Monday, October 29, 2012

Effects of Low Light in the Garden: The Seen and Unseen, the Bones of the Garden

Although temperatures have been hovering around the freeze line and still get into the mid 40s to 60s during the day, the amount of light is fading fast. Falling leaves are much more dramatic than drying paint. Large leaves are falling noisily, hitting branches and other leaves on their way down, down, down.

The herbaceous perennials are dying down in my borders; my few annuals have been taken to safety or succumbed to frost. This time of year, I start up my lawn mower one last time and actually mow my border beds as best I can. I mow the leaves that have fallen on my lawns and blown them into my border beds. I don't rake anything other than the pine straw generated by my signature white pine. Anything with lasting seed pods for birds, I leave.

When spring hits with all its fury, as it sometimes can here in the central sands, I don't want to be raking out beds and clipping back the stalks of perennials.

The garden art panels may yet get stored where the winter weather will not have opportunities to mar them before the garden walk of 2013. Right now they provide the only shot of color in my garden picking up the metal garden chairs.

Something not typically seen, are my neighbors. As my leaves fall, not only do they show up what pruning opportunities warm winter days hold, but also the neighbors.

Due to the way my yard is situated, I get these borrowed views of trash receptacles, parked vehicles, back garages, and storage areas. Not that I sense a conspiracy here, but each and everyone of my neighbors through whim or yard layout has determined that the side of their yards abutting mine is their "back yard".

On a small pergola in my back yard with climbing roses and clematis, are katsura trees. These are trees that typically grow to 20-25' tall. My goal, keeping them around 8' or so in a very unnatural shape of a lollipop. I have a small yard. To allow me to enjoy these trees, grow strawberries, roses, and other vegetables, mandates a severe pruning schedule to these trees planted on the south side of my yard.

There is a lot to enjoy with katsuras. Although their leaves, unless the frost is delayed tend to turn a non-decorative black, instead of the peachy orange possible in warmer zones, they are completely hardy here. Their heart-shaped leaves mock the redbud, which in the central sands is on the very edge of the most northerly hardy strain of redbuds. During the summer, visitors tend to mistake them for redbuds to which they are not even related,being the sole representative of their species and a genus and family with only two members.

The most glorious aspect of these trees this fall in my rather colorful yard is the strong sweet, almond-like scent the leaves exude as they begin to fall. More than once I have caught the strong scent of this tree while walking in my yard and quickly looked around thinking there must be some sort of glorious lily or flower putting up a bloom. Like native plants that as Piet Oudolf says should "look good dead"; this tree smells good in decay.


  1. You make the katsura trees sound truly wonderful. Do they have showy blooms?

    1. No flower at all to speak of, less than a maple, fairly unnoticeable. They do like regular watering and I was worrying about them this summer.