Frost signals a seasonal finale. The exuberance of the garden is gone and the gardener is left with subtleties. The small blooms and berries of fall would be overlooked in the abundance of the summer garden but late in the season, after the frost, their significance increases. Who would even notice the tiny purple flowers which develop on the mint plant if they were to appear among the peonies, roses and delphiniums? Color has shifted from outrageous orange to warm bronze and copper. The bright foliage of the maples is now underfoot. Scuffling through this debris brings the scent of childhood and the memories of raking the bounty into a plan view of a child's home. Doors, windows, kitchen and living room all made flat on the ground with neat rows of raked leaves. How powerful is the scent of fall? It is transporting. Mom and I walked through the leaves in her yard yesterday and reminisced on those long ago days of childhood. She has seen 91 autumns, a feat many of us will never achieve but one to which we can aspire if only to gain a bit more knowledge of the garden and the seasonal cycles. This season has been one of bounty. The last of the tomatoes are in the trug and the vegetable garden is holding some late season treasures. Fall tomatoes are not perfect but their tang is as appreciated as that of the very first tomato. Swiss chard, kale, brussel sprouts all shrug off the first frosts of the season.The last flower and the last fruit of this season's garden is close at hand and all are treasured along with the knowledge gained from the passing of yet another season.
I am not sure how it happened. Summer is gone and today is the first full day of fall. I thought it the perfect summer. Many would disagree. It was clear and not overly hot. The tomatoes loved it. Lots of bright sunshine brought a huge harvest. The flowers loved it. This gardener loved it. Still, the weeds crept into the borders in late July. It happens every year despite my resolve to keep at it. No matter. There is much to keep one busy in summer. You can see the coloration beginning. The poison ivy which receives the morning light is one of the first plants to color up. The colchicums bloom, the spiders are busy spinning away and the lower light causes deep shadows and nice back-lighting. This morning the temperatures dipped for the first time into the 30's. High 30's, no frost yet. I cannot say that I am ready for a frost but there is the smell of damp decay in the air and the days are shorter. Night is coming a bit more swiftly. It is time to set the mouse traps. They will be trying to share the warmth inside. I will attempt to thwart their efforts. The border has a few flowers left. The deer have started cutting back the hostas. It is so kind of them. I never see them but they leave their mark. They are foraging for the long, cold months and I cannot say I blame them but there is a field out back just for them. If only they would stay there. Fall in New England is usually lovely. I will have to wait and see what it has to offer this year. I hope it is long and warm. Hoping is the gardener's trademark after all.
Leaving one's New England garden in the winter is very different from leaving it for a few days, a week or more during the other seasons. I am reminded of this Robert Goulet song which, I know, dates me but Camelot is still one of my favorite plays. Listen here if you wish. Ten days is an eternity in spring, summer or fall but in winter the frozen mass of a garden resists change. There might be more snow or less in the winter when one leaves and then returns but the garden is either covered with snow or uncovered and dormant. I visited Titusville, Florida recently. They were having a cold spell. Frost even appeared one morning in Florida but cold spells are relative and the 57F high one day seemed fine to me. It was 10F here at home. There were exciting adventures. I did play golf with my Mom. She is 90. She trounced me. Short and straight. That is how she hits them and while a long drive is showy, one always putts for the dough. There are obstacles on the golf course which one never sees here in RI. It was warm on this golf day, in the 70's. While I was visiting, NASA launched a communications rocket which was a thrill. Titusville is a shadow of its former self since the elimination of the shuttle program. The cost to this part of the country was high. Jobs were lost and many tourist related businesses are closed. You can read about the losses here. There still are launches and they are very exciting. I just had my small hand held camera and little time for careful composition but I did step out the front door of the house to see the rocket light the night sky. If you have never seen this sight, it is impressive. Mom and I also went to see the manatees but the manatees had left for warmer waters. The birds were still around though. I have left Florida and I have returned to the garden. I can never really leave it for long - even in winter. When I left, there was little snow on the ground. I returned to bits and pieces of snow which has now been replaced by a full layer with more due today. But in my absence it seems there has been a change. The snowdrops are showing a little bit of promise. I also noticed that the sun was quite warm on my face yesterday. Today we are back to winter. It is, once again, snowing here. This seems to be the never ending white winter. I will just have to remember the sight of the green shoots of snowdrops. They are covered once again.
In New England, Southern New England that is, the bronze days are upon us. Most of the native maples have dropped their leaves but the oak leaves are persistent and hang on until the abscission layer fully forms. This is as variable as the oak varieties and the season in the woodland and garden. There are black oaks, white oaks, red oaks and pin oaks. Some do have bright red coloration but the majority of oaks in my garden turn bronze. It has been clear and bright and very dry here this fall. The spring in the back former field which was walled up a century ago and used for watering cattle is dry. The frost has arrived darkening the fern fronds and stripping the color from the late annuals and the foliage. Yellow is left, brown is left and bronze. The bronze offers golden afternoons with low slanting sunlight. The drone of the bees is now absent from the garden but the birds are still singing and there is a distinct crunch under foot. In the early morning it is the crunch of frost but later in the day it is the dry, fallen leaves which are begging to be lifted and turned into compost. The old manure spreader has a bronze patina of its own lending to the warmth of this season. What color is your fall garden today?
It happens quickly. The turn from summer to fall. Here in southern New England we are in 'The Golden Days' of fall. The whites pines shed their needles this past weekend creating a blanket of burnished copper under their boughs. This blanket muffles sounds, covers the imperfections on the floor of the pine woodland and it also creates a spongy and inviting carpet for the casual hiker or hapless gardener on the way to the compost pile. There is still brilliance in the garden and the surrounding woodland. Crimson and gold mix together as the low angle of the sun illuminates the leaves. It is a turning point-Nature's last colorful gift to the gardener before the onset of gray and dreary November which is perhaps a necessary respite from the color of 'The Golden Days' of fall. There is much still in bloom here as the first frost has been reticent to show his face. That is fine with this gardener. The moonflower vine was planted late and has just started its show which will be short indeed. The Spanish Flag vine or Mina lobata self seeded next to the tutuer in the island garden. It has cheery tricolor flowers which match the colors of fall here perfectly. It was a gift from Mother Nature this season and it is much appreciated. Did anything crop up unexpectedly in your garden this season?
The mornings are cool now that fall has arrived. The cool mornings actually arrived a week or so before the official fall date. There has been a frost down in the valley a mile away but no frost here yet which means that the gardens are still looking full and lush although there is decline in the air. The afternoons are clear, warm in the sun and cool in the shade, kind of days. When I step out the front door on these warm afternoons there is a loud hum. The oak tree anchoring the entry garden looks as though it has a bit of matted fur all over the trunk and limbs. Climbing high into the branches, English Ivy, Hedera helix, has made a home. Now before you get all excited, yes this plant is invasive and on many invasive lists but here in northwestern Rhode Island it has not spread by seed. Here, it just has climbed high and when it climbs high it flowers. The flowers of English Ivy are creamy umbels which have an incredibly sweet fragrance. Their sweetness is appreciated by the bees. I know there is more than one kind of bee enjoying the nectar. I can see bumblebees and I think there are honeybees but I have not taken life and limb in hand to climb a ladder into this bee haven. I am content to stand under this tree and just listen to the happy hum. These are not the only 'bees' in the garden. In July as I started to pick the climbing beans in the vegetable garden I heard the familiar and angry buzz of hornets. Looking for the source I realized that they had and were still building their nest in the top of the tutuer on which the beans were climbing. My first response was to back away and leave the beans right where they grew. My second response was to purchase hornet and bee killer. I thought long and hard about the implications of applying this pesticide in the vegetable garden. Hornets can be quite aggressive and if I had an allergy to bee venom I would not hesitate to remove these trespassers. But while hornets are not great pollinators they are great predators. Most of us have experienced hornets hovering over a soda can or descending upon the fallen fruit in an orchard but they also eat a variety of insects. I do think there was less damage on all the Brassica plants in the garden this year. The cabbage looper often etches a lacy leaf pattern on the brussel sprouts foliage which does impact the size of the actual brussel sprout. So, I left the nest and have watched it grow all summer long. It is really a marvel of engineering. These critters are doomed anyway since the first frost is imminent. Have you ever left a wasp nest alone just so you can observe what goes on in and around it?
It doesn't look like spring here in the garden. The sky is blue, the temperatures are hovering just over freezing and all is covered with a nice, soft white blanket. It doesn't matter. The season will progress and under this blanket of snow there is an abundance of green shoots. I do like a slow spring. It gives the gardener time to adjust to the changes although it is hard to rake with snow on the ground. There are seeds to be started, pruning to be done and today there is a birthday to celebrate. My son, Ben, has a birthday today. He was born as a new season started and while spring is cause for celebration for a gardener, there is no greater celebration than the annual festivities of a child's, now a grown man, birthday. Happy Birthday, Ben.
There is a perceptible change in the light levels here in the garden at the end of February. Last nights dusting of snow outlined and frosted the garden dressing it up for a photo op. While the weather is still quite cold with temperatures hovering just above freezing during the day, the buds on trees and shrubs are getting fat with expectation. I know I am expecting warmer weather soon. The garden is still covered with a good six inches of snow and the high plowed piles will be around for a while but the brightness of morning comes a bit earlier and evening much later. There are very few snowdrops visible as most are still buried but this small clump by the house is showing a bit of white. Can blooms be far behind? What signs of spring are you seeing in your garden?
February is a time of broken plants and delayed dreams here at Ledge & Gardens. Heavy snows have shattered the once stately grasses and they lie bent, broken and ragged. The small grasses are invisible wrapped tightly under the white blanket. These grasses are usually burned in March but only time will tell if the sodden lumps left after the snow leaves will ignite. The noticeably longer days have unfulfilled promise and only the indoor garden provides a bit of greenery to keep the spirits up. Today, the wind is howling outside. The hyacinths are giving off a spring scent. The seed catalogs are still arriving. What are you doing to keep sane during this month of February?
I know everyone is tired of hearing of the big Northeast snowstorm. That it made such a splash on the news is good in a way. It means that there were no school shootings or major political incidents. I will take weather hype over those stories any day but I am tired of it as well. I am also living with the aftermath. New England should have snow in the winter and it does but not usually over 20" at a time. Twenty inches of snow is fairly impossible to walk through. The EM had to get to the tractor in order to plow. The barn is a good 300' from the house. I had to poke a hole in the snow cover over the fishpond. That is only fifty feet or so away from the walk but it was quite a chore to get there. There is a circulator in the pond but that much snow capped it which could cause the fish to die. I left the seedheads of Autumn Joy sedum for winter interest but they have disappeared in most of the garden. These by the shed are visible due to the high winds blowing the snow off their location. Gardening is a regional activity and winter interest means different things to different people all over the world. Winter interest in Texas can mean blooming bulbs. Winter interest in Florida can mean gardenias and orange blossoms. The colorful birdhouse on the hook in the long border adds pretty contrast to gray and white. The orange globe in the sunny border is warming me with its glow. So, what is keeping your garden interesting at the moment? Is it inside or outside? Is it man made or natural? Perhaps it is just the trees which come into their own this time of year. Whatever it is, please share it as I need a bit more winter interest when the snow is more than knee deep.