Six on Saturday:  For the Birds

A cold front this week blessed us with cooler temperatures and lower humidity.  The oppressive summer air was blown out to sea, and what followed feels crisp and clean.  I can see a few scarlet leaves and scarlet dogwood berries in the trees near my window, a sure sign that the season has turned, and the equinox is behind us now.

Each day will be minutes shorter now.  Mornings come later, but the cool comfortable hours for gardening last deep into the afternoon.  I’m drawn out again and again to tweak this or that and to capture a few photos.  Colors have grown bright and intense after days of rain and real relief from summer’s heat.

Even as the wheel of the year turns towards winter, we enjoy the culmination of a fruitful summer.  Beautyberries glow purple, inviting the many birds filling our garden to feast on them and spread their seeds.  Goldfinches fly up from stands of Rudbeckia to safer perches in the trees at our approach.  We find partially eaten hickory nuts and exploded beech nut hulls on the driveway, dropped by birds and squirrels.

It is a season of abundance for all the wild creatures our garden supports.  Nectar rich flowers open daily, pushing against one another in their expansive growth.  It is hard to walk through the upper garden now.  The paths have filled with fallen stems, and I rarely cut back some faded something to make the way easier for our passage.

Beautyberry, Callicarpa americana

The garlic chives have faded, and their once white flowers are replaced by swelling seeds.  I’ve been collecting seeds from faded native Hibiscus and planting them in odd spots, before the birds can eat them.  Thousands of golden Black-eyed Susans fill the upper garden with new buds opening even as the earliest flowers offer their ripe seeds to the goldfinches, wrens and cardinals.

The goldenrod I fought so fiercely last spring still towers over the rest, showing color, finally, this past week.   I’ve promised myself to cut it back this fall as soon as it fades, not allowing it to drop more seed.  It is aggressive enough from its roots that no more plants are needed.  But however weedy it looks to me, naturalists remind us that it offers high quality pollen and nectar to many, many insect species when they need it most.  It serves its purpose, and looks majestic for a few short weeks in autumn.

Rosemary and basil still bloom.   The Mexican sage, Salvia leucantha, is finally showing its first blue flowers of the season.  It won’t always overwinter here, so I was thrilled to find plants last spring.   I was so happy to find it in shops that I have been buying them and planting them all season, with hopes that some will last through winter. 

Mexican sage grows much larger and lusher in its second year.  Like pineapple sage, Salvia elegans, which covers itself with scarlet flowers in September and October.  Both naturally grow into small shrubs where they are hardy.  I love that their season of bloom begins when so much is already on the decline, and lasts until a heavy frost closes the season.

Mexican sage, Salvia leucantha, has been growing since early May at the Williamsburg Botanical Garden to reach this size.

Our hummingbirds followed my progress through the garden yesterday.  They hovered and buzzed a bit before settling on a low branch where I could see them, and they could watch me.  I was cutting spent blossoms from the Buddleia, one of their favorites, and deadheading some Salvias and Verbenas from a pot.  Funny how the animals react as I cut back the flowers that feed them.  Bees fly close and intensify their buzzing when I’m pruning the flowers they love most.  It reminds me the garden is a shared space, and not mine alone to enjoy.

There is always good company in this garden.  It is only a matter of paying attention and noticing the many different birds and insects, squirrels, rabbits, skinks, turtles and sometimes snakes.   They come and go with the seasons.  And the web of life expands with each passing year.

Butterfly ginger lily is a great favorite of our hummingbirds

With appreciation to The Propagator, who hosts Six on Saturday each week.



  1. Beautyberry! Well, I will not get carried away on that one.
    It is impressive that Mexican sage sometimes survives there. It survives here, but sometimes does not. It makes me think that the climate is not too terribly different. Also, that butterfly ginger is something that is marginal here. It lives here, but is rare. If I grow it again, I will keep it sheltered. I suspect it needs shelter there also, or brought in for the winter.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Actually, Tony, the Hedychium coronarium is reliably hardy in our Zone 7b. Ours came as divisions from a neighbor and have thrived for the past 11 years. They probably want more sun than they are getting where I planted them originally, as everything around them has grown. I try to cut them back before a hard frost, which is a neater, easier job than after they freeze. If I can get to a good division, I’ll throw one in the box for you. Our last really cold winter was in 2017-2018, and we lost quite a few shrubs in our area that year. But the Hedychium survived with no apparent damage.

      Liked by 1 person

      • Actually, I may procure a piece when I go to Southern California in February. I just have not decided if I am ready for it yet. If I get a copy of yours first, I will provide it with a good home. If they are more popular there than they are here, it might be because they like the humidity there. I know that the chill here is not a limiting factor, but the aridity may be. Kahili ginger can get overwhelming here, but the foliage is not very pretty farther inland. I grow it for the fragrant bloom. I planted some in one of the landscapes at the end of last winter, and canned some for my own garden, but may send the canned copy to someone else. Now that it lives in one of the landscapes, I can get a copy for myself later.

        Liked by 1 person

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