Tough plants often have common names that suggest they are weeds. Globe Thistle is no exception. Real thistles are prickly, deep-rooted weeds (although some are quite attractive). Globe Thistle (Echinops ritro) shares some of their qualities, but escapes true weediness.
This is a plant I can recommend without reservation to anyone with a dry garden. In moist soil it would grow weak and floppy and need staking. It prefers full sun but blooms well enough in my garden with only four hours of direct sun. Deer don’t eat it. Sometimes aphids appear on the developing flower buds, but can be washed off easily by spraying with water. The flowers look good for several weeks and may be dried if cut at their peak. To prevent uncontrolled self-seeding, it’s best to deadhead carefully before the flower heads shatter.
More information about Echinops ritro can be found here.
The flowers are indeed globe-shaped, about the size of golf balls, and a metallic blue in colour. I’ve seen them described as similar in appearance to the medieval mace, but in 2020, a different comparison is inevitable. A fellow blogger alerted me to it in the comments to this recent post.
Globe thistle mingles well with other plants in the garden, especially with grey-leaved, drought-tolerant ones such as Curry Plant (Helichrysum italicum). In the dry, warm days of late summer, the foliage starts to morph into shades of yellow and rusty brown, which is somehow appropriate.
Here are a couple of other plants that look good right now
The photos in this post were taken on August 21st and 29th, 2020.
It happens every August. I decide the garden is a mess, a failure and a burden. The season is drawing to a close, and has not lived up to expectations.
This garden looks best in spring and early summer. Given our climate and the Norway maples that shade the place and suck more than their share (so say I) of water and nutrients from the thin, sandy soil, the August decline is inevitable.
Add to that the fact that many plants have achieved their maximum size and leafiness by now, and many of them look weary. Windy days aren’t unusual here, pummeling the plants and making them lean. Many just stay that way, as though resigned, giving the garden an unkempt look. Yellowing leaves on perennials that have been there and done that add to the effect. The gardener, already tired from lugging watering cans and dragging hoses, says, “To Hell with it,” and goes inside to commune with the computer.
I noted at least three major pruning projects that will have to be done sooner rather than later. The magnolia is a hulking monster, despite annual attention with the pruning saw. The trellis is getting shaky. The pond has a bad case of duckweed. Too many plants, such as Russian sage and Japanese anemones, that are in glorious bloom in other (sunny) gardens, barely manage a meager handful of flowers here. Why bother?
The tomatoes are smaller than last year, both in size and number, because of cool weather in June and early July. The plants are showing signs of late blight, so it’s not likely they’ll produce many more tomatoes. Daylilies failed to bloom this year. Nine tenths of an old climbing rose died after being blasted by cold winds in March. My latest (and maybe last) attempt to grow blue poppies has failed. Why bother?
Plants don’t say “Why bother?” They just get on with it.
August-itis is a disease of the gardener, not the garden. Despite failures of individual plants, the garden itself is just fine, going through its annual process. This is the way it’s supposed to look in August, and in fact it looks better this year than it has in Augusts past. There have not been a lot of faded green leaves falling.
When I allow the ideal of green perfection to interfere with my expectations, I regard that normality as a failure. Looking at other gardens, especially the ones perfectly manicured by hired gardeners and watered by elaborate irrigation systems, only intensifies that feeling.
There’s only one cure for August-itis. The gardener must engage with the garden and do something that improves its appearance, even a little. Something straightforward and not too difficult. Clip that lawn edge. Do some deadheading. Cut down the wilted stalks.
After that depressing tour in the glare of noon that concluded with, “To Hell with it,” I took another look at the place late in the day, when the magical light of near-sunset transforms everything. I did a bit of deadheading and a little raking. I noticed buds forming on the Chinese witch hazel. They will bloom in January. I saw a new frond unfurling on a struggling little fern. I topped up the pond and scooped out much of the duckweed.
I noted plants that are looking good.
I’m on good terms with the garden again. For now, I’ve recovered from August-itis.
Gardens are collections of plants. No matter what the gardener does, plants grow, bloom, go to seed, and/or die, depending on the type of plant and whether it is getting the conditions it prefers. The gardener is a mere adjunct, trying with varying degrees of success to impose her idea of what the garden should be on a population of diverse plants. That’s the essence of gardening. It’s a constant struggle an intersection of plants, their needs, climate and weather, and the gardener’s desires and exertions.
Olympic Mullein — gardener, look out! Aaargh — too late!
Shortly after I retired at the end of March, I realized that as far as the garden was concerned, I was late to the party. Spring was early and warm, and growth was well under way before I had a chance to take a good look around. Too late for most pruning operations and moving plants around — two critical activities in this garden. Some plants — mainly shrubs — need frequent pruning, trimming and sucker removal. Others threaten to fade away unless moved to better spots, i.e., not overhung by trees or shrubs, in soil that isn’t full of maple roots.
I’ve spent the summer deadheading, watering, poking around and making plans for a grand game of musical chairs to be executed (what a word that is!) this fall and next spring. And a list of Things to Prune next winter. I’m keen to get going, but August isn’t the time for such exertions.
In the meantime, plants are going through their annual cycles, and so is the garden, which has entered what I think of as the brown season — late summer in a summer-dry climate. I’m getting tired of dragging the hose and hoisting the watering can. I know this happens every year. I know it will rain some day (and rain and rain some more). Hardy cyclamen will bloom. Mushrooms will sprout. Moss will green up. A few spring-blooming shrubs will send out a few flowers. The air will smell of coming autumn. But right now that seems far away.
Cyclamen, variegated hosta and hellebore — in September, after rain.
August is not this garden’s best month. Since I no longer have a vegetable patch, I don’t experience that plentiful harvest thing. Except for tomatoes. I grow them in pots, and this has been quite a productive year.
Otherwise, things have that dry and rattly look.
There are a few exceptions.
Dahlia “Bishop of Llandaff” and Delphinium in new flush of growth
Today I saw developing buds on my Chinese witch hazel. One branch has managed to grow into a spot that gets a bit more sun than the rest of the plant, and so will bloom next winter. The Convolvulus sabatius I thought was killed last winter is alive and well (although small), and yesterday I potted up seedlings of Gaura lindheimeri. Now the trick is to get them through the winter. For some reason I have had trouble with this plant in recent years. I don’t know if it’s because of late cold snaps (such as last February’s -9 C) or excessive wetness in the dormant season. I do have more seeds if this batch fails.
I see I have mentioned winter several times in this post about late summer. Yes, I am actually looking forward to winter, which here is green and wet, a refreshing change from endless sunshine and drought. Before that, I hope, we will have the delightful season I think of as spring-in-fall, with shorter, cooler days and rain. Many spring-blooming shrubs put out a few blooms then and the garden seems to sigh with relief. Certainly the gardener does.
My “Fragrant Cloud” rose (a rather feeble specimen growing in a pot on its own roots, not grafted) escaped being eaten by deer this summer, so is blooming again.
Rose “Fragrant Cloud”
These dark red sedums have likewise been spared by deer, even though they are in the unfenced front garden. It seems to me that deer have distinct preferences; a couple of years ago sedums had no chance, but these have been blooming for weeks.
The word for this month is “dry.” Really dry. Only 9 millimeters (0.35 inches) of rain since June 27th. Hoses, sprinklers and watering cans are getting a lot of use, but despite that, the scene has a brownish tinge.
This is how I began this post a few days ago. But that evening we had rain, quite a heavy shower. Things got wet, the soil sopped up the moisture. A few more bouts of rain followed, for a total of 17 millimeters (0.67 inches) — not that much, but enough to water the entire garden without me having to lift a bucket or drag a hose. Bliss for the dry-summer gardener!
Tomatoes are getting an orange tinge, and visits by raccoons and deer have tapered off. Quite a few of the tough plants that cope well with drought and/or shade are putting on a late summer show, such as these mulleins, echinops and Verbena bonariensis in the ex-vegetable patch.
Regular visits to the pond by raccoons have rendered some areas a near-desert (typical gardener exaggeration here), but recent efforts to clean it up, and the rain recharge, have been encouraging. This spot looks fairly good after extensive “dead-leafing” of daylily “Kwanso.”
The front garden looks deceptively lush and colourful.
This combination of blue fescue, brunnera “Jack Frost” and a euphorbia whose name I don’t know is particularly fetching. (Does anyone recognize the euphorbia? It has red stems and tiny leaves and grows to about 18 inches).
I’ve had this acanthus for years, during which it has gradually bulked up, and this year it finally bloomed. Quite impressive (to me, anyway).
Bee-watching is still a big thing, but…
…the summer is ending and I’m looking forward to fall, my favourite season, especially what I call the “fall spring,” when some spring-bloomers such as rhododendrons and Clematis armandii, for example, perk up and bloom a little. Mushrooms pop up, mosses and ferns are refreshed, leaves start to turn colour, and the gardener perceives hints of winter gravity behind the morning mists.
Summer was late in arriving this year, but now that it has, it appears to be here to stay for a while. Record high temperatures are forecast for the end of next week as the dreaded thermal trough develops off the Washington coast. This phenomenon has not manifested so far this summer, so I shouldn’t really complain, even though I’m not a heat lover. Besides, with sunset occurring before 8 p.m., things cool off pretty fast in the evenings, so I don’t expect the hot nights that would happen in a July heat wave.
And the garden? Well, it looks tired and past its best, the way it should at the end of summer. Once September starts, though, I begin to look for that subtle season I call the “fall spring,” when, after a few rains, plants revive and some even flower a second time. The tired look vanishes, and even though the late-season state of things prevails, a modest beauty creeps in. But the last time we had measurable rain was on August 22, and before that on July 21.
On the other hand, it has turned out to be a promising year for tomatoes, after a rather bleak start. In mid-July I would not have believed that there would be trusses of big tomatoes on the plants that at that time had only flowers and pea-sized fruits. And without rain, there is less chance of late blight disease, which causes brown spots and eventual rot, rather than ripening.
Still very green!
A few things are in bloom — not reluctant, end-of-season bloom, but new and fresh — notably a dark blue delphinium that I dug up from one of my tree-root-infested perennial beds and transferred to a pot. Like its paler blue and pink fellows also living in pots, it has prospered and is blooming, late in the season when most other things are in decline.
The thing is to appreciate what is there and stop fretting about everything else. In gardening as in life.