Falling for fall

Rosa ‘Cramoisi Superieur’ that likes this cooler weather. It balls up through the spring and won’t bloom in summer, but in fall, it is glorious. Probably the last of the roses blooming this year.

What is it about fall that stirs our imagination? On Pinterest, the boards displaying the best of autumnal blessings are lighting up like candles. I have two myself, Falling for Fall and Harvest Time, and I may add more as the season progresses.

From what I see, four themes dominate the natural Pinterest boards: fall, All Hallows Eve, Christmas and spring. There must be a reason. The two holidays make sense. The word holiday is derived from “holy days,” and these holidays are the biggest in the American calendar, although not the biggest in the liturgical calendar. Easter is king there.

A view of Pennisetum setaceum ‘Fireworks’ along with an aster and roses. Fall leaves are just starting to turn.

Feelings about spring and fall are more transient, but these seasons grab at our heart strings as well. I think it’s their transience that makes them so appealing Both appear on the scene in a kind of awakening. Like a toddler, spring begins its progression in a series of fits and starts, forward marches and fall-back positions. Warm weather and sunny skies mix in the central south with devastating late freezes. Throughout spring, we rejoice and collectively hold our breath until late April arrives, and then, suddenly it’s summer.

I don’t even want to talk about summer.

Ipomoea lobata, Spanish flag, that doesn’t start blooming here until the weather cools a bit.

Fall is different. It is a slow and beautiful dying, like a gorgeous woman emitting her last sighs. Days grow progressively shorter, and although September and October are still warm, you begin to wake in darkness, and suddenly you know it is the slow descent into winter. If summer has been harsh, you swear you don’t mind . . . but in that small place in your heart, you feel a little twinge. If the summer has been a mild one, you regret winter’s arrival even more.

One of my favorite views of the house and the back garden looking up the hill.

When I started this blog five years ago in early October, I wrote about summer’s last bouquet. That November I pondered fall’s color palette and rejoiced in its beauty. This autumn, as rain slowly falls outside my kitchen window, I remain grateful and full of wonder. It is a celebration of the end of things, along with a bit of melancholy at the start of others. We never know what kind of winter we will have, and I always wonder if spring will ever come again–even though I know it must.

Rusty arbor and Hydrangea arborescens ‘Annabelle.’ The blooms will soon turn a soft brown to match the arbor.

Enjoy this fleeting season. Get outside, walk the parks, or garden in your own space. Visit a local nursery, and buy something that heralds the season like an aster, mum or pumpkins. Plant so that your garden will culminate in its most beautiful expression in autumn, and you’ll rejoice at summer’s end too.

Bulb story

red tulips with Hakonechloa ‘All Gold’

Once upon a time, there was a very earnest young gardener who imagined a field of tulips, ‘Red Emperor’ of course. She bought a big bag at the local store, came home, gathered her gardening bucket, her special bulb transplanter and gloves. Going outside, she dug holes at least three times as deep as the bulbs and then ever so gently placed the precious tulips in the ground. She heard a chattering in the trees above her, but, in a zen of planting pleasure, she ignored it. Five hundred red bulbs later and covered in dirt, she came inside, promptly ordered pizza for the kids and collapsed.

The next spring, she waited in anticipation for her red carpeted masterpiece . . . and got . . . nearly . . . nothing. Between the squirrels, moles and voles, her tulips became a winter smorgasbord. Some naturalists might find this story poetic justice, but the gardener wept and shook her trowel in the air in frustration.

Fast forward ten or fifteen years. Did she give up? No. She just learned to be more efficient in planting and to love bulbs other than tulips. Tulips are great, but they are like hard candy to the furry terrorists who live in my red dirt haven. So, now, I either take precautions surrounding them with chicken wire, or I plant them in a ring of Narcissus, that wonderful poisonous bulb no one wants to eat.

As for the squirrels, well . . . three furry predators, including one irascible pup, keep them at bay. In fact, I’ve seen nary a squirrel in my garden this fall. I can’t wait to see how the bird feeders fare.


I’ve also learned not to take myself so seriously. Thousands of bulbs later, I know not to worry so much about how the bulbs are planted, and I’ve expanded my repertoire beyond only the earliest blooming red tulips (although I still love them) to other beauties. A few new ones I’m trying this season are:

  • Hyacinthoides hispanica ‘Queen of Pinks’ which I planted next to the blue Phlox divaricata and beneath a couple of roses. This bulb is an heirloom from 1944, and I’ve found I’ve become more interested in heirlooms in the time I’ve gardened.
  • Muscari Plumosum, feather hyacinth, which is an heirloom grape hyacinth good for naturalizing. Anything good for naturalizing has a better chance growing in Oklahoma.
  • The lily flowered Tulipa ‘Maytime’, which I’ve grown before and loved. This year, I am planting it with Tulipa ‘Red Riding Hood’, a Greigii tulip which blooms mid-spring. They may end up not blooming at the same time because ‘Maytime’ is a late spring bloomer. We’ll just have to see.
  • Leucojum aestivum, summer snowflake. Leslie introduced me to these lovelies last year, and she’ll laugh when she hears I bought more. I just want to see them all over my garden. Unfortunately, while I was planting, my bag of summer snowflakes went missing. I’ll find it I hope.
  • Last year, I fell in love with Hyacinthus orientalis, commonly called chestnut flower. I love the little double blooms. They should be forced or planted near a doorway to catch their fabulous scent.

    Byzantine glads
  • Narcissus ‘Aspasia’ is one of the few daffodils I bought because I have so many already. This is one of those purchases where when I found it I thought, “Huh?” However, it is an heirloom and extremely fragrant so maybe that’s why it found a place in my cart.
  • Not so happy with some of my previous crocus adventures since they don’t seem to want to return and increase year after year (probably due to our not-so-cold winters), I’m trying a couple of cultivars of Crocus tommasinianus, ‘Ruby Giant’ and ‘Barr’s Purple.’ We shall see.
  • Cindy sent me some Zephyranthes candida, white rain lilies, and I’ve put them wherever I found well-drained soil. They bloom in fall.
  • After reading Elizabeth Lawrence’s book, The Little Bulbs: A Tale of Two Gardens, I thought I could again grow crocus if only I could find a variety which likes it here, hence the tommies. ‘Snow Bunting’ is one Lawrence particularly liked for its early bloom. When I opened the package, the pearly bulbs fairly jumped into my hands and begged to be placed in the soil for their tips had already sprouted. For pure winter pleasure reading, I don’t think you can beat any of Lawrence’s books. They are as fresh and timeless as anything being written today.
  • Fire engine red Rhodophiala bifida, school house lilies or hurricane lilies were ones I want to cultivate, so I planted about fifteen of them this fall.
  • Curtiss Ann sent me more byzantine glads for my garden. I promptly planted those. I love their color and delicate form.

As you can see, there are so many bulbs to plant, and there are just about as many ways to put them in the ground. You may have read some scholarly garden articles with step-by-step instructions. As I became a more confident gardener, I quit trying so hard when planting bulbs or other plants for that matter. Here’s how I go about planting my bulbs.

Double white hyacinths last spring

There are three main things to consider, decent soil with humus, bulb pointy side up (or sideways if you can’t tell with some of the more unusual bulbs) and planted three times as deep as the size of the bulb. It’s that easy.

What isn’t easy is digging the holes. There is the stab method where you take your trowel or garden knife and stab into the soil. You hold the soil back and plunk the bulb in. Then, you let go of the soil and pat it back in. That works well for the smaller bulbs.

Another method is to dig a large round hole and place the bulbs pointy side up. You can plant several diverse bulbs together within the same space if they are about the same size. If one is larger like a daffodil, you might want to plant it deeper placing some of the soil over it and then plant the smaller bulbs closer to the top of the soil. ‘Snow Bunting’ doesn’t need to be planted very deep as it is very small.

I once fed my bulbs as I planted, but unfortunately, the organic foods like bone meal made my dogs become bulb marauders. Also, bulbs don’t need much food because their food is contained within the bulb. Over time, I found it didn’t make much difference if I fed them or not.

This fall, on top of my bulbs, I’ve planted ‘Imperial Antique Shades’ pansies and a variety of blue violas. I’m hoping for a big show. Let’s all come back in spring and see, shall we?