(Editor's Note: This article was originally published on September 6, 2011. Your comments are welcome, but please be aware that authors of previously published particles may not be able to respond to your questions.)
Although September is the ninth month, “septem” and “septimus” are the Latin words for seven and seventh, reflecting September’s place in the old Roman calendar. September is the first in the string of months between now and the end of the year whose ordinal names differ from their place in the year's order, thanks to the insertion of January and February in the original 10-month calendar.
Beginning of Autumn
In the northern hemisphere, September 1st marks the beginning of meteorological autumn, and is the first of the fall months of September, October and November. The astronomical marker of this season, the autumnal equinox, comes later in the month, on either September 22 or 23. As happened in March with the vernal equinox, the sun once again appears to cross the celestial equator, this time from north to south. Equinox refers to the time when night and day are of approximately equal length.
The word autumn derives from the Old French word “autompne,” originally from the Latin “autumnus,” which is of unknown origin. In previous centuries, the season was simply called “harvest,” but as more people left agrarian society to settle in towns, “harvest” became the term for the actual act of reaping while the time of year was more often called autumn. The alternative word for the season, fall, comes from Old English or Old Norse and was short for a weather expression, “fall of the leaf.”
In Greek myth, the goddess Demeter presides over the harvest and fertility. Together, Demeter and her daughter Persephone rule over the seasonal vegetation of the earth. Demeter mourns during the months her daughter spends in the underworld with her husband Hades beginning in the autumn. Her sadness causes the earth to turn cold and barren. When Persephone is allowed to rejoin her mother in the spring, Demeter rejoices and decorates the earth with flowers.
September in the Garden
September may seem like a farewell to summer, but there are still many temperate days ahead in which to enjoy your garden. Beginning with the long holiday weekend, this month is a good time to get caught up on yard chores. Take the opportunity, while temperatures have cooled but a freeze is still weeks off, to divide or transplant hardier perennials, such as hemerocallis, peonies, lilies, salvia and iris. Fall-blooming perennials or those plants with more shallow or delicate root systems are best left to an early spring division. You may want to purchase some colorful mums, pansies, asters and flowering kale to brighten the fall landscape and fill in blank spots left by worn-out annuals.
Symphyotrichum novi-belgii ‘Magic Dark Blue’ (aster)Chrysanthemum ‘Padre Orange’Aconitum ‘Eleanora’ (monkshood)
Boltonia asteroides ‘Snowbank’Solidago speciosa (goldenrod)Clematis ternifora (sweet autumn clematis)
Labor Day, observed on the first Monday in September, is a national salute to the American worker that originated in New York City in 1882. Originally intended as a display of the strength and solidarity of the labor unions, Labor Day has become a widely accepted day of rest. Falling as it does at the beginning of September, Labor Day for many marks the end of summer and the beginning of school, as well as NFL and college football seasons.
Plans for memorials to honor the victims of the multiple terrorist attacks on American soil began to spring up almost immediately after the events of September 11, 2001. Of special interest to gardeners are the Gardens of Remembrance in New York City’s Battery Park. In 2002, the Battery Conservancy commissioned Dutch horticulturist Piet Oudolf to design a 10,000-square-foot perennial garden, intended as a tribute to those who perished and those who survived on September 11. Oudolf, who also designed the stunning prairie plant-filled Lurie Garden in Chicago’s Millenium Park, is known for his interest in plant texture and color, and his careful attention to plant life cycles and changes through the seasons. Oudolf’s design for the September 11 memorial project features some 6,000 plants of 130 different perennial species and native grasses that dance in rhythm to the wind coming off New York harbor. The Gardens of Remembrance photo at left is courtesy of garden and travel writer Freda Cameron (see more at her blog “Defining Your Home, Garden and Travel").
The breezes taste
Of apple peel.
The air is full
Of smells to feel-
Ripe fruit, old footballs,
New books, erasers,
Chalk, and such.
The bee, his hive,
And Mother cuts
Like plates washed clean
With suds, the days
Are polished with
A morning haze.
~ John Updike
Logan Sapphire, Natural History Museum, Washington DCSapphire
September’s birthstone, sapphire, is the blue form of the mineral corundum (the ruby is a red corundum). This gem, perhaps because of its color, is associated with the traits of loyalty, truth, faithfulness and sincerity. The name sapphire derives from the Greek “sappheiros” meaning “blue stone.” In ancient myth, the world was set upon an enormous sapphire, whose reflection colored the sky blue.
Symphyotrichum novi-belgii ‘Royal Opal’
September’s birth flower, the aster, is also known in England as the Michaelmas daisy, because its fall bloom time coincides with the September 29 feast day of St. Michael. The fall-blooming asters are typically found in shades of violet and blue, providing an excellent foil for the warm reds and golds of chrysanthemums. The daisy-like blooms of the aster prompted Swedish botanist Carl Linnaeus to name it after the Greek word “astron,” meaning star.
Ipomoea tricolor 'Heavenly Blue'
This month's alternate birth flower, the morning glory, is a sentimental favorite of many. The trumpet-shaped flowers last for only one day, but one plant will produce many, many flowers. Probably the best known variety is “Heavenly Blue”, but morning glories also come in shades of white, pink and purple and red. The vigorous twining vines begin producing flowers in summer and continue to bloom until stopped by frost.
Myosotis sylvatica ‘Victoria Lavender’
A second alternate flower for the month of September, the forget-me-not or myosotis, is another blue-flowered favorite. This spring bloomer produces petite, delicate flowers of true blue, and makes a good partner for spring bulbs such as tulips, daffodils and hyacinths.
“Autumn,” lithograph by Currier and Ives, 1871, from Wikimedia Commons; in the public domain
"The Return of Persephone," by Frederic Leighton, 1891, from Wikimedia Commons; in the public domain
1956 Labor Day stamp by Karen Horton
Gardens of Remembrance by Freda Cameron
Lycoris radiata by &_yo
Apples by London looks
Bee at Work by Andreas
Sapphire by thisisbossi
Thanks to these DG Photographers: Symphyotrichum novi-belgii ‘Magic Dark Blue’ by TuttiFrutti; Chrysanthemum ‘Padre Orange’ by Daylily SLP; Aconitum ‘Eleanora’ by Moby; Boltonia asteroides ‘Snowbank’ by mslehv; Solidago speciosa by LilyLover_UT; Clematis ternifora by Dinu; Symphyotrichum novi-belgii ‘Royal Opal’ by KSBaptisia; Ipomoea tricolor 'Heavenly Blue' by Toxicodendron; Myosotis sylvatica ‘Victoria Lavender’ by DaylilySLP