“Pursuit, not capture, is the heart of the hunt.”
If I had more than two brain cells working and was more compos mentis, I would have been able to recall the exact original of that, said by someone else of relatively sane condition, but instead I have paraphrased it.
Now to apply it to today’s gardening vernacular, that is, the titillating pleasure of anticipation in growing crops of both edibles and ornamentals. One of my annual anticipations is waiting with bated breath for the figs to ripen. The trick is to get to them before birds and squirrels do. This year, I actually picked and ate at least 12 of the luscious fruits before the first robin and cardinal scouting party descended and reported back to headquarters. The dozen was my total take.
Trying to raise fruit has been the most fruitless endeavor of all my 60 years plus in the attempt. I have rather ancient apple trees that have yet to yield any edible fruit and a pear tree that is stripped by squirrels before the fruit gets any bigger than a small hickory nut, speaking of which, the squirrels have moved on to the latter as we speak.
Having said that, however, anticipation is still right at the top of my daily walk-around of our garden. Most of it is toward ornamentals. Despite a house full of failures, they have still beat out edibles in rewarding to any degree my anxious desires for upcoming production.
And, notwithstanding my words last week of dereliction in autumn beds and borders, there are, even at this late date, plants that are yet to produce this fall some excitement right here just four days out from the fall equinox.
I mentioned chrysanthemums last week, and they are the first flower most people think of when talking of full bloom. The Korean ones are most dependable for staying alive over winter. All mums, let it be said, need good drainage in winter. Our cold, warm, wet day cycles of weather phenomena can heave their shallow roots right out of the ground, to be dried dead by sere winds.
Asters — most of them, anyway — aren’t quite as picky. The problem with a lot of them is their tendency to grow too tall and sprawl over their neighbors. Pinching them back several times during summer will prevent a lot of that.
As with mums, variety selections are important with asters. Just about my all-time favorite aster is ‘Purple Dome,’ not too tall even without pinching, but only getting to a foot or so with it and never flopping. It has been in our rock wall border for at least 20 years with very little care and seldom divided. It is a definite and eye-catching dark purple.
Another good aster is our native Aster oblongifolius, particularly in some of its named varieties. ‘Raydon’s Favorite’ and ‘October Skies’ are just two of them. Both thin of stem and given to sprawling, but that is not too bad in that flowers will form along the stems and provide a sheet of what most would call blue but which is really mauve or pale purple.
Many annuals rejuvenate themselves with cooler nights and rain. Some might need a light deadheading and trimming back, but some (i.e. impatiens) don’t require it.
Few shrubs flower in fall, but many provide excellent fall foliage color, as, of course, do most of our native trees. Nowhere else in the world, save perhaps Japan, offers the wealth of autumn leaf color than some of the United States.
Then too, there are some (a few) perennials that have colorful fall color. Two of the most noticed will be hostas, some of which turn a banana yellow in fall, and variegated Soloman’s seal, which acquires a similar hue.
It is a pleasure to walk the garden, even this late, and count up the number of things that are yet still to go in offering pleasure to the gardener.
JIMMY WILLIAMS is the garden writer for The Post-Intelligencer, where he can be contacted on Mondays at 642-1162.