A Strange Start to Fall
Here on southern Vancouver Island, fall has been cancelled and summer continues.
Our normal temperatures for early October are a low of 8C and a high of 16C (46 to 61F). The past week has seen highs topping out in the low 20s (low 70sF), and this trend is forecast to continue for at least the next week. This after above average warmth in August and September.
And it hasn’t rained since early July.
On the plus side, these dry, windless, not-too-warm days are great for gardening and other outdoor activities. On the minus side is the giant water bill I’m anticipating later in the year, and the continuing drudgery of hauling watering cans and hoses around. Ironically, our routine summer watering restrictions ended on September 30th, which means we can now water whenever it pleases us, for as long as we want (keeping the bill in mind, of course).
More seriously, the long rainless period has adversely affected entire ecosystems. Salmon are dying in dried-up rivers. Forest trees, already stressed by the “heat dome” of June 2021, are struggling. These are quiet disasters, unlike intense and dramatic ones like floods and fires. But the effects are potentially dire. Fewer salmon means fewer killer whales and fewer bears.
Returning to the garden, it is true that with shorter days and cooler nights, plants are preparing for dormancy. It’s not like May, when everything is making new growth and setting buds. Plants don’t need as much water now, but they usually enter dormancy with several good soaking rains. So I’ve kept up my watering program, hoping to send the little green dudes into their off-season in at least a dampish state.
Because of last winter’s copious rain and a cool, wet spring, I didn’t start using my soaker hoses until late July. I expected to stop watering before the end of September. I was wrong. Moreover, I have discovered something about soaker hoses, which I use to irrigate several perennial beds. They’re fine for normal summers, in which the rainless period lasts for two months or less. But when the garden dries out completely, soakers simply don’t have the reach of sprinklers. So even though they’re a less responsible irrigation tool, I’ve been relying on sprinklers for this late-season watering binge.
Despite the abnormal warmth and dryness, there are the usual signals of the turning year. Heavier dews and occasional foggy mornings. Winter birds—juncos, northern flickers, spotted towhees and others—are back, bopping around the garden and foraging. Hardy cyclamen are in bloom.
But tomatoes are still ripening on the vine.
And asters are in full, glorious bloom.
So is this dahlia.
There is a lot to be grateful for on this Canadian Thanksgiving weekend.
Featured image from Pixabay; other photos by the author.
Autumn Asters and Fall Fungi
I heard something recently about the two words used for this time of year (in the northern hemisphere). It’s the only season with two words to describe it. “Fall” is most commonly used in North America and “autumn” in Britain.
“Fall” is a one-syllable word that does the job of indicating the time of year when a lot of leaves hit the ground. Okay, there’s the additonal implication of failure and downgoing, as in the Fall of the Roman Empire. But think of “fall fair”–prize vegetables, flowers, and livestock. Deep-fried things to eat. Bales of hay. Fiddle music. Fall is fine.
“Autumn” sounds poetic and nostalgic. It actually works better in written form, at least in North America. People from the Old World, with suitable accents, can get away with using it in conversation, but for most of us it sounds hoity-toity and uber-refined. And of course it has that silent “n,” which adds a certain mystique.
I generally say “fall,” but sometimes I write “autumn.”
However you describe it, October is THE month. It’s not really cold, days have not yet been cut brutally short by the return to Standard Time (for which the mnemonic is “Fall back”), and the leaves are in a state of glory before they (yes, sadly) fall.
I hope everyone is having a fabulous fall. Or an amazing autumn.
And a splendid spring to those in the southern hemisphere!
September was spider month. I couldn’t walk around the garden without crashing through webs or strands.
On damp days, there was a veritable bonanza of webs, rendered visible by the drops of water clinging to them.
I think the spiders responsible for these creations are of the orb-weaver type. They’re yellow-brown, with stripy legs. Most of the time they hang out in the middle of their webs, waiting for victims.
Sometimes, the “victim” is me, in which case no one is happy.
Otherwise, the garden has taken on its autumn wardrobe.
Photos taken on September 17th, 2020, except for the rather out of focus spider close-up, which is from 2011
Summer into Fall
Here are some photos from my garden taken from mid-September to early October. Asters start blooming here in early September and continue through October.
I love fall. The season of active gardening is winding down, for better or worse. The triumphs and tragedies are in the past, to be fondly remembered or recovered from. It’s too soon to think about next spring. This is a time to savour.
Which is what I’ve been doing, camera in hand, taking snaps of anything that looks even fleetingly beautiful. Actually, most garden beauties are fleeting. A few seconds later, the light has changed. A day later, those leaves have faded or fallen. Now is the time.
We’re moving from early to mid-fall — 60 mm (more than 2 inches) of rain and lots of wind. The garden is changing even as I write this.
So here are the best of my recent photos, carefully “curated” (my first chance to use that word in a sentence):
Poppy Pagodas And Autumn In The Garden
Now that the seven remaining blue poppy plants have been rescued from maple and magnolia roots and given deluxe accommodations in a couple of half-barrels, I thought they should also have protection from excessive winter rain.
In their native environments (Tibet and the Himalayas), rainfall distribution is exactly the reverse of Victoria’s — wet during the monsoon season (May through October) and pretty much dry from November through March. Here, the dormant poppy plants are bathed in rains during the winter months, which often results in crown rot and death, even in my sandy soil.
The solution? Poppy “pagodas” — charming little roofs on stilts that fit over the half-barrels.
They’ll remain in place until next spring, making sure the soil around the precious poppy roots is damp, rather than sopping. If it seems to be drying out, I’ll dribble in a bit of water.
After all this fussing to accommodate them, I have great expectations of these plants. We all know where that can go, however, so I’ve reserved a bit of cynicism, just in case.
Otherwise, the garden is going through its usual autumn process. I wouldn’t call it “decline,” because I love fall, and because from certain angles, the garden looks better than it did a few weeks ago.
I’ve hung the hummingbird feeder out again. Back in May it became obvious that the hummingbirds were more interested in flower nectar than the sugar water in the feeder (and why not?), so I removed it for the summer. Now they are visiting again, and this morning a crowd of bushtits showed up. They don’t have the right sort of beaks to use the feeder, but seem to get something from it, so good for them. Dark-eyed juncos are back in town after spending the summer elsewhere, and I’ve heard robins calling in the evenings, a particularly plaintive song that seems right for this time of year.
It’s the first full moon of autumn tonight — not to be missed!
The Fall of the Year
This is my favourite time of year — the months of September, October and even November. And yes, I usually call it Fall, not Autumn. Apparently this is a bit of a dilemma for us Canadians. As the article says, “autumn,” in conversation anyway, sounds a bit pretentious to my ear. Like so many English words, these came to the language from two sources — “autumn” apparently from Etruscan via Latin, and “fall” from a Germanic source (although in German, the season is “Herbst,” from words relating to “harvest”).
OK, “fall” sounds a bit blunt. “The fall of the year,” however, sounds poetic, elegiac and exactly right for this season of downgoing.
Anyway, now that the days are warm instead of hot, and we’ve had a little rain, and the late-blooming flowers are out in force, I’ve been running around the garden, snapping pictures. They’re the same scenes I’ve delighted in photographing for years, but when I see the witch hazel turning rusty gold, and a haze of purple asters with contrasting pink nerines, I can’t resist doing it again.
When I hear about devastating floods, as in Louisiana just now, I wish rain could be better distributed around the continent. Especially now, when I have just spent an hour raking leaves. Not yellow and orange autumn leaves, but dead, dry green leaves jettisoned by the Norway maples, along with zillions of maple seeds, as the trees respond to what has become a hot, dry summer.
In April and May we had at least three hot spells, with temperatures freakishly above normal for several days. June and July were relatively cool, with just enough rain to stave off a drought, but the last six weeks have been totally dry. I delayed starting my usual summer watering program well into July, hoping to encourage plants to toughen up and send their roots well into the ground. That’s the advice of seasoned gardeners such Beth Chatto, author of The Dry Garden. She claimed never to water once plants were established, but I can’t make myself do that. At first, I limit watering sessions with sprinklers to two hours every two weeks for each area of the garden (noting dates so I can keep the schedule straight). Eventually, though, it becomes clear that this isn’t enough. Either I have to start watering at least weekly or give up and let the plants struggle on as best they can. By late August, most have made as much growth as they’re likely to, and most have finished blooming, so they really don’t need as much water as they do earlier in the season. (That’s what I tell myself, anyway). But parts of the garden look really bad right now. I’m not going to post pictures — too depressing.
One of the joys of gardening is to see the plants one has chosen doing well, growing to their maximum sizes and blooming when they’re supposed to. Participating in the cycle of sprouting, growth, budding, blooming, withering and dormancy is what it’s all about. But a drought short-circuits the process and leads to oddball scenarios like raking up bushels of dry green leaves under a hot summer sun. And instead of a graceful transition into fall colours, I’m seeing an abrupt case of the browns.
The weather forecast for the next week includes three days with high temperatures between 27 and 30 degrees C (81 to 86 F). After that it will cool down to 21 (about 70 F) but there is no rain in sight.
On the plus side, tomatoes are ripening on the vine, and in the front garden (less beleaguered by Norway maple roots), asters are showing a million buds, some of which are starting to open. That’s where I go to reassure myself that some things are working out as they should.
Another Fall in the Garden– and a “Change Agent”
I love autumn for its colours — some subtle, others spectacular, always fleeting.
A windstorm last week blew most of the leaves off the maples. Raking awaits!
And the Change Agent?
The garden won’t be the same…