Letting Go

containers-mid-september-7By mid September, change is in the air. As much as I would wish that the summer would persist past Labor Day, it never does. The summer season falters right on cue. The blazing heat generated by the summer sun is waning. The sun is lower in the sky. The garden is cooler. The night temperatures are a little chilly. We are beginning to get a little rain. The plants in my containers are beginning to look like summer is coming to a close. The petunias which have been sulking all summer are sliding headlong into decline. Any thin leaved foliage looks pale and unhappy. The bloom on any container plant is more sparse. The showy oregano blooms in the driveway pots have matured and turned brown. I am lucky for the licorice and nicotiana that has come on strong with the cooler weather. The big thick leaves of the alocasia have not gotten the message yet. They still look great. It is just about time to think about letting go.

containers-mid-september-6The upkeep of my containers is a summer long pursuit. The watering required by our very hot and dry summer was just about a full time job.  The driveway garden took a long time to water, as there are plants in ground there too. Once the plants became root bound, their need for water was insatiable. I watered. And watered again. Ordinarily, looking after the pots is generally a pleasure. The maintenance is relaxing. A plant that is unfairly crowding another may need some pruning back. Some flowers need dead heading in order to keep blooming well.  Old leaves mature, and need to be removed. Other plants need to be headed back to promote better flowering. Or staked. Most of this is fiddling, and not really work. But once the season begins to turn towards fall, I quit most everything except the watering. My last act was to cut all the flower stalks off the nicotiana mutabilis.  They had mostly gone to seed.  And I knew they would come on again once the weather cooled off. I favored more flowers over seed.  Why do I quit fiddling?  What I do to manage the plants is about what I think they need.  What plants do when left to their own devices is always an education. Plants grow at different rates. Some tolerate crowding while others do not. Some grow much bigger than expected. Others languish. How every plant in a container adjusts to a lack of intervention from me is interesting to watch.

containers-mid-september-9For whatever reason, nicotiana seedlings by the thousands appeared in the driveway in June. I have never seen this happen, not in 20 years. I have no explanation for this, beyond the fact that the nicotiana mutabilis started going to seed early – I suspect from the heat. And I was watering a lot. But these seedlings did not necessarily look to be mutabilis to me. Pulling them out of the bricks would have been no small amount of work. In spite of my propensity for order, it seemed like a better plan to just be grateful that I had all those volunteers working this garden. Any plant that wished to grow in the driveway this summer was welcome to do so.  Of course the most robust group of seedlings were those in proximity to the water draining out of the pots.

watering volunteer seedlingsI eventually took to watering them on purpose. Buck would sit on the deck so we could talk while I was watering in the drive. He had a lot of questions about why there were so many weeds in the drive, and my reason for watering them, but I waved him off. If I had set out to grow nicotiana in the brick, I am sure my efforts would have been an utter failure.  No doubt nature was in charge of this event. For some reason, conditions were perfect for nicotiana seed to germinate.

containers-mid-september-3The very first seedling to bloom was nicotiana alata lime – a cultivar which I am growing in the ground this year.  I never got a chance to take a picture of it, as I accidentally ripped the plant out of the brick dragging the hose over it. Dang it all.  If you are a gardener, you know that any plant you kill is a burden to be born by you alone. Anyone else would yawn.

nicotiana langsdorfii

The next to bloom was nicotiana langsdorfii, which I have not grown in these pots for at least 8 years. It could be my letting go in September many years ago resulted in seed that has laid dormant in between the bricks for years, only to be induced to sprout for some unknown reason this June. I suppose it could be that the frequency of my watering kept the sand between the bricks moist long enough for the seed to sprout. Nicotiana langsdorfii, from whence did you come?

containers-mid-septemberUp close it is easier to see how the letting go is creating a new dynamic. There was no reason to remove the variegated alocasia leaf that was shading the showy oregano.  That oregano had already given up. The green leaf hovering over the dead oregano was a much better look. The large lower leaves of nicotiana mutabilis in the upper pot covered the bare stems of the licorice close to the soil line. I have never had any trouble growing licorice, but this year all of the leaves on the stems close to the soil died back. I have no idea why. The licorice recovered, and had grown vigorously all through and on top of the puny petunias. These pots, left to their own devices, are looking better than they did 2 weeks ago. The alocasia is very happy, on the house side. The back side of this pot is in a fairly shady spot. The sunny side is the primary viewing side. Driving up the drive, the alocasia is leaning towards the light. One of the most difficult parts of container planting design is picking the plants that will be able to handle and perform in light conditions that vary.

containers-mid-september-5Buck has enjoyed the alocasia all summer. He kept me posted if a leaf was turning brown, or developed a hole or tear.   I have never grown them before, so I am giving them a serious look. They are slow to get started. Given plenty of heat, they thrive. They react very slowly to change. It’s clear they can anchor a summer container on in to the fall.

containers-mid-september-10I have learned that my driveway is not just a place to park.

containers-mid-september-2Welcome to the September nicotiana fest underway in the driveway.




  1. Barbara schwartzbach says:

    All that grows in the garden is a gift and sometimes a mystery.

  2. Barbara schwartzbach says:

    What happens in the garden is a gift of nature.

  3. That is the sweetest and most lovely happy accident I’ve ever seen. Utterly charming.

  4. Amazing, how plants can grow between densely placed bricks in your driveway. I see this as an unusual and delightful feature. Our weather conditions have supported some unusual growth. Recently, I have had very small brownish mushrooms growing prolifically in my leaf mulch surrounding my Japanese Maple. Interestingly they can be seen at night then in hot sunny daylight they all disappear only to reappear the next night. I have never had mushrooms like this. The garden has many elements of surprise.

    • Deborah Silver says:

      Dear Susan, gardeners observe things like this. I have had similar mushroom colonies, appearing, disappearing, and reappearing this year too. Thanks for writing, Deborah

  5. I am wondering what type of alocasia you are growing?
    I live at the north end of Vancouver Island, British Columbia, Canada. Not sure if it would like it here but it is a showstopper.
    Keep up your good work…always enjoyed.

    • Deborah Silver says:

      Dear Lyn, I am not an expert on tropical plants. I know I am growing alocasia lutea, and alocasia macrorrhizos variegata, but I have no name for my plant green alocasias. I would bet they would do fine for you. It cannot hurt to try them. They are spectacular. all the best, Deborah

  6. Ruth Wolery says:

    Deborah, I love your comments and showing photos of your wonderful potted plants.
    I have been taking out some worn summer flowers and replacing with mums. The mums go with the pumpkins that are sitting around.
    I need to make a fall arrangement for garden club for this weed and am thinking of using succulents on top. Can you tell me how long will a pumpkin last when I cut a hole in the top?
    Thanks for your incredible knowledge.

    • Deborah Silver says:

      Dear Ruth, I have no idea how long a pumpkin lasts after it is cut into. I am sure that depends of the temperatures. best, Deborah

  7. This is it. This is why I garden. Just when I think I know most of what’s going on in my garden, turns out I do not. Nothing surprises quite like plants. Thank you.

  8. “you know that any plant you kill is a burden to be born by you alone. Anyone else would yawn” – yes, so true – I tell my family of the sad demise of one little flower and they look at me in a funny way. Enjoy your blog and your attention to details that most others ignore.

  9. John Roscoe says:

    You’ve solved a great mystery for me- I now know what the weed all through my beds is!

    The Master Gardeners had a plant sale this summer and gave away free expired seed packets from the hardware store, and I was pretty sure that the children had sprinkled lettuce seeds of some sort everywhere, until seeing your pictures.

    Turns out is the nicotania I had purchased on clearance two years ago. The location fits with my problem and my vegetable gardens look just like your driveway.

    • Deborah Silver says:

      Dear John, I would not call nicotiana a weed, simply because it is so easy to get rid of. Nicotiana in a vegetable garden sounds intriguing. What is your plan? best, Deborah

      • John Roscoe says:

        If a weed is just a plant growing where you don’t want it, then nicotiana in the propagation bed and fall lettuces and carrots has to go.

        I see your point though- perhaps the garlic bed won’t care if nicotiana joins.

        I’m in Central OH, I wonder if our exceptionally mild winter last year had anything to do with the flourishing nicotiana everywhere.

        • Deborah Silver says:

          Dear John, I would not think that seeds would be sensitive to the winter season, but to some condition that made things right for germination. best, Deborah

  10. Silvia Weber says:

    What a riot! Love this post!

  11. In my garden, lineria flamenco reseeds, and I love it so much that I transplant the volunteers into containers.
    Rock on!

  12. Thank you. I love your attitude of acceptance.
    Susan in MT

    • Deborah Silver says:

      Dear Susan, acceptance is not one of my strong points, but in this case, it seemed a good way to go. best, Deborah

  13. Thank you ! What a lovely morning read….I have experienced similar happenings with seedlings on our terraces with fern seedlings, columbine and wild violets, growing through the the stones…I welcome them all. By September I feel the same Debra, the garden has exhausted me and I am happy to let go.

  14. michaele anderson says:

    It’s reassuring to read that someone with your high standards can also give surprise volunteers a chance to gather and party on. I have a super soft spot for a dainty flowered annual called zinnia angustifolia that reseeds like a banshee throughout my gardens. It shows up in pure white and shades of strong yellows and golds. I find myself almost incapable of ripping it out wherever it colonizes. At this time of year, it’s a flower packed soft mound of color and I am in its thrall.

    • Nature’s surprise makes gardening ever more intriguing. As much of the garden fades in September, my passion is heightened by the glory of the Dahlia. The cooler days and drops in night time temps create an environment for the dahlias to shine. They are a sight to behold and extend the season. Nothing quite like the abundant variations in color, form and size that the dahlia brings.

    • Deborah Silver says:

      Dear Michaele, it was not easy for me to let go,observe and appreciate what was going on. I am happy I did. I am a better gardener for it. all the best, Deborah

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