Hartley Magazine

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Conserving the Autumn Garden: a southwest consideration

Golden leaves are beginning to cloak the upper slopes of the Rockies, and with the aspens turning so turns the season. As the British poet, Philip Larkin, would have it, “Autumn has caught us in our summer wear.” Just like it’s caught generations of gardeners before us. Turning to my treasured 240-year-old edition of the The Gardener’s Kalendar by Philip Miller, I note that in the section ‘Work to be done in the Green-house and Stove’ (as they knew hothouses back then), I must start bringing in the geraniums, succulents, and cacti, and to renew the “bark beds” in the stove to overwinter the pineapples. I think I’ll just stick to buying mine at Costco.

Miller notes in his introduction that he’s made every effort to keep his gardening advice up to date as the art of gardening and the supply of new plants was expanding and exploding in the 18th century; just as today, no sooner written than surpassed.

Yes, there’s a 30% chance the last frost of 2021 is due in Colorado Springs before the end of the month, which would be sadder than it is if my crop of tomatoes hadn’t had a chance to ripen, or even get started, stunted as they’ve been in the recent past by a killing frost in May. Not this year, however, for ‘tho the peach tree caught the sharp of edge of Jack Frost’s icy sword in April, the tomatoes, basil, sweet corn, peas and Pueblo Hatch chilies got off to a healthy start. Rain, too, came at the right time and aplenty;  I can’t recall my 6-year-old garden looking happier – and showier – than it has this year, likewise the landscape in general.

Clockwise from left: a few of the thousands of ‘Sweet 100’; a bowl of ‘Cuore del Ponente’; in the leaf dish, a large “Goosecreek Black’ and two ‘Costoluto Fiorentino’. All varieties made plants seven feet tall!

All good things come to an end, so now it’s time, as Mr Miller says, to “dig the borders of your flower-garden, and if necessary, add fresh earth or very rotten dung, and plant all sorts of hardy flowers therein, observing to mix them in such a manner as there may be a succession of flowers throughout the season, in the different parts of the garden.”  Given the unforgiving soil where I garden, when isn’t it the time amend the soil, and with the shortness of the season, to plant new and deploy older subjects to a choice location? Glenda, whose garden faces mine across the street, says our plants should have wheels to make life easier for us. I concur.

Certainly, the autumn equinox is the time to review what worked and didn’t work in the garden, what should be removed or enlarged, notes taken, ideas sketched out; as I write this on September 19th, it’s just three days from now. Better put on my retro-specs; there’s decisions to be made.

‘Fall Vista’ by Robert Daughters, co-founder of the Taos 6 group of plein air painters, developed a graphic style that perfectly renders the vibrant seasonal colors of the southwest landscape.

Nature’s first green is gold,
Her hardest hue to hold.
Her early leaf’s a flower;
But only so an hour.
Then leaf subsides to leaf.
So Eden sank to grief,
So dawn goes down to day.
Nothing gold can stay.

Robert Frost

©Ethne Clarke, 2021

Learn more about poet Robert Frost, here, and Philip Larkin, here. For information about artist Robert Daughters, visit Meyer Gallery, here.