People plant gardens sometimes for a great spring show or for some summer flower (like daylilies) but I wonder if anybody ever planned a garden to be at its best the first week of September?
While I doubt many gardeners are keen to plan a whole garden for the tag end of summer (often regarded as the nadir of the calendar) we might let our imagination roam for a second, since the plants mentioned would obviously fit in a general garden, but the point is better made, I think, if we stop thinking of the dregs of the year and consider how beautiful the flowers of this season truly are.
The garden could be bordered by clumps of yew. Depending on space, they could be the upright Hicks' yew, or a large spreading yew, and to prevent a funereal look other plants should be added such as Viburnum setigera with drooping clusters of sealing-wax berries, at their best in early September, and perhaps a Sargent's crab, always a neat compact shrub with the dignity of a small tree, whose small fruit is now developing a rosy blush.
If there should be a dying tree or an old trunk, then nothing is prettier than the wild Japanese clematis, at perfection this time of year, Clematis paniculata. It will go up maybe 30 feet. Even more vigorous is Polygonum aubertii, a fleece vine bowered with sprays of small white bloom, at its best now but much given to blooming off and on all through the summer. Its vigor is its main drawback -- do not plant it unless it can romp for 30 feet, otherwise you will spend every summer cutting it back, but in its place it is a treasure.
Another good vine, though its supreme season comes only later in the fall when it turns crimson, is the Boston ivy and the closely related Virginia creeper, both of them heavy with blue fruits of some value for wildlife, and both of them tough enough to endure great neglect. (They are not so good on a house where they grow right over windows and afford nesting sites for sparrows).
One of the most classically beautiful scenes possible in a garden is the wild clematis growing through a yew. I have one that billows out only at the top, so you see this broad column of black-green with a great burst of tiny almond-scented bloom showing here and there.
Our garden should have a good-sized fish pool, maybe rectangular with the night-blooming white water lily 'Juno' in it. Near the pool would be a good place to mass the plain white Japanese anemone which, I admit, does require staking, and the late-blooming bugbanes (Cimicifuga racemosa), which do not. Sometimes the bugbanes bloom earlier in August, sometimes in late October, but they are worth including whenever they bloom for their long narrow cat-tail blooms of soft white on stems six feet high.
There is no reason there should not be a solid bed of white zinnias, perhaps the great fat wonderful (if overpowering) white flat giant kinds, possibly mixed with some straw-yellow and lavender ones, all very useful for cutting all summer, of course.
White dahlias are effective, and if the garden is on the large side nothing looks better than a great mass of the white spider flower (Cleome 'Helen Campbell') with melon-sized heads of bloom that sparkle at night.
The night jasmine (Cestrum nocturnum) should certainly be there, though it is a nuisance to make cuttings every fall to provide plants for next year. Otherwise you have to bring it indoors, though if this is no problem you can keep it in a whiskey barrel for years, lugging it in and out. Its greenish white flowers are not showy but the airborne scent is ravishing.
In our early fall garden we will certainly want moon vines. In good warm years they should start blooming in July but are possibly at their peak now. They have flat salvers five inches across, even seven inches across, with texture like luminous white oiled silk, and fragrant, though only when sniffed closely.
As you see, I am thinking of this garden at night, when it would be most sparkling, and most comforting this time of the year when we can have some of our sultriest days. If we don't have hurricane tails.
White and lavender petunias, the kind that are virtually wild and come up year after year from self-sown seed, are deliciously fragrant in the air and glow like small modest lamps at night. Many city gardens need no outdoor lighting at night, such is the carrying power of street lights.
Even if this garden were designed to be at its best now, you would want bulbs for spring, lilies and irises and peonies and roses, even the many kinds that would be past bloom now, for even the most seasonal garden should have things of interest in all seasons.
But even this brief sketch should remind us that even when much in the garden is a bit worn looking, there are flowers as clean and sweet in September as any that bloom in spring.