Gardeners have different ways of looking at and dealing with the late Summer/early Fall garden. It can be psychologically challenging for the diehards and true garden addicts. And yes, it is hard for this garden therapist! These souls feel like they are being titrated off their drug of choice; they get frantic and begin looking at seed catalogues for next year. Others cut everything back to the ground in late August, declare it over and done with and pretend it doesn’t exist. Some (the hangers on) are out there religiously deadheading and cutting back little by little, trying to tease out the last blooms and keep it going for as long as possible.
September is the time when many things are starting to brown out, especially in a dry time like we have been having. But there is just enough green and color left to dangle hope, to keep you selectively cutting back and fluffing it up, desperately trying to keep the garden looking pretty good. Personally, I am sick of it by mid-September but I still try to keep my garden nice all the way through. Why? My pride that gets me every time! I just can’t stand to have the garden looking a mess when the early-Fall house guests arrive.
However, I relish that moment of full-on Fall when nearly everything is brown and I can cut it all back. Note; I don’t disturb the grasses and native plants that leave nice carcasses and seed heads. My recent Sisyphean tasks involve cutting back the stuff that gets beaten down and falls into the paths after each hard rain and trying to take out just enough so it looks good without making it look too sparse. If at all possible, I cut back sad looking plants to the uppermost set of leaves that will not look too silly, rather than leaving a big hole in the garden. But the truth is, trying to fight nature is exhausting. I guess that puts me, reluctantly, in the hanger on category. Not to further trod on the Fall depressives, but by the time you are reading this the leaves will be turning, and all of the plants in the garden with Fall interest will be starting to do their stuff; the grasses will be rustling in the wind and all of the nurseries and stores will be selling mums. It is so exciting! I might even change out some of my containers and put in the glorious purple cabbages to celebrate my impending season of (some) rest.
Another way to deal with late season doldrums is to get the heck out of Dodge, which is one of my favorite methods. This year the annual national convention of The Association of Professional Landscape Designers is in Santa Fe and I am writing this from my room overlooking the adobe roofs in the hills. Sounds fancy? It is! Renowned landscape designers and architects, plant breeders, regional specialists and future thinkers tell us about their work and show us lots of mostly beautiful pictures. We also pal around, talk shop and eat excellent regional cuisine. The best part, however, is the 2 days of garden tours which are definitely inspirational.
The adobe style, the desert landscapes and the long mountain views are incredible but what really gets me going is the way that the preferred gardening style uses lots of native rock, different gravels and native plants. The native plants require very little water to live and there is a huge emphasis here on sustainability. They emphasize the need to make maximum use of every drop of water.
This style of landscaping makes the homes and grounds integrate beautifully into the surrounding environment, creating that “sense of place” that I talk about and value so much. I learned a fancy word for this at my conference: biophilia. I had never heard it before, but apparently it is the latest in the ecological, sustainable design world and is recognized to be “intuitively obvious” and not a new concept. Biophilic design is all about strengthening the connection between man, as a biological creature and part of nature, and the rest of the natural world. This is mostly pertinent to the urban and suburban worlds where (I was told) people spend more than 90% of their time indoors with little connection to nature. We were presented with lots of statistics about how this connection to nature is good for humans in almost every way from blood pressure to memory retention. It is good for the environment, good for people and can be beautiful to boot.
Mostly what I was thinking during that talk was “duh,” but I also thought about how lucky we are in our home in the Catskills. We are very connected with nature and practice biophilia almost every day.
I am a proud biophliac.~
Mel Bellar is the owner of Zone4 Landscapes and a passionate Andes gardener