Sunday, September 23, 2012
September 23, 2012
Much of fall gardening centers around after-harvest clean-up. Trips to the compost pile carry remains of the richness of summer past. The vines that once nourished tomatoes, squash, and cucumbers are brown now. Stalks that once held marigolds, cosmos, and those green bells of Ireland, all go now to enrich the soil that in another summer will flourish with fruit and flowers again.
The nostalgia of autumn, its pattern of color that flares then fades, the quiet resignation of fallow soil that waits the winter snow, all this we know at a level beyond words that speaks to us of the turning seasons of our own lives.
But there is more to fall gardening than dealing with harvest past. There is also the joyful crisis precipitated by those counter-intuitive perennials.
This year my favorite nursery held an autumn sale of perennials that I permitted to overwhelm my common sense. I left the store with a cart filled with new plants. As I loaded them into my car I had to admit that my ability to see the power of the plants to produce beauty was considerably larger than my ability to get them in the ground so that they could in fact grow. Fortunately (for me and the plants, that is—not so much for her) my young friend arrived to visit, and with generous heart and strong back, agreed to rescue the plants from the prisons of their plastic pots and set them safely into the soil of their new garden home.
When she finished the task my friend looked over the day’s work and commented: “This certainly looks different to you than it does to me. I see these new green plants settled into holes I dug and they just look funny to me, and kind of out of place with autumn all around.”
My friend was seeing both the beauty and the challenge of perennials. For the visionary, trailing brown remains of annual petunia plants on the compost pile evokes a picture of other petunias yet to be green in another spring, bloom in a summer yet to come. But planting perennials, green now, calls for a sturdy faith that winter cannot win—perennials speak faith that under the ice, life lives on, and when spring comes, their life will be green and growing early long before it is safe to place tender young petunias along the garden wall.
As I left the nursery, a customer entering the store looked at my overflowing cart, and smiled. “You must think it’s spring,” she said as she walked past.
I smiled, and lifted a hand in greeting, although I did not speak. But as I loaded the plants in the car, and considered the planting dilemma I had made for myself, I felt a great sense of contentment.
“No,” I thought. “I know it is not spring. But along with my perennials I’m carrying home to their garden, I know that winter is coming, but that winter is not the end. It is a season to be lived through, and fall planting is simply faith that life can survive winter into the spring that will follow.”
Thinking with you that in relationships as in gardens we need to plant and prune and nourish trusting that life is stronger than the winters that come.
See you next week.