(Editor's Note: This article was originally published on August 12, 2011. Your comments are welcome, but please be aware that authors of previously published articles may not be able to respond to your questions.)
The Eighth Month
August was once called Sextilus, because it was originally sixth in the old Roman ten-month calendar. It did not become the eighth month until about 700 BC, when January and February were added to the year. Gaius Julius Caesar (100-44 B.C.) had been given the title “Augustus” -- meaning honored or revered -- by the Roman Senate. His honorary month, picked because he thought it personally auspicious, thus became known as August.
Most Western cultures call the month by some form of “Augustus,” however in Finland the month is called “elokuu” or “harvest month,” and the Polish name, “Sierpien,” designates August as the “month of the sickle.” The modern Irish name for the month, “Lunasa,” comes from the ancient Gaelic “Lughnasadh,” a traditional harvest festival celebrated on August 1. For the Saxons, August was “weod-monath” (weed month), aptly named for the quickly-growing weeds, or “scere-monath” (sheer month), a time to sheer woolly sheep.
The appearance of the August perennial border varies from zone to zone, but reliable late-summer bloomers for almost any sunny garden include perovskia, aconitum, helenium, hylotelphium ‘Herbstfreude’ (sedum ‘Autumn Joy’), rudbeckia fulgida ‘Goldsturm’ and eutrochium or joe pye weed. Many August-blooming perennials are gloriously tall, thanks to the many weeks of warm weather they've had to put on height.
Aconitum carmichaelii ‘Arendsii’ Helenium autumnale
(Sedum ‘Autumn Joy’)
Rudbeckia fulgida ‘Goldsturm’Eutrochium purpureum (Joe Pye weed)Perovskia atriplicifolia ‘Little Spire’
Even though there are days we don’t relish being outside because it’s too hot, too humid, too wet, too dry, too mosquito-y or too (insert your locality’s weather adjective here), our plants need our attention as much now as they did earlier in the season. Supplement mother nature’s rainfall by watering if necessary. Watering with a soaker hose and maintaining a cover of mulch around your plants are two important ways to help conserve water and retain moisture. Weeds can quickly get the upper hand in the August garden, so don’t let down your guard.
You may find some bargains as garden centers sell off their remaining inventory this month, and you still have plenty of time for planting. Placing plants in the ground now gives them time to settle in and develop an underground root system sufficient to withstand winter weather. Just remember that newly-planted perennials, trees and shrubs require extra care -- keep them well-watered through hot August days.
In summer, the song sings itself.
William Carlos Williams
Planning For Next Year
August is a great time to re-evaluate your perennial beds. Carry a notebook and pencil every time you head into the garden. Take this opportunity, while many perennials are still at their peak and all plant foliage has reached its full size, to jot down ideas for new beds or combinations. I love to clip flowers from plants and carry them with me as I walk around the yard, holding them up against this and that to see what's harmonious, either color- or texture-wise. Doing this can open your eyes to pairings you might not otherwise have tried. Make notes of those plants you want to move, and those that will require division once it’s cooler. This “to-do” list is particularly helpful in the fall and the following spring, when you might otherwise forget which plants require some tender loving care.
August’s birth flower, the stately gladiolus, takes its name from the Latin word for sword, and in fact is sometimes called the sword lily. In the language of flowers, this flower symbolizes strength of character and moral integrity. There are hundreds of species of glads, ranging from two to five feet tall. The trumpet-shaped flowers always grow in a double row along the stem. The spiky leaves of the gladiolus bear some resemblance to the iris, to which it is related. Originally native to Africa, glads in the late 19th century became the darlings of hybridizers who created thousands of named varieties in every color, many with ruffled or wavy flower petals. Glads grow from a corm and are semi-hardy in temperate climates.
The alternate flower of August birthdays is the colorful poppy. Known since antiquity, the poppy is a favorite of painters and gardeners alike. Perennial Oriental poppies feature large and brilliantly-hued flowers which bloom in early summer. The California poppy, grown as either an annual or perennial, is native to the U.S. and the state flower of California. The red-flowered corn poppy which grows freely throughout Europe became immortalized as a symbol of wartime remembrance because of the poem “In Flanders Field.”
The gemstone for August birthdays is the peridot, a transparent gem variety of the mineral olivine. It takes its green color from the presence of iron. Some jewelers call it the “evening emerald,” but peridot, which can range from a light golden-green to the color of bright spring grass, is quite different in color from emerald green. Peridot is one of the few gemstones that naturally occur in a deep olive green.
Onyx, an alternate birthstone for August, is a form of chalcedony that features alternating bands of color formed by the intergrowth of silica minerals. This stone has a long history of use in cabochon and carved jewelry. The colored bands can be white or many other colors, with the red forms being called sardonyx. The dramatic black onyx is a favorite of many.
DG member photos:
aconitum by KevinMc79
helenium by Galanthophile
hylotelphium by Kell
rudbeckia by littlelamb
eutrochium by hczone6
perovskia 'Little Spire' by grampapa
Other photos by the author