Purple Coneflower in Tom Atwell’s garden. Late bloomers are no less lovely than spring flowers. Photo by Tom Atwell

This is my favorite time of the year, although I truly love Maine in every season, with the possible exception of the muddy one.

The last two weeks in August and all of September have everything – temperatures that are neither too warm nor too cold, not too much rain (most years), and gardens that produce prolifically – both food and flowers.

Yes, we’ve enjoyed the garden earlier in the season. But now there is more of everything.

In the vegetable garden, beginning in August and continuing until the first frost hits sometime between Sept. 20 (the earliest ever in our Cape Elizabeth garden) and early November, it’s peak harvest. Early on, we’re limited to just a few early-season vegetables and fruits like peas and strawberries, plus the cold-frame-assisted lettuce we get in April.

Succession planting gives us peas, beans, beets, chard, carrots throughout the season.

Among the many vegetables we’re harvesting now are potatoes, peppers, cucumbers, broccoli, Brussels sprouts, kale and zucchini and other squashes.


Although corn starts in late July, the tastiest specimens don’t arrive until mid August. We stopped growing corn because the raccoons kept getting ours; now we buy it from a local farm. But we still enjoy it several times a week from August until the first frost.

Normally at this time of year, tomatoes are abundant. But the Atwells have been seeing plenty of green ones. Blame the cool and very rainy weather this summer. Shawn Patrick Ouellette/Staff Photographer

Anticipation: Normally at this time of year, local tomatoes are abundant. But as of this writing, the tomatoes in the Atwell’s garden are mostly still green. Blame the lack of sun this summer. Shawn Patrick Ouellette/Staff Photographer

But the real reason this is the best time of year, garden-wise, is tomatoes. In all their varied glory, they are a celebration of summer. During peak season, right now in ordinary years, my wife Nancy and I eat tomatoes just about every day.

The pop-in-your-mouth-whole cherry-size tomatoes came earlier, typically in July, and they are a healthy snack and an accompaniment to lunch-time sandwiches. But it isn’t until mid-August that the big, juicy slicers begin to ripen. Big tomatoes, like Beefeater and Big Beef, for two, can weigh up to three pounds apiece! A single slice will cover an entire sandwich.

I’m talking hypothetically. This year, with the cooler temperatures and very frequent rains of June, July and August, our tomatoes have mostly been the bite-size varieties, and not even an abundance of those. So far, anyway. We maintain hope for a bountiful harvest, and the green beefy tomatoes are getting bigger.

Now to the flowers.


Most people think spring is prime time for flowering plants, and the early flowering bulb plants and spring-blooming shrubs are certainly welcome after the drab colors of winter. But our gardens have as many – if not more – flowers in August and September.

Black-eyed Susans are gorgeous, prolific late-season bloomers. John Patriquin/Staff photographer

Rudbeckia, or black-eyed Susan, is blooming everywhere in our property – in the vegetable garden, along the driveway, and in the shady backyard borders, where it thrives despite what the catalogs say about its need for sun. It both self-seeds and spreads underground through is roots.

Echinacea or purple coneflower is another late bloomer; despite the name, it comes in more colors than purple. Echinacea is native to much of the United States, but not necessarily Maine.

Coreopsis tripteris, or tall tickseed, can get up to 9 feet tall. Its delicate yellow flowers sway in gentle breezes and are able to survive strong winds. Nancy planted it in our garden from seed about 40 years ago, and it is one of my favorites.

Two flowers found next to each other in our gardens and in alphabetical flower catalogs are helianthus, perennial sunflower, and helenium (sneezeweed). Both like full sun, are mostly yellow, and are attractive in the fall.

Rose of Sharon, in two varieties, is another favorite. The herbaceous perennial blooms late in the season, grows more than 3 feet tall and has huge flowers that have stopped students walking by our property in their tracks. In contrast to the yellows and oranges common in most fall bloomers, Rose of Sharon herbaceous perennials come in white, blue, rose and purple. The shrub can reach up to 9 feet tall. It has white, pink or purple flowers that emerge late in the season. Usually, we see them in September, though this year, the blooms started in mid-August.

When you’re planning your garden, remember the late bloomers.

Tom Atwell is a freelance writer gardening in Cape Elizabeth. He can be contacted at: tomatwell@me.com.

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