October surprises (in the garden)

Rainy days

It’s been raining this week. Oh my, how it rained on Wednesday! And it’s here again today, Friday.

Colorful oil-crayon drawing of autumn scene: apple tree with some bare branches and some still with leaves, standing amid tall grasses in yellows, greens, reds, and pink, with a green hill and gray cloudy sky in background

“Mt. Norwottuck and Apple Tree,” (unhay’d)” Mt. Pollux, Amherst. 15 X 22″. oil crayon Ritz

Two days ago, cars whipped past on the road outside my workroom window, throwing up sheets of spray in artistic arcs. The birds and the bunny went into hiding. The raindrops were huge. I could tell because they splattered up in gouts when they hit the glass-topped table on the deck. When it was all done, I stepped outside to check the rain gauge.

Sometimes, the rain disappoints. All this past summer, whatever I thought a major downpour turned out to leave only a sliver of an inch in that glass tube. But on Wednesday, when it started, I had hopes–not fond in the original foolish sense–of finding an inch or more measured by the time it stopped. By midday, the rain had already undoubtedly washed off the cayenne powder protecting the ravaged sedum from Brer Rabbit–or, judging by the progressive ravaging, adding to the excitement in his menu. I knew I wouldn’t have to water again any day soon.

Clear glass rain gauge in a planter, with water up to the 2-inch mark

We got two inches!

We got two inches, said the gauge. And after a glorious nearly-summer day yesterday dried up some of that, I expect to find at least an inch more recorded in the next 24 hours. (Note after the fact: we got just a smidgin under 2.5 inches, and I have a photo to prove it. But let’s not overdo it.)

The new Japanese forest grasses (aka hakonechloa) and the cardinal flowers I just put into their new berths won’t need my ministrations, barring some sprinkles of cayenne-just-in-case. The ground will be plump and moist wherever I figure out to place the new coneflowers that arrived Thursday.

Coneflowers? What coneflowers?

I know, I know. I promised I wouldn’t buy any more plants. But they were on sale, and I’d already resisted the siren call of five other sales, day after day after day. Isn’t there a rule that you get to buy after you resist five times? I followed the rule of six: buy one for each time you resist, and then add one to qualify for the free shipping.

And I can plead inevitability. I tried to cancel the order after I made it. I placed it last Friday morning, I went off to do a bunch of other things, and by 4:40pm I suffered such remorse that I called the store’s number six times (once for each plant) and got only their voicemail, even though they claimed to be open till 5pm. So it was kismet. The store reopened on Monday morning and dispatched the plants immediately. No fools, they.

I know: you do not approve. But I am resigned.

Coneflowers in quart pots waiting for replanting; some in flower with yellow or orange-red petals; lawn, hemlocks in medium background, fields, woods, and cloudy grey sky in distant background.

The coneflowers line up to wait their turn

It is the season of resignation in the garden. Tasks cry to be done, and I’ll do what I can (thank you, rain; not today!). For the rest, there is next year. Next spring, when the snow melts and green or even red (talking peony here) shoots venture up, I can have another go at it. The coneflowers will get planted this weekend, though I’m not quite sure where, and they will come up in the spring. These are tough little babies. And I can move them next year.

Maybe this is part of the garden’s charm. It’s so malleable. It doesn’t always shape up the way you hoped, but you can keep trying new stuff. You don’t get infinite possibilities. No way will I be relocating the 70-year-old sugar maple out front, even if the power company frowns on, and lops off, its street-facing branches.

photo of narrow strip of garden plot with stone edging at right, a couple of herb plants in right foreground, low fenced-in area running vertically up the photo, with only one plant in it; tarp-covered ground on left side of photo; miscellaneous shrubs in background behind fence and tarps.

Veggie-herb bed, ready (almost) for the big overhaul

I think of the older trees as the garden’s skeleton. The soil hosts the internal organs. But I get to tone, shape, and bulk up the muscles (think, shrubs and small trees) and between us, the garden and I try out whole wardrobes of seasonal clothes. I’m still working on that, and have yet to earn enough chops to qualify to accessorize. A big reconfiguration of the veggie-herb bed looms this month, major muscle work in all respects.

And I wish I could postpone those coneflowers. But ain’t that the problem with impulse buying? Now that I’ve bought yet another shirt, where is the closet space, and what do I wear it with?

I try to find the moral here. Usually, I can find a moral in the garden. But since it’s raining, I’m indoors and the moral is washing away outside, along with the cayenne.

Picture of a list of tasks taped to a large roadmap on wall, next to a novelty light fixture with Route 66 roadsign and old-fashioned wood-sided station wagon at bottom

“Checklist” by Marcin Wichary (CC BY 2.0 license)

What’s left is anticipation, with clock ticking. So many plants still to go in. Checklist lengthening: rip out the fencing around the old veggie-herb patch, install raised beds, put the final strip of edging in somewhere, get mulch onto garden beds, place pebble paths, clear brush from driveway to ___(???where oh where???), get rid of garden refuse bags. And we’re halfway to November.

But maybe the garden is the most comforting distraction. We all (in the U.S., at least) know what happens in November, right? Frost country or not, there’s an election coming, and I’m tensed in anticipation. My ballot has already gone in–easier than coneflowers!–and I confirmed its acceptance online. Now I can only wait. I keep checking the latest polls more anxiously than I consult the rain gauge.

I know the garden will have spring, and new life, after the winter. Will we?

Your turn now. Please leave a comment, on whatever you’re inspired to say in response to this post, or pick a question:

  1. What fall garden task do you suspect you’re not going to get to?
  2. (if you’re a US citizen) Did you vote yet? How was the experience? If you didn’t vote yet, do you have a plan to do so?
  3. Mulled cider, or mulled wine?
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2 Responses to October surprises (in the garden)

  1. Great post! And i hope these are the only October surprises we are faced with….Now, to your questions:
    1. I’m afraid “season of resignation” pretty much describes my entire gardening life. So, I have no tasks lined up, and hence nothing I won’t get to (ok, i probably won’t rake the leaves I said I will…)
    2. I have not voted yet. I have this ritualistic need to vote on election day. It’s one of the few times in my year that I actually follow established ritual and protocol, so I enjoy it. I did send letters to voters and donate here and there, and will keep up whatever I can.
    3. Mulled wine will always win over cider for me, though at the moment I’m sticking to peppermint tea to stay focused. Ha!

    • Kateri says:

      Well, if you’re voting on election day, the lines shouldn’t be too long, with all the early voters and mail-in voters out of the way. I hope you have beautiful weather for it. I love the notion of no to-do list meaning you don’t have to get to stuff. I should try that!

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