autumn

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.

Pond area, late afternoon.

Pond area, late afternoon.

 

Purple aster, nerines and senecio.

Purple aster, nerines and senecio.

 

"Pink Cloud" aster and fading peony foliage.

“Pink Cloud” aster and fading peony foliage.

 

Nerines, plumbago and senecio foliage.

Nerines, plumbago and senecio foliage.

 

Plumbago and santolina.

Plumbago and santolina.

 

"Monch" aster, blue fescue and "Jack Frost" brunnera.

“Monch” aster, blue fescue and “Jack Frost” brunnera.

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Final (and Future) Flowers

Autumn has been pretty benign here so far, which perhaps explains the extended bloom season some plants are enjoying. At least, I hope they’re enjoying it, after the 130 mm (5+ inches) of rain we have had in the past few days. That would also explain the soggy appearance of some of these plants.

 

White Lychnis coronaria

White Lychnis coronaria

 

Last bloom on rose "Fragrant Cloud"

Last bloom on rose “Fragrant Cloud”

 

Late blooms on Gentiana acaulis

Late blooms on Gentiana acaulis

 

Some plants appear to be getting a really early start, such as this clump of Iris unguicularis, the Algerian iris. I think of it as a pre-spring bloomer — January or February — so imagine my surprise when I noticed three or four flowers peering out from under some yellow maple leaves last week. Sadly, I didn’t get photos of them, but here is a lone straggler that bloomed after the rest.

 

Iris unguicularis

Iris unguicularis

There are predictions of a “monster El Nino” this winter, but I’m starting to get suspicious of hyped-up weather predictions in the media. So often we hear about a “superstorm” or “hurricane of the century” that turn out to be run-of-the-mill seasonal weather events. What has happened here so far is a relatively warm fall with quite heavy rains in the past few weeks. Heavy rain also occurred in a previous El Nino winter (1997-98), so perhaps this will be a repeat. At least the regional reservoir will fill up, a good thing if next summer is as dry as the past one was.

However messy, this mixture of plants — in decline, or still in bloom, or putting forth fresh foliage — shows that here, at least, gardens don’t close down for the winter.

Chrysanthemum

Chrysanthemum

 

Ornamental grass "Little Bunny" still looking good

Ornamental grass “Little Bunny” still looking good

 

Persicaria foliage

Persicaria foliage

 

New foliage of Arum italicum

New foliage of Arum italicum

The Garden in November

November is perhaps the “deadest” month in the garden, or maybe “dullest” is the better word. The leaves have fallen and faded and even the autumn lingerers have finished blooming. After the usual wind and rain storms, chaos and ruin prevail — wet leaves, withered stalks and tired looking greens. We don’t usually get snow here, so there is no white blanket to cover the wreckage.

November 9, 2013

But this is the West Coast and climate zone 8, so not everything is dormant. Kale struggles on in the vegetable/herb patch.

November 30, 2013

A green and white grass is bright against a broad-leafed Carex and evergreen Euphorbia.

November 9, 2013

The last maple leaves decorate the pond. (Let’s not think about the layer of oozing muck they form when they sink to the bottom).

November 9, 2013

The smoke bush (Cotinus “Royal Purple”) goes through its gorgeous colour changes before losing its leaves.

November 9, 2013

November 9, 2013

November 9, 2013

And on this last day of November, a dark and rainy one (with snow and serious cold — minus 5C or 23F — predicted for next week), the winter jasmine, Jasminum nudiflorum, is in full bloom on the trellis, and snowdrops are poking their noses up here and there. In fortunate Zone 8, the growing season never ends, just slows down a bit.

November 30, 2013

But it’s too early to think about spring.

The Garden in October

After 148 mm. (nearly 5 in.) of rain in September, 93 (3 in.) of which occurred in the final week of that month, October was curiously dry and foggy. From the 11th to the 27th, there was widespread fog nearly every day, sometimes thick and persistent, to the point that flights were cancelled, both short hops from Victoria Harbour and regular flights from Victoria International Airport.

I love fog, but didn’t enjoy it as much as usual because I was scheduled to fly to Toronto on October 23. Early that morning, things looked very thick here at home, but the fog thinned out around the airport and I departed without delay. By the time I returned on the 29th, it was gone. I came back to a garden full of fallen leaves and late blooms finishing up — blowzy is the word. I still haven’t reconnected with the garden, regarding the mess with detached unconcern from the window. That will change once the rain stops and I get out there.

The garden I left 11 days ago was quite a different place. Most of the leaves were still on the trees.

October 6, 2013

Asters were in glorious bloom.

October 12, 2013

Graceful decline prevailed in the herb garden.

October 6, 2013

There were interesting fungi, including a giant black mushroom.

October 12, 2013

October 12, 2013

The garden shed was re-shingled with artisanal hand-cut cedar shakes.

October 12, 2013

And the autumn crocuses were at their best.

October 13, 2013

October 13, 2013

But now we’re in November, a less frivolous month. Grab that rake, tote those leaves. Pens to paper, fingers to keys, noses to the proverbial grindstone!

Spring in Fall

Colchicums and Foliage

Most people think fall is about endings, but that’s not entirely true. The mini-season I think of as “fall-spring” has begun. It comes in September, after a few good rains and before any real cold weather. Like true spring, it’s a time of relief after a period of stress.

There are fall-blooming bulbs — autumn crocuses, colchicums (such as the ones in the photo) and nerines. Many perennials persist in blooming, especially if they have been deadheaded or cut back (good old Linaria, for example, and Lychnis coronaria whose bloom stalks were cut down by half in July). Others bloom for the first time in fall (asters and plumbago (Ceratostigmata plumbaginoides). Shrubs and vines whose main flush of bloom occurs in spring often rebloom a little now — rhododendrons, magnolias and Clematis armandii.

More subtle are the changes in foliage colours. I don’t mean the spectacular autumn colours of trees. Long before they begin to change, the foliage of certain perennials and shrubs shifts from summer green to shades that are almost magical. The smoke bush (Cotinus), both the purple and green-foliaged forms, develops intensely orange, yellow and purple spots on its leaves that transforms each one into a tiny work of art. Peonies, both herbaceous and tree varieties, acquire flushes of apricot and magenta that make them glow, especially near grey-leaved plants.

Peony, Achillea & Rosa glauca

The refreshment of rain and coolness, combined with the lower angle of light that comes with the changing season, bring about a transformation of the garden from its dry and dusty late summer state to a dying vitality, a final glory before the end of the main growing season. Maybe it’s because of my obsession with drought (actual, imminent or potential) in our Mediterranean climate here in climatically fortunate Victoria, B.C., but this is my favourite time of the gardening year. I have laid down the watering can and abandoned the hose. The struggle to grow a decent vegetable garden is over once again. I can wander the garden, enjoy the lingering blooms and plan for next year.

A book that celebrates this season is The Garden in Autumn by Allen Lacy. Drawing on his own experiences, he discusses fall-blooming perennials, bulbs, annuals, shrubs and ornamental grasses. I recommend it.