Friday, October 1, 2010

The golden hour


Golden plum tree leaves line the driveway, creating a sunny welcome to the fall farm feeling. Deep purple fruits wait to be tickled free, then popped quickly into our impatient mouths, autumn's warm sweetness captured perfectly in this late fruit crop. Several elderberry plants spray purplish-white umbels atop their shrubbery, calling attention to hedgerow areas heretofore shyly subdued. These two fall-fruiting plants rank among my favorite for shrubbery elements in a landscape.

A recent work request for fall bouquet elements prompted me into creative interaction with the season: Deep reds, purples and greens came into focus while I was hiking through the Soldier Mountain area, reminding me of the visual glories abundant through the rest of bare-ground season. The act of creating something beautiful seems to help me mark acceptance of change in life, and the natural autumnal hiking bouquet of amber and umber mimic this week's dreamlike flow into times of reflection.

After several such moments, it's back to work in the garden harvesting lovely fall crops from the Brassica family: broccoli, kale, cauliflower and cabbage. Plants installed in late July are bearing well right now, and should continue to do so through October. Their gray-green-tinged foliage colors the garden in lieu of brighter summer greens. Many thanks are accorded to the garden gods for the lack of aphid attack on these delicious specimens, allowing them more extensive lives.

Those of you who plunged your hands into our cold spring soil with bulb plantings for this fall could be enjoying such final colorful pleasures; in addition to fall shrub and tree plantings, toss in bulbs for our distant 2011 spring. As the world of white departs many months from now, such early eye candy will certainly bring smiles to you and your neighbors.

Bulbs can be planted as the nighttime temperatures stay between 40-50 degrees, so be sure to plant now before the ground freezes to allow sufficient time for rooting. Bulbs root best in cool soil and do require water to help them start the rooting process. Cover your bulb areas with a lightweight mulch such as pine needles, buckwheat hulls, straw or chopped leaves, 2 to 4 inches thick. This will help keep down weeds and maintain a consistently cool soil temperature.

Narcissus, or daffodil, varieties should do well here, as well as hybrid and wild tulips, crocus cultivars and hyacinths. Remember, you can also force bulbs inside your home for brilliant splashes of color throughout winter. My grandmother kept a group of paper whites, a narcissus variety, blooming in her southern windows all winter long; their smell calls forth her memory without fail, another lovely effect of indoor cultivation. Valley garden shops carry such bulbs and can give you detailed tips for growing.

Back on the fall farm, our sunflower hedgerow is spent, yet before the stalks are thrown on the burn pile, we'll salvage the seed-filled heads. As migrating bird populations travel through our yard in the winter months, these will be brought out for hungry beaks in need of good grub. If you haven't already deadheaded your perennial gardens, consider leaving these standing for a winter; observe whether this is beneficial for your yard birds. A large variety of berry-producing shrubs and trees are known to help our winter bird populations, but I'm always curious as to the many other elements that can help fill their tummies.

And finally, may your garden interests encompass our lovely winter landscape aesthetic over the coming months. Happy trails until spring shall shine again.

Lynea Newcomer is a gardening enthusiast and writer. You can find out more about her at

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