There is a point in October when every gardener asks another gardener whether he or she feels the change in the air. The sunlight is still strong, and from inside the house looking out, the days appear warm. But step outside and the air is crisp. There’s a chill, a nip, a bite. The angle of sunlight shifts as well. Autumn is upon us.
As if by instinct, we pull on a vest or a light sweater before we begin our morning garden walk. For the gardener, this is simply an additional garden tool to keep on hand. Soon the landscape will be littered with fallen leaves. Before you add them to the compost pile or use them as mulch in beds and borders, rake them into a large heap in the middle of the yard.
I won’t suggest that everyone should take a running leap and jump into the leaf pile like a ten-year-old boy, but I absolutely advocate marching through the pile and kicking the leaves up in the air just for fun. You can rake them back up in five minutes time. Before you do, take a moment to marvel at the abundance of color during this special season of the year.
The approach of autumn signals considerable change in the well-planned garden. This is when the foliage of trees, shrubs and many perennials take on the colors of the season. Rusty red and pumpkin orange, burnished bronze and the faded gold of ornamental grasses. Now we reap the rewards of choices made long ago.
Autumn is one of the best times of the year to review the state of our gardens. Every good business does an inventory. Gardeners do an inventory by cataloguing their garden at different times of the year to see what plants are doing well and which ones should be transplanted or removed.
Planning a garden can seem like an overwhelming endeavor, especially to the novice. Even a professional landscape architect knows that all the elements of building a garden from scratch won’t be visible in each season, let alone in one day. First you make a plan, and then you focus on different facets of that plan until the garden comes to fruition.
During this planning phase, you need to be realistic. How much time can you give to your garden each week? Do you dream of creating a garden from scratch using your own ideas and design elements? Will you be a hands-on gardener? Or do you simply want a yard that enhances the look of your house, with neatly clipped lawn, shrubs and trees? Ask yourself, then answer your own questions, and you will most likely achieve the desired results.
While planning, you’ll also want to bring your personal interests into the equation. With the right mix of bird feeding stations and nesting places, you can turn your property into a bird sanctuary. The neat and tidy gardener can use formal elements of design to give the garden crisp lines and structure in the winter months. Trust your instincts. The best gardens reflect the personality of the gardener.
Keep your plan simple. You can always expand on an idea later. When you learn something that works in your garden, write it down or share it directly with garden friends and visitors. Cover as much ground as possible with plantings or mulches. Keep the lawn edge gently curved so mowing is easy. Every day, spend a moment of time in the garden doing nothing but enjoying the results of your efforts.
Play with the idea of creating a garden that flows from one season to the next, planting combinations of your favorite spring, summer and fall flowering plants. Finish off your winter season picture by adding a backdrop planting of shiny evergreen holly with bright red berries or the horizontal branching silhouette of the “Shasta” viburnum. Needle and broadleaf evergreens keep our gardens lush all year.
Berries, bark and plant silhouette also add to garden interest. The autumn flowering cherry (Prunus subhirtella “Autumnalis”) begins to open its dainty pink blossoms in late September and blooms sporadically with every sun break throughout the winter months. Soon after first frost, the scented witch hazel (Hamamelis mollis and H. intermedia) begins to flower from bare, woody branches.
As gardeners, we envision our garden in all the seasons. For today, let that vision reflect the spirit of autumn.
Robb Rosser is a WSU-certified master gardener. Reach him at Write2Robb@aol.com.