The Long View – Meditations on Gardening: The End of Fall

DSCN4678By Christa Watters

One day the tulip magnolia next to my front door is still green – leaves fringed with yellow, spotted with brown here and there, yes, but basically still green, and on waking the next morning I see it still full of leaves as I pick up the paper, though the stoop is littered with yellowing leaves. By afternoon, a rising wind has stripped the upper branches of foliage, leaving just the gray bark of branches and twigs and the furry gray buds that hold next spring’s pink blossoms outlined against the gray sky. Gray, gray, gray — the dominant shade of November, it seems. But it’s not all gloom out there. Spots of color remain, and some trees are still in full flame of gold or red. 

Last week I put the bird feeder back out in the walled patio, near the crabapple tree, which is still shedding its golden, rosy-cheeked fruits. The squirrels, also gray, except for one sleek black-coated variant, are munching on their own special fruit and nuts mix, while sitting on the brick wall contemplating the bird feeder. Can they outfox the baffle? Probably. One fellow is trying to retrieve a floating peanut he dropped into the fountain. Meanwhile the birds have begun to rediscover the cold weather food supply. A few pink rambler roses and a solitary gold-yellow hybrid spike up the color a bit. Not all gray after all.

The pink camellia is in full bloom next to the front door, another shot of color, as are the banks of naturalized chrysanthemums that come back every year across the path. It’s the time of year for thinning and cutting down some of the perennials that have become overgrown, for clearing out leaves that have powdery mildew (the peonies, summer phlox, and Monarda) or black spot (some of the roses), lest the spores infect the new growth next spring. Other plants can remain, to provide seeds or shelter for wildlife. And think how the Lilium seed pods and dried flower heads of the garlic chives will look when powdered with snow in the depths of winter.

The bulbs are finally planted – a couple of sacks of mixed daffodils to up the quotient of bulbs that stay put and multiply underground. The tulip bulbs I bought this year are a mix of coral pinks and orangey reds instead of the white-pink-purple mix of recent years. And – spur of the moment – I bought some fat, purple-blooming alliums for early summer. In my head I see the swirls of color that will grow a few months from now. It’s like creating a virtual painting, only I’ve hidden the colors underground for now. The rewards come in spring!

Photos also by Christa Watters

About mgnv

Master Gardners of Northern Virginia
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