Chesterton Tribune

Days getting shorter, still time to garden

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Wonders and Weeds


September is for ...... still a lot of great gardening to enjoy.

Oh, the warning signs are there that Fall is on its way -- cooler day and night temps, some leaves beginning to turn, and my own personal barometer, the earlier sunsets that mean fewer daylight hours.

No more gardening until 8:45 p.m. Now, by 7:30 p.m. it’s too dark. I don’t even want to think about turning the clocks back next month.

Someone recently said to me they are tired of maintaining their gardens and are ready to pack it in until next spring. That’s how I generally feel in late October, burdened by jackets, a scarf, a hat, warm socks and heavier gloves to ward off the punishing wind as I work.

Until then, I am thankful for every day the sun is still hot, a cloudless sky is still blue, and a light wind provides just enough relief to stave off the sweat. Especially so in light of the mosquito-born West Nile Virus, a rarely fatal but potentially serious health threat for those with compromised immune systems.

Birds infected with the virus have been found in Indiana’s Marion County and in some Chicago suburbs. According to environmental health specialist Kelly Cadwell of the Porter County Health Department, “West Nile Virus will be a huge issue next year.”

This fall, she recommends anyone finding a newly dead crow, blue jay or raptor like hawks and eagles to call the Health Department at 465-3525. Do not touch the bird. We’re also asked to eliminate any standing water in our yards, and when outdoors to wear both a good commercial insect repellent and clothing that covers exposed areas; indoors, be sure there are no holes through which a mosquito could enter the home.

Cadwell said the spread of the virus in birds is moving a little faster than anticipated. West Nile likes urban areas where sluggish sewers and septic systems promote standing sewage-tainted water, a richer organic breeding ground.

County health nurse Nila Grube said only 25 percent of people infected with West Nile Virus will show mild symptoms within three to 15 days after a bite, generally flu-like complaints of fever, head and body aches, a rash and swollen glands. Very rarely a high fever and more serious complications will occur.

On a happier note, a group of us in the regional Hosta and Friends Garden Club recently visited Porter County’s own Taltree Arboretum, a 300-acre gem that holds great promise just 1.8 miles south of U.S. 30 at 71 N County Road 500W. Reservations currently are being taken at 462-0025 for seven different Taltree fall classes including a three-hour discussion Oct. 20 on preparing our gardens for winter.

Taltree has hundreds of varieties of trees, many of them unusual oaks. A wonderful addition to the Japanese-inspired garden are snakebark maples whose striped green bark looks like garter snakes.

Taltree also had mature hip-high hostas. Our Hosta and Friends’ meeting included a hosta auction of our own and donated plants; Mary Kay bought many of the choicest. She later asked some of us to visit her home, just around the country corner from Taltree, to see her nearly 200 hosta plants.

Mary Kay has the perfect high, dappled shade for hostas. She said her favorite is the montana hybrid “Frosted Jade,” a big blue/green with a prominent white edge that hosta guru Tony Avent describes as “one of the best but least known hostas ever introduced.” I was taken with the very dark green “Black Beauty” and with “Summer Joy,” whose blue/green margins surround a white center.

Now’s the time to cut off those tattered hosta-flower stalks and deadhead other spent perennials, unless you want them to self-sow.

Those of you who’ve passed the Chesterton Tribune this summer may have noticed the tall, exotic red-flowered maroon plants blooming in the flower box in front. And in the crack in the sidewalk next to it.

Those are progeny of the half-hardy annual showstopper “Love Lies Bleeding” (who names this stuff?) variety of amaranthus grown by Tim Miller last year. Like the spidery annual cleome, a little of the wildly fertile amaranthus goes a long way for several years.

But that’s OK because it makes such a bold 36-inch color statement, its ropes of flowers, sometimes over a foot long, dangling from the foliage. The fine seed purveyor Thompson & Morgan ( offered this year amaranthus “Fat Spike” with thicker, more erect deep purplish/red flower stalks, as well as A. “Joseph’s Coat” having cream, scarlet and green foliage.

Our gardening mindset shifts in September from promoting our roses to bloom to letting them shut down naturally by not feeding or deadheading them so the plant can prepare itself for winter. That doesn’t mean we can’t snip off blooms for the house, any stem cuts on the plant always protected by white Elmer’s glue or clear nail polish to discourage pests and disease from entering.

We still have several late-season flowers yet to open, and those long-blooming dahlias like the screaming red “B-Man” and mauve/purple “Lauren Michele” not ready to quit any time soon.

In addition to the late hardy mums, I’m waiting for the trendy cimicifuga (snakeroot) to bloom, its flowers looking like white baby-bottle brushes but smelling wonderfully sweet and reminding me of the white ginger perfume a boy gave me in grade school. Moisture-lover cimicifuga comes in the pricier dark maroon/purple-leafed varieties like “Hillside Black Beauty,” too.

Fall-blooming anemone is making a splash, its daisy-like white or pink-hued blooms, some double, dancing in the breeze on tall stems that give this windflower its common name. These anemone varieties (like “Hadspen Abundance,” “Honorine Jobert,” “Pamina” and “Serenade") will grow in full or part sun; given room, they are lovely. In a spot they like, they can sprawl, especially “Robustissima.” Pull or transplant invaders in the spring.

Under upcoming events, the Duneland Garden Club will host its Fall plant sale Sept. 22 from 9 to 11 a.m. in downtown Chesterton in the public parking lot at Third Street and Broadway. Sept. 21-23, Chicago’s 18th annual Fall Home and Decorating Expo moves to Navy Pier, home of the Spring Flower and Garden Show.

Organizers say the Chicago home expo will have over 200 exhibits and three stages for how-to clinics including gardening and plants. There also will be a landscaped model railroad layout, and experts from the fine publication Chicagoland Gardening magazine will answer questions.

Visit for more info.

Last month the Duneland Garden Club hosted a bus trip to the Oliver Mansion and gardens in South Bend. A plant there stumped both the tour guide and local visitors. A little research showed the plant likely to be adenophora or Ladybells, according to the White Flower Farm catalog similar to but hardier than the campanula bellflowers.

The tops of the 40-inch Ladybells stems were clothed in rows of attractive purple flowers, the Oliver plants growing in partial shade. I was told Ladybells, which tolerate sun, can be somewhat invasive, but that doesn’t stop us from growing the prolific rudbeckia Goldstrum Black-eyed Susan, does it?

One reason I garden is to witness and celebrate the renewal of life under the most trying circumstances. Amaranthus doesn’t need to overcome such great odds to survive from year to year, but somehow it does.

Someone recently said there’s an unexplored territory in the soul of every person that belongs to God. I’d like to think there’s a corner in the heart of every garden that belongs to God.

If there is, next time He can weed it.


Posted 9/10/2001