No matter how cruel the summer, how dry and hot and humid, nature invites us back outside again now to remember why we garden; why we go crazy over catalogs in January and nurseries in April – for the chance to reconnect to the sights and smells and pleasures of this Earth.
Something indefinable characterizes the air at this time of year. Temperatures mirror those of mid-spring yet the air is heavier somehow, spiced with the scent of leaf litter and ripening Osage Oranges in the woods behind my house. Out on the deck in the morning the smell of fall is so pungent it competes with my coffee and inspires me to trade pajamas for Wellington boots at the earliest opportunity. The children are getting used to finding me in the vegetable beds again when they wake up in the morning.
Our springtime shrubs are setting buds for next year, our summer bloomers are fading and foliage is beginning to turn. My swiftly reddening dogwood reminds me it is time to re-seal the heating ducts and get three tons of pellets ordered and stacked before winter winds take the last of the leaves off the Silver Maple. It may be a bit of a race against time to complete autumn’s little jobs this year however, for I have bought hundreds of tulip bulbs to brighten April – without a decent plan of where to start in September.
Nevermind. The days might still be humid, but they are cooler, and the only thing I wish to do every morning is plunge my hands in the dirt. With that kind of work ethic and a heavy parka in tow, I should be fairly on schedule by the time winter comes knocking.
The first place I start each day is in the vegetable garden, keeping fall vegetables protected and out of the clutches of various evil munchers. It is vital to check them every morning to make sure that the hordes have not moved in, and to do something quickly if they have.
Yesterday I had the supreme pleasure of finding a cutworm almost completely liquefied from the inside out lying next to my baby kale. He had made the very great mistake of supping from my BT-drenched chard a few days before. Boy I love these little mini-victories – and said as much to the little carcass in front of me. It may be bad form to dance on the grave of one’s enemy, but these moments are too sweet and too rare to be overly concerned with propriety.
Summer’s tomatoes were almost a total loss to leaf-footed and stink bugs, rendering me salsa-less when friends visit. Hopefully I shall redeem myself by pulling a zucchini out of my hat (or hoop-house) in late October. To that end I am using more agricultural fleece and 6 mil plastic, hoping to extend the growing season by at least a few weeks.
Much is to be done with the various shrubs and herbaceous perennials that had been sulking in the heat, but are now ready to be divided and moved if necessary. I have some peonies in the back that are being bullied by Thujas – they must be re-located soon and carefully – the trick is finding space in a front border that acts like it shouldn’t have to share a room with its siblings. It is time to throw my weight around a bit and reclaim areas that have been left to their own devices for too long.
I shall look to my friends (you know who you are) for new exciting divisions, and am not above plying them with moderately drinkable red wine if that’s what it takes to get a decent Hosta or a chunk of Ostrich Fern out of a fellow gardener. We’ll save the good stuff for evenings on the deck.
For at the end of a day planting bulbs, or tormenting peonies, or taping ducts shut, the cool evening and brilliant sunset practically mandates that we should pull up a chair, sit back with friends and marvel at the beauty of an all-to-transient season – glorious autumn.
We enjoyed your Sunday morning article in the Frederick Post on the Sweet Autumn Clematis. Ours has been growing rampantly over an old cherry tree and creating a massive display of fragrant white flowers. It is difficult to accept that this strong grower is going to all of a sudden start seeding around the neighborhood since it’s been in place for six years now without a single baby clematis showing up anywhere. For the moment we will simply revel in the abundance of beauty — and cut it back hard in the spring…
Glad you enjoyed it John. I absolutely love my C. terniflora(s) – they have been filled with honey bees, praying mantis, moths etc. for a couple weeks, but are winding down now. I do have the occasional seedling coming up in the garden – but it’s not on a grand scale. I will say that it is often specific environmental factors that makes a plant such as Buddliea or C. ternifolia become invasive. I don’t get the abundance of Buddliea seedlings in my garden and neither did a good friend of mine – but she moved two years ago and voila, seedlings coming up everywhere.
But I must say I do grow weary of having to feel guilt over enjoying a beautiful plant, or having to keep current on the latest plant that I was allowed to love once and now must hate. It also begs the question of when exactly does a plant become “native”? 1000 years? 1500 years? 10,500 years? When a predator develops to keep it in line? Anyway, thoughts for another day methinks.