October 30, 2012

After the Storm

Sometimes it takes a hurricane to focus a gardener’s attention.  Until Sandy’s arrival became a question of ‘when’ rather than ‘whether’, I had been following a diligent schedule regarding end-of-season garden clean-up:  I emptied pots or cut down perennials only when I couldn’t come up with an excuse not to do so.

Sandy pushed me into a very different and infinitely more productive gear.  The fence around our 1200-square-foot community vegetable garden plot came down in about three hours versus the full day I had previously thought it would take.  The final dozen containers were emptied of annuals, potting mix and filler in a single morning.  The hosta walk was cut down in an hour.  I was a veritable beehive of activity.

Keeping 'Big Red Judy' (all four feet
of her) allowed me to believe
that it was still summer in October
There is a word here that I have tried to avoid using, but which there is no way around.  The word is ‘procrastination’.  As people who know me will attest, I am not by nature someone who puts off things.  Yet, every October, I let drag an important task that needs to be done.  Why is the closing up of the garden so different?

I suspect the reason is that, through the garden, I can cling to the notion that winter isn’t really on our doorstep.  Yes, there was an overnight freeze in early October that turned unprotected annuals and vegetables to so much limp mush.  But in anticipation of that frost I began parking a number of containers into our garage on cool evenings, including one containing an enormous coleus called ‘Big Red Judy’.  The sight of a four-foot-high tropical plant along the driveway brightened my day, even as the perennials around it turned yellow and brown and the maples faded from their brilliant reds and oranges to muddy yellows.

One day before Sandy’s arrival, ‘Big Red Judy’ went ignominiously into the compost pile.  I did not even save a clipping.  By the time the winds picked up and the first rain bands arrived Sunday morning, the garden, like Big Red Judy, was no more.

Lots of oak leaves, but a new
perspective on what remains
This is written on Tuesday; quite literally the ‘morning after’.  From my office window I can survey the post-Sandy landscape.  The first things I notice is that a month’s worth of oak leaves fell in a day and now carpet the lawn and the maples and other deciduous trees have been stripped of the last of their leaves.  But the second thing I see is that our cersis canadensis – forest pansy redbud – not only still has leaves, but has turned a majestic gold.  The ornamental plum that I routinely ignore has a riot of leaves in the red-yellow spectrum, dancing not five feet from my window.  In short, what was lost in the storm has been gained in the emergence of individual specimen plants. 

We have also regained our view of the pond at least two weeks early.  We are less than 200 feet from its shore, but two-thirds of that distance is town conservation land and, for six months of the year, trees that we are not permitted to thin obscure our view of a picturesque body of water.  From now until the end of May, we’ll have a panoramic vista just outside the banks of windows on the back side of our home.

Hurricane Sandy did put an emphatic ‘period’ to the 2012 gardening season.  But it didn’t mean the end of autumn or of our enjoyment of the season. Autumn in New England is a wonderful time of year, as well as a great state of mind.  We ought to make it linger as long as possible.
The return of the pond view

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