by Mimi Hedl
As I prepare for my first trip since the onset of the ‘Pandamnic’, I walk the gardens, soaking up autumn’s sunshine. A seductive breeze blows, making me want to lie on the grass and daydream. And it’s Sunday after all, one of my days off. I should indulge, and will, knowing these magical days are numbered. In spring we feel the endless possibilities stretched out in front of us, in autumn we feel an impending doom, even though we have many, many days of happy moments before the big hand descends and wipes out most traces of greenery.
Everything looks vibrant and alive. The yellow passionflower even set on some late flowers, such a modest flower compared to the showier purple passionflower. I like its quiet ways. The pineapple sage outdoes itself in blooms though few hummingbirds remain to enjoy the nectar. Fall lettuce seeds have germinated since our 4” rain a week ago. Salads will delight again. Acorns fall, red buckeyes mature, and native trees and shrubs ripen their drupes and berries. The head gardener saw a mockingbird stealing some of the deciduous holly berries and I heard her scolding the poor bird, that he needed to wait for winter. I had to laugh at how wonderfully she wants to control the supply of winter’s food.
I walk with her and point out the lush drupes on the flowering dogwood trees. These fruits have oodles of fat and the birds positively adore them, as do squirrels and our chipmunks, so much so we seldom manage to collect seed for starting new trees. We procrastinate and then, as if the trees never produced any fruit, the drupes disappear. I suggested she add that chore to her list. She loves lists and will add something to her list if she does a task but didn’t write it down. Curious, I say to her, and move on. I do not want to incur her wrath. And also, I’m sure I have my peculiarities, though I can’t think of any at the moment.
The rusty blackhaw berries taste like prunes. Granted it would take a lot of these berries to equal one prune, but like my foraging friend Rebeka says, “they’re packed with nutritious goodies”. Mostly they’re fun to pop in your mouth when you’re out splitting wood or just walking by the shrub and nab a few for a treat.
Come a cold day in winter, a flock of cedar waxwings will descend from nowhere and devour almost every berry left on the deciduous holly. I’ve watched this mad, frantic orgy before. How comical the birds look with their black masks, pulling off such a heist.
The American Beauty Berry’s fruit doesn’t seem popular. Deer and birds are supposed to relish the seeds but I don’t see many takers. My attraction to the shrub is its leaves. They contain natural deet that works wonders on mosquitoes and flies that want to drive you crazy. It’s especially nice to use these leaves on babies delicate skin, the fragrance of the leaves giving a lovely perfume to their baby smell.
Doesn’t this strawberry bush, a member of the Euonymous family, look like something from another planet? This is its first year to produce fruit and has surprised us with its many permutations, this last one when the seed is ready to dehisce. Normally it only grows down in the boot heel of Missouri, but the changing climate has given it a chance here, especially in protected areas.
The last native shrub, pasture rose, produces beautiful hips. I’ll collect them after the first frost and use them for tea. Three hips provide as much vitamin C as an entire orange. It’s a delicate tea, tasty on a cold winter afternoon. When my new neighbor, Petra, saw these hips, she said, “This makes me remember my grandma in Germany, in Würzburg. She collected rose hips and kept them in a jar for winter too. Will you give me a start of this rose when I’m ready to plant my gardens?” No words could make a gardener happier, and I replied, “With pleasure.”
Monkshood! This is a triumph. It’s been growing in the Death Garden for years and years, to little fanfare. Last year I moved some to Brother Cadfael’s Garden, the medieval monk who’s good friends with the woman in the Cottage Garden, after all, their gardens are side by side. Well, just a few days ago the flowers opened up. Look at the incredible hoods, just like a monk’s. I’m reminded of an accidental poisoning in New York City when a monkshood flower fell into a diner’s glass, and that was that.
With all this bounty, heading into the dark months doesn’t seem so daunting. As the weeks go by the supply of berries will dwindle and the head gardener will remind me how she wanted to curb the birds early foraging. I’ll smile and let her know she was right and then remember that nap I took on the grass, looking up into the weigelia and finding my little friend, showing me the way.