An October state of mind

As I step outside my back door just after dawn, my Nikon hangs over my shoulder and across my hip. I balance a cup in my right hand and take a sip of PG Tips. It’s cool enough this morning for hot tea, but I can’t linger.

The back garden beckons.
The garden beckons.

The fountain on the back deck burbles, and it’s the only sound I hear because the morning creatures are still asleep. Down the steps of the deck I go and into the back garden gravel crunching under my feet.

Pumpkins, hostas, variegated Solomon's seal and lime green creeping Jenny.
Pumpkins, hostas, variegated Solomon’s seal and lime green creeping Jenny.

This morning is cool and overcast, belying that Oklahoma is in the middle of an October heat wave. The mercury will top 89°F this afternoon, but fall skies will be the clearest shade of Prussian blue.

Purple chairs in the back garden look blue in this photo.
Purple chairs in the back garden look blue in this photo.

Blue skies and fall color are only two reasons I’m in an October state of mind. I sip my tea and set my cup half finished on the fence post. The garden sings its siren song, and I simply must take photos while the light is at its best.

Echinacea 'Cheyenne Spirit,' a seed strain of coneflower that comes in multiple colors and heights.
Echinacea ‘Cheyenne Spirit,’ a seed strain of coneflower that comes in multiple colors and heights.

October with its subtle changes is my favorite month in my favorite season, and I look forward to it every year with the calm assurance that I know spring will come again.

Most classic garden writing is about summer, and I even hear some people sing the blues when the days grow shorter. My grandmother always found fall rather sad. This is one place we differ because fall, especially October, is the best time of the year.

Japanese beautyberry with red coleus is a beautiful October combo.
Japanese beautyberry with red coleus is a beautiful October combo.

Because so many of us read classic works from English authors, we’re attuned to gardens at their height in the sweet June of an English summer. Don’t believe me? Think about all the garden quotes you’ve read. Gertrude Jekyll wrote “What is one to say about June, the time of perfect young summer, the fulfillment of the promise of the earlier months, and with as yet no sign to remind one that its fresh young beauty will ever fade.”

Celosia argentea plumosa 'Dragon's Breath' was a trial plant from Sakata Seeds this year. Although it takes a long season to bloom, the foliage color is the most amazing red.
Celosia argentea plumosa ‘Dragon’s Breath’ was a trial plant from Sakata Seeds this year. Although it takes a long season to bloom, the foliage color is the most amazing red. Celosia is a great plant for our long U.S. summers of heat and drought.

Even American writers spent a lot of rhapsodizing about cool English summers. Consider this quote from Henry James, “Summer afternoon—summer afternoon; to me those have always been the two most beautiful words in the English language.”

Many of the novels I read growing up were also set in England. How can I not love the British isles?

Fall garden with lots of blue from native ageratum, Delta™ Premium True Blue pansies, and asters.
Fall garden with lots of blue from native ageratum, Delta™ Premium True Blue pansies, and asters.

But, I live in a continental climate, not a maritime one. Throughout much of my country, summers are harsh especially in the center of the U.S. Ask any Texan, Oklahoman or Kansan how they feel about the end of June through the first half of September. I spend most of my time trying to keep everything mulched, watered and alive.

Rosa 'Carefree Beauty' blooming in fall.
Rosa ‘Carefree Beauty’ blooming in October.

This is not an exaggeration. Roses are beautiful in spring and later, in autumn, but in summer, they wish they could retire to shady verandas, or cool English lawns. So do I.

Tatarian asters always look like a bouquet in photos. Do you see the green sweat bee?
Tatarian asters always look like a bouquet in photos. Do you see the green sweat bee?

Spring is an interesting season. While I celebrate each new shoot rising from the soil, I’m at my busiest. There is also always the specter of a late freeze hanging over every spring. I hold my breath until well after April 20. Only then can I enjoy spring planting in earnest. Depending upon what I’ve overwintered in the greenhouse and found locally, I plant, plan and ponder what combinations will look their best. The brightest spot of spring though is the bulbs. I plan the color scheme in August, plant in October or November, and then wait until the following year to see if what I designed worked.

Maddie posing in front of the street bed. The pink grass is muhly grass.
Maddie posing in front of the street bed. The pink grass is muhly grass.

Fall is reward for all this work even if it’s soon bulb planting time again. Leaves on the oaks are starting to change to gold and bronze, and the crapemyrtles are showing red at the edges of dark green. Even though the trees are showing off, the grasses are really the reigning queens of autumn. All are blooming, some with great plumes, while others, are more subtle in their splendor. All are glorious expressions of the culmination of the garden year.

Plus, we have this little garden tour next weekend. The Oklahoman wrote and videoed a nice feature for the Oklahoma Horticultural Society. I’ve spent this year trying to keep the garden in top form for the tour. Fall gardens really start in spring.

Split rail fence with maiden grass. Fall.
Split rail fence with maiden grass in the fall.

When, I plan in winter, prune and plant in spring, mulch and weed throughout summer, I’m always working on the garden with an October state of mind. October is the best month of the year in Oklahoma. The weather cools down so weeding is less work.

Bumble on Salvia leucantha, Mexican bush sage. There is no purple like this plant. It doesn't always overwinter, but I keep some starts in the greenhouse just in case.
Bumble on Salvia leucantha, Mexican bush sage. There is no purple like this plant. It doesn’t always overwinter, but I keep some starts in the greenhouse just in case.

Instead, there is time to savor and enjoy one’s labor. Time to sit on the deck and finish that cup of tea.

 

39 Replies to “An October state of mind”

  1. Beautiful, beautiful, beautiful … all that planning works! Oh I am so in love with Mexican Sage. I grew some here in cool, cool North Country and although it took all summer to bloom it was still magnificent! It’s flowers are now frozen forever since we had our first killing frost and snow. I love the summers here in North Country – not too hot, sometimes too cool. Early summer is when I love to sit in the midst of the garden. I also love Fall but I don’t plan for it like you and lately I find myself saddened by so much death (maybe like your Mother). I pine for a garden that never dies but can grow in spits and spurts.

  2. Oh, I miss Mexican bush sage from our time in California. I’m sure I could grow it as an annual, though it wouldn’t be as spectacular as an established plant. You certainly have some lovely views for the coming tours. Enjoy sharing the fruits of your labors!

  3. Your garden looks so lovely. I’m just so sorry I am going to be out of town for the garden tour. Hopefully I can catch it another time that you are willing to open it up! Your love for Octobers reminded me of one of my favorite quotes…

    “I’m so glad I live in a world where there are Octobers.”
    ? L.M. Montgomery, Anne of Green Gables

    1. Emily, I’m so sorry you won’t be in town. Yes, I’m sure I’ll open it again someday. I love that quote. It is one of my favorites too.

  4. Love this post! Your prose is as beautiful as your garden, Dee. Now that I’m retired, I appreciate fall so much more–cooler days, brilliant colors; so much to enjoy before winter sets in and the garden–and gardener–rest for awhile.

    1. Hi Rose, thank you very much. Retirement is wonderful for that I hear. Those long winter days are a drag, and I’m not looking forward to them. 😉

  5. I’ve visited often, but never commented before. Every comment would be the same…just lovely! Although I’m in Florida, we grow so many of the same plants, Mexican bush sage for one. What’s not to love about that beauty? Thanks for sharing.

    1. Janice, I’m so glad you commented. I love to read people’s comments. Lovely is well, lovely anyway it’s said. Yes, I’m big into tropicals and subtropicals to get through our long summers. Mexican bush sage was one of the first plants I ever grew, and it just makes September and October sing.

  6. Dee your garden is a delight in bloom and there are only a few subtle signs of fall…here we are in are last warm day and by the weekend we should have highs in the 40s…fall is taking over and the cool weather here.

    1. No cool weather here Donna. In fact, they say we’re having desert weather. I kid you not. Cool nights and really warm days. 87F again today. Goodness.

    1. Hi Kim, that’s a great question. In years past, I had less, and I did it all by myself with my husband, Bill, building the structures. However, once I knew it was going to be on tour this year and in 2017 for the regional daylily tour, I hired a friend who is a landscape designer to help me. She and I have laid a lot of mulch and clipped everything back and weeded all spring, summer and even now in fall. Without her help, I don’t think I could’ve done it all. The garden is really too large, but I just keep finding more stuff I want to grow. Ha.

  7. I love that beauty berry and coleus combo. I am going to try to remember this. I must say October is one of my favorite months. There is enough garden left to inspire you to think ahead for next year. You can enjoy the garden without so much work, ie weeds. Yep…a wonderful time of year. Your garden looks tour ready. Try to relax and enjoy it. I know the tourists will.

    1. Hi Lisa, I’m starting to get excited about the tour now. I’ve basically done all I can. Why not pin the coleus and beauty berry to a Pinterest board? That’s what I do when I see something I like. I can’t remember anything anymore. LOL.

  8. I think your October would be my September, although this year, the good part of fall is lingering. You find the English writers unaware of Oklahoma’s heat, and for me they are oblivious to northern North America’s cold. But we can both grow some of the plants they grow, just not all of them.

    1. Kathy, I think they only know their climate much like we only really know ours. We must ask our friends what their weather is like. Having blogging friends like your opened my eyes to weather all over our country and even the world.

  9. So very beautiful! But the Japanese berry with coleus is awe inspiring! My coleus looks very ready for fall. Done.

    1. Hi Peggy, I’ve been concerned my coleus would get zapped before the tour. Because the temperatures have been pretty warm, it’s done all right. Some of it even rebounded with the cooler evenings. Still, I took cuttings this week just in case.

  10. What a lovely morning! What joy and peace you receive by relishing the beauty and Grace your garden provides. John O’donnohue believes that Beauty and the search for Beauty brings us to our highest level of happiness. May you always find this in your garden.

    1. Hi Karen, I do think searching for beauty and recognizing it brings us closer to our creator. So, yes, it does make us happy. Finding beauty in the ordinary is my greatest hope. Thanks for commenting.

  11. I love your writings regarding fall in the garden. I immediately drew a likeness to the seasons of life. My young plants (children) are mature and well worth all the care & training. They have multiplied over the seasons…their “babies” are similar, yet not absolutely or exactly a duplicate to my original plantings. The varieties are exciting to behold! I’m learning to change gears. My body dictates many of the changes. At first (& occasionally still), I struggled & fought the changes. I never realized how expanding surrender to “what is” can be. The garden has evolved not for the better or for the worse. I’ve always been invigorated by change! Zinnias were once considered so commonplace & now on these delicious fall mornings I am delighted by their variety in color & dependability. I am abundantly blessed! Thank you for your beautiful writings.

    1. Thank you so much Lori. I too love zinnias. All that great variety and color and so easy to grow. My zinnia garden was my favorite this year. And, yes, I also think about the seasons of life as I garden. How could I not?

  12. What a delightful post and tour of your wonderful garden. I LOVE your beautyberry – it is spectacular. Your October garden clearly shows all of the hard work of the past year. A late heat wave is tough for plants to handle, but yours all look lush and happy. Have FUN with the tour!

  13. Oh goodness…xoxo
    Dee how entrancing. And yes to the influence literature has on our perception. Oklahoma gardening is so apart from even our closer neighbors like the east coast, that I think we feel off step sometimes, haha. Autumn is winning me over these days. This was truly wonderful, thanks for writing and sharing. Hugs.

    1. Thank you Marie. Have a great week. I often feel off step from the two coasts and England. In fact, that’s why I started this blog. I felt like those of us in the center of the U.S. needed a little help.

  14. I think our September is like your October. I don’t do much in the garden in September, except enjoy it. Then in October, I start to scurry a bit. But yes, Fall is a delightful season in a garden. Thanks for sharing these pictures of your beautiful garden.

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