Signs of Autumn

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There are signs of autumn everywhere in the garden.  Never mind that it went over 90F here today.  As the days grow shorter, plants have a sense of the change of season and respond.  This is one of the great mysteries entertained by those of us who live in gardens.

Of course, leaves began to turn and drop in early August from our searing drought.  But now, even plants I’ve kept well-watered have joined in. Most of our Japanese painted ferns have dropped fronds now, modestly disappearing from the bed as leaves of Italian Arum begin to emerge.

Why is that?  How do they know it is time to rest?

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Oakleaf Hydrangea

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Some dogwoods and maple trees sport reddish leaves now.  It makes for pretty sightseeing on a drive.  The Aralia seed heads have been purple for weeks.  Even perennials, like our milkweed, have turned yellow and dropped most of their leaves.

As spring unfolds over many months here in Williamsburg, so too, does autumn.  And autumn leaves me feeling a bit melancholy and nostalgic.

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Although my birthday comes each spring, I never really feel that year older until fall creeps across the garden.   My steps slow a bit;  my enthusiasm wanes a little, too.  I’m ready to settle and just ‘let things be’ for awhile.

I look around and see that our garden is entering its final acts of the year, preparing for a few months of rest .  I suppose that like naps, a few months of rest allows the garden, and us, to store up the vibrant energy we need to greet another spring.

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Aralia spinosa with pokeweed

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Even so, there are still a few perennials and herbs just coming into bloom.  The Mexican sage is in bud, and goldenrods are just opening.  The pineapple sage is covering itself in scarlet flowers now, and tender fresh leaves have emerged on some of our spring bulbs.

I could try to fool myself that this is a ‘second spring;’ the preponderance of the evidence says otherwise.

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Pineapple Sage

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We are swiftly entering back into restful darkness, now that the autumn equinox has passed.  I feel it most in the evenings, when it’s noticeably dark earlier each evening.

I go for a walk, and darkness has gathered before I return.  A thin sliver of moon mocks me, nestled in its soft, moist cloudy cloak.

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Mexican bush sage

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I’m beginning to catalog the autumn chores ahead, and doing the math to decide how much time I have to procrastinate before lifting tubers, carrying pots indoors, and starting the round of fall planting.    I have flats of little shrubs stashed behind the house, waiting for autumn’s cool and damp.  I’ve ordered daffodils and more Arum, and will soon buy Violas for winter pots.

I expect at least another month of frost-free days and nights; maybe another six or seven weeks, if we’re lucky.  Today it felt like summer.  The sun was intense, the air humid and dense.

Hurricane Maria still swirls off of our coast, though far enough away that we had no rain and only a little wind.  We were glad it stayed away.

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Goldenrod coming into bloom

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And yet, I see the signs of autumn everywhere in the garden.  Huge spiders spin their webs on the deck.   Monarchs as large as birds visit our baskets of Lantana, floating above the garden in their vivid orange finery.

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  Goldfinches swoop and dive, stopping to snack on ripe seeds on the Rose of Sharon shrubs.    Their bare branches and yellow leaves make the message clear:  “Get ready.  Change is in the air.”

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Crape Myrtle with its last flowers of the year, just as its leaves begin to turn orange and red.

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Woodland Gnome 2017

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About woodlandgnome

Lifelong teacher and gardener.

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