Given that I took this picture September 24, why wouldn’t I be unprepared for the weather here this past week? Just three weeks ago, I still had my summer. Though describing any Michigan weather as “ordinary” is glossing over the truth, our weather ordinarily cools off at a slow enough pace to make keeping up with the job of putting the garden to sleep relatively easy. My fall cleanup and shovelling out is based on the distinction I draw between gardening, and housekeeping.
I have seen those properties that look as though every shred of organic debris has been blown, vacuumed up and disposed of weekly; anyone who has inadvertently turned a blower on themselves realize what an invasion they are. Every green leaf looks dusted; every surface has been swept, every shred or organic debris is bagged and removed. The stone is scrubbed clean, and the cushions are only on the furniture when company is in attendance. I like the look of cultivated soil as well as the next person, but all of the above is housekeeping, not gardening. Years ago a gardener whom I greatly respect, Marge Alpern, told me she disturbed her plants as little as possible. She maintained that plants can be worried such that they refuse to prosper. I think this is a point well taken. I will not take on the perennial gardens until much later in the fall.
A series of nights with temperatures hovering in the mid thirties left my pots looking like this-devastated. It does not matter one bit that I know this day is coming, I am never ready for it, nor do I like it. I do not like to let go. On a much more dramatic scale than the time changing to daylight savings, I adjust slowly, and poorly.
Coleus are astonishingly intolerant of cold weather. Anyone who does poorly with them is probably planting them out too early; every plant thrives in some conditions, and sulks in all else. This five foot diameter fiery orange ball was glorious all season; in late August the corgis were breaking off the branches encroaching on the doorway. They keep the extreme understory clear of any obstructions.
In what seemed like the blink of an eye my fireball shed almost every leaf. Unlike the gingko tree which sheds every leaf on that certain perfect fall day, leaving a beautiful pool of yellow on the ground, the coleus leaves dessicate, drop, and disappear before you can even mourn properly.
My English-made Italian style pots were home to the biggest bouquet I have ever grown. The nicotiana mutabilis got busy throwing spikes in September, and the dahlias were blooming profusely. I like that extravagant and exuberant look. No matter how the day had gone, I could go home and congratulate myself on having grown one of the annual wonders of the western world. You may be laughing, but how the look of it pleased and cheered me.
Though the nicotiana mutabilis is yet bravely defending its home, the cold pierced the heart of the whole. Buck is always amazed and amused and the depth and breadth of the despair which attends the beginning of the end of my gardening year. I alternately rage and whine-he murmurs, and pours the wine.
This sister to my pots, adapted for use as a fountain, bears all the signs of a season’s worth of mineral laden water, weather,heat and growth. Does that gorgeous Italianate face not seem completely grief stricken?
It will no doubt take time, but I will get to thinking about what I will do with these pots for the holidays, and the winter. But for the moment, I am inconsolable.