November departs and winter approaches…
I couldn’t resist posting a few more photos from the autumn garden…
That’s it for now — we’ve had some cold winds and even a taste of snow (!). All those coloured leaves are on the ground, and the season is shifting toward winter.
The last blooms of the season…
Autumn crocus, lavender purple (true crocus, not Colchicum)
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):
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
But this is the West Coast and climate zone 8, so not everything is dormant. Kale struggles on in the vegetable/herb patch.
A green and white grass is bright against a broad-leafed Carex and evergreen Euphorbia.
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).
The smoke bush (Cotinus “Royal Purple”) goes through its gorgeous colour changes before losing its leaves.
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.
But it’s too early to think about spring.
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.
Asters were in glorious bloom.
Graceful decline prevailed in the herb garden.
There were interesting fungi, including a giant black mushroom.
The garden shed was re-shingled with artisanal hand-cut cedar shakes.
And the autumn crocuses were at their best.
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!
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!
(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.