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