Pale amber sunlight falls across
The reddening October trees,
That hardly sway before a breeze
As soft as summer: summer’s loss
Seems little, dear! on days like these. . . .
— Ernest Dowson
Read “October” in Dowson’s treatise as November in these parts. Autumn really sets in here in November, and most reddening of our leafage does not come to full fruition until this month. We’re not New England.
For the ardent gardener, or just the plain old nature lover, colorful tree leafage is not the only recompense for the falling year. We have, also, some flowering hanging on, and much else that often goes unappreciated. We’re in too big a hurry to notice.
What about lichens? Their subtle coloring of palest green, almost white and 50 shades of gray stand out for anyone who will stop to look. The wet days of November and following winter are when they show most. They appear mainly on tree trunks and limbs but also on old pavement, downed logs, and even old tombstones. I hope our little footstones in Memorial Cemetery have some on them 100 years from now. (A bit of trivia: My father, Percy M. Williams, surveyed out the original lines of that cemetery in, about, the1950s.)
It really is true a lot of the time that mosses and lichens appear most heavily on the north side of trees. Shade is what they generally love and the north side is in shade in the northern hemisphere almost the whole year. So, it is said, if you are lost in the woods on a cloudy day, the north side of trees will reveal true north. Then you can orient your way out to civilization.
However, my friend, Crockett Mathis, has a better and more accurate way to get out of the woods when you are lost. He says to look for the nearest pine thicket, then scruff around in the fallen needles until you jump a possum or armadillo. Follow the animal closely and it will take you quickly to the nearest highway to get run over. Of course, you must stop just before you reach the highway or else fall prey to the same fate as the animal.
Anyhow, lichens are one of the great attractions of late fall and winter if we will just stop to look.
Mosses, ditto. Moss appears at its greenest when the low declination of the winter sun glistens off it and turns it into a brilliant green. Some mosses are more green than others, of course, but all are at their brightest in winter.
A suggestion to get mosses on your shady paths: keep leaves off them in fall and winter. Make up a mix of water and vinegar, about five parts water and one of vinegar. The latter is rich in acetic acid, and acid attracts mosses. Spray your paths about twice a month during winter with the mixture, using a two gallon garden sprayer. Mosses sprout from miniscule spores that are carried on the wind and are most active in winter. This is not instantaneous, but moss will take hold quicker than it would on untreated ground.
Back to the lichens. Age brings lichens to nearly everything exposed to the weather. I have several pots, both commercial and homemade of hypertufa, a mixture of Portand cement, coarse sand and peat moss. The oldest ones have achieved a patina of small lichens and mosses. Some of our outdoor furniture likewise is covered with lichens after 10 years or more of exposure.
A good many years ago, we hosted the Memphis Botanic Society on a garden tour. One lady was heard to remark of a teak garden bench that was covered with lichens, “He should scrape off that stuff and paint that bench.” Sho’ nuff!
FRIENDS OF LIBRARY SELL OUT BULBS
Glory, laud and honor to the Friends of the Library for the success of their fall bulb sale. The entire lot of daffodil bulbs sold out before the last day of the week-long sale. The result should be a brighter Henry County next spring. Particular attention goes to Susan Pemberton who, with help from others, headed up the event.
JIMMY WILLIAMS is the garden writer for The Post-Intelligencer, where he can be contacted on Mondays at 642-1162.