A Plant to Plant: Strolling Through the Late Summer Flower Garden

With the late summer bounty of herbs, fruit, and vegetables throughout August and into early September, it is easy to overlook quieter perennial flowers that bloom at this time of year in the northeastern United States. A close look at one section of my garden yields several noteworthy specimens that are a charming, subdued interlude between the showy midsummer lilies and echinacea (coneflowers) and the arresting, autumnal chrysanthemums and asters.

The same stretch in July


The Coneflower-Four o' clock-Phlox Forest

Along the narrow garden path pictured above, flowers grow to about 5 feet tall, creating a thicket of blooms. After the coneflowers have peaked, an aggressive crop of four o'clocks (Mirabilis longiflora) tumble forth amidst the many phlox plants. Four o'clocks are named for the afternoon hour at which they open everyday. Preferring twilight, they don't open in my garden until around 7pm. Here, a photo progression shows the blooms as they unfurl within an hour to reveal an iridescent, purple-pink stamen, topped with a saffron colored pompom, and an exquisite jasmine perfume, certainly deserving of the name mirabilis (Latin, 'wonderful').

As dusk becomes night, the trumpet shaped flowers point toward the darkening sky and remain open until sunrise, welcoming nocturnal moth pollinators.

Closed four o'clock (day after blooming).

Meadow flowers and wild flowers are some of my favorite summer plants. They seem to suggest the essence of summer, their leggy stalks and wispy leaves gracefully swaying to a breeze, the flowers like tight little bundles of thread resplendent in the waning sunlight of August and September. Below, the brush-like flowers of
Russian sage (Perovskia) and the North American natives Ironweed (Vernonia angustifolia) and Goldenrod (Solidago), express the restrained exuberance of late summer flowers.

Russian Sage



Further along the Coneflower-Four o' clock-Phlox Forest, a petite impatiens balfourii, native to the Himalayas, crouches beneath some larger shrubs, its orchid-like appearance a delight to come upon at the end of an evening stroll.