14

* the

*name told to me,as yet  unverified

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Fall Clean-up Stinks

003As I may have mentioned 50 times or so lately, I have  been very busy for  the last few weeks  and the garden  has not gotten much attention. Other than the most brief foray to pick the last of the raspberries for breakfast or cut a few stems for a quick arrangement I have not ventured out there at all. That is all about to change as fall clean-up is looming large over my head.

Every time I look out there and wonder when the crew will arrive to cut back, dig up, prune, rake leaves  and spread lime and /or compost , I get that sinking feeling in the pit of my stomach because ,honestly, that crew is me. Usually I am not bothered by the workload at all. I leave lots of things standing for the birds to have cover and seeds and to provide winter interest so the perennial bed work is minimal. I don’t bring in all the garden ornaments, just what will break during freeze thaw cycles or things made of wood that will rot if left out in all the snow. I don’t do the heavy pruning until the dead of late winter …in my high boots and mittens, wading through feet of snow. But the fact of the matter is that even though the chores are minimal, the time I have to devote to them is nonexistent. Between lectures and workshops, college visits with my older daughter, an out of town wedding, and various other commitments I am wondering how I can possibly get it done.

Today I started a triage style list starting with the  things that absolutely positively have to get done or that should have been done already.

Bulbs that remain unplanted, expensive pottery that has to get stored before it cracks from the weather, a few plants that need  to go in the ground or just went in the ground and need water as there has been zero rainfall for what seems like ever, you get the idea.

Then I moved onto things that should get done, but if they don’t, all will be okay…like raking leaves , spreading compost, and cutting back the daylily beds.

Just when I was starting to feel like I was getting a handle on the situation and heading out to start the first few items, Wil announced that he had made an appointment to have the septic system pumped ( an utterly disgusting ,but given the fact that 4 loads of laundry and 7 showers running a day here are the norm, necessary chore) and we had to get the cover dug out today between our weekly football watching date and going to the market ( made necessary by the same people who brought us the showers and laundry).

Of course you know where this is going if you have a septic system… no one ever remembers where the cover is. Oh, we have a general idea, but as for specifically digging a small hole just to excavate said cover in the few minutes available to us today, not a chance in hell.

What ended up happening is just like every other story of my life, painfully comical. Wil started to dig in the garden bed we were sure it was buried in, but he has an injured hand , so who do you think had to assume shovel duty? ( me). We  enlisted the help of the oldest shower hogging laundry producing food guzzler ,CJ,  to dig hoping we could get it done faster. CJ and I  unearthed the entire top of the tank EXCEPT the cover in the fist 30 minutes. Moving further to the left  we struck the large cement paver I had  put right under the mulch three years ago to mark the cover’s location that had somehow  managed to work its way to 2 feet under the ground. It was then  we realized we had left ourselves no more room to put shoveled out dirt in order to get to the cover that lay beneath it and actually had for the last few minutes been piling dirt ON TOP of it.

A little dirt shuffling and a lot of swearing later, we finally managed to find and dig out the cover. I stayed outside to replant all the things we had to rip out of the garden while digging,   the guys went in to catch up on the football game, and while staring in the general direction of the large hole was thinking about

a. how did I forget where  the GD thing  was for the fifth time since we moved here

b .how the hell did that paver we placed to help us locate the cover get so deep down in the soil?

c. why in the name of all things garden-y did I plant perennials on top of the cover???  and most importantly

d. omg omg omg aren’t  there actually TWO covers that we need access too?

I quietly mentioned this to Wil when I came in , and we made the decision to convince ourselves, that no, there were not in fact two covers , and even if there were why couldn’t it be emptied via the one. I will try to plead ignorance and hope and pray that if I am correct, I can beg or pay   the people who come to pump it to find the second cover and dig it out. For reasons that boggle the mind, the last plant left standing, the last plant that may actually be growing over the other cover ,is an 6 foot tall 4 foot wide clump of the ornamental grass miscanthis sinesis, whose root system will take a pick axe and Paul Bunyan to extricate……and now I will leave you wondering if you think I know even the tiniest little bit about what I am doing over here.

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And BTW Happy Halloween! Halloween arrangement made using winterberry ilex verticillata ‘Winter Gold’, calicarpa dichtoma ‘Early Amethyst’, solanum atropurpureum a nasty thorny garden oddity nicknamed Malevolence (wear gloves my friend! there are even spiny thorns protruding from the leaves) millet, ornamental pepper ‘Black Olive’, , seedpods from baptisia australis, seedheads from helenium atumnale, spathifolium , and ‘Matchstick’ and ‘Copper Penny ‘mums 020029 033

 

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Arranging Fall

020Here in New England, much like our friend the ant from Aesop’s fable,  we feel the press of time as the days get shorter and the nights longer and colder, knowing soon we will be bundled up and rushing through a bleak landscape or viewing it from within our heated homes that will be even bleaker without the addition of fresh flowers picked from the garden.

Always when the weather starts to turn I feel frantic about cutting and photographing my flowers. Part of this has to do with work, as any presentations I am writing will need appropriate photos taken during blooming season, and the success of the Pressed Flower Workshop relies on me having cut and preserved oodles of stuff. But an even larger part has to do with my adoration of all things floral and knowing that even though I can ( and do) cuts many things from my winter garden it is not the same and often I will resign myself to heading to the floral market to add some much needed color when days are long and gray.

Hence this post on Arranging Fall. I have been busy speaking to groups over the last two weeks and I bring a floral arrangement with me any time I can. The photo up top is a view of the one I am bringing tonight when I will lecture to a local garden club on growing clematis. In the container are just three clematis ; terniflora or ‘Sweet Autumn’ as it is commonly called,’ Comtesse de Bouchard’ that remains blooming out front, and the leaves of the groundcover ‘Mrs. Robert Brydon’. The rest of the arrangement is a virtual snapshot of the garden and includes two mums ‘Centerpiece’ and ‘Matchstick’, cosmos, the Drift Rose ‘Sweet’, garden phlox ‘Nora Leigh’, snowberry ‘Amethyst’, callicarpa berries, salvia ‘Wendy’s Wish’, hosta flowers , yellow lantana, and foliage of Ipomoea “Black Heart ‘ or sweet potato vine and dogwood berries. Also stuck in there are several fluffy clematis seed heads .040034

I have also been bringing in many hydrangea blossoms . As the weather starts to cool ,hydrangea flowers start to turn color, almost like someone was burnishing or antiquing them. It is a look I adore. If you cut them now when all their flowers are fully open and the color is  stunning and place them in a vessel with just a scant amount of water that their stems can reach now ( maybe covering them by 1/2inch) and then let that water evaporate (don’t change it or refresh it)  they will dry naturally in the vase and you can enjoy them all winter. My most beautiful  blue, a variety called’ Nikko Blue’ dries so perfectly and with such intense color I have vases that are several years old still on display ( admittedly dusting them is the not so fun part of keeping them for such a long time ).015 009 031

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Dahlias , another of my late garden loves, make the most incredible cut flowers. Never cut one until it is fully open, they will not open any further in the vase if you do. They combine so well with other late season garden bounty, like berries and changing leaves, and often just one or two flowers is enough for the whole arrangement. I usually make an arrangement with just 2 or 3 dahlias and as much coleus foliage as I can cut on the night of our first frost warning. Coleus is among the first plants that turn mushy and die , yet it will keep for weeks in water and I can just change out the dahlias to whatever I want after they pass.056057

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.This small vase of  Staffordshire pottery I picked up on my last antiquing trip  is filled with dahlias, sunflowers, purple fountain grass, reddish peony foliage (so dreamy when it changes color! and I faced it the wrong way in the photo!) blue gentian and a rose called ‘All the Rage”. In the second photo you can see it when it opened. 024 (2)054

The trick when arranging flowers/garden material in fall is to think outside the box and cut lots of interesting things that are not necessarily flowers. Viburnums have great berries, as do callicarpa, snowberry, red osier dogwood, roses (hips),and  hollies. Foliage of peony which I never cut in the summer but use constantly this time of year , 013viburnums, evergreens, hucheras that sport stronger color variation with cooling temps,  grass plumes, seed heads from perennials like coneflowers , penstemons and clematis, branches of heptacodium or seven sons flower tree after the bracts turn red. The list could go on and on.008 (4)

As for flowers , make sure you have planted a variety of winter hardy mums,  re-blooming roses, dahlias, hydrangeas, sunflowers ( seed several times over the summer), pansies, rudbeckias,  asters , heleniums, late blooming phlox like ‘Nora Leigh’, Montauk daisies, sedum and gaillardias (which will bloom even through a few light frosts) .020 (3)

 

 

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