Monday Opinion: Labor Day

Labor Day 2015 (9)More than once have I had reason to expect that the warm and sunny momentum established by my summer season would blast by Labor Day in a hot fit of defiance.  Given that the forecast for today is 90 degrees, might Mother Nature forget that today is Labor Day?   Every year I hope nature will be distracted by some warm September weather, and fail to note that the season is due to change.  Have my hopes of a summer that streams on for 4 months instead of 3 ever been fulfilled?  No. This bout of hot weather aside, there are signs that the summer season is slowing.

Labor Day 2015 (2)We’ve had a few cool and foggy mornings. The sun is lower in the sky. The morning light is coming on later, and the evening darkness earlier.The seeds on my dogwoods are ripe and red; the leaves have a considerable red tinge to them.  The hardy hibiscus have more seedpods developing than flowers. The Rozanne geraniums look the best they have all season – typical. The lily of the valley leaves  are singed with their usual end of summer fungus. The Limelight hydrangea flowers are showing some pink. The flowers on the hyssop have gone gray; the plants are dropping their lower leaves.

Labor Day 2015 (3)Some of the plants in my containers have moved past the thriving stage to the tired place. They have that pale foliage color that speaks to exhaustion. Some plants have gone limp from a summer’s worth of exertion growing. A week ago I cut back all of my nicotiana, and fed them. They have been lackluster all summer; I am hoping for a fall flush. The dahlias have not been happy this summer either. I am not sure if I will get a decent bloom before the mildew takes them down. My other containers are so root bound they need soaking, not just watering. The laurentia around the fountain grew too tall in the heat, turned yellow, and flopped over. I took them out.  The fountain is turning green with algae, right on time, in time, for Labor Day.

DSC_3264But there are plenty of containers which are right at what I call that “super nova” stage. Like a star that glows prior to imploding, they are at their most beautiful best – right now.  They are as glowingly good as they ever will be. All of the plants have grown out, and matured.  Each container has an overall shape-like it or not. Some plants have engulfed their containers.  Rob’s container of Russian sage, lamb’s ear and several thyme varieties-any ideas about what the container looks like? Me neither. This planting, right now, is at its most glorious best. Our window boxes stuffed with silver foliaged plants are looking just about as good.

angel-wing-begonias.jpgThese angel wing begonias are bowed over from the weight of all of their flowers. They have been beautiful all summer, but now they are at that very big and beautiful stage that foretells summer’s end.

wasabi coleusBut no summer container plant can come close to that Labor Day super nova size like coleus. The range of colors and leaf types is astonishing. Their willingness to grow is unparalleled. I enjoy growing them, partly as it is possible to shape them by pinching. I find this entertaining. If you think I am a dull girl, you are probably right.  This coleus Wasabi was grown from 3 4″ pots. Given a benevolent September, it will reach the ground. This pot I have not touched.  All the joy in it has been watching it grow.

DSC_3388These chocolate coleus feature a brown and cream cordyline that is almost invisible now. Were you standing directly over them, you would see that I had pinched out the top to reveal the cordyline.

Labor Day 2015 (18)This modestly sized Italian terra cotta rectangle is home to a hedge sized coleus.  We pinched the bottom out, to give the impatiens some breathing room, and some light. Labor Day 2015 (19)chocolate coleus, Kingwood Red coleus, and pink polka dot plant

Labor Day 2015 (17)This pot with an orange and green phormium at the center, pink polka dot plant and heuchera bears no relation to coleus, except that it has been thriving in the same vein all summer.

Labor Day 2015 (6)coleus peaking.  the petticoat below-maidenhair fern.

Labor Day 2015 (20)coleus Amora, coleus Alligator, and a subtle dash of pink polka dot

Labor Day 2015 (12)a coleus “Tilt a Whirl” standard, under planted with hens and chicks.  The accompanying lemon cypress grown on from a 6″ pot-looking good.

DSC_2215So what am I thinking about this Labor Day? That Labor Day usually signals the start of the end of my summer gardening season, of course.  But more importantly, that a working American gardener named Rob has gone the distance every day, day after day, since the middle of May to bring all of these container plantings along to this moment. If you live nearby, and haven’t seen them in person, they are well worth the trip. As for you, Rob, have a happy and well deserved Labor Day.


  1. My thoughts exactly…It is always bittersweet to see the summer garden season wind down. After a long, hot, fire-filled summer here in the Pacific Northwest, we have really enjoyed the labor day weekend rain and even mountain snow. We replaced some of the tired summer annuals with kale, mums, and pansies. They all look amazing next to the coleus 🙂 Thanks for sharing this post!

  2. I love the picture of Rob. He has always been a hard worker for as long as I have known him (Since our MSU days).

  3. All look so lovely. Will the lemon cypress over winter? How about if you put it in the garage? Coleus are amazing plants and you and Rob have done a wonderful job with them.

  4. Elaine maderal says

    Gorgeous, As Always!

  5. John Kromas says

    The beautiful varieties of coleus are amazing. I have several varieties of coleus in my garden but never thought of it as a pot flower. Next year I am going to try some of your ideas as I see them here in this report. Many thanks for the great display.

  6. I swear you just get better and better. I wish I had something intelligent to say, but I just mutter,
    “I guess I can pinch my coleus” and think, I’ll have to read this again and again unless she graces us with a long long book.

  7. So many inspiring plant combinations for next year. I feel as though I have to pin them all. Next year I see a coleus standard or two gracing my patio. Thank you so much for sharing and cheering me up at a difficult time….pre-WINTER!!

  8. Sorry to hear your dahlias are not performing. Most of us who grow and show dahlias in Michigan agree that this has been a good year for them. They are in their prime with little signs of mildew or spider mites

  9. Dear Deborah,
    Super Nova is absolutely bitter sweet.
    Aroma of late summer air is lovely.
    How great to have Rob to take expert, loving care of your annual pots and displays. All look gorgeous.
    Next year will NOT plant cafe au lait in a pot:)
    XOX, Silvia

  10. In that first pot of red coleus – did you mean to say brown and white cordyline leaves rather than plectranthus?

  11. Ruth Wolery says

    All of your plants are beautiful and a pleasure to look at. If you have a book to purchase I would be sure want it.
    Thank you for observations, comments and pictures.
    Ruth Wolery

  12. Hello Deborah,

    What incredible work you are doing!

    I am a new homeowner Ann Arbor, embarking on a multi-year 1.5 acre landscaping project and looking for options for planters/containers for a very small section of my property. I came across your 2009 blog post, “Growing Evergreens in Pots” and am hoping you have some advice. Specifically, I am looking for options for container plants that would by happy over-wintering in a fully enclosed, well lit, but unconditioned space in SE Michigan? Any options for magnolias or other fragrant plants?

    My situation is as follows. In an attempt to minimize maintenance around the house on our large property, last week I dug up approx. 120 sq. ft of overgrown beds, removed the top 3″ of soil, and replaced that dirt with landscaping cloth and 3″ of gravel up to the level of the stone paver walkway that runs along the beds. (These beds are laid out in a L-shape [20 x 4 ft and 12 x 4 ft], are well protected by large trees, the house, and the garage, get full-to-partial sun, and run along the side of a fully-enclosed window-filled tiled breezeway.) My plan is to place a series of large containers on the gravel beds. I’m wondering about over-wintering these containers in the adjacent breezeway. Given the close proximity and the abundance of natural light, moving the plants into the breezeway in winter seems like an easy solution and (I’m hoping) might allow me to cultivate plants that are warmer than zone 5. But given how cold it is in that area — the breezeway is not connected into the house HVAC system — I’m wondering if it would make any difference at all? Would I still need to stick to zone 5 plants?

    Thanks for your advice! I’m looking forward to visiting the retail shop on my next trip to Detroit.

    Warm Regards,

    • Deborah Silver says

      Dear Jessica, you need to engage a professional designer who is near you to advise you about what to do. They can look at the situation in person. It would be lovely if you would come to the shop some day. all the best, Deborah

  13. Paula Salladay, Capital Landscape Inc says

    I have been reading your blogs for quite awhile. As someone who does not express themselves very well, I depend on your writings to help me out with discussions with clients ! I do annual color in beds and pots for my husband and my landscape business in the Raleigh, NC area. This Labor Day blog speaks to what I am dealing with. Our clients summer containers have been planted since the first of May and look so tired. Soaking several times a visit. One client will only pay for twice a week for watering and wish I could convince him to pull a hose out at least one day for the full sun containers! The annual beds are whopper begonias, wax begonia, torenia, and calocasia. They have really been troopers as usual-they are irrigated and that helps.Thank you for your writings. I am with you in the ebb and flows of gardening, mother nature and owning a business.

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