Farewell, Indian Summer

Farewell Indian Summer



Does anyone remember that song?

Here’s the rendition by Glenn Miller; there is also one by Frank Sinatra.


Obviously dating me.

In this song, Indian Summer was a metaphor for a romance that had begun in June and had faded by Indian Summer.

What really is Indian Summer?

Unseasonably warm, dry days and calm weather with a hazy or smoky atmosphere and cold clear nights, following a frost in late Autumn.  This occurs mainly in the Midwest and Northeast.

We just had a lovely period of 60 and 70 degree days, but now we are back to the 50’s.

The scarlet leaves of my Red Oak have turned to russet.  While many of the colorful leaves are gone from trees and shrubs, there’s still plenty of interest at ground level.

red oak nov

Red Oak (Quercus rubra) in November.

under oak wild geranium leaves nov

Under the Red Oak:  The fall leaves of Wild Geranium (Geranium maculatum) are even more colorful than their spring flowers.

under oak pds plume, nov

The plumes of Prairie Dropseed (Sporobolis heterolepsis) are exquisite.

smoothblue aster  red leaves nov

The lavender-blue flowers of Smooth Blue Aster (Symphyotrichum leave) are still blooming, contrasting with its now burgundy foliage.


Smooth Blue Aster will thrive in full sun in the prairie or part shade in the savanna.

Smooth Blue Aster Nov

Smooth Blue Aster will grow 4-6’ tall in the garden, unless pinched back severely in the summer; while in the prairie, with more competition, it only grows 1-3’.

eastern beebalm leaves Nov

New to me this year, the foliage of Eastern Beebalm (Monarda bradburiana)  turns to rubies in the fall.   A cousin of the more familiar Wild Bergamot (Monarda fistulosa), it forms a 18-24”  tall and around clump.  The lavender daisy-like flowers bloom in early June.  Versatile, It grows in dry or mesic prairies or savannas.  It is found in Southern Illinois and Cook and Kendall Counties in the Chicago area.


big bluestem novThe autumn copper, flame, topaz, and emerald blades of Big Bluestem  (Andropogon gerardii) are exquisite.  Because of my fear that it would spread aggressively in the narrow border that I located it in, I planted only 1 plant.  In 15 years, I now have 2 plants.   The tallest of the tall grasses, it grows 6-8’ tall.

prairie dropseed nov.

Prairie Dropseed serves as an edging and a matrix.  It, too, turns to flame in the fall.

veronicastrom  nov

The chocolate seed head candelabras of Culver’s Root (Veronicastrum virginicum) are a standout in every fall and winter garden.  Attractive in 3 seasons, its white flowers bloom in July and August on 3-6’ stems in prairie or savanna.  It’s golden pollen is especially attractive to bees.

Native prairie and savanna gardens are so diverse that there is interest every month of the year.

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4 Responses to Farewell, Indian Summer

  1. Suzanne Massion November 10, 2015 at 8:27 am #

    Wow, Pat! Fall colors, Glenn Miller, and Frank Sinatra too! The youtube link had me searching for Frank’s version. I think this is it:https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=11eUAoFuoVQ Wonderful reminder of fall’s treasures. Even the russets turning to browns find their way to my canvas. Each day is a treasure.

  2. Jason November 12, 2015 at 3:42 pm #

    I’ve been wanting to try M. bradburiana. I like M. fistulosa but it tends to grow too tall and gets floppy. My Geranium maculatum doesn’t get that fall color, maybe because it doesn’t have enough sun.

    • PatHill November 24, 2015 at 10:13 am #

      I just planted M. bradburniana, so we’ll see how it does. I think sun does have something to do with fall color on the Wild Geranium–not all of mine becomes red.

  3. Pat November 17, 2015 at 10:41 am #

    I’ve also been leery of Big Bluestem and Indian Grass due to reportedly aggressive re-seeding but that has not proven to be the case out here.

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