What does a great September garden look like? I received multiple, resoundingly convincing answers to that question last weekend. You might call them definitive.

The annual garden bloggers/grammers/tubers get-together was held in the Philadelphia area September 21-24. It’s known simply as Fling. We toured private and public gardens for three full days –  in addition to an afternoon and evening at Longwood. 

But I wouldn’t really turn to Longwood for an answer to my question about September gardens. That place is in a class by itself. We’ll set Longwood aside for now and turn to the results that ordinary mortals can achieve with little or no help. 

Foliage and shade plants

Interesting variegated foliage and shade plants that may flower at some point but don’t really depend on flowers are often at their lush best at this time of year. While many brightly flowering sun-loving perennials are reduced to seedheads by now, silvery ferns, variegated hostas, huge mounds of hakonechloa grass and amsonia just beginning to blaze into bright gold are even more enjoyable than they were earlier. Or the peony obovata, where the seedhead is the thing. And then there is hardy begonia (above), which seemed to be everywhere, providing the best of both worlds. 

Cool shrubs

There were interesting shrubs that I could not identify or were introduced to for the first time, like Edgeworthia. There was Kirengeshoma palmata, a fascinating shrubbish shade plant that is just beginning to flower now. Many hydrangeas were reaching the end of their color cycle – quite gloriously.

Annuals and tropicals

These, of course, are in large part what I depend upon at this time. Many gardeners on our tour planted annuals in the ground, intermixed with perennials. Some had musas, colocasia and alocasia in the ground or in hidden pots, as in Charkes Cresson’s Hedgleigh Spring. Other tropicals included African senna, another plant with which I was not familiar (ha, long list of those). Common annuals providing uncommon border interest included white-flowering euphorbias, salvias, cleomes, nicotiana and many, many others. 

Art and objects

I do distinguish between sculptures and murals created by artists and interesting found objects or whimsical structures that help shape a garden’s personality. We saw all of the above on this trip. Including an enchanting (copper?) teacup fountain at Jenny Rose Carey’s Northview.

Northview also features tree remnants and stumps used as habitat and sculpture. And you really can’t do much better than a huge rock that’s integrated with its landscape – as Carol Verhake has accomplished.

I’ll have more, particularly on the big public gardens, next week. But it must be said that September did make itself felt in most of these gardens. There was a certain faded overlay that could not be avoided. It did not detract; it was just a difference.