Things are moving quickly in the garden once again. However it is not new growth of which I speak, nor the rustle of birds frantically throwing together nests in the spirea. We have reaped that particular whirlwind and now stand on the other side of our garden season – watching the rapid decay of spring structure and summer-time dreams.
At the beginning of October I was only toying with my fall chores – there was still so much beauty going on in the garden that it seemed cruel to dig out tumbling pelargoniums at their very peak of prosperity, cut off their heads, and throw them in the cellar like French aristocrats. The basil was still vibrant and full, and chopping it down to the ground and pulling out the pine nuts for vast quantities of frozen pesto would have left great holes in my front potager plantings of peppers, borage and Bright Lights chard. So I waited.
There is no more waiting.
Mother Nature in her wisdom has filled trick or treat bags with snowflakes this year – a killing frost has now blackened the tomato vines, and those tumbling pelargoniums are scratching on the windows at night begging for a haircut and a room for the night.
I have moved into high gear. An inch of snow on my house-trained rambling rose was an excellent reminder of just how heavy six inches of wet snow in December could be. Result: ladder up, gauntlets donned, pruners at Mach 10. Paul’s Himalayan Musk is now a shapely skeleton with very little in the way of laterals to catch the next big storm. Though I am late (or early – depending on how you look at it), nights are sufficiently cold now to prevent a late-season burst of bud from a hard pruning.
The last of my digging and dividing has been completed – at least as much of it as I can comfortably do without ensuring a death sentence for transplants. Fall is an excellent time to plant, but if you do so too late in the season – looking at your calendar instead of the weather – the plants you spent hours dividing and replanting will have precious little time to get their roots securely in the soil before the freeze/thaw cycle pops them back above the topsoil.
Ditto: bulbs. If you see a few clearance packs in good condition at the stores right now and can’t fight the desire for a good bargain, buy them. But at this point, the only place they should be planted is a forcing pot in your front hallway (after they’ve spent some stratification time in a cold basement that is).
Before the killing frost worked its blackening magic, I did manage to harvest the basil in great quantity. It has now been trimmed and pounded with olive oil and parmesan to create summer dinners in the middle of February. Green Roma tomatoes have been pulled off blackened vines and the last of the peppers removed from upright skeletons heavy with wilted, browning leaves.
Although the chard is crumpled in the mornings due to heavy frost, by midday it has perked up and can still be cut here and there for soups and stir-frys. Kale, another stalwart of the autumn garden, is seemingly impervious to the cold; upright, bright and crisp and ready to give its life in my quest to add copious amounts of Vitamin A and Iron to my family’s diet. These meals are made all the sweeter knowing that the slugs have been halted in a similar quest due to overnight temperatures that will keep them curled up in their horrid little holes.
Within the space of a weekend, water spigots were turned off, terracotta was brought in, and tools were shelved. I can’t in all honesty say that they have been lovingly oiled and sharpened, but if you have the time between harvest festivals and Christmas cards, by all means, knock yourself out – I certainly haven’t.
I will potter around aimlessly now for a few more weeks, enjoying a garden that can no longer fight back and reveling in the promise of new plants for a new season. Next year will bring giant Alliums, two kinds of Brunnera and three Milk and Wine Lycoris that a friend gave me in a moment of weakness – to mention but a few. The garden has now transformed from this year’s reality to next year’s fantasy – a delusional state perhaps, but one which makes winter a bit easier to bear.