THE BLUE ASTER frikartii, studded all over its two-foot height with blue (a bit deeper than sky-blue) daisies, is in bloom, and it continues into October.
Sometimes it goes from July to frost, but that is stretching it a bit, and sometimes it dies out, especially if you don't keep dividing it.
Its leaves look rather like a lusterless dandelion leaf - not so handsome - and it is important in the spring to remember where this aster is growing.
Otherwise you might carefully weed it out, as I did this past spring, neatly destroying 15 plants I had carefully started. Later, when I was looking for the young asters, I realized with dismay I had weeded them out.
This is what comes of tucking things in temporarily.
It is always better to have a part of the garden where young columbines, Shasta daisies, asters, chrysanthemums and so forth can be started along. I had such a place, but in a fit of madness (which I do not regret) planted it with some red raspberries, a fig and a cupressocypairs.
At its very best now, providing pleasure from the time it comes up in the spring until it freezes, is the hot yellow ligularia. Mine is a garden variety of L. clivorum named 'Desdemona,' and there is another slightly different, called 'Othello,' which I do not grow for fear it may smother the first one.
'Desdemona,' has circular or kidney-shaped leaves larger than a hand, borne on stiff purplish stems from a common center - the leaves all sprout from the ground, not off a stem. The leaves are purplish underneath and rich bronzy green on top, somewhat glared.
Plants with circular leaves like that used to illustrate books of children's fairy tales and perhaps still do.
In mid-August stout stalks, half an inch thick or even thicker, spring up among the leaves, bearing great clusters of yellow-orange daisies with vaguely red centers. There must be several dozen flowers in each cluster, each daisy larger than a silver dollar, and the flower stalks appear over a period of two or three weeks, so that all things considered, there will be yellow flowers for some weeks.
They are especially wonderful in August, when not everything is at its best, and they go well into September.
If the plant never bloomed - and mine didn't for two years - it would be worth growing for its beautiful leaves. Slugs are supposed to bother it, but I have more slugs per square yard than any place this side of hell, yet they do not bother my 'Desdemona.'
It is a notion of mine that the nearer you get to the terrace, or wherever you usually sit in the garden (it may be a wooden plank raised on cinder blocks, which does well enough), the more carefully plants should be chosen, with special attention to late summer.
In the spring, when the gardener is racing about, he is generally in no condition to sit down anyway, and in any case the freshness of daffodils, tulips, irises, peonies and so forth will draw the eye, even at the far end of the average town garden.
But there is not that freshness or excitement in August. What we want now is handsome foliage, reflections of the sky in water, the luxuriance of grapes and the richness of polished leaves with some color here and there. Or at least that is what I like.
Much as I admire irises and so on, I do not allow them near the terrace. Instead I have a plant of variegated hydrangea, bold leaves with much white.
A wild white clematis, a couple of white-flowered hostas, a few clumps of lady's mantle (alchemilla) and a Corsican hellebore, a couple of miniature daylilies and a wild greenish-yellow one, a blue grass in a tuff (Helictotrichon sempervirens), a few white Japanese anemones and 'Desdemona' are all there is. All of these look fairly good the end of summer, though I must say it takes three years or so for them to settle in and look the way you want. One gets quite impatient.
It has never been clear to me why plants are as perverse as they are. Often, I grant, they exceed your hopes, but then again, for no particular reason, a very simple project goes awry.
At a corner of the pool I have, or had, the white Iris tectorum, a wild iris from Japan that has beautiful, if fugitive, flowers in May. But I was counting on its long luxuriant foliage in late summer.
Man and boy I have grown this iris for nigh on half a century, and I am fond of pointing out it always does very well for me, though some garderners (and here I pause to imply there is no telling what they do to the poor iris) have trouble with it.
But in mid-August, without any warning, the leaf fans fell off and I do not now have so much as one green leaf on it. It is in a perfect position, etc, etc.
Once I had a tortoise that died, and the great expert on tortoises who examined it said it was the healtiest desert tortoise he had ever seen except that it was dead. I did not understand the tortoise, and I do not understand the iris. Fortunately I saved a few seeds, and in two years they should bloom.
On the other hand, near this iris, a tiny start of the Corsican mint (Mentha requienii) has begun to spread, increasing itself fifteenfold since spring. For years I have tried to grow it, giving it all it desires.
(Which is not much - a slight slope with water trickling down beneath the surface, and about half-sun, and alertness to prevent any moisture-loving weed from getting a start in it.)
But no matter how admirable my arrangements, I never got it to grow for me before. This shows the wisdom of trying more than once. This iris-mint business also illustrates what I think is called win some, lose some, and I do not care much for losing.