Early September can be blazing in Washington, but this year the weather has been warm and happy, which is only just for the great lull in the garden.
The fall roses are still to come, and the great zinnias and gladioluses of summer are pretty well past. The tomatoes are getting smaller, and there is a kind of hush in the garden.
Until dark. Then the innumerable choir of dusk starts up. There are still some cicadas about, but they will soon be gone, as already their number is much diminished. A worthwhile project for somebody would be a record of evening insect songs from early summer onward. Already the crickets have sounded and they will soon dominate the chorus. A learned friend of mine says most of the noise now is from katydids. But how useful it would be to hear the great chorus and then, on the record, to isolate the various singers that compose it.
Once in France I went down the Rhone Valley to the sea because somebody said the cicadas in the olive orchards were spectacular. It made me homesick to hear them. The main thing wrong with England, as far as I am concerned, apart from its dreadful climate, is the relative silence of its summer nights. You can't have a proper summer evening without everything in the trees strumming, chirping, vibrating and generally celebrating the richest time of life.
This year the Japanese clematis (formerly Clematis paniculata, now C. maximowicziana) began blooming the last week of August and reached a royal lather the week after Labor Day. Few vines, if any, surpass it in beauty or garden usefulness, as it throws billowing blankets of almond-scented white stars over fences and porches and trees. There has never been a year I can think of in which this vine has not bloomed superbly, and I think the city and much of America would be considerably poorer without it.
These kinds of clematis (there are several others that bloom in the fall, but this one is the handsomest) are sometimes called virgin's bower and traveler's joy. I don't vouch for the virgins bowering in them, but any foot traveler in our alleys must be lightened in the heart when this clematis blooms.
In the nick of time I rescued one of my favorite roses, 'Seagull,' from the clutches of an actinidia vine (planted much too close to it), which last year engulfed and killed several of the rose's 15-foot canes. This year I cut the actinidia back, a weekly chore. I would not grow the actinidia at all except that about a fifth of its otherwise ordinary leaves turn solid silver-white. Unfortunately, if this vine gets some of the manure intended for the rose, it grows even more riotously than usual, and fewer of its leaves are white. A beautiful vine in the wrong place. Most gardeners know something about that.
I miss the old polygonum vine, whose silver fleece fountained over everything within reach (and few things exceeded its grasp) from July to October. I do not know a more hard-working vine when it comes to flowering, but after some years it finally got to be too much for me and I had to kill it. If anybody has a large nondescript barn, that vine, Polygonum aubertii, would glorify it considerably. Well, you can't have everything.
The rambler rose 'Aviateur Bleriot,' which I planted bare-root earlier in the summer, has settled in and begun sending out little 18-inch shoots. It will be three years before it covers its tripod and hangs down in a passion of apricot-orange, strongly perfumed, little double flowers in May. It does not bloom again till the next May, but like all the old (not all that old, as it entered commerce in 1910) ramblers that bloom only in spring it makes such a brave show then that it justifies its space.
I hesitate to confess this, but my 10 tomatoes in their wire cages bit the dust recently in a sudden gust of wind shortly after midnight. I had measured them the day before at 8 feet 1 inch. I should have staked the cages but of course didn't. As a result they are flopping hither and yon now but still producing fruit. The 10 plants had produced 145 pounds of tomatoes by Labor Day. One of the simple-minded things I do is count the tomatoes and weigh them as the season progresses.
One thing every gardener will do, if at all like me, is to go out in the night garden without any lights. How cool, how surprising, the night air is. The other night I heard a toad -- I never hear them except in the spring breeding, but a toad's a toad at any season.