Do admit. Hydrangeas add punch to the garden with their blowsy blooms from summer right through fall and into winter, their fat plumes turning from green to chalk white to pink to rose to buff. Of course I am referring to the Hydrangea paniculata hybrids such as ‘Limelight,’ ‘Tardiva,’ Quickfire,’ and ‘Little Lamb.’ From August on, I depend on them for my big bouquet in the library, their showy blooms mixing well with flowers from the meadow and garden such as the tiny-flowered black-eyed Susan, Rudbeckia triloba, and sprays of goldenrod, or, as now, the berries of autumn. Right now, I have a pitcher of ‘Limelight” mixed with branches of Viburnum dilatatum ‘Erie’ behind the library sofa. This viburnum is at its showiest right now with masses of tiny deep red berries littering the 8′ shrubs. The leaves are deep green and leathery, touched with bronze by the end of this month. Even after the leaves have dropped the fruit will linger, finally eaten by visiting birds.
Thanks, perhaps, to global warming, the very late-blooming, tender salvias are flowering lavishly this October. Pineapple sage (Salvia elegans) is waving three-foot branches of scarlet racemes, which I was surprised to notice today is frequented by monarch butterflies as well as hummingbirds. I thought the monarchs were already on their way south. I have always included this sage in the herb garden because of its fragrant leaves–they really do smell of pineapple–but in the past frost often hit before the brilliant flowers had a chance to open. Not anymore. We have their showy flowers for weeks, mingling with the purple and white tubular blooms of Salvia x ‘Phyllis Fancy,’ one of the marvelous new hybrids probably related to S. guaranitica and its handsome blue cultivars. It is always worth it to add some of the tender salvias to the garden in spring for late summer and fall color. We usually order them from a mail-order catalog (such as Avant Gardens), although Bosco takes cuttings of some of his favorites in September and roots them with moderate success in the cold greenhouse, then pots them up, pinches them back, and keeps them going until we can plant them out next May.