The zinnias have powdery mildew. The crested celosias are full of insects. The 'Blue Bedder' salvia are washed out. The cosmos have just quit for the year. It's enough to make you hang up your clippers.

But then the last flower of the year, the perennial sunflower 'First Light' comes into full bloom and you realize that you still can make some outrageous bouquets. The small golden sunflowers combine well with the intense pink of 'Amazon' celosia, field asters, grasses and grains. Even bleached-out flowers combine with the freshness of the Helianthus into an exuberant, oversized autumn arrangement.

Helianthus angustifolia 'First Light' is a hardy perennial that doesn't start blooming until mid or late September. It continues through mid-October, if there isn't a frost. It's a magnet for migrating butterflies, and birds love the seeds after it quits blooming. We bought ours as plugs from Bluebird Nursery in Nebraska several years ago, and they have come back reliably. Each plant throws 20-plus stems that are covered with the small blossoms. It can get as tall as 44 inches.

When the glowing flowers of 'First Light' appear, it's easy to push aside thoughts of the dark days of winter to come and enjoy the final weeks of sunshine and warmth.