The Self-Taught Gardener: The late season

I just enjoy this crescendo of color that precedes winter, when this colorful chorus will have finished its song and will be muted.

For many years, I associated the fall solely with the oranges, reds, and yellows of leaves as they shed their green and became backlit in all of their glory by the raking light of the afternoon sun. And color in the garden was limited to these cascading leaves that landed across my beds and borders, creating a palette that I determined was appropriate for the season. There was something beautiful about this celebration of season’s end and it seemed that the palette connected to the pumpkins and last ripening peppers of the vegetable garden. This was fall.

photo-2-sheffield-korean-mum
Korean mums, most of which were originally developed in Bristol, Connecticut, are truly hardy and do not resemble the tightly pinched mums found in front of the local grocery store. The cultivar ‘Sheffield’ with its apricot composite flowers may tend more towards pink than orange colors, but seemed right at home to this Ashley Falls resident.

But, over time, I began to have an appreciation for other colors that can come forth in the shortening days of the fall. From Korean chrysanthemums and asters to colchicum, Japanese anemones and autumn crocus, this season can also have a palette with a broader range of colors. Some of these colors seem to blend in perfectly with my narrow vision of the season, such as the reddish orange daisy-like flowers of the Korean mum “Bolero” and the purple-blue composite flowers of the aptly named “October Skies” aster that brighten beds and borders as days shorten and trigger them to flower. Or the snowy white flowers of the Japanese anemone “Honorine Jobert” which could fit in anywhere, but somehow the lavender hues of autumn crocus, various other asters and mums, and the pink flowers of anemone “Robutissima,” which are held above its tomentose foliage and shaken by the slightest breezes and give this plant it common name of windflower, all seemed to me to be like a old man in a brown suit at a black tie dinner, out of place and a little vulgar in their disrespect for the rules.

The flowers of this windflower, Japanese anemone ‘Honorine Jobert’, blend with any fall garden colors and dance in the slightest breeze.
The flowers of this windflower, Japanese anemone ‘Honorine Jobert’, blend with any fall garden colors and dance in the slightest breeze.

 

 

Colchicums push forth their colorful flowers on leafless stalks in early fall. This bulb produces its foliage earlier in the season, gathers its energy, and then recedes until its blooms take us by surprise amongst the falling leaves. White-flowered forms also exist for more sedate gardeners.
Colchicums push forth their colorful flowers on leafless stalks in early fall. This bulb produces its foliage earlier in the season, gathers its energy, and then recedes until its blooms take us by surprise amongst the falling leaves. White-flowered forms also exist for more sedate gardeners.

Fortunately, over the years, both as a gardener and a person, I have come to be more accepting of many things, and have come to find joy in things that I once may have judged poorly. This maturity of spirit not only attaches to a greater understanding of my own flaws and those of friends and family, but also gives me openness to things that do not fit my preconceived notions of which plants belong where and what is an appropriate seasonal palette for a garden. At one point I would have seen as out of place the pink flowers of “Autumn Joy” sedum and the brash lavender flowers of autumn crocus that push forth their leafless stalks through a bed of fallen leaves with an energy that calls to mind not fall, but the spring bulb season. But the older me has found that I can leave behind the rules of the color wheel, with its contrasting and complementary colors, and just enjoy this crescendo of color that precedes winter, when this colorful chorus will have finished its song and will be muted.

I knew age had its advantages. And if you see me at a black tie dinner in a brown suit with a lavender tie in the coming months, just smile and say it takes all kinds.

Sedum ‘Autumn Joy’ welcomes the season with its clusters of pink flowers that provide sustenance to local pollinators and fade to brown as the season goes by, providing architecture in the winter garden.
Sedum ‘Autumn Joy’ welcomes the season with its clusters of pink flowers that provide sustenance to local pollinators and fade to brown as the season goes by, providing architecture in the winter garden.

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A gardener grows through observation, experimentation, and learning from the failures, triumphs, and hard work of oneself and others. In this sense, all gardeners are self-taught, while at the same time intrinsically connected to a tradition and a community that finds satisfaction through working the soil and sharing their experiences with one another. This column explores those relationships and how we learn about the world around us from plants and our fellow gardeners.

 

2 thoughts on “The Self-Taught Gardener: The late season

  • Lee, what you are missing is the glory of native grasses, little bluestem, Indian grass, seed heads of natives and the ybirds they feed on their migrations. Many other natives like Gentians , and purple love grass all spectacular now.
    You are welcome to be inspired at my native meadow now 12 yrs old. Linda Horn Spencertown N Y

  • Love the little purple Asters in the fall. Thank you for making us remember them .. they are so sweet!!

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