fall

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!

The Garden in September

Ah, September — maybe my favourite month. Some years, the best weather comes in September — warm but not hot, with just enough rain to start the “fall spring,” when some spring blooming plants put out a few last flowers, when leaves start to turn colour and the garden prepares to withdraw into the relative quiet of winter.

The last few days, instead of thinking up stuff like this, I have been busting my butt in said garden. Predictions of a major rain- and windstorm motivated me to mow, clip and rake, cut down stuff and get the compost heaps into shape. That means doing something with the finished compost to make room for the millions of leaves that I will rake up in October. Out come the wheelbarrow and spade. I shovel compost into the wheelbarrow and then re-shovel it out, spreading it among perennials and under shrubs. I’m most generous in spots beneath trees, where plants have to compete with tree roots.

While the body labours, the mind wanders, and throws out some fanciful notions — such as that the garden is like a world, with peoples and nations ebbing and flowing. What happened to that patch of Irish moss (Sagina subulata)? It was crowded out by colonizing Creeping Jenny (Lysimachia nummularia), and is now only a memory. And these asters became refugees, fleeing the onslaught of sweet violets and snow-in-summer (Cerastium). Do plants tremble at the coming of the almighty gardener, in size 9 “duck shoes,” bearing a spade in one hand and secateurs in the other? Plants live or die by my will on this 50 x 120 foot patch (except for bindweed, that is). Legions of wood lice and centipedes flee when I come to destroy their compost heap empire. Ha!

In the end, the garden looks pretty good and the compost area is neat and tidy, ready for all those leaves. Bring on the rain and wind!

September 26, 2013

Aster frikartii "Monch"

Aster frikartii “Monch”

Autumnal Ruminations

(OK, that’s a silly title for a post, but I like it better than the others I thought of — Fall Bits & Pieces, Autumn Thoughts, etc.)

I was actually stumped for a topic this week, so decided to ramble on about the state of the garden at the end of the 2011 season, and my plans for next year.

I can’t say that this was a spectacular year, garden-wise. The spring was rather cold and damp, the first part of the summer also.  After the middle of July the weather dried out but remained cool, which was fine with me, since I’m not a heat-lover. I got a good crop of tomatoes from my potted plants, and two HUGE crops of apples. Today I made apple crisp with the last of them.

The blue poppies? Not so good. A few of them bloomed, but not much. Late in the summer, most of them succumbed to crown rot. On the plus side, I do have a couple of dozen seedlings coming along for next year (if they make it through the winter, that is).

The single word that best describes the garden right now is “overwhelmed.”  Trees and shrubs have grown too big and are taking up too much space on this modest lot (50 by 120 feet). The wall of rose-and-clematis-overhung maples and vigorous hollies on my western boundary has become oppressive, and a magnolia in the front garden is now wider than it is tall.  It’s a dark pink, lily-flowered variety called “Ann” (or maybe “Susan,” I can’t remember which). In any case, the lady is a thug. Something Must Be Done, specifically removal of at least 3 large limbs near the bottom of the trunk, a process I’m somewhat apprehensive about, because I have read that magnolias really should not be pruned.

The vegetable patch is a lost cause — not even scarlet runner beans do well any more, due to maple shade and maple roots. Herbs, even sun-lovers such as lavender, are quite successful, so I intend to repurpose the space into a herb garden. At some point this winter I will read Henry Beston’s Herbs and the Earth once again, to develop enthusiasm for the project, which I fear will involve improving the narrow brick walkways and other efforts requiring digging and lugging.

In the meantime, there are the maples. Eventually one or both will have to be removed, as well as the Ailanthus in the northeast corner. Not just yet, however. Maybe some judicious crown-thinning will do the trick for another couple of years. This year all that remains is the business of raking up the fallen leaves, something that won’t happen for a few weeks, it seems, because 90% of them are still on the trees and a good many are still green. Altogether it’s been a rather peculiar gardening season, with just about everything happening later than expected.

Foliage of fireweed (Epilobium) turning colour

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.