Sunday, October 01, 2006


What’s blooming in the area: Lance-leaf yellow brush peaked, datura, purple aster, tahokia daisy almost gone, lamb’s quarter, áñil del muerto peaked, golden hairy aster, bigleaf globeflower, purple mat, large white rose of Sharon, roses, sweet peas, heavenly blue morning glory, silverlace vine. More Maximilian sunflowers are blooming while the natives are going to seed. Apples are starting to drop. Three fields and a yard have recently been plowed; one’s already bright green.

What’s blooming in my garden, looking north: Black-eyed Susan, gloriosa daisy, blanket flower, chocolate flower, perky Sue, fern-leaf yarrow, Mexican hat, yellow cosmos, creeping zinnia, nasturtium, lance-leaf coreopsis, chrysanthemum, miniature rose (Rise and Shine).

Looking east: California poppy, crackerjack marigold, tall zinnias, winecup, large flowered soapwort peaked, pink bachelor button, larkspur, Shirley poppy, sweet alyssum.

Looking south: Crimson rambler morning glory, sensation cosmos peaked, heath aster peaked.

Looking west: White phlox (David), frikarti aster, lead plant, catmint, purple ice plant. Russian sage is sheathed in purple, but has no flowers to attract bees.

Bedding plants: Dalhburg daisies, marigolds, sweet alyssum, snapdragons, petunias, profusion zinnia, nicotiana.

Animal sightings: Gecko, bees, grasshoppers, ants; rabbit and gopher back; horse grazing near main road, turkeys near village.

Weather: Warm noontides, but frost on my windshield in the mornings; no rain. Shorter days make it harder to see the garden and more difficult to water during the week. Leaves beginning to turn yellow on area catalpas, cottonwoods, and weeping willow, as well as my cherries, peach, roses of Sharon, Siberian pea shrubs, rugosa and tomatilla; spirea, caryopteris and white spurge turning orange.

Weekly update: Fall is here. So far there’s been no hard frost, but dawn temperatures have dropped enough to damage flowers and turn leaves yellow.

Usually, autumn is abrupt: a single night destroys tender annual plants and perennial flowers. Spring is the gradual season, when microclimatic differences in water and temperature mediate change, when a week may pass between the time a plant blooms in the village, and wheb it appears on the main road, that’s higher and farther from the river. Another week may pass before it opens on my still higher, more exposed ground.

Cold a week ago Wednesday killed my grape leaves. The following Saturday, most leaves were dead on vines just down the road, and many, but not all were brown a bit farther. Closer to the village, only the top leaves on a rail fence were brown, and vines in the village did not seem to be affected.

Yesterday, the leaves in the village were brown while the ones over the wooden fence were turning yellow. Between the two, the leaves on an iron fence near an arroyo were still green. The others that had survived last week were either brown or red.

More exposed parts, like the upper grape leaves, are the first to go. Petunias in a tall ceramic planter down the road were dead last Saturday, but the ones I’m growing between irises near my retaining wall are still bright. This past week, the erect and top horizontal stalks on my neighbor’s moss roses withered, but tangerine flowers were still open along the ground yesterday.

Variety within species may contribute to the nonuniform durability of plants. Ruby is the only grape I’ve managed to grow, and almost every year its leaves are felled by spring frosts; my neighbors may have hardier types. It was that same time a week ago my friend in a nearby settlement said her hybrid tomatoes had succumbed but not her heritage Brandywine.

Subtle genetic changes resulting from the selective histories of growers may also explain some variations in how similar plants respond to cold. Many of my small zinnias were gone by the end of last week, but not all. Some still bloom between the corpses where I sowed three brands of thumbelina and three of lilliput.

Last Saturday, the tall zinnias in the village looked unfazed from the road. Yesterday, I could see brown heads, but not as many as were in my garden. My taller zinnias, which happen to be protected by marigolds, didn’t die but had a shock. The hybrids opened July 22 and had never gone to seed. The day after the cold temperatures, a number of flowers had exchanged their brilliant raiment for the drabbery of confinement.

My morning glories had a different reaction. Like the tall zinnias, the flowers were scotched by the cold, but not the vital stems and leaves. Every few days last week, I spotted a flower. Then, yesterday, there were nearly the same number as before the cold spell, but the trumpets were smaller and they didn’t open until warmed by the late morning sun.

The stay of the executioner has let some plants harden themselves for the next month, perhaps to rebloom. Others are now busily completing their life cycles, producing seed. A week and a half later, the youthful lush garden has vanished; the infirm mingle with the young, flowers peak through dead stems and leaves. Individual differences in specialized locations prevail.

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