One of the great challenges of gardening is figuring out how make your garden shine in all four seasons. Although autumn brings bud-killing frosts and foliage-burning winds, it also brings fruit, incandescent foliage, and a certain willowy, translucent light. Mixing late blooming annuals and perennials with tall-growing grasses is one way to capture fragile autumn sun as it passes through the garden. Standing dark evergreens against the flowerbed’s rampant last survivors is another good trick, and a way to blend both the obstinate, cool shadowy nature of autumn with the raucous explosion of fruits, seeds, and final blooms it brings. Here is some inspiration from Great Dixter, in England, where the gardeners display definite deftness and total understanding of autumn’s beautiful and diverse pallet.
Images by Helen O’Donnell
It’s the spring rains. It’s the warm weather. It’s the long and pleasant indian summer. There are a myriad of explanations for the spectacle of leaf color change, but only one is correct.
The fact is leaves change at the same time each year regardless of the weather. Responding to the longer nights of fall, trees start to slow production of chlorophyll, the pigment responsible for making leaves green and photosynthesis possible, towards the end of August (in the Northern hemisphere). As chlorophyll vanishes from the plant’s tissues underlying pigments (the reds, yellows, oranges we all look out for) become visible. Things like hot, sunny days combined with chilly nights cause chlorophyll production to wind down rapidly, setting up a vivid, high impact foliage display. Other factors matter too: Drought during the growing season can stress trees out to the point of early leaf drop, and frost, wind and rain can knock leaves right off the trees before they have a chance to dazzle! So now you know. And next time somebody offers you their opinion on the subject, you be the authority.
A list of great autumn color picks based on region:
Northeast and midwest: black tupelo (Nyssa sylvatica) and staghorn sumac (Rhus hirta)
Southeast: smoke bush (Cotinus americana) and red osier dogwood (Cornus sericea)
Southwest: Mexican buckeye (Ungnadia speciosa) and skunkbush sumac (Rhus trilobata)
Pacific northwest: hardhack (Spirea douglasii) and Pacific madrone (Arbutus menziesii)
Mountain states: New Mexican olive (Forestiera neomexicana) and waxflower (Jamesia americana)
Our favorites from across their year are below.
Katsumi Omori, Bonjour (Tokyo: Match and co, 2010)
Published 2012 by Pierre von Keist, bought at Hypermarkt during Arles
Published by Shogakukan 2009, bought at Kinokunya (3333¥)
At this time of year the vegetable garden seems to sense winter’s coming. The tomatoes are ripening in a literal storm, the squash is incessant and the beans keep going and going and going…. the garden is on the death march, doing it kamikazie style, putting everything its got into summer’s final days. So what to do with the excess? You could go the usual route and turn a blind eye (tell yourself the fallen fruit will feed the soil and admonish yourself later) or you could get in the spirit and start packing the pantry.
Canning has become so hip of late that classes for it are popping up everywhere. I love a good dilly bean as much as the next gal, but a winter’s worth of lacto-fermented goods? Thanks. But no thanks. My favorite dumping grounds for squash or zucchini is a lump of thick, hearty breakfast bread. There are a million variations and they all freeze well. And as for those impertinent tomatoes try this and then pack them down in tupperware. The flavor, come January, is just like July.
September and October are the months to divide spring and summer blooming perennials. Virtually all plants benefit from division every 3-5 years, and your garden will grow fuller more quickly as a result. Older plants that have never been divided will have hollow centers where no vegetation grows. If you have any of these in your garden, begin with them! Make sure to divide only on overcast (or at least not scorchingly hot) days and always water plants in well once division is complete.
- using a garden fork, lift up the entire clump to be divided
- look to see if there are any obvious locations of division i.e hostas and astilbes grow in clumps which are easily distinguished and separated
- for clumped, tangled root masses use two forks, a sharp spade, or even a saw to cut the root ball in half or thirds. Don’t worry about hurting the plant! Trimming the roots will create a growth spurt come spring.
-discard small, weak or rotten root masses
-dunk new plants in a pail or water and trim off any broken roots
-replant and water immediately
Check out this site for a list of perennials to divide in the fall, and some specimens the dividing fork should never touch!
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