It’s just over three years since I planted a special part of the garden to celebrate our daughter’s birthday. It’s a border I planned the summer I was expecting her and every manic nesting instinct went into it: I combed through books for the perfect autumn performers. When we came home from the hospital I remember standing with her at the window and telling her what I’d done. I love to see these schizostylis and asters shine every October — pity the penstemons fell at the first hurdle that same winter, but all the other plants I put down for her are as strong and lively as she is.
What I now see, though, is that only the schizostylis and the aster Alma Potschke are true October performers. My aster Frikartii Monch starts to flag by Halloween, just as her birthday arrives. To make this border really sing, I need November stars, but what? I tried, but I can’t love grasses — they always put me in mind of an unmown roundabout.
November is such a strange month. Although it’s fading the garden holds onto some of the brightness of late summer and isn’t ready to say goodbye to all that, and I think that’s its melancholy. Because November is neither here nor there, some flowers to me feel wrong in the garden, even if they look good. I’ve been amazed at how strongly the repeating roses flower, even into November. But — and this is from a rose addict — the roses look wrong now. They arrive a bit too late and a bit too overdressed, just as the party’s winding down and everyone else is drifting off.
So what’s left, that feels right? Gladiolus callianthus? Dahlias? Autumn crocus? Or maybe I should go pro-berry and look at callicarpa? I could look at the sedums. The pinky orange flowers on some of the cultivars are a bit insipid, but the dusky purple tones many of them fade to are lovely, and really do belong here in deepest autumn. More than probably any other month, the November garden needs the right plant, in the right place at the right time. I’m still looking.