Autumn of 2014: Don’t ever forget it

Forty-two years of gardening in Alaska and I have never seen an October like this one. Yes, there was a touch of snow mixed with Sunday afternoon’s rain. But the flowers are still lovely, still setting buds, still thriving, still making my heart sing. This has been a growing season to remember, to hold close to my heart in the dead of winter. 

I cut back the veronica soon after it finished blooming and the regrowth was astonishing in its vengeance. It sort of scared me. Now it is in bud. It will be interesting to see what route it takes to survival. I have promised clumps to friends, the thinning will be relentless. Now I’m wondering if there will be anything come spring. Always something to look forward to. 

Even the annuals (plants that share their glory for one season) are sending up new growth. The California poppies and phlox are looking better than they have all summer. The cranberry cosmos are magnificent along with the blue ageratum interplanted with them.

I have every intention of enjoying this garden every single minute that it has left. The curtain could come down any minute or, like last fall, could extend out until the end of the month. What fun!

I think that next season I will take a chance on chrysanthemums. I tried a few years ago but there wasn’t enough time for them to bloom. This would have been the ideal season for them. Here I go, planning for next year.

Read this and weep: My neighbor grew artichokes for the flowers, not to eat, just to look at. To each his own. We have been savoring ours. There is just one plant this year because they take up so much room for so little food. That plant has produced over a dozen buds and is still producing. Artichokes are a luxury no matter how you look at it but one worth investing in. If you haven’t planted one before consider it for next year. Enter this into your gardening log. You will not regret it. They have flavor. They have nothing in common with what you buy at the store. Grow your own. You deserve it. 

The kale, Brussels sprouts and chard are still in the garden, thriving. We continue to harvest lettuce thanks to a low slug population this year. We eat well, no doubt about it. 

There is much to be done. The greenhouse is empty. This is my cue to wash the walls and rinse out the bins. It is a SunGlo and has plastic siding which responds well to Pledge. I learned this from someone who uses the product for his snowmachine windshield. It’s fast, easy and doesn’t scratch the plastic which is the point of using it. Once that chore is attended to we will refill the bins with compost and all will be ready for next season. Keep this in mind if you have a greenhouse: the point is to get an early start on the season. If you have everything ready to go in the fall you can achieve this goal. I don’t bother to extend the season out in the fall. The failing light is what is cutting the season off and there is no fighting that. Pick your battles. 

I planted more bulbs. I’m not really sure why I did this. I stuffed hundreds in the perennial beds last year. One would think that enough is enough. I even made a map of what went where because now there is no sign whatsoever that there was ever a bulb to be seen. Did I consult the map? No. I just dashed about, planting bulbs here and there, no plan, just thinking about what I would like to see from the house come spring. Which is the point, so I will now stop fretting about my disregard for garden design. 

And I really don’t know why I put in more tulips. They bloom too late and really have only one good year. Muscari, crocus, all kinds of daffodils, scilla, chinodoxia, puschkinia, fritillaria mealeagris all love it here to the point where you will need to divide the clumps. When that happens I just pull out a handful in the spring and set them down somewhere else, or give them away.  I don’t know if this is the optimum time to make the divisions but I don’t know where anything is in the fall, so spring it is. This has worked for me for years so be brave and give it a go. 

The peonies had a good year but they will need the official peony support rings for next season. Remember these are young replacement plants from the horrendous die-off two years ago and tomato cages were sufficient. But these supports need to go in before the ground freezes and the plants are not showing any sign of slowing down let alone dying back. Patience.  

The gardening season is not over. Don’t put your tools away. There are weeds to be pulled, annuals that need to be tossed on the compost pile, vegetables to harvest. There is still fun to be had. Fall gardening is the best!

Note: Lilacs set next year’s flower buds in the summer so don’t be disconcerted if you see fat buds now. The James MacFarland blooms twice most years and this was a banner year for them. Don’t worry about them, they will all be fine come spring. Keep gardening!

Rosemary Fitzpatrick is a longtime Homer gardener. She has been writing Kachemak Gardener since 1990.