Sunday, October 17, 2010

Last Rose, First Cyclamen...Autumn Begins

Where has this year gone? I ask myself this question on a daily basis now that I'm in the process of putting the garden to bed. Planting bulbs, removing unruly plants, top dressing flower beds with compost and chicken get the idea.

When I was little, some of my favorite memories were with my Dad, out in the garden, doing all the things that I still do in the fall. Jack was in charge of the vegetable garden, an anomaly in the suburban neighborhood of my youth. We had a very productive raised bed that fed us for nine months a year, and fed our souls for all twelve. We would bring wheel barrels of compost and aged manure, spreading the"black gold" as he called it. This was never considered work, quite the contrary.

For my mother Marie and I, this was also fall bulb planting time. We would go over all the colorful catalogs, she letting me circle the things that I just couldn't live without. I went for oriental hybrid lillies-("Imperial Silver" was my favorite), while Marie preferred to add to our Narcissus collection that counted in the thousands for a decadent spring display. She liked the fact that they just kept getting better and better, turning our back garden where the Apple trees were, a sea of gold and white. I plant Daffodils and other narcissus with the same excitement...selecting wooded pathways for a secret garden awaiting discovery by a hapless me, forgetting that I had planted in a particular area of Hiddenfield farm. I love that, to be surprised by something I planted to surprise a stranger or friend taking a spring-time walk.

As we would work outdoors, my Dad Jack would take deep breaths and sing an old Irish song, "The Last Rose of Summer"- now he had a decent voice, but rarely sang, so I can still hear him in a clear tenor voice, bringing attention the the start of fall, and of course, those precious last blooms.

Now as many of you know, even in the autumn, life goes on as well as starts anew. I had always read about fall blooming Cyclamen, but had never planted any until I moved to my farm. Two types do especially well here, favoring the ground beneath deciduous Oak trees, nestling themselves and their big corms with the surface roots of the ancient trees.Cyclamen hederifolium and C. coum are special woodland plants that help a weary gardener rejoice in this crisp season. Silvered leaves contrast to the dull browns of the fallen leaves, and pale pink and white blossoms hover over the ground like butterflies that just escaped their cocoon.

I'm rather fond of other fall blooming genera, The Autumn Crocus, not a true Crocus but Colchicums instead, dazzle me with their purple and violet bloom. There are fantastic cultivars out there, but my frugality has me search out the unsold bulbs at a favorite garden center, when they go on sale! "Lilac Wonder" is an old stand by, but so much fun to watch it bloom with no soil or water, brightening a fall window sill. After this quiet miracle is over, a spot is selected beneath a deserving tree, where it will settle in and bloom for generations.Look for a variety called "Waterlily" a more apt name could not be found!

Bittersweet berries make their show, as do the many kinds of Aster and the Sages make a final splash of color in blue, violet and reds.  Grasses show that texture is the new reining king of the garden, just awaiting the first frost to sparkle and sway with the colder air pooling around. Sunflowers, just finishing their show, offer abundant food for all the birds.

I am ready to put the outdoor garden to bed, but it's nice that, even when it seems barren outside, if you look more closely,it never really ends...


  1. Brian, You write so beautifully! Just another on of your amazing talents. It's so heartwarming to read about Jack and Marie, they were always so welcoming and wonderful to me!
    XO Leigh

  2. Thanks Leigh, you were such a part of our childhood-Sheila was so lucky to have all of you, and I was lucky to be allowed in to "the red tent" so to speak!Your parents were amazing to me as well, supporting my visions and believing in me. :)