Fall is welcome here in this New England garden. Blooms are traded for bright and burnished foliage and glowing seed heads. While the foliage lasts but a short week or two it also signals the garden's respite. Everyone needs a rest. The plants, the gardener and the thermometer. The gardens surrounding the house look battered and worn. August arrived and left leaving little moisture for the garden. September wasn't much better. In addition, the white tailed deer have been enjoying the buffet of the garden. Lush hostas are reduced to single stalks. So it goes in the gardener's life. Some success and many failures. Still, there are a few spots of color. The monkshood has several toppled stems but the few upright ones sport a jaunty, royal purple bloom. Asters and persicarias carry the day in the left handed mitten garden and one can always count on the Pink Sheffield mums for apricot blooms. I took a walk to the back field yesterday. It is not a regular event since the loss of the pups who loved to run, play and chase the scent of wildlife. Autumn was in full swing. Maples can exhibit a vast color range, ranging from bright red through burnished copper. This maple was glowing in the lower light of a fall afternoon. I crossed the stone wall to check out the spring which was once in the field providing water for livestock. There is no livestock there now and the field has given way to hardwoods. The spring was dry. I have seen that only one other year in all the years I have lived here. Each season gives us different challenges and each season teaches a gardener something new. Next year there will be a bit of drip irrigation for some of the vegetable garden. The mixed borders will have to deal with whatever Mother Nature decides. Except for those white tailed deer. These two beloved guys did a good job of keeping them away from the gardens.The dogs are gone but the deer, well, they have to go and the best method for control, other than the expensive fence just might be a new puppy. Yes, it is time this garden and this gardener had a new Job Supervisor. It may take a while but there will be a new face here at Ledge and Gardens sometime in the future. Now, what might be a good name?
It is mid September and the garden is looking more tattered and aged than usual. The above picture shows the dried and burned grass in the sunny portion of the garden. The foreground freedom grass still looks quite green but it is really best seen from a distance. September is the month of natural decline as plants complete their life cycles. Days are getting noticeably shorter but this September has been very hot. Not hot if you live in Austin, TX but hot for New England where air conditioning is still not in every home. Until today, we have had no significant rainfall since mid-August. This garden and the gardener are dependent on well water. A well ties one a bit more closely to nature. Choices must be made regarding water usage. Shower the body or the garden? Drink a cool glass of water or quench the thirst of a garden full of plants? With hundreds of feet of borders, a vegetable garden and a week of vacation, Mother Nature has chosen to remind me of the necessity of water. Those thin, large leaved plants with shallow roots are the first to show the signs of water stress. Hydrangeas and astilbe are limp and crispy. I cringe when I look at the withered foliage in the garden but here and there in the garden there are a few pristine perennials. One small and rather insignificant perennial herb shows no sign of stress. You might think it is the wooly leaved lamb's ear or the gray foliaged yarrows but even those plants have turned limp or browned. The Queen of the Garden this September is the herb rue, Ruta graveolens. I have only one plant and it has gotten no attention during the dry spell. Its foliage is blue and smooth and just looking at this plant brings down the heat. It is cool to the eye. It is an interesting herb which is native to the Balkans where the climate is hot and dry. Rue has been used medicinally for centuries and was said to have been ingested by Leonardo Da Vinci and Michelangelo to improve their eyesight. It can also cause violent vomiting and gastric distress and the oils from this plant can blister the skin. It is also quite bitter. I will stick to using it in the garden. I have read that soft tip cuttings taken in the fall and stuck in moist sand will root during the winter. I may just have to increase my stock of this plant and give this a try. It would make a lovely border plant as it grows in an upright, rounded form. Rue has long been a symbol of bitterness and regret but I have no regrets in planting this cool beauty in the garden. In fact, I know I need a few more of them.
Has a gardening season ever flown by as fast as this one? No, that's not a pumpkin, yet. It is a tomato and the tomatoes tell the tale. They ripen during the hot days of August here in my garden and August is the beginning of the end. The tomato vines look a bit dismal with the yellowing and spotting of leaves (no, I am not going to show you) but they are laden with fruit and the fruit is perfect. For some reason I planted these 30 vines much too close together this year. I don't know what happened and can only offer the explanation that the snow did not leave the garden until mid-April which condensed the season's spring cleanup and rattled the brain of the head gardener. I plant mostly heirloom tomatoes starting them from seed in April. The vines are about six feet tall. Well they would be if the cages made by the Equipment Manager were six feet tall. As it is, they are tumbling and spilling down the sides of the cages. It is a jungle out there. A divine smelling jungle. I try to plant a variety of different tomatoes each year although there are favorites.
'Mortgage Lifter' is one which I won't do without. It is delightfully acidic and huge. One slice for each BLT sandwich. I have come to adore 'Pink Berkeley' for its dark green and red striped skin and great taste.
This year I have grown 'Copia' for the first time and it is also quite large and golden orange. It has a surprising 'punch' of flavor and very large fruit. The early tomatoes, 'Early Wonder' and 'Sioux' throw out a few small tomatoes in July but the bulk always ripens right along with the late tomatoes.
One other stand out favorite is 'Indigo Blue Beauty' which has a mantle of shading on its shoulders. It is a medium sized tomato with excellent flavor.
Paler than pale, 'White Queen', looks a bit insipid and drab. It has very soft skin, almost mushy but I decided I must at least taste it and was pleasantly surprised with the sharp, pungency of its flesh. There is consolation to hot days, dry weather and withering foliage when you have a table full of tomatoes. I believe that tomato flavor results from the 'terroir' of the soil in which the tomatoes are grown, much like wine. I have tried 'Brandywine' and they have had little flavor although it is the heirloom with the best press agent. That said, the worst tasting home grown tomato is always better than the best tasting grocery store tomato. The dark and cold days of January will come all too soon but here, for now it is tomato soup, tomato salad, tomato heaven.