The advent of the fall season often catches me by surprise even though I pay attention to the calendar and know when cold weather and shorter days are upon us.
There is poetry in the autumn but too much of it is the poetry of decay and endings. Football season, other seasonal events, and the approach of the cold weather holidays are a consolation but I am a fan of hot sultry summers and always feel a little cheated when those fade away – especially if I haven’t had the time to take full advantage of the season.
Let me put it another way: The arrival of pumpkin spices in everything does not bring a song to my heart.
Arriving for dinner at the home of friends the other evening one of my hosts greeted me with the admonishment to not look at her yard because “it’s a mess.” The yard looked fine but I agreed with her that it’s hard to keep a southern yard looking pristine after the relentless heat of August and as the trees get ready to start shedding their leaves.
Surveying my own small back yard last night and deciding which plants would need to be moved inside and which would be left out to fend for themselves I noted that my yard somehow weathered the hottest part of the summer quite well. I didn’t lose anything to the heat this year; I had more hummingbirds than usual; my basil held out throughout the season of tomato sandwiches on freshly baked white bread.
The sweet potato vines in rust and green, grown for decoration rather than edible roots, went wild this year — overflowing their large pots outside the back gate. My neighbor’s backyard cherry tree, much of which overhangs the fence and blends with the branches of my tall Rose of Sharon tree, is already bare of leaves. It blooms magnificently before almost everything else in the late winter and starts dropping its leaves in late July before anything else is even thinking of the fall.
The Rose of Sharon still has most of its leaves and is almost finished blooming for the year, with just a handful of new buds appearing on new branches near the bottom of the trunk. I’m glad I resisted the urge to prune those a few weeks back. The final roses are in bloom on my grandfather’s wild rose bush which I rooted from a cutting. I took a cutting with buds for inside the house so that I could have a few last roses of summer both inside and out.
As plants in containers start being moved in the house and other plants die down or away, the wind sculpture, empty pots, architectural artifacts, and found objects take precedence and give points of interest as I come home at the end of the workday. The plan has always been for my back yard to capture the abundance and “collected” presence and feel of New Orleans courtyard gardens. In fact, I have a classic New Orleans garden book with an inviting photograph of a cluttered and magical courtyard garden marked for reference (pages 106-107 of Gardens of New Orleans: Exquisite Excess, 2001, by Jeannette Hardy and Lake Douglas, with photographs by Richard Sexton).
My own back yard garden is not there yet but my goal is in sight. For now, though, in every season there is always a place for the eye to rest as it surveys my long and narrow back yard. I consider that a good start.