Fall Gardens

At last: this is the time of year when I can let the garden
go to seed, literally and figuratively, and feel no guilt about it. Here on the
coast, I get to enjoy summer annuals right through Halloween, because our
warmest temperatures come in September and October. So there are still plenty
of flowers on their stalks: clarkia, poppy, cosmos, bachelor button. I’m
perfectly content to sit back and let those seed heads form. The birds can have
them, and whatever they don’t eat will just get buried under the layer of mulch
I’ll get around to spreading eventually, and that’ll be the start of next
year’s garden.


I also get
to let the perennials do their own thing for a while longer. It’s not time to
prune the roses yet, and I don’t touch the salvia until I see next year’s
growth pushing its way through last year’s branches. In fact, this time of year
I’m likely to see a few hummingbirds visiting the remaining salvia blossoms,
which is just one more reason to leave things as they are.

 The one
thing I will do on crisp, clear Saturday mornings is troll the nursery for
bargains—scraggly perennials in four-inch pots that nobody wants—and bring them
home and get them in the ground. Fall, with its steady rain, is the best time
of year to plant, but somehow nurseries haven’t caught on. Their stock is
woefully depleted by now, but you can get some good bargains as long as you’re
able to bring a pot of dirt with two twigs sticking out of it to the counter
with a straight face. Half the time, the cashier will be so embarrassed to sell
me those shabby balls of roots and sticks that she’ll mark them down even more.
Fine with me.

 This year,
for the first time, I’ll be tending a new piece of land. I cleared the brush
out of the alley behind my house, and I planted a row of winter-blooming shrubs
to provide me with some berries and flowering branches in winter. I need cut
flowers of some kind in the house, and with the roses and hydrangeas closed for
the season, I figured it was time to bring in the reinforcements. They don’t
look like much yet—I just planted bareroot shrubs and more of those bundles of
twigs and roots. But by Christmas, I’ll be patrolling the alley every day in
search of fresh growth. It’s never too early for the promise of spring.