In autumn, as the days grow shorter, every moment of sunshine is a moment to treasure.
It is such a happy thing that everywhere in the garden are glimpses of gold. My favorite fall flowers, without a doubt, are the sunflowers that reach for the sun, shelter and feed the birds, towering over the pale leaves of the feather grass and the browning peony leaves.
The annual sunflowers are a cheery mix of carefully selected varieties, grown with care from seed, and the random sowings provided by the birds as they throw the less favored seeds in every direction.
I grew and planted the fluffy, golden yellow Teddy Bear plants, Sundance Kid with several long-lasting 4- to 6-inch yellow flowers on the same stem, Russian Mammoth bred to reach for the sky, and the dwarf Sunny Smile and Solar Babies. A few of them reached their potential, but the anonymous plants grown from bird seed turned out to be taller, brighter and stronger.
There is a message in there somewhere.
All the glories of those annual sunflowers are eclipsed by the perennial prairie sunflower, Heliopsis Maximilianii, which is 3 years old and boasts hundreds of bright blossoms on robust multiple stems. They peer in the kitchen window, nodding in the wind and burying the large bird feeder in a sea of gold.
The plant seems to double in size every year and soon will take over the side of the house. This past hot summer was wonderful for the sunflowers, if a bit overdone for the rest of us.
Back in the vegetable garden, there are clumps of yellow, orange and gold marigolds in the corners of the plots. I shake the seeds into a paper bag when I pull up the plants and, over the years, have accumulated marigolds of many sizes and colors.
I just drop a pinch of seeds into each bed as I plant the vegetables and they need little care through the growing season.
It is said marigolds ward off insect pests, but whether this is true, they are a cheerful sight, especially when the crops wither and die around them.
My cutleaf coneflower has been cut back already as it turned brown and unsightly on its trellis. This plant was a mystery to me for several years. It grew vigorously as only a weed tends to do, and I pulled it out with other weeds, but then I found it listed in a book of herbs and this gave me the excuse I needed to save it.
Now, every summer, its multiple golden flowers grace the side of the house, supported by a rustic twig trellis made by a friend. It attracts bees and butterflies, skippers, moths and many kinds of flies, including something that seems to be between a large bee and a moth.
I will have to consult my friend Sandy, the butterfly expert. This rudbeckia laciniata is classified as a weed, a perennial garden flower, an herb and a native Ohio cultivar, depending on your source. Take your choice.
Other spots of gold are provided by a threadleaf coreopsis, Black-eyed Susan and the few remaining portulaca. One year, I bought a whole flat of yellow portulaca, and I may do that again next summer, although all those mixed colors are appealing.
Even the yellow climbing rose, Lemon Meringue, still has a few blossoms on the very top, but their days are numbered.
And so the last weeks in the garden are golden, times to remember and savor through the winter ahead.
Janet Del Turco is a local gardener and a graduate of the Ohio State University Master Gardener program. Contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org.