Seed-heads ripen and stand dry on the dead stalks of the Echinacia and Rudbeckia in the garden. The tops of the grasses turn golden as they dry in the autumn sun. The Agastache and Mexican Sage are the last strong flowers in the garden, and with the first hard frosts they die back as well.
To the untrained eye, the garden in autumn represents “the end” of the season, but to the seasoned gardener, the autumn is really the beginning of the next season.
Woody plants cut off nutrients and water to their leaves, as they conserve the energy they’ll need for the upcoming bloom – right after they take a nap… Hardy perennials shed their tops and curl up in the energy of their roots, preparing for the explosion of new growth that’s soon to come – right after they take a nap…
This is the height of the gardening season for the birds. Goldfinches line up for a place on the drying seed heads to pull morsels out for dinner, beginning the life of new plants that the seeds will produce thanks to the help of the birds. The last of the migrating hummingbirds dine on the Agastache and Mexican Sage, helping them to begin their new year further south. My bird feeders empty twice as fast this time of year, as they’re shared by a few remaining summer residents, most of the new winter residents, and a few migrating guests.
It’s easy to look at this time of year as a time to cut everything back in the garden – to “neaten it up” before winter. But this is a time when the garden needs to stand and prepare for the coming season. Cutting some plants back too fast can trick them into thinking they need to send up new growth now. The multitude of birds depend on the heavy growth that remains in the garden as protection from hungry predators, as well as depending on the seed-heads on the plants as they die back to provide a good diet. For the forbe eating birds, the heavy growth also provides a higher likelihood of some high-protein bug-snacks.
I’ve been moving through a “cleaning out” stage in my life recently. I make weekly trips to the Goodwill store with bags of stuff that it’s time for someone else to have. I’m trying not to go too fast, or to make rash decisions. While it’d be easy to see this time in my life as an “ending”, where it’s time to clean things up as the kids have moved on to their own lives. I choose instead to see it as only the beginning of the next growing season. I need to move slowly through the cleaning process and keep the garden healthy. As the winter moves along, I’ll need to continue to cut things back in their time, and keep the garden as healthy as I can for the next stage of this new growing season.
Happy gardening. Enjoy that standing grass and the seed-heads as the birds enjoy the meal. Look forward to the snow that’ll keep the roots warm as they’re curled up for the winter. Keep checking those closets and corners for stuff that it’s time somebody else took off your hands…