Inconstant Gardener bursts upon the world…

You might ask: How can you start a gardening blog in October, for heaven’s sake?

forest with yellow autumn leaves on trees, and brown leaves covering the forest floor

“Forest with Autumn Leaves” by Image Catalog. Creative Commons License CC0 1.0

To which I say: Why do you think I call myself Inconstant Gardener? I was going to start the blog sooner, but I was too busy in August and September scrambling to finish the stuff I hadn’t gotten to in July. Or June. Or May. Or. . . but you get the idea.

At some point this past summer, must have been early July, I got the monthly e-newsletter from one of my local garden centers, all about the fun things you can do in July now that the big garden work is done. Kick back and relax. Fire up the grill. Have some margaritas on your deck and wave at the flowers as they nod their smiling heads back atcha.

To which I said (mentally): Ha. Ha. Ha.

It’s been busy!

Gardener Anthony kneels on lawn in front of shrubbery bed, hammer in right hand, installing strips of black landscape edging

Anthony sweats over the landscape edging job

Even with a part-time able garden helper doing most of the heavy work, we were still only halfway through weeding and edging and landscape cloth-ing and mulching all the beds around the perimeter of the yard and around the house. The crabgrass was wriggling in everywhere, like those soldiers you see in videos, training to squirm under barbed wire. A whole army of them. More than a few of the plants that had arrived in June were still waiting to go into the ground, and I could hear them gasping and groaning.

Come August, my late-season veggie garden plans blew to smithereens when a friendly local woodchuck moved in under the deck. That took care of the surfeit of parsley and basil. This rodent has such high-herbal tastes, he could be French. One day the parsley was burgeoning 18 inches high and I made plans to harvest a lot of it and turn it into parsley butter. Even put the herb-butter cube molds out on the counter. The next morning, as I watered the hibiscus (and noted worrisome inroads by rose slugs), I looked up at the herb bed above the stone wall and darned if that parsley wasn’t looking awfully short. At first I thought I’d misoverestimated its height, but then I realized that amongst the short leafy bits there were naked bare stalks, where the higher-rising fronds had been chomped off at woodchuck-chin elevation. The following day, the first basil plant in the row had been subjected to a brutal indiscriminate pruning. Or maybe I should say discriminate: all the tender aromatic tips were gone. I have named the interloper Tamerlane, because he lays waste to everything tasty in his path.

photo of woodchuck next to deck's edge, on stone wall and contemplating plants.

Tamerlane debates: the Blushing Turtle geranium or the French tarragon next?

Meanwhile, we were in near-drought, with temperatures in the 90s for a long stretch, and since my low-end but neatly distributed watering system turned out to have holes that turned it into a (single) geyser generator, I spent a lot of time outside watering and watching the crabgrass–and only the crabgrass–grow. 

Then we were on to September. Days getting shorter at an alarming pace, no more out-to-weed at 6am (not only is it dark; it’s cold). No more staying outside till 8:30pm to water; now the sun abandons ship by 6:30, and I have to leave the landscape to the mosquitos and earwigs and whatever just ate one of the new geraniums Rozanne, down to her little crown. (Those of you who know plants know that they have a funny habit of keeping their crowns at ground level rather than on their heads.) I was almost grateful for the early frosts that whacked us two nights running in mid-September, that “first frost” date that until now I’d been considering only theoretical. Down went zinnias, marigolds; the dogwood leaves are still wafting earthwards from that shock, so I find myself raking leaves out of the beds in order to get the rest of the plants in. Tamerlane may or may not find them tasty. I swear he’s been chomping the chives.

And now, fall descends

In many ways, I appreciate the fall gardening season even more than spring or summer. This year I haven’t succumbed to the siren call of fall bulbs. That was last year’s misstep, and I have not yet recovered from the trauma of planting tulips in November’s 40-degree (F) daytime temperatures. I just canceled the peony order (placed last April while supplies lasted), because–thanks to Tamerlane–all the veggie-herb-flower garden reconfiguration has to be rethought. But the weeds are slower; the few bloomers still a’blooming are spurts of pure joy, like the one reblooming iris that suddenly popped out with giant snowballs of flowers that I could see from my workroom window; and the bumblebees are still bobbing on the butterfly bush’s magenta lures.

Tiny aster plant covered with purple blossoms, with a tinier mushroom growing next to it

Mini-aster and mushroom sidekick, 30 Sept.

So it’s be-grateful-for-what-you-have season, wind-down-and-wait season. The garden centers are deluging me with offers of 15% off, 30% off, BOGO and by the way fall mums are in!!!–but I’m resisting. There’s enough still to do, and plenty to enjoy. I’m grateful for the Shasta daisy that decided to produce two modest blooms after being cut back, and the miniature asters are chugging out purple blossoms in such profusion I can no longer detect their foliage. They bring in every pollinator in the neighborhood, especially those fat bumblebees, and if it is possible to stagger while flying, those girls stagger away after drinking their fill of that potent aster joy juice.

I’m finding the garden a kind of joy juice for me, too, even when I’m just ripping out by their roots the spent basil plants the warthog—er, woodchuck–didn’t get to, or cutting the browned and brittle peony foliage down to the ground. I got that kind of charge late the other afternoon, and again the following morning and that evening, after too many days spent agonizing over the news, whether I read it or not. A million dead of Covid-19 worldwide, one-fifth of them here in the US; vigilante militias with guns, hopped up on lies masquerading as news on their algorithm-filtered social media; one scandal after another swallowed uncomplainingly by the party in power; horrendous unemployment, growing homelessness, spreading hunger, rampant racism and domestic violence; the unraveling of public behavior, with seemingly the entire national population living at the edge of flashpoint. Cleaning out the peony patch won’t solve any of that.

But it restores me, touching the earth does. I’m a lot smaller than the giant Antaeus of Greek myth, and not nearly as nasty, but the earth is my mother too. It’s all of ours. I wish we could remember that. Maybe we’d draw from it the strength of better kinship among all humans.

What’s your favorite part of fall in the garden?

Does time in a garden (working, or just sniffing and seeing) help you deal better with problems?

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19 Responses to Inconstant Gardener bursts upon the world…

  1. Laurie says:

    You had me at “inconstant”, that’s me. Looking forward to these blogs!

    • Kateri says:

      Welcome, Laurie! Inconstant in the garden or not, I hope you’ll pop in here constantly. To make it easier, you can sign up for the new-posts notifications (aka newsletter), using the little subscription box on the right side of each page.

      P.S. I see you signed up already, maybe just before I made the initial reply. I re-sent the email containing the link to confirm your subscription.

  2. Pingback: Reconstruction, garden variety | Inconstant Gardener

  3. Lisa Cavallaro says:

    Wonderful posts and looking forward to more of them. I’m with you this year – trying the leave it method for the first time. Except for the hostas. They will just turn into a soggy mess. Last year I forgot to dig up a morning glory vine and this year I had a glorious plant in it’s place. So, I am going to “forget” it again and see what happens.

    • Kateri says:

      Isn’t it wonderful when those little surprises pop up in the spring? My favorite self-seeders are the calendula (which unfortunately also are favored by bunnies and Tamerlane the groundhog) and balloon flowers. And then there are the narcissus I forgot I put in–or maybe they moved there all by themselves.

  4. Hillary Hutchinson says:

    I so enjoyed reading this. I can hear your voice and the humor shines through. Certainly agree that gardening is a great antidote to the news. As I remind myself (much more frequently than I used to do) that Gaia will survive, even if democracy and human beings do not. Thanks for posting about Tamarlane. Lovely to be reminded of history, too.

    • Kateri says:

      Thanks, Hillary. Wondering whether it’s even fall yet, in your garden.
      I suppose thinking of Tamerlane (the original) is a reminder that things could be worse.

  5. Wonderful blog! And I’m already getting educated…I had to look up Tamerlane!
    My favorite part of fall in the garden is the crunch of leaves and all the colors underfoot. And yes – spending time in the garden (which is sadly not often enough for me) – does take me away from life’s problems. It also takes me away from my phone! Thanks for the reminder to get out there and touch the earth more often. Look forward to more of your posts!

    • Kateri says:

      Thanks for visiting, Caroline! Should I maybe include a glossary page? I’m afraid I throw in some pretty arcane stuff at times. Comes of being a geek at an early age.
      And you remind me, time to stop tinkering here on the blog and get back out there to plant the last of the hakonechloa! (Japanese forest grass; another one for the glossary, perhaps.)
      Come back often!

  6. Emily Lackey says:

    Love this blog already! Especially that description of the crab grass. Can’t wait to read more!

  7. you know my prescription: get yerself a dawg and a huge quantity of cayenne!

    • Kateri says:

      Hey, Teague! Welcome to the blog.
      Cayenne is at the ready and has been in use some, but I can’t sprinkle absolutely everything in the beds. Dog is still an abstract notion, but I’m thinking of inviting some of the neighbors’ dogs to visit. Especially the ones that are the size of brown bears. Failing that, I suppose I could rent a bear costume and snuffle around the deck on all fours, barking ominously…

  8. Marya says:

    I love it so much! And there was just a woodchuck in my front yard. Luckily we have barred it from the garden.

    • Kateri says:

      Thanks, Marya!
      How deep is your garden fence buried? I’m planning, before I put in the raised beds for next year, to lay down chicken wire or something of the sort a foot below ground level (nearly two feet below top of raised beds)–covering both bottom and sides.

  9. Mary says:

    My fave part of fall gardening is pulling out the spent annuals, digging under the veggie garden and laying down organic compost to reinvigorate the soil for what will be next spring. Oh, and I’d get a trap for that groundhog. Before baby groundhogs also arrive. Send them into the woods and meadows beyond!

    • Kateri says:

      I suspect that Tamerlane would just follow me back home. But I will try. He’s just too greedy, and he refuses to eat the stuff I have too much of, like chard.

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