Annuals keep color going as summer fades

I’ve been doing a lot of looking around this week, looking to see what is still in bloom, lots actually. At first I was skeptical that anything much is still hanging in there. That the plants had such an early start and bloomed their hearts out and that would be that. 

Not so. The stalwarts of the world of annuals are looking strong and fresh. For instance, petunias, an annual that I have long dodged. To me they belong in front of gas stations and banks and other places of business, certainly not in my garden, the oasis of my heart. But, if we are going to continue to have mild summers that last longer than usual, adjustments need to be made and petunias just may be one of those tweaks. 

Let’s take a look at snapdragons, yet another annual that I could do without. There they stand, stiff as pokers, with garish colors, usually all in a row. Gads. I have learned that if you deadhead the central stalk as soon as it is over or even a tad before, the plant will send up oodles of branches, loaded with blooms and it looks almost bushy, and bloomy and — not so bad, no not so bad at all. 

    What about the marguerite daisy in front of the Homer Council on the Arts. Lovely.  These are accompanied by marigolds, an annual that I haven’t touched since I left Mile 15 East End Road where they held their own in the mailbox planter, oblivious to the road dust, bless their hearts. 

Cosmos are looking strong and these come in so many colors and even heights that you can’t go wrong. I have “Cranberry” and, at almost 36 inches, it makes quite a statement when everything else has faded. The California poppies that are mingling with them are looking good although a bit flopped over. Godetia is another one that is looking bloomy and fresh. 

As for the perennials in my garden, the digitalis, known as garden pinks, are lovely. The filipendula Kehome, of which there are four of them here, (they are almost too easy to divide) are blooming and quite content. 

James McFarland lilac is on its second, albeit minor, bloom. As are the Therese Bugnet roses. The William Baffin roses get a later start than the other roses so they are having a strong showing. And let’s not forget the Hydrangea paniculata that had such a strong showing last year. This year may not prove to be as bloomy but here it comes. 

Keep watering and deadheading your annuals and you will be rewarded with continued bloom until frost. This is the time of year that you know why you planted annuals in the first place. When your perennials have faded here come the annuals to extend the color into fall. Hurray for color. 

As for the vegetable garden — well now, that’s a different story. If you have been following this column you will recall that I have had some interesting setbacks this year. I’m serious about growing food and have had steady success over the years. Apparently this year I got cocky and tried too many different varieties, too many different strategies. I needed to curb my enthusiasm. Lesson learned. 

But I have come away with one success. A friend suggested that I never ever again plant onions from sets and start my own from seed. I gave it a try, broadcasting “Copra” in late February when I start my other seeds that need time to stiffen their resolve to meet an Alaska summer. They are fabulous. Really and truly. I’ll never go back. Great advice. There is so much to learn just from asking questions and listening to the answer. 

The garlic has been harvested and is drying nicely in the basement. The shallots joined the garlic this week and are also looking excellent. If you have yet to give these a try you are right on time to purchase some heads for fall planting. I have had excellent luck with spring planting garlic but this year I’m game to try fall again. The problem has been rotting, thus I don’t get as much as I was banking on. By spring planting I can guarentee success. But, for whatever reason, I’m giving fall planting a go this year. Go figure. 

I’ve topped the Brussels sprouts. This will stop their relentless upward growth and give the little cabbages a chance to mature. If you haven’t broken off the leaves yet, by all means get after it. This will give the “spouts” more room to gain some size. If the slugs are damaging the lower ones, get some crushed egg shells spread around the base to thwart them. 

The strawberries are setting fruit again. Isn’t that interesting? These are the ordinary Sitka berries that we all have and have learned to love. They may not be red all the way through but the taste has anything from California (or wherever) beat by a country mile. 

With a great deal of enthusiasm from two of our “grands” we pulled the potatoes today. Of course, this is the year that I planted about two-thirds the usual amount because of our perennial lack of storage, and  the harvest is outstanding. We popped four medium sized ones on the grill and were rewarded with a taste treat that the “grands” won’t be forgetting any time soon. 

    Note: I’d like to mention how much I’m going to miss Liz Johnson who passed away in July. Not only did she have a deep and broad knowledge of plants, but she was ever so willing to gently share. We managed the Homer Garden Club’s “Car Wash Garden” together for years and years. After the annual plant sale we would be left with the orphans and expected to find a home for them. She never failed to good-naturedly (advising me to “be patient”) find a spot for them. 

Together we would pore over garden catalogs in the depth of winter over cups of tea, a shared activity that will bind me to her forever.

Rosemary Fitzpatrick is a longtime Homer gardener. She has been writing Kachemak Gardener since 1990.