The autumnal equinox |

The autumnal equinox

Anna NaeserAspen, CO Colorado

Last Sunday, it rained all night, a hard downpour with interludes of softer rain in a soothing rhythm; like hard work in the garden broken by spells of rest and contemplation. It was still raining in the morning and, when I looked across the valley, I saw that it was fall. When the rain cleared, Mount Sopris emerged, decked in a mantle of snow, once again looking remote and dignified. Its definitely fall. The gardening season is as good as over, no matter how many bulbs will be planted, how many chores done or needing to be done before the ground freezes and winter settles in. Its a state of mind as much as anything. To everything, there is a season.I had a topic in mind for my last column of the year, until I wandered around taking pictures, hoping to illustrate it. Then, I realized that the photos illuminated a vision of my garden in transition that I needed to try to convey in words.Gone now is any dissatisfaction that I may have felt with the garden last month. Im no longer concerned about plans that werent carried out, or effects that didnt turn out as I had hoped. Plants looking tired and ragged dont nag me to tidy them up anymore. All that seems to have fallen away as the days get shorter and the light lower and sharper. Everything looks brighter and crisper. I notice details, especially contrasts of leaf shape and form. I linger over one orange calendula blossom floating in a sea of foliage. I marvel how the evening sunlight turns the red chokecherry to glowing wine and the delicate stalks and glimmering seedheads of the blue oat grass into a perfectly symmetrical spray like water.I love how leafy plants have grown together, mingling stems and leaves. Dark green maple shaped Japanese anemone leaves emerge above golden oregano as if they were its flowers. This year, there actually is a single white bloom! A Pelargonium in a terracotta pot, with one brilliant red cluster of flowers in bud and one in full bloom is astonishing among its own scalloped leaves, a handful of stiff, large leaves of some young perennial and a clump of relaxed grass softly flowing over the edge. It seems a perfect composition, yet quite uncontrived.Very few plants are standing straight and upright anymore. Their stems loll this way and that, half hiding smaller companions, dropping the odd flower among the leaves of an altogether different plant. Spent flower stalks and fading leaves no longer seem to detract from fresh flowers nearby. Berries and fruit are as showy as flowers now. Deep blue woodbine berries in splayed clusters on improbably bright pink stems show off to the birds who prize them. The prostrate cotoneaster is densely covered with red berries; it doesnt seem to matter that on close inspection the leaves are moth-eaten from a population explosion of cherry slugs. Perhaps the birds that will most likely strip off every berry before the snow flies will also take some of the slugs as an appetizer. The rosy crabapples were very ornamental until the cook stripped them for a fine crabapple jelly that captures the rosiness in a jar of jellied sugar. The apples are coloring up and swelling, their weight pulling branches down ever lower until they meet the ground in some places.The darkening valley is split in two, one foot in the summer on the lush, still mostly green valley floor, one foot in the autumn on the slopes: the brush on the north facing side is a ruddy chiaroscuro while dark pinyons and junipers on the south facing side stand out against bleached and brittle grasses.I saw a mature garter snake climbing the stairs to the vegetable garden today; up the riser, across the step, up the next riser, several steps at a time, hugging the wall. I had the queer sensation of seeing a trickle of water flowing uphill. I hope it didnt mind me laughing. Soon I wont be seeing any more of my snakes.The autumn crocuses have begun to flower, joining the long blooming colchicums. On Friday my cerise and golden-orange zinnias were buzzing with competing hummingbirds; on Saturday there were none. Gone as swiftly and suddenly as they arrived. Fall is definitely here: Today is the autumnal equinox.This is Annas last column for the year. Shed like to say a big Thank You to her readers and she hopes you and she will be back again next year, same time, same station, and same garden. Contact her at