“Under the influence of all this loveliness,
almost I am persuaded to love autumn best”

__E.V.Boyle, Sylvana’s Letters to an Unknown Friend, 1899

September

brings the first true signs of changing seasons in our garden. Oh sure, there are a few early mornings in late August when the air holds promise of things to come – but the chill is burned away with the first rays of the sun and by mid-morning summer returns full force wiping away any thoughts of chilly mornings and crisp, cool days. Usually by late September the nights are cool, if not chilly, and the days are gloriously golden. A lusty gust of wind often scatters oak leaves across the lane and fills the fence row with the colors of Autumn.

A welcome shower has washed the dust off of her face and with summer’s heat behind us, the garden begins to restore herself. The scents after a rain are heady, as if the flowers and herbs are giddy from their drink. The lavender and roses are blooming again. The zinnias, coleus and blue salvia flower with renewed vigor, as if they sense this is the last act. In October we will re-plant their beds with Iceland poppies, snapdragons and pansies.

Autumn is planting time again for our entire garden. Cool weather vegetables can go in now – fall lettuce, sugar peas, radishes and green onions – any crop that requires cool nights and soft warm days. Every morning the sun peeks into the cottage windows from a slightly more southerly position, lighting the herb beds a little deeper in the shade garden. This means the thyme and sage will be lush and perfect as we begin thinking about Holiday cooking. The citrus trees are heavy with green fruits, holding the promise of lemons, oranges and grapefruit for winter.

Well… it’s official… it’s September and the season has changed!

My pre-dawn excursion to the garden just now revealed a waist high mist filling the meadow across the lane. The little owl who resides in the oak tree softly hooted good morning. And, before I could get back in the house I thought a sweater would be most comforting.

September heralds my favorite season, Autumn, in all it’s glory. I’ve heard it described as “that dead season between summer and Christmas”, and my husband speaks of a “chill that seeps into his bones.” But for me, Autumn is wondrous. Exciting! A time of renovation and
innovation. A time of new beginnings.

Each day brings with it the miracle of a new beginning.
Many of the moments ahead will be marvelously
disguised as ordinary days, but each one of us
has the chance to make something extraordinary out of them.

_Douglas Pagels

“Best I love September’s yellow,
morns of dew-strung gossamer,
Thoughtful days without a stir,
Rooky clamors, brazen leaves,
Stubble dotted o’er with sheaves—
More than Spring’s bright uncontrol
Suit the Autumn of my soul.” _Alex Smith

September comes with little fanfare to my California garden. Unlike its arrival in more northerly climates, only a barely imperceptible cooling of the days announces the passing of summer into autumn. But the birds who visit the fountains and feeders know, as do I, that a cooler more mellow season is rapidly approaching.

Raucous blue jays, captivating gold finches and energetic woodpeckers announce their joyful anticipation of the passing of summer by continuing to visit and bathe throughout most of the day now. Only during the hottest part of the afternoon do they seek shelter from the sun. A careful observation of their habits during the extreme heat of July and August will reinforce the wisdom of an afternoon siesta in some cool bower. But as September temperatures become more tolerable, the birds and I will gladly renew our habit of spending all morning pursuing the pleasures of our garden. Then after a quiet time, hidden away where it’s cool, we’ll be able to return to the garden again in late afternoon – a pleasure that is impossible in the heat of high summer evenings when it may not cool to under the century mark until well past dark.

  • Maintain – Boost the lawn by applying fertilizer this month. If
    it took a beating this summer, renovate it by mowing as low as possible,
    raking out the thatch and then aerating.

Plant alyssum, calendula, poppy, forget-me-not, sweet peas and wildflowers
from seed. September is great for this, the heat is letting up, the nights
are cooler and longer and the soil is still warm and root friendly. Tuck
some new perennials in bare spots. Try Shasta daisy or yarrow, columbine,
or coneflower for color next summer.

Clean up fallen fruits and nuts and remove those still clinging to branches
to reduce next year’s source of problems. Don’t give your battle with snails
and slugs until the weather is a bit cooler, and keep spritzing spider mites,
whitefly and other nuisance bugs with a mild soap and water solution.

  • Water – Cut back the watering schedule as the weather cools. Watchfulness
    is the key now. Stick your fingers into container plants to check for adequate
    moisture rather than just soaking them every morning as you’ve done all summer.
  • Enjoy – Marvel at the changing colors and textures in the garden.
    Preserve leaves and seed heads from grasses – gather the beautiful and unique.
    Dry the last roses of summer for potpourri. Fill the bird feeders to accommodate
    the returning song birds and savor every note of their songs. Did I mention
    Autumn is my favorite season?

IN OCTOBER

Nature’s signs of the changing season are abundant around us. Oak leaves are scattered in golden drifts along the lane and piled in the
fence rows. Gold finches begin their day splashing in our fountain and demanding seeds at our feeders. The white-crowned sparrows have returned to our garden. I hear their cheerful trills and watch their black and white stripped top-knots bounce under every bush as they feast on end of the summer bounty.

house finch
gold finch

A trip to the big box store reminds me that our modern world has, in many ways, abandoned the natural order of things. Our local warehouse outlet put Halloween costumes and candy on sale in July! The commercial giants force me to make my way through
aisle after aisle of Christmas decorations in August, and demand that my shopping be finished before Thanksgiving. As usual I am refusing to comply.

Around here things will follow a traditional path of progression. In October, Broomhilda will occupy a place of prominence in the decor – because she makes me smile. There will be a small wreath of pumpkins and seeds above the kitchen range and, while we don’t celebrate Halloween we will acknowledge it, in memory of a simpler time and a gentler world, circa 1953.

O sun and skies and flowers of June,
Count all your boasts together,
Love loveth best of all the year
October’s bright blue weather. _Helen Hunt Jackson

  • Maintain – Prune trees and shrubs cautiously as you clean up the
    garden for winter. Spring blooming plants already have their flower buds.
    If you cut them back now you will cut off all next spring’s flowers. Wait
    until after your deciduous plants go dormant and lose their leaves before
    you prune evergreen boxwoods, junipers and yews, but do not prune pines or
    spruces. Pruned evergreens will keep their shape all winter. Summer bloomers
    like spirea or potentilla can be cut back after they go dormant.

Remove fallen leaves a couple times a week. The more sunlight that reaches
lawns and ground covers now the more food they will produce. More stored
food means a stronger plant through the winter.

Replace summer’s ragged container plantings with fresh fall recruits: flowering
kale, mums, pansies, calendula. Pick a couple of small pumpkins, scoop out
the seeds and slip jars inside to fill with arrangements for the patio tables.

Fall is a great time to plant trees, with the exception of a few varieties.
Roots are programmed to do most of their growing this time of year.

Bulbs of tulips, daffodils and hyacinths will begin showing up in garden
centers now. Late this month is the time to put them in the ground for a
lovely springtime show. In my mind, the charm of spring flowers from bulbs is their simplicity. With
their uncomplicated shapes, straight stems, and emerald-green leaves pushing
through brown earth, they speak of an urgency and directness as mother nature
prepares for spring’s bustling arrival.

  • Water – only as needed as the nights grow longer and cooler. Practice
    the “touch test” watering method on container plantings: Stick
    you finger into the soil to a depth of about half an inch. If the soil is
    still wet – don’t water!
  • Enjoy – Birds in autumn. Attracting the feathered folk to our garden
    brings hours of pleasure and occasional vivid surprises. Songbirds, hummingbirds,
    and many others are migrating now. Over many years of providing a rest stop
    for our feathered friends, we have learned to gauge the seasons by the arrival
    of certain species. Devising a bird bath with moving water, keeping hummingbird
    feeders filled and choosing particular types of seeds allows us to see a
    wide variety of birds. The local crowd visits us every day, and all the commotion
    attracts other migrant birds we might not normally see. And, like other savvy
    travelers, once they locate a quality stopover, they return year after year.

IN NOVEMBER

If we had no winter, the spring would not be so pleasant.
If we did not sometimes taste adversity,
prosperity would not be so welcomed.

_Charlotte Bronte
  • Maintain – Continue to remove fallen leaves a couple times a week.
    Trim back herbs, but by no more than 1/3. Clean up vegetable beds and loosen
    the soil in preparation for winter rains.

Most shrubs can be planted this month to secure an extra season’s growth.
The roots will grow in the cool season.

Cymbidiums are setting flower spikes this month and should be staked before
the flowers open. Move the less cold-tolerate orchids into the porch or greenhouse
to protect them.

  • Water – inside containers only as needed. Remember the “touch
    test” Water outside only if the rainy season doesn’t start in November
    as usual. Too much water and cooler temperatures mean root rot and dampening
    off.
  • Enjoy – a season of quiet and a rest from the demands of the garden.
    Spring is just around the corner!