Hello, Winter; Good-bye, Autumn

– Posted in: About this site, Colchicums, Design, Garden chores, Weather

This is what greeted my eyes Friday (Nov. 3) morning: the first snow this season that remained on the ground instead of melting on contact. After the freak snowstorms in Buffalo and elsewhere, it’s rather yawn-inspiring, I know, but it does help one turn one’s face like flint toward the coming storms. No more remaining in denial, telling myself surely there will be a few more good days to get my yard-long “things left to do” list whittled down to size.
First sticking snow of the season
I’m standing on the porch, but the photo above is what I see through the kitchen door. We’re looking south onto the main play area for the family. This is about as level as it gets around here–and it is uncommonly uncluttered. The hundred-foot driveway runs along the house, and further to the left of the big clumps of uh, not-yet-cut-down perennials, the driveway turns into a parking area. By the way, we don’t own this entire expanse of cropped meadow. There is a conifer partially obscuring the house across the street, which is planted pretty close to the corner of our property, so some of the lawn you see here belongs to the neighbors.

Turning to my right, I look to the western hillside.
First snow, looking west
See that orange-looking clump at the far right? That’s a stand of larch trees (Larix laricina), also known as tamarack. They are a kind of conifer that is not evergreen. Their needles turn this glowing color and then all fall off. They grow in full sun, in areas that are moist to wet, so we can guess that the soil is poorly draining where they grow naturally. You may have noticed that the hillside is bathed in sunshine, while it is rather gloomy around the house.
First snow looking east
That’s because we live in a valley, and at approximately 8 o’clock in the morning, the sun is just coming over the ridge.

Zoey is always complaining about garden bloggers not showing the big picture–images of the garden as a whole. Most of the time, the long views of my garden are filled with the detritus of childhood: play equipment large and small, the odd mudpie making operation, plus a lot of things that look like junk to everyone else, but are a crucial part of the latest “make-believe” game on the part of the little people. I am just about blind to most of it, except when taking photos. Since we had just finished fall clean-up, the landscape was relatively uncluttered, and some relatively uncluttered photos were possible, though I couldn’t resist a little cropping.

About the Author

Kathy Purdy is a colchicum evangelist, converting unsuspecting gardeners into colchicophiles. She would be delighted to speak to your group about colchicums or other gardening topics. Kathy’s been writing since 4th grade, gardening since high school, and blogging since 2002.

If winter is slumber and spring is birth, and summer is life, then autumn rounds out to be reflection. It’s a time of year when the leaves are down and the harvest is in and the perennials are gone. Mother Earth just closed up the drapes on another year and it’s time to reflect on what’s come before.

~Mitchell Burgess in Northern Exposure

Comments on this entry are closed.

Wanda B. Ferguson November 9, 2006, 11:41 am

Well, I’ve had the same experience you had with my book review–I just spent an hour answering your question about the quote I gave in my last “comment,” and when I hit “Submit Comment” my computer went blank!!! Scary!

Okay, here goes again. The quote from “Adversity” was by Juliet Jaffray Hubbs & Nora Monaco, ISBN 0-9631714-1-0, now out of print as far as I can find out.

I put the verse to memory because it so reminded me of my great grandmother, the no-nonsence lady who raised me. When I became totally depressed as a teenager, she hugged me and said “There is no perfect life. You play the hand you have been dealt, step carefully over traps set to snare you, and take advantage of any life-affirming opportunities that may come you way. And remember–opportunity may knock, but you still have to get up the courage to open that door.”

A life lesson that I have held to!

Every garden is a microclimate. Here’s some of my thoughts on late fall’s chores; mulching, pruning/cutting back of perennials and shrubs in areas that receive heavy snowfall.

I cut back all perennials that die back to ground level. Flowering shrubs such as potentilla and Rugosa are pruned back by a third. Years when I haven’t gotten to this chore, they would be so damaged by spring that drastic pruning would be necessary. They have always rebounded beautifully from this, however.

I don’t cut back asparagus ferns because our fall season is not long enough that the ferns have time to brown naturally. I do, however, cut out the female fronds with the red berries attached so they won’t seed new plants on top of my deeply set original planting, and thus eventually suffocat the original plants. An asparagus planting will give phenomenal yields for at least 20 years if well maintained.

I leave the highbush blueberries to fend for themselves during winter and prune out broken or dead branches that show no sign of life in spring.

For protection of more fragile plantings such as strawberries, or a newly planted blub bed, I wait until the ground has frozen about a half-inch or so, then cover the planting with snow catchers (spruce and fir boughs). This keeps the ground from thawing and re-freezing which often heaves the plants out of the ground, damaging them or killing them outright. It works even better if an inch or so of snow has fallen before you lay the boughs over the planting.

When my lilac trees need maintenance, I prune out inward facing new branches, dead and very old branches, but this has to be done right after the current years bloom has ended, not in autumn, as next spring’s blooms form in summer. Here’s a tip worth noting. To maximize the following year’s bloom, cut off all the current year’s faded flowers before they make seed. This allows the plant to put all its energy into forming new buds instead of seedheads.

Annie in Austin November 9, 2006, 11:11 am

Hi Kathy – it’s possible that Nietzsche said it first, but I learned that line from Olympia Dukakis in “Steel Magnolias”.

Hi Craig,
In Illinois I had a front garden that faced NW, and learned to cut most things to 8-12 inches. That garden was windswept, so left too tall meant the plants could get ripped out or crack; cut too short and the leaves, mulch or snow cover would just blow away.

In TX a lot of the plants like Salvias and Cupheas seem to do better if you cut them back in early spring.


Kathy Purdy November 8, 2006, 6:56 pm

Wanda, I always thought “that which does not kill you makes you strong” was military recruiting propaganda, Marines, I think. I would be very interested in knowing who wrote the passage you are referring to, if you know.

Craig, I would never, ever, roll my eyes at someone wanting or needing to get a bit more done in their garden. I don’t have plants to get in the ground but the weeding is a big thing needing to get done–but probably won’t. Right now I am nursing sore back muscles and the ligaments in my left elbow are sore as well. Pulling weeds and using the pruners are the last thing I should be doing, and every time I decide I can do “just a little bit” it’s out with the ice packs again.

I am with you on the reasons not to cut back, except I have decided the phlox etc. right out the kitchen door looks progressively more depressing with every snowfall, and it’s best to cut it now. Also I cut back any border showing signs of vole tunneling. No sense making it any easier for them. So we are expecting mild weather tomorrow, too, and I am hoping to get some kids out there to have my fun for me, except they won’t think it’s fun when they do it.

Craig Levy November 8, 2006, 4:28 pm

I had the same experience as you. A few days of flurries, a netting of snow lasting overnight, and melting by the following day’s afternoon. It hasn’t felt that cold yet, just in-between, so I refuse to wear anything heavier than a sweatshirt.

I can feel Kathy rolling her eyes when I say I have a few more perennials to plant. There’s still mulching and weeding to attend to and this week’s weather will make it possible. It’s raining today but may reach to the high 50s or low 60s tomorrow and Friday. I don’t know if anyone’s calling it an Indian summer but I like the unexpected break.

Except for perennials such as Hostas and their slimy mess, Hemerocallis, and a few grasses, I wait until spring to cut back my plants. I leave them alone in the fall because: 1) I want them to reseed 2) Planting and cutting wood have a higher priority 3) They give me something to look at during long winters 4) There is plenty of time in the spring, about a month, between snow melt and turning the soil when I can’t do much of anything else and still want to be outside working.

I’m glad you talked about Larix. I inherited 3 big ones and feel lucky they are here, quickly becoming one of my favorite trees. I think they’re special and like to look for them when I’m out driving. You should add Metasequoia (Dawn Redwood) and Taxodium (Bald Cypress) to the list of deciduous coniferous trees although neither is as hardy as Larix.

I agree with Zoey and like the full landscape pictures too. It gives me a better sense of place, scale, and the environment you’re growing in. It also gives me a basis for comparison. My valley is narrower but the bottom is flatter and the hills are steeper. You have beautiful views to enjoy. Thanks for sharing them.

Wanda B. Ferguson November 8, 2006, 3:39 pm

It’s may be surprising to hear an avid gardener say I LOVE winter, but I surely do. The wood piles are stacked high, the root cellar and my freezers are full, and we are hunkered down like the forest animals, all tucked in, warm and cozy. It’s the period between leaf-drop and snow-fall that I don’t care for; the frozen soil makes me stumble, sounds in the forest are harsh and a bit unsetteling, and I can’t wait for snow to soften the landscape with a deep blanket of white.
Here in the mountains of Maine, winter is long, but when I think of winter, I think of this much-loved passage from the text of “Adversity”
“All souls pass through the seasons of life. Winter is often thought of as adversity. But after winter comes spring with all its newness, so honor the winter, look for the spring, and know that which does not kill you makes you strong.

Kathy Purdy November 8, 2006, 9:12 am

Kerri–It sounds like whatever weather they had in Hamburg, we got a day later. I know you live in an equally attractive area, and seeing photos of your “neighborhood” inspired me to show more of mine.

kerri November 7, 2006, 1:07 pm

It snowed in Hamburg (below Buffalo) quite heavily (wet snow) on Thursday afternoon and kept people away from the craft show I was working at. Sunday however, the temps were mild. I wished I was home gardening. It’s nice to see some views from your porch. It’s a pretty area you live in.
I enjoyed the warmer temps yesterday, but had to work. You’re right…we’re running out of opportunities for good weather, and I still have much to do!

Kathy Purdy November 7, 2006, 10:43 am

Thank you for stopping by, pmo3ws. I try to remember there is beauty and aggravation in every season. A bowl of stew is more pleasurable on a winter day than a humid July evening when it is still above 90F.

pmo3ws November 7, 2006, 7:01 am

Your surroundings are beautiful! Here in Illinois we are saying goodbye to autumn also. I really hate to see it go. They are calling this week Indian summer for us. I really hate that because that means really cold weather soon!! Glad I stopped by.

Kathy Purdy November 6, 2006, 8:35 pm

It is funny, OldRoses, how much neighbor spacing depends on what you are used to. When my husband, who grew up in the country, first moved here with the rest of the family, he complained about the houses being so close together. In his opinion, if you can see your neighbors, you’re not living in the country. My grandmother, who lived most of her adult life in the suburbs of Long Island, with a population density similar to your neighborhood, claimed that it would bother her to live in a house where the neighbors were so far away.

The snow, of course, melted the same day. Today it was in the fifties and I did a little more tidying up. But from now on we can’t count on anymore “good” weather. Every nice day is a bonus.

Oldroses November 6, 2006, 8:18 pm

You are so fortunate to have so much space between you and your neighbors. In my neighborhood, the houses are literally separated by the width of a driveway. I keep the shade closed in my bedroom because when the neighbors pull into their driveway, they can look directly into my bedroom. I don’t, however, envy you the snow. It’s still warm here and I’m still planting bulbs.

Kathy Purdy November 6, 2006, 12:54 pm

And I’m looking forward to seeing your narcissus in bloom.

M Sinclair Stevens (Texas) November 6, 2006, 10:51 am

This never fails to impress me. I’m still waiting (rather impatiently as I’d like some sun for the garden) for the leaves to fall. Forecast this week–sunny and mid-80s.

Kathy Purdy November 6, 2006, 7:32 am

Julie, your Human Flower Project is always a fascinating read. However, I don’t care for the smell of chrysanthemums and am not sure I would enjoy a whole green house of them. The photo looks pretty, though. Thanks for stopping by.

Julie November 5, 2006, 11:36 am

Dear Kathy,

Thought you might enjoy this Canadian reply to winter’s “Hello.”

Thanks for all you do,