A warm wet autumn means lots of mushroom foraging. Here oyster mushrooms & wood ears, destined for a stir fry.

Boy we’ve had it good this season. A fall season that doesn’t just tempt, but delivers on a promise is a rare and precious thing, and I have wrung every bit of loveliness out of it during the last two months. I have used every day to plant, organize, clean-up, wrap up and square away the garden – sometimes with a spare half hour, sometimes with half a day – and every time I thought “this is it, winter is here,” we’d be granted another 60 degree day, a soft breeze and foliage colors to make the eyes widen.

And so I feel ready to begin the winter. A tremendous feeling indeed, and one that makes me realize that all these years it wasn’t my fault that the tool shed was a disaster, or that I went into Christmas with five bushels of apples precariously stacked in front of the decoration boxes. It was Mother Nature’s problem.

Had she but given me a reasonable season of wind-down between the chaotic growing season and the bullet-biting cold – clothed me in light sweaters instead of down jackets – I may have felt vaguely adequate as a gardener (and had to cope with less in the way of anger issues).

We who garden in a Mid-Atlantic ‘four-season climate’ know that reality hands us two seasons and tacks two weeks of respite in between. We mentally gear up for spring, dream dreams of tulips and bluebells as the days grow longer, and then: WHAM! – summer arrives and we’re forced to drive three hours north with the air conditioner on high to see a decent display.

One last honey harvest, and one last gleaning for the bees.

One last honey harvest, and one last gleaning for the bees.

Five months later, we yearn for the end of summer heat and humidity and cheerfully buy into the magic of cinnamon-scented shops and crisp afternoons in the pumpkin patch. Not a woman to suffer fools, Mother Nature instead gifts us with four days of foliage splendor and follows up with tree-stripping north winds and frozen spigots before she heads down to Miami for the winter.

No matter that this happens every year like clockwork. Human beings are optimists – gardeners more so – and we can’t help but believe that each season lasts three months, fades gracefully into the next, and gives us time to appreciate and contrast the flavors of each.

They don’t. We realize this too late. And thus do we end up scrambling between seasons always feeling a few steps behind and vaguely annoyed. So to have an autumn in the

[fully imagined] traditions of old, is a gift.

I have sorted apples, put up new enclosures for the chickens, cleaned out the tool shed, cleaned up the garage, planted up the last of the pots, bought more, planted those up, stained furniture, stored outside pillows, and brought in succulents. Yet the autumn lingered.


Fujis sorted and ready to be stored.

So I bought more apples, put them in storage, trained the pyracantha and added evergreens to the front entrance. I fished boulders out of the river bed and started a rock garden, marked the saplings for winter clearing, started some clearing, spread manure on beds and turned the spigots off.

Still the autumn remained.

I turned the spigots back on again, washed the mold off the side of the house, took a pressure washer to the picnic table, brought all the ceramic pots in and removed screens from the windows. Cannas were dug (that never happens), shrubs were mulched (ditto), and my bed at the end of a long day felt sweeter than it’s felt in years.

So, oddly enough on this wet, 26-degree morning, staring at frozen pansies and euonymus troughs from my kitchen window, I not only feel a sense of accomplishment, but a great sense of relief that perhaps it’s finally over and winter will allow me a bit of rest by the fireside.

I suppose I’d better hope for business-as-usual next year. A long spring might kill me.