Here in Southern Manitoba, it’s amazing just how hot it gets in summer (47C/117F with humidity) compared to how cold it gets in winter (-50C/-58F). On those days when the temperature soars to astronomical heights, one dreams of just a taste of a cool, autumn breeze.
To conjure up the sensation of that breeze, we dream of autumn colour.
In The Olenick House gardens, seasonal colour is planned for, the season before. Seeds are chosen, late-season perennials are coming into full form and while enjoying fruits of our summer planning labour, we dream of autumn golds, burgundies and fading greens.
Seeds for next season’s sowing are also harvested during this time, such as marigold seeds collected from spent blooms around the tomatoes, tri-color convolvulus seeds for hanging baskets and container combinations as well as nasturtium and milkweed seeds to grow blooms for the bees and butterflies to feast on, in the new year. The seeds for these are relatively easy to locate and harvest for saving. Others take a bit more patience, like those of petunias or lavender. But every puzzle has a solution and it can be done. Once seeds from flowers and vegetables are harvested, the remaining spent foliage, roots removed, are added to the compost heap to contribute to the health and well-being of future plants. It all comes full circle, eventually.
Images of traditional favourites are the first to waft through the mind’s eye. Fields of sunflowers, gently swaying to the rhythm of the dance between solstice and equinox, elegant banks of chrysanthemums blooming in every colour found in a rising and setting sun and of course, pops of happy yellow and orange marigolds, giving every effort to prolong the waning light.
Autumn is our last opportunity to enjoy nature and the outdoors before there isn’t a speck of green in sight for 6 long months. We often dine outside on the terrace, giving Darren the opportunity to inspect his beloved berry bushes and pull any weeds that might be obscuring their brilliance. Time is spent in the swing with a good book and a cup of tea. I often find that bird song and the breeze through the trees are the perfect background soundtrack to flipping through my latest gardening, cooking or design periodical.
Propagation is also a popular activity in our home at this time, in addition to collecting seeds from our lavender border, we also take cuttings which can then be rooted with a dot of rooting hormone. I prefer to use something more organic for this purpose though. For us, apple cider vinegar serves this purpose well and is much easier on the plant as well as the environment. I also apply this technique to our chrysanthemums. We currently have four large, plants that send out beautiful blooms in a deep, burnt orange color with streaks of yellow.
When I first moved up here to be with Darren, knowing autumn is my favourite season, he presented me with a small token to honor that, a humble 4″ pot of this mum. In order to prolong this very sweet gesture, I propagated this plant, following the above process, and every year, the expanse of his thoughtfulness is displayed along our front borders. Recently, we added to this display by adding purple ones. The production of blooms on these plants is triggered within when the plant senses the days becoming shorter. In order to get the plants to bloom at a specific time of year, I simply begin to cover them around 5pm at the beginning of August, to simulate shorter days, and voila!
Bulb and perennial foliage is pruned back after their energy has returned to the roots for the winter. The Tiger lily bed is getting a bit over-crowded, as is evident by the plants spreading and growing out from the foundation. Bulbs tend to replicate themselves fairly abundantly in a healthy bed, I will need to address that issue come spring. We also save the pruning of our various trees and berry bushes for early spring. This practice allows their sheer mass to protect them and ensure survival during the long periods of plummeting temperatures.
Over the course of the last days of summer, the bird feeders and baths continue to be filled, but the garden decor is slowly removed, pieces at a time and stored until once again the darkness has passed. Three copper sculptures, each representing a stage of the rising sun, that shine perched on a garden fence, are carefully packed away in the gardening section of our basement, as is the patinated owl that keeps watch over our crops, warning approaching birds and other critters looking for a snack of impending consequences. The hammock, swing, umbrella and dining set are also but to bed for the season.
What remains is an autumnal canvas of trees that appear deeper into their seasonal metamorphosis every morning, providing an elegant frame for viewing the various perennials and annuals that are slowly coming into their own. By removing the garden decor, the process of storing it all accomplished, we are now able to relax and enjoy the gradually decreasing temperatures and this brilliant show.
Throw blankets are brought into our living areas and we find ourselves lighting the fire a bit more frequently, gazing out the picture window with a hot mug in hand, to embrace the autumn colour.