No new lipstick, but her garden gets a makeover

Sydney Craft Rozen, Impetuous Gardener

When I was a teenager in the 1960s, I saved my babysitting money to buy a subscription to Seventeen magazine. Always a bookworm, I turned first to the short fiction and then to the magazine’s style section. Every issue featured a makeover — “before and after” photos of a typical schoolgirl like me, transformed by a trendy hairstyle, some makeup tricks, and a new skirt and sweater. I knew the glamorous photos were fantasies, but a few of the less expensive tips — experimenting with new lipstick colors, for instance — seemed worth trying. Those long-ago photos popped into my quixotic mind recently when I remembered the drab and droopy flowers in my garden last August. My Church of Dirt and Flowers is overdue for a makeover.

I didn’t make my usual shopping trips to local garden centers last year because of coronavirus guidelines. That interval of isolation helped me take off my sunglasses and see my gardening habits more clearly. The glare was painful. Many of the perennials I planted 10 years ago — oriental poppies, campanula (canterbury bells) and phlox — are still thriving, but they all flower in shades of blue and burgundy. A few coreopsis and columbines bloom yellow and red, though, in wild rebellion against my rigid color palette. By midsummer last year, nearly all the perennials had wilted, and I was bloomed out, too. Worrying about politics and the pandemic seemed to wear down my energy and shadow my joy in anything, even my garden. I’d drag myself outside and dawdle in one small flower bed for an hour or more, clearing off fallen leaves, one by one, while neglecting all the other beds and ignoring basic plant care like watering.

My spirits finally brightened when new garden catalogs arrived in the mail last month, but before I could push my metaphorical wheelbarrow into the same rutted tracks, my husband, Lee, asked an excellent question. Instead of buying more of the same midsummer perennials that already fill the garden beds, why not add flowers that bloom in August and keep flowering until the October freeze? After I dealt with the embarrassing “duh” factor, my imagination sparked, and I thought maybe other impetuous gardeners would embrace their own creativity and consider a few makeover tips. We don’t have to tear up our flower beds, just be willing to substitute a plant of a new color or variety or bloom time when a favorite perennial conks out.

Autumn is my favorite season, but no jewel colored flowers bloom in my garden in September. I’ve finally accepted that my beloved blue delphiniums do not love me back, so I’ll gradually replace them with fall beauties like asters; yellow, orange and “cherry brandy” rudbeckia (black-eyed susans), and red shades of daisylike gaillardia. I’ll also plant a crayon box of autumn’s classic chrysanthemums. A makeover with flowers, soil and water is much more my style than hot pink lipstick and a disastrous pixie haircut.

Sydney Craft Rozen wishes she could conjure some makeover magic for the nonexistent work ethic of her chief garden staffer, Benjamin BadKitten. Email her at

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