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It’s difficult to inspire plants to perform. As a rule, they don’t respond well to sweet nothings, obnoxious shouting is ignored, and begging is right out. At the end of the day it comes down to an adequate supply of water and nutrients, lack of disease and pests….oh and one other trifling detail – the time of year.

That’s what I find myself looking at square in the face this morning – time of year.  It is autumn, pure and simple. However lovely, zinnias, cleome and cosmos can only take you so far in the fall border, and I’m really trying to avoid buying mums that will plague me with guilt until they die, hopeless and hapless on my front porch in late November.

“What do you mean?!?” exclaims Joe Gardener, his potting soil put away for the season. “Color, texture and pizazz in the fall garden? It’s autumn – buy a burning bush and get over it – what more do you expect, woman?!?”

Oh, I expect something alright, and I’m getting it – a spanking. When spring came with all of her little jobs, I neglected to plant Japanese anemones en masse. I frugally refused to splash out on a few handfuls of lycoris or even throw a few cheap penstemons into the mix. I blush to say it, but there is not a single dinner plate Dahlia in my garden – heck, there’s not even an egg-cup Dahlia in my garden. I was busy thinking about late April, July was solidly on my mind and August was well and truly sorted, but I decidedly neglected October.

Yet the hillsides are alive with color. Nature has painted them with goldenrod and reddening sumac – she’s dipped her brush in bright yellow Helianthus and mixed it with a bit of blue Aster for contrast. And she’s not the only one. A walk through some stunning urban gardens last week has alerted me to the fact that I am in very great danger of having to hand over my Garden Know-It-All card and go back to school for a crash course in seasonal equal opportunity planting programs.

But then, perhaps I should be more merciful with myself. After all, a double hedge of grey Caryopteris clandonensis lines a pathway in the back garden, shooting cornflower blue blooms at my heels as I walk by. The mint is blooming again and so is my ‘Rozanne’ Geranium, winding in and out of the ‘Baby Blessed’ Iris coming back for one last shout. Various pelargoniums trail down from window boxes and the impatiens and coleus are soldiering away in terracotta pots that will soon need to be emptied and stored away for the winter. (How to break the news to them I wonder?) And of course, there are those zinnias and cosmos I was going on about earlier.

So there’s something happening out there, but as usual, I just wish it were more and I wish it looked less haphazard. For the most part, my flower border comes into its own in late spring and manages to maintain a brave face throughout July. With a bit of water and a deft deadheading hand, there is still life well into September, but things are much quieter. By October it is asking to be put to bed with a warm milky drink.

Many people with similar space considerations are in the same boat as I – trying to keep spring, summer and fall interest (let’s not even go into winter) in a flower garden without chintzing on any of them. How will this small town gardener solve the ultimate problem of space? Well, I am planting more and more reblooming perennials – plants that give you two bangs for your buck (though the second is always the lesser). I have also had my eyes open this year to grasses and perennials that are blooming now, but were tickling me all season with brilliant displays of foliage. And of course, I am keeping annuals in my back pocket – sowing in flats in late July for bedding out in August.

We can rarely have it all in this life, so instead of focusing on what isn’t going on right now, I’ll try to look at what is, and enjoy these last beautifully cool days of autumn before winter comes along and wipes out the whole shebang – whether it’s blooming or not.