Why is it that the moment you want something the worst is that very moment you are destined to loose it? I mourn the loss of the leaves, come fall. It is the end of a story that has unfolded over many months. Once the plants have leaved out in the spring, we are awash in the green that leaves provide. Everywhere I look in my little garden, I see green leaves. The stiff little boxwood leaves all precisely laid along the stems. The big lax rhododendron leaves flopping this way and that. The big handed Princeton Gold maple leaves are held parallel to the ground, and shade every plant and every person beneath them. The curly fronds beech ferns have that missing front tooth look. The magnolia leaves are simple, big, and strong.
The hellebore leaves fan out, whorled around their stems. The hydrangeas leaves are ovate-each shrub is smothered with them. The rose leaves are glossy, and subtly serrated. Perennial geranium leaves-they are the most astonishing clubby shape, and heavily veined. The leaves of grass we refer to as blades. The leaves of the Parrotia are stiff, and marked with strong parallel veins. The dogwood leaves are softer, more subtle. The leaves of the hardy hibiscus-large and thin. The leaves of butterburr-the elephant in the garden room. Yews do not have leaves. They have needles. Those green needily configured leaves grace the garden year round.
The leaves of the Palabin lilac are short and pert. Snakeroot has large and dramatically serrated leaves. The peonies feature thick glossy leaves that endow the garden long after they have finished blooming. Thyme leaves-so small. Dandelion leaves-coarse and uncouth. Horseradish leaves-the ultimate height and breadth of uncouth. Scotch moss leaves are soft and mossy in appearance. The platycodon leaves are thick and stiff as a board and quite blue in color. The big sail like delphinium leaves are all a spring storm needs to blow a stand of tall and ethereal blue blossoms over and onto to its knees.
Creeping jenny has round leaves-the lime version can cover the ground in no time. The lime leaves of the hosta Sum and Substance are stiff and heavily veined-in the summer. Regal, this plant. At the first frost they collapse in a heap. Not so regal, how they melt in the cold, and go down. Russian sage, lavender and dusty miller have silvery gray leaves.
There are those leaves in colors other than green. This list is long. Red leaves. Variegated leaves. Yellow leaves. White leaves. But the leaves do more than delight a gardener with their shape, mass and color. Leaves photosynthesize, meaning that they absorb, and convert sunlight into energy. The leaves of a plant fuel its growth and health. In the fall, those food makers are shed from the plants about to go dormant. The process by which a leaf provides a plant with energy all summer, matures, colors up, and drops, is an extraordinary story.
Fall color is all about the leaves. The lime green shoot that leafed out in the spring, and energized a plant all season long, matures in the fall. The life cycle of a leaf represents the life cycle of a garden. How astonishing that the leaves turn such beautiful color in the fall before they drop. That garden day that I treasure the leaves the most is the the spring. The leafing out in spring is all about the hope for the future of the garden. My second most treasured day? That moment when all of the leaves in my garden have colored up, and are about to fall.
Once fall comes, the leaves have done their job. No leaves make a better show of the end of the season than Boston Ivy. They make a party, in celebration of a season well lived. The close of their season-fiery. Just look at the leaves.
All that remains now of these Boston ivy leaves are the stems. How could I miss them-they are the most astonishing shade of pink imaginable. They come away from the wall in a way that stops me dead in my tracks. All summer and fall long I look at these leaves, and marvel. The garden asks for a lot, but the story it delivers is delightful. Epic.
I like planting in the fall. The weather is cooler, and the rain more reliable. The work of it seems easier. Some plants are not so happy with a fall planting. I like to delay planting beech, birch, magnolia and dogwoods until the spring. Other species readily transplant in the fall, when they are dormant. Dormant plants suffer the trauma of transplant more readily when they are sleeping . I am uneasy about planting perennials much past the end of September, for fear they will not have enough time to root before the frost heaves them every which way- including out of the ground. However, it is never too late to plant spring flowering bulbs. Should you be able to get your shovel in the ground in February, the bulbs you bought in October will most likely be fine-provided you stored them in a cool spot.
This is our bulb planting week. We are tackling this project for clients later than usual-it has been a very busy fall. Most of our projects involve large spaces planted with tulips for spring. But we do have those people for whom we add a little of this and a little of that every year. No matter the scale of your garden, and the spaces you have available for spring flowering bulbs, taking the time to plant them is well worth the effort. When the winter breaks here in March, and the crocus come into bloom-that is a day I treasure. Both the Farmer’s Almanac and the National Weather Service is predicting a very cold and very snowy winter here. There is everything good about defending your gardening self with some spring flowering bulbs.
The spring flowering bulbs include tulips, daffodils, hyacinths, and a whole host of small flowering bulbs. Don’t forget the alliums, which will bloom in June. All of the nurseries local to me have bulbs available. It seems like preaching to the choir to be encouraging gardeners to plant spring bulbs, but I have my reasons. Planting bulbs is just about the least satisfying planting done in the garden all year. When it is cold, windy, and wet, you are out there burying brown blobs in the dirt. When you are finished planting, you have nothing to show for all the work. Even more discouraging is the fact that the show is months away. I wouldn’t say that bulb planting is particularly pleasant for gardeners-it takes effort in conditions that are usually less than ideal. But the rewards in the spring-enormously satisfying.
As difficult as it may be to generate excitement for a job with no immediate rewards, the pleasure to come is worth the wait. Each one of those brown orbs is loaded with the promise of the gardening season to come.
I plant a lot of bulbs in pots. I find this easier than trying to imagine where my perennial garden might need tulips, or where I planted daffodils last year. I do not force the bulbs I plant in containers. I bury them under a huge pile of leaves, or store them in the garage, and bring them out early in March. I want them to bloom at the same time that they are blooming in the garden. Pots of spring flowering bulbs can be placed on a front porch, or by the back door, or dropped into a container. I like that I can move them around.
This may seem counter intuitive, but bulbs in pots will rot if they freeze solid through and through. The temperature of the soil is always warmer than the air temperature-but bulbs in pots do not have the luxury of the protection of the ambient warmth of the ground. There are certain places in our shop garage that are good for storing planted pots of bulbs.
Spring flowering bulbs are programmed from the start to come up, throw leaves, and bloom. Very little gets in the way of the way of that. I have had good luck repotting spring bulbs already in bloom into different containers, providing I handle them carefully. We did these grape hyacinths in little pots with the bulbs exposed for an event.
Miniature daffodils handle life in a pot a liottle better that the large flowered varieties. If I do pot up big growing daffodils, I keep the soil level well below the rim of the pot. That rim helps to keep the flowers and leaves standing upright. If I do bring potted flowering bulbs indoors, I try to find a relatively cool spot for them. An ideal spring for bulbs in the ground depends on cool weather during the day, and chilly weather at night. Once the weather gets warm, spring bulbs will fade.
Keep America Beautiful is an organization which has been devoted to promoting the idea that a clean environment is a beautiful and healthy environment since 1953. The original group of business people and public figures had the idea to link the private and public sector in a campaign to stamp out littering. If you are any where near me in age, you will remember the public service announcements in the 1970′s featuring Chief Iron Eyes Cody and the tagline “People start pollution. People can stop it”. The Ad Council of America considers it one of the most successful public service campaigns ever mounted. It had to have been fairly successful-I still remember it vividly, some 40 years after the fact. I would sooner stuff my lunch trash in my own coat pocket than throw it on the ground. Their role in recent years has been to focus on the merits of recycling. Both technology and human ingenuity have helped to create ways to transform trash into products that can be reused.
Why am I talking about litter? We were downtown last week, decorating 50 planter boxes on Woodward Avenue that feature trees at the center. As the aluminum fencing around each box is about 18 inches tall, I suggested decorating each tree truck with corn shocks, and other decor that suggested fall. The result is a celebration of fall that can be seen from a car, or on foot. So what does this have to do with litter? The boxes themselves were littered. Lots of litter. I would guess that it takes an incredible amount of time and money to regularly clean them. Though there’s no need to litter, it happens.
While we were installing this fall display, a Detroit police officer pulled over to the curb near us, set off his siren, and turned on his lights. Yes, we were startled, and yes we watched. The officer called out to a man on the side walk who had just thoughtlessly dumped his lunch trash and plastic bottle on the sidewalk to pick up his mess, and put it in the trash barrel not 10 feet away. There was much discussion and lots of resistance, but the man finally picked up his mess and put it in the garbage can. I admire that officer who treated littering and polluting as a crime against the environment.
That officer let it be known loud and clear that he expects his city to be orderly, safe, friendly, busy, crime free-and clean. Pollution free-one trashy moment at a time. The incident made a big impression on me. Obviously clean cities happen via groups of concerned people who bring their influence to bear. Clean cities perhaps rely even more on those individuals who take the time and effort to protect the environment. It also occurs to me that a clean and litter free city has much to do with a collective sense of ownership, and stewardship. How can that pride of ownership and stewardship be fostered? One litter free block at a time. One clean day at a time. One proud person at a time.
We were hired to make a statement about fall in the downtown Detroit area. My thoughts regarding the design were as follows. I wanted to celebrate those trees on Woodward Avenue that managed to grow in a thoroughly urbanized city. I wanted to draw attention to the trees, and the planter boxes. I wanted to make anyone who rode or walked down Woodward to be engaged by what we did. I wanted to, for a brief moment, to draw attention to nature. My hope was that attention would foster respect.
I may not get my wish-this go round. If you are a gardener, you understand that it can take a lot of time to develop a garden, or a landscape. It can take more than a lifetime. As for a litter free America, it may take many generations. But I am happy to report that more people than not are informed and supportive of a clean, beautiful, and healthy America. Gardeners have for generations been interested in a clean and beautiful environment.
Gardeners have homes that they choose to keep beautiful and clean. Gardeners who move to another property have been stewards. My idea? I would encourage anyone and everyone to garden. Once you garden, you understand the treasure inviolate that is nature. Would that everyone would be a gardener.