October 22, 2016
She arrived without a lot of fanfare. The wind died down, the light lowered, the shadows lengthened, the clouds streaked the sky. When the first soft rain fell and washed away summer’s dust, I couldn’t help but look up and smile.
It’s not that I have it in for summer. I don’t. Summer is like an excitable child, filled to the brim with boisterous energy and enthusiasm. Autumn is her relaxed cousin, the one who prefers to curl up with a book instead. Summer gets all the attention; fall is quiet.
Autumn hands the gardener a breather, a respite from heavy chores. Shorter days mean fewer hours to pull weeds. Less heat means less sweat. The grass demands less mowing. Flowers fizzle and fade, leaving behind a supply of dried seed heads that fatten hungry goldfinches. I flip off the irrigation timer and sit back as nature turns on her fall-colored lights.
And oh, what a show. Those brilliant tones — scarlet maple leaves crunching underfoot, distinctive golden ginkgo leaves streaming down like a ticker tape parade, neon orange Chinese pistache leaves creating a brilliant backdrop for crimson berries, leathery purple oakleaf hydrangea leaves deepening overnight. The days may be cooler, but autumn’s colors are warm and inviting.
I know intellectually that these leaves are morphing due to genetic and chemical reasons — chlorophyll and carotenoids in leaf cells step aside so the anthocyanins can take over — yet every year at this time I marvel at how magical it all feels. I also marvel at the efficiency of fallen leaves, which decompose and recharge the soil with nutrients. The entire forest floor relies on leaf drop; if the leaves stopped falling, the forests would disappear.
Makes that leaf blower as obnoxious as it sounds, right?
Blowing away fallen leaves with a power tool is like asking your hair stylist to cut your hair with a machete. What’s the point?
Instead, opt for a rake and enjoy a gardening activity that’s as therapeutic as it is satisfying. Raking often conjures happy childhood memories of huge leaf piles built for leaping in with abandon. If you’re Type A, you can spread some leaves out on your lawn and mow them, which speeds the decomposition process.
But autumn is not about speeding things up. It’s about taking a step back, planning your next move, taking in your garden in the stillest months, the calmest days, the crispest evenings. It’s about appreciating the last Sungold tomatoes clinging to the vine, and tree branches heavy with orange-green persimmons and juicy-red pomegranates, one or two blackberries hiding on the cane. It’s the World Series, not the Superbowl.
Sure, you’ve got some items on your gardening to-do list, but with such a striking and comfortable backdrop, it feels less onerous. Tossing a handful of cover crop seeds into your tired edible beds is practically effortless, and assures enriched soil next season. A basket of daffodil bulbs can be planted within minutes, and never ceases to charm in springtime. Fall is also the time to sow native wildflower seeds — poppies, tidy tips, lupine, flax — a task so simple and pleasurable that even toddlers can help.
This year, don’t wait till pumpkins appear to enjoy the season. Breathe in the beauty of autumn starting right now. Take a walk around Phoenix Lake and soak up the colors. Step out on the Sleepy Hollow Divide for breathtaking views. Trek deep into Madrone Canyon to witness the forest floor spongy with big leaf maple leaves.
Before you know it, the colors will have faded into the earth and winter will be upon us.