I wouldn’t complain if we got a bit of rain, but October has been magical this year. Sunny warm days, cool nights and glowing foliage with the sun rise. This is what I’ve been looking at early mornings as I sip my coffee in the dining room.
In the wee hours of yesterday morning a wave of frost rolled over the field and gardens closest to the house. I had, perhaps instinctively, cut and brought in for drying all the sweet and Thai basil the day before so no loss there. Hardest hit were the Canna Lilies, cantaloupe, zinnias and, sadly, my overgrown jungle of Amethyst Jewel cherry tomatoes.
Wanna know what happens when you try to pull a cherry tomato plant after frost?
The tomatoes fall. With the lightest touch, they fall like marble size pieces of purple hail. And, I discovered, they make a nice ‘pop’ when you happen to step on any that land in the grass on its way to the wheelbarrow and compost pile.
Here is a portion of my frost touched cherry tomato bed, glowing in this morning’s light.
One of the garden chores I get a lot of satisfaction from is the annual compost screening. Usually I’ll wade into the compost a few times every month to turn it over, aerate it, help the insects and microbes do their decomposition bit. This year; however, nature had other plans – I’ve posted previously how pie pumpkin seeds from last year germinated and basically took over. This indicated two things: the pile didn’t get hot enough to kill the seeds, and, whatever was happening within that pile of kitchen scraps, leaves and garden clippings had created a really nutritious growing medium!
I harvested the pumpkins a few weeks ago (had to make Thanksgiving pies!) and it was time to see what was there. I’ve had for many years a compost screen that fits nicely over a wheelbarrow – it’s easy to build with two-by-fours (or should that be written as 2×4’s?) and wire screening from a building supply store. I shovel three or four scoops from the pile onto the screen then swipe a trowel through it several times, which sends the decomposed material into the wheelbarrow. What’s left gets dumped onto this year’s pile for further composting.
After a few hour’s work I’m left with an empty slot ready for next year, a growing pile of this year’s raw material being transformed and a nice pile of rough, crumbly compost, ready for top dressing beds or adding to bulb planting holes!
One of my favourite gardening activities isn’t actually an activity – it’s just standing (or squatting or sitting) in the midst of it all, day-dreaming about what it will look like next year. Or three years from now. I enjoy this (non) activity so much that when a neighbour had a large spruce cut down this summer and offered me pieces of the trunk I gladly accepted; not for firewood but to create perching stools.
These log chunks are now scattered around the property – waiting for me to do some sanding and sealing next year and then to be perched upon.
Although I’ve been known to stand around day-dreaming about the garden at any time of the year, October is possibly about the best time to do it. I do a lot of planting in October and standing for a spell helps relieve my aching back. Also, of course, October is bulb planting month.
As I make my way around the various garden beds, basket of bulbs and planting tools in hand, I like to stop and envision what the bed will look like next spring. How I can enhance one micro garden to complement the whole.
Along with a shovel (for digging large holes for the larger bulbs) and my trusty trowel, I have a new favourite bulb planting tool this year. It’s called a Cobrahead, (aka the aptly titled Steel Fingernail) and is marketed as a ‘weeder and cultivator.’ I’ve been using it to plant smaller bulbs – Fritillaria meleagris, Crocus, Chianodoxa – by pulling it through my rocky, clay soil to create a furrow the perfect depth for planting.
One of the micro gardens I’ve been thinking about all year is a small semi-circular area behind a short Caryopteris hedge that screens the side patio from the house. It’s an important area because it’s the first thing you see looking out the dining room window but for the past two years it’s been unimpressive. I scattered Lupin seeds there last fall and they germinated but remained small this year. I planted Snapdragons there last year and this year and although they’re one of my favourite annuals they didn’t make the statement that’s really necessary for this location.
I decided last spring that Allium ‘Purple Sensation’ would make that statement and planted a few dozen earlier this week – adding Chianodoxa near the top of each planting hole to extend the spring blooming season.
I wanted to keep the Lupin seedlings that have been slowly growing there so dug them out first and made an interesting discovery:
Lupin have a tap root, just like a dandelion or carrot – long and tapered, with many fine hairs coming off it. So all summer, while producing little growth above ground, extraordinarily long roots have been developing underground.
I replanted the Lupin I had to remove to plant bulbs and hopefully they’ll survive.
Now, when I look out the window, I have an image of blue Chianodoxa followed by purple Allium followed by purple or pink Lupin. I’ll let you know next June if my day-dream becomes reality!
I was amazed this year when three volunteer tomato seedlings quickly took over a pretty big micro garden. Last year this area was home to large artichoke plants. This year I changed it up and planted Canna lilies, a hardy Hibiscus, rhubarb, a few asparagus roots and a row of purple beans in front.
Then up popped these tomatoes – brought in with the compost or by a hungry chipmunk the previous year. They are a heritage variety of cherry tomato – Amethyst Jewel – which I started from seed and planted in 2016. The fruit starts out the most beautiful dark purple, almost black, then ripens into a pale orange.
To say it’s a vigourous grower is an understatement – the three plants took over the entire area, layer after layer of tomato stems two to three feet deep. The size and lushness of the vegetation is so out of scale with the size of the fruit you need to get in close before, gradually, spotting the hundreds and hundreds of purple fruit just waiting for a few more warm sunny days to ripen.
And fall to the ground.
And sprout next year.
This time last year we had already had our first frost – not unusual around here – but this year, summer started late and it’s just now starting to cool down. Today’s high is 11 but the next two weeks, if you believe the forecast, will be in the high teens and low twenties. With overnight temperatures nowhere near frost warning levels.
Even so, and swarms of Monarch butterflies notwithstanding, autumn is upon us. Trees know it – leaves are starting to turn yellow, red or plain brown and fall. Native perennials know it too. Foliage is holey and ragged looking and flowers are going to seed, creating some lovely images as they wait for a bird to gobble them up or a strong wind to shake them free and send them flying. Here’s a few of my favourites, ready now for collecting (or not!).