Friday, October 17, 2014

Finally! Autmn Colors

When you live with something all your life it is easy to take it for granted.  We New Englanders revel in Mother Nature’s autumn extravaganza, but rarely do we stop to think how fortunate we are when we see all those incredible colors.  This year, however, we had to wait until October 13th to see our deciduous trees turn into a blaze of red and gold, and I think the wait made us really appreciate it when it finally arrived.   
I used to think that it was Jack Frost who started this glorious  panorama by cutting off the chlorophyll that hides the other leaf pigments, but I was wrong. Jack hasn't even appeared.  So who turns off the chlorophyll?   
It's an enzyme at the base of the petiole of each leaf . It digests the cell walls, cutting off  photosynthesis. This is a programmed response built into the life cycle of each tree species to prepare it for winter when the ground is frozen and there is insufficient water to counteract leaf evaporation.
            Once the strong green pigments have stopped working, the yellow pigments are revealed, along with the scarlet and purple pigments. All these colorful tints require good light and high sugar content for their development.  Trees that have been unable to trap sufficient sugar in their leaves, produce softer colors than ones growing in the open.
            New England is one of the few places in the world where this phenomenal spectacle occurs, and so our roads are suddenly clogged with leaf peepers. And who can blame them?   Bed & Breakfasts love this show Mother Nature puts on.  They are booked months in advance, and provide hot lines in various states to inform callers when the peak of the color will occur.

Did you think, as I did, that  we were really not going to have an autumn extravaganza this year?   No rain, no frost, no real display of color,  The pathetic photo above of red sumac was the only color I found in the week before Columbus Day!  I was thinking I might have to write about something else.  But finally Mother Nature produced her Autumn extravaganza.

Suddenly the world was sparkling with gold,   The bright yellow leaves of ash and birch were everywhere, Willows, witch hazel, even a few lilacs had yellow leave. Willow, witch hazel, even a few lilacs had yellow leaves, The only red I saw was the top of a red oak, its lower half fading fast. 

The red leaves of sugar maples barely lasted a day this year, their  rosy hue quickly turning brown, and my dogwood's purple leaves blew away in the rain.  
       Locust Hill offers very little fall color now that the front yard has lost its sugar maple which looked  so bright and cheerful every year. Our many locust trees turn a dreary gray each fall.  But unlike the maple which requires hours of raking, their delicate leaves       disappear all by themselves before winter arrives.  The big silver     maple just stays green until its leaves finally lose their grip and       spiral down to earth.                                                                          
        I have a single burning bush, but it hasn't decided it's time to put on that brilliant red coat, so the one below sits in someone else's yard.                                                                                                    

I think our having to wait until Columbus Day to get  our autumn extravaganza was a good reminder that we shouldn’t take things for granted and keep remember how very lucky we are.                         

Saturday, October 4, 2014

Haste Makes Serious Waste

The Border before I ruined it. 

Two summers ago I wrote  several columns about a book titled “Gardening For a Lifetime” by Sydney Edison.  It was  full of wonderful suggestions for elderly gardeners like me who no longer have the energy to cope with all the work a large garden requires.  In my case, the large garden was a  perennial border 100 feet long.

I spent that summer and the next following Ms. Edison’s  ideas.  What an irony – working on making the border less work was far more work than I’d ever tackled in the past.

One of Ms. Edison’s first recommendations was to  replace tall plants that require constant work with slow-growing flowering shrubs.  Since my border’s tallest plants were white and pink phlox whose stalks had to be cut with a clipper each fall, they were the first plants that came to mind.  I could break off the stems easily if I waited until spring, but  by then the plants always had time to spread their ripe seeds around the border, usually in the front where tall plants don’t belong. 

When I discovered that the Douglas Library in Canaan was to have a plant sale in late May, I was inspired.  I dug up at least 8 or 9 phlox plants, a really heavy job, and gave them to the library for their sale.  My plan was to replace them with flowering shrubs,  but as many of my readers know,  I’m a parsimonious old lady, and most of my border has been created  with freebies from friends.  As a consequence, I was appalled by the prices of flowering shrubs!  It took me all of June to face spending  $40 or more per shrub, and half  of July to plant them all. 

Mrs. Edison’s second suggestion was to replace  misbehaving plants  with easy-care plants such as hostas or grasses that don’t require  constant work.   By then it was almost August,  not a good time to expect new plants to do well, so I spent the rest of the summer coping with my much neglected vegetable garden and raspberry  bed.

The second summer was even worse as I realized I hadn’t given a thought to the color, size, texture or time of bloom that  makes a garden beautiful.  The shrubs I'd bought hadn't grown tall enough to be seen and I'd forgotten half their names. too busy  getting them planted so they could cope with their new surroundings before summer's serious heat arrived.

I continued  working on the border, but all my digging and transplanting was no longer any fun. Was this day lily  the beautiful one with maroon flowers I’d transplanted or one of the common yellow ones?   Why had I  planted  that rosy red sedum behind that big stand of feverfew so it couldn’t even be seen?  And that new hosta, so close to a clump of wild blue geraniums that were now smothering it?

This past spring the border had hardly any color, just a lot of yellow.  Heliopsis, lemon lilies, a few daffodils and a lot of gray Artemisea which had happily spread in all directions. The border 
needed serious help, but I was too discouraged to face it. Instead  I spent the summer on the dozens of other outside chores on Locust Hill I'd been neglecting. 

In early September a gardening friend stopped by and when she noticed the border, commented on how nice it looked. Having deliberately ignored it all summer, I glanced across the lawn and much to my surprise, realized the border didn’t look half bad. There were lots of  blooming  blue lobelia, several pink asters, nice clumps of feverfew, astilbe and Lady’s Mantle.      

It was certainly nothing to brag about, but it wasn’t  hopeless.  I"ve  now  now taken a dozen photos so I know what’s where, so when spring comes I will be able to think about color, texture, size and time of bloom. I must admit Ididn't enjoy writing this sad tale, and I suspect  you didn't have much fun reading it. Hopefully my next column will be better!