Fall Musings 1.1 By Christine C. Cantrell, PhD

First Frost Alert!

October 12, 2018

I spent the afternoon repotting geraniums in smaller pots to bring them in for the winter.  In Berkley, MI, a Detroit inner ring suburb, our first frost might come tonight.  As an avid gardener, I like to think I know how long the growing season is, and thinking of Global Warming, I thought this was a late date for a first frost.  However, October 12 appears to be an average date, using data from 1981 to the present.  That time period covers the 30 years I have lived in Michigan, so I guess I never really paid attention to when my nasturtiums, morning glories, petunias, begonias and sweet potato vines expired.  This week I took down some ratty looking morning glory vines, uncovering a praying mantis and 3 egg cases.  What is different this year is that we are still harvesting tomatoes, having had humid temps in the 80s this past week!  We have 3 large baskets filled with green to red cherry and grape tomatoes.

Last year I brought in post of sweet potato vines with begonias and red, white and pink geraniums and 2 pots of citronella geraniums.  It smells great in the living room and bed room when they first arrive.  Usually the geraniums bloom throughout the winter, though they get leggy.  My friend and fellow gardener Scott Pittman reminded me this week that begonias don’t do well wintering over in the house.  And I remembered watching a big pot of them next to my computer that steadily died as the sunshine waned through December.  By February, new shoots were emerging from the dirt, resurrecting as the sun strengthened.  They got very long and skinny and hardly bloomed, so I decided to let my 3 pots of begonias go to meet their Maker tonight.

It is really hard for me to just let a vine, plant or flower, a bush or tree die.  Unfortunately, I have this deep connection to plants so that it really hurts to have them die.  So, most of my flowers are perennials and they resurrect!    Some are seeded by birds, such as Queen Anne’s Lace and morning glories.  But they do multiply!  In mid-March, I start dividing irises, daisies, phlox, black-eyed-Susans and asters.  Many get transplanted around the yard, and the rest are potted up and given away.  Up to 200 plants find new homes.  The only ones I can throw away are ostrich ferns,  as they can overtake my fern garden in a couple of years.   I need to give everything else a chance to grow and bloom.  

My other chore today was to make my rounds to the gardens to pick whatever blooming flowers are left and put them in last bouquets around the house.  That means there are 6 nasturtium bouquets, one with just buds.  There are 3 of purple phlox and obedient flower (hah!  Like it’s obedient!  It will take over your garden if you aren’t careful!).  Another of marigolds.  Another with 2 colors of butterfly bush flowers.  Another of white wild asters with a few red honeysuckle blooms with a couple of yellow cosmos.  I even picked 2 small sunflower blooms, just a few inches off the ground.  I enjoy arranging them in vases and placing them around the house so Susan can  discover them in most of the rooms.  It makes me happy to pick the flowers, but the frost makes me sad. 

I hate to see the gardening season waning as the days growing shorter and colder.  Grounded by walking barefoot in the yard, I tend to flowers, pruning bushes, and transplanting bushes.  I am re-grading the back yard, to create a retention basin to manage the high water table.  The spring and fall floods have killed 9 bushes and trees.  To begin, I dug an 8’x6′ oval hole about 9″ deep spading up grass, clover and dirt, transferring it to the mid-yard.

It feels good to push my muscles to move that dirt.  I sleep well at night, feeling sore and tired, knowing I accomplished something.  The basin fills when we receive 2″ or more of rain.  That pleases JazzPurr, the tiger-stripy cat, who loves to drink from puddles, bird-baths and an algae-lined bucket that catches spigot drips. My neighbors worry he will get sick, but at almost 10 years old and healthy,  I’m not worried. 

It’s now dark at 7:15 pm.  I miss Michigan’s late summer evenings.  For the 4th of July, firework shows have to wait until after 10 pm to start to look spectacular.  I love those long days, spending evenings after work, sitting on the deck or wandering around the yard, watching the flowers, bees, butterflies, hummingbirds and birds.  As darkness gathers, the  pulsing light from fireflies rise from the grass as the katydids rasp  from neighboring oak trees, and crickets provide a sort of “string section” to this diverse, natural orchestra.  Mid-summer, the cicadas join in.  But by October, it is the slow cricket chirps and the deafening katydids…

                                       …until the first frost.

Fall Musings 1.2   Level Vs Incline – Coming Soon!

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