Fall color and winter blues
Saturday, November 17, 2012 8:00 PM
It's always hard to imagine the changes that occur when seasons come and go, particularly when autumn, then winter, arrives. When we look out at the late summer landscape, its hard to imagine that in a few short weeks everything will change drastically.
We watch the beautiful colors of fall unfold and enjoy the brilliant display of gold, red, orange, ruby and all shades in between. Then a fall rain with winds comes along and all those beautiful colors swirl and rush to the ground, leaving the trees sparse and denuded. I look at the garden in late summer and see the tomatoes hanging with red and ripening fruit, the green peppers vibrant and growing and although I know they will only last until the first hard frost, it's hard to imagine them blackened and dead after the full life of summer.
Even now with the tender vegetables blackened and dead by frost, a lot of the garden is still vibrant and growing. The kale and broccoli, the cabbage and Brussels sprouts, carrots and lettuce are still green and alive. It's then hard to imagine that in a month or two all of this growth will be barren and dead, browned down by snows, wind and cold, icy rains. Many people clean their gardens completely off when autumn arrives, but I don't. My garden is close to the house so I can look outside over it through all seasons. I love to see the tiny and often colorful birds of winter go though the garden relishing the seeds from flowers and the few weeds that have escaped by hoe. By springtime most of the seeds have been consumed and the plants are dead and decayed putting their nutrients back into the soil.
The trees are now mostly bare, all the beautiful colors of fall browned and darkened by time and moisture. Color is a bit harder to come by in winter. The vibrancy of fall is only reflected in the bright colors of birds at the feeder. That's why bird feeding is so popular. It's hard to imagine a more beautiful sight than the flashes of red from the cardinal and the brilliant blue of the bluejay as they wing there way across the yard. Add the brilliant flash of sun glowing on white snow and shadows shading to blue and you have a scene that is hard to forget.
Luckily we have some trees and shrubs that stay green during the winter, giving us a bit of color, the pines and spruces, the boxwoods and other hardy shrubs. The rose-live-forever keeps some of its color and shape into the following spring. If you look you suddenly realize that color does exist in winter, its more muted, harder to find but its there. Taking a look at a mourning dove one can see pinks and peaches as well as the grays. Brown may seem like a lifeless color, but watch the bark of trees and the feathers of birds and you can see that browns come in all shades from ivory to tans, to deep chocolates.
We may feel a bit dismayed to watch winter approaching, but there are many ways to make it seem less severe. Lots of trees and shrubs and flowers can be planted in the fall. Planting for spring can be a delight as cold winds and frosts stir the air. Each year I have to plant more tulips as my squirrels take their share when they are hungry. There is something enjoyable about planting fall bulbs, knowing that they will peek through the soil when you are longing for better, warmer weather. It gives one a boost to see that although things may seem a bit dead, underneath the soil life is stirring.
When you plant those bulbs they immediately send out roots preparing for that burst of growth come late winter. We all enjoy and remark upon those first green shots that come out of a slowly unthawing soil. Planting those colorful bulbs I can envision what they will look like come spring. Tulips, being one of the earliest flowers, are welcomed by us all. Many perennials can be planted in the fall, as well. Then, with some careful planning, you can have color from spring into fall with colors from one end of the spectrum to another. Add some annuals when the time is right and you will have a colorful landscape. Some perennials send out shots pretty early in the spring too, so anticipation can come early.
Planting a tree then watching for its buds to open and unfurl into tiny leaves gives one the same satisfaction. Each tree species we plant adds to the diversity we need in our lawns. We have lost so many tree species lately and if you look, you can see they leave a large hole unless diversity has been planned.
So, if you tend to get blue over winter, perhaps you can foreshorten its progress, or change its course by planting some bulbs, trees or perennials. If you can't plant yourself, or have no yard, enjoy the work of others in the colorful lawns over city and country. You will have something to look forward to as winter winds blow. When that first spark of green pushes up through the soil, hope is renewed. Another season is pushing its way to the forefront. As Alexander Pope wrote, "Hope springs eternal."
Jeannine Roediger has lived on a family farm all her life, first as a farmer's daughter and now as a farmer's wife. She writes weekly for the Times Bulletin and enjoys gardening, quilting, cooking, bird watching and writing.