Autumn and change

I planted a stand of Gaillardia this year at the front of a large bed of oriental poppies. They began blooming as the poppies died in early summer, and continued blossoming until hard frosts. Lewis and Clark collected a species of gaillardia (Gaillardia aristata) in Montana in 1806.

One could argue against autumn, trying to get imaginary opponents to see that the world was once warmer, the sun brighter, and the whole garden fragrant with lilacs then peonies then lilies. There’s pleasure in judging–in seeing that some present circumstance does not meet some standard we have learned. In the decay and dreary rain of November, the remembered delights of easy summer nights entice us to name the doom that descends as nightfall on the many-pleasured peace just past.

To be sane, we also know the delights of getting things ready. My pump is stored, tools gathered, the massive leaf fall of cottonwood and willow raked and moved to mulch the most tender roses and smother the weeds in borders and beds. Apple branches broken by the bears that come each year when the fruit is ripe have been sawed and piled in the meadow, where a New Year’s Eve bonfire may bring the pleasure in being toasty and warm outside on a cold winter night.

As temperatures cooled and the sun dropped in the southern sky, trees moved nitrogen, magnesium and phosphates from leaves to the bark. Then the hormones auxin followed by ethylene triggered the leaves, stripped of nutrients and no longer photosynthesizing, to drop.  The tree monitors the cold, tracking interactions between proteins until time and cold have lasted long enough and new buds begin to form new leaves.

Late autumn is the best time for making some major changes in the garden. Besides planting hundreds of new bulbs–this year mainly deer-resistant daffodils, white and fragrant–one November chore was moving tree peonies that have never bloomed, most likely because they don’t get enough sunshine. Tree peonies don’t like to be moved. They develop, slowly, extensive root systems, and to preserve as much of that as possible, it’s best to wait till the plants are dormant and  then to begin digging at some distance from the main stems, to expose and loosen as much of the root as possible.

Making dramatic changes when things are flourishing and bursting with life may not work. But autumn is a time to see and act on possibilities.