I’ve taken a long vacation from hands-on management of the garden.After putting off the chore for a month or more, I finally begin the chore of putting the flower gardent to bed. This is a moment fraught with decisions.
As the weather gets cooler and cooler in autumn, I stop spending time out there, standing, staring, squatting, being in the garden.
But you don’t have to do a lot this time of year to enjoy a garden. The seasonal changes that plants go through take care of themselves. When you have a lot of plants living and dying together, a lot of interesting colors and shapes are produced by forces set in motion by time, in the form of the seasons, itself.
Time – the revolution of the earth around the sun, the seasons produced by the earth’s axis, the effects of this constant cosmic journey made manifest in the growth cycle of plants, trees, and all green things; the human art of cultivation – all of these come together as they do all the “time,” but with a concentration of dramatically visible impact this wonderful time of year.
In short, the cosmos is doing all the work, and the anxious monkeying I’ve been doing in earlier months, especially the late declining months of summer to keep the show entertaining has come to its natural and inevitable end. I watch, happily, generally from indoors, as colors change, final blossoms emerge, dry out and fall away, or are vampired by cold on that first frosty night, the stuffing sucked out of them… It’s beautiful, it’s beautiful anywhere and everywhere that people haven’t torn up the last growing things by the roots.
So I take a holiday. Several storms of autumn roar through, causing consternation elsewhere but luckily doing nothing much here except knock a few green tomatoes off the vine; and then, one silent but much deadlier pair of sub-freezing nights rolls through like a gang of marauders determined to prey on the weak and vulnerable: so much for those pretty annuals you’ve planted in late summer…
And so, looking at the blackened branches of once lovely flowering plants, I realize at long last there are tasks I should be doing. For example, maybe cut down those dead stalks?
Saturday rolls around. I try to take an organized approach; I go back to my notes from previous years. But a funny thing happens to memory. Those facts well set in stone from earlier years remain in place arrive with with ribbons on them when you go digging for them. Those later details, names, advisories, notes-to-self, resolutions, fine points, and veteran pointers you have accumulated in more recent years have all turned into fly-by-night operations. Gone when you look for them, driving down the street, honking the horn, looking for some action.
The operative questions – when do you cut back the butterfly bush? (answer: later winter, early spring; or really whenever you’ve a mind to); or how much of the peony bush do you take down and when (basically all of it, leaving “cigar” sized stubs of the roots, and now’s a good time) don’t necessarily stay put in the mind’s top drawer filing cabinet. Especially when so many oddball subjects, data points, and individual plant types are tossed into the mix and no standard rules play across the entire garden-facts community. Trim the lavender? Well, from the shorn looks of it I’ve already done the trim. Hope it wasn’t too soon!
Prune the lace-cap hydrangea? Sounds like a good idea because the leaves withered and flopped at the first touch of frost and the plant looks like hell, but I’d like to be careful since I want it, or a least a good part of it, back in the spring.
Still, I squat down beside the beds, take out the clippers, begin with the easy stuff.It’s good to get a day’s work in. From November late morning sun to November sunset, it’s all good. And however much you accomplish or leave undone, in the end you’re happy for another excuse to spend a day with the elements and the elemental forces that turn green plants into compositions of wonder and of art.