By Jeff Nowak, Minneapolis, Minnesota
I recently read that the most magnificent autumn displays are far and few in between. They happen only when we're young or old enough to notice.
It makes perfect sense. I was one of those speeding through the season in the express lane, lucky if I saw a blur of reds, golds and oranges whiz past. But a few years back, the most spectacular fall show shook my senses alive. Ironically, it happened as I drove to a friend's funeral.
That dazzling morning, I realized that like life, autumn's beauty is fleeting...every moment should be cherished.
We owe colorful autumns to nature's perfect plan. It works like this...
As the days grow shorter, plants react, shutting the leaves off from the rest of the plant.
Cooler temperatures stop chlorophyll production. (Remember this from elementary school?) It's time for plants to stop growing and doze into dormancy.
As the green chlorophyll breaks down, pigments of yellow and orange are revealed. And majestic reds and purples—they begin to develop in the leaves of maples, dogwoods and sweet gums.
Leaf stems weaken, breaking as the days shorten and cool autumn winds pick up. Down the leaves fall.
What makes a perfect autumn show? It's when the right amount of rain at the beginning of the season combines with ideal temperatures and dwindling sunlight—a unique balancing act that makes for a spectacular fall.
Autumn doesn't mean the end of the growing season. With a little planning, you can extend flowering beauty.
One trick—start hardy plants from seed in late spring. You can do this as soon as the weather warms in cool climates (growing zones 3 and 4), in early June in moderate areas (zones 5 and 6) and late June to August for warmer climates. Coreopsis, larkspur, flowering tobacco (Nicotiana), phlox and love-in-a-mist (Nigella) are all excellent choices.
And by deadheading and shearing back your annuals through the growing season, your plants will produce flowers well into fall.
Concentrate on including plants in the garden that don't mind the nip of frost. Some good choices...alyssum, asters, pot marigold (Calendula), annual lupine, larkspur, pincushion flower (Scabiosa) and snapdragons. Of course, there are endless picks of chrysanthemums, as well.
To me, the biggest joy in savoring autumn is discovering the surprises least expected...cool purples among "hot" colors...contrasts between vibrant leaves and evergreens...the season's harvests in natural displays.
If there's ever a time I now slow down, autumn is it. After all, seasons like these are worth savoring for as long as possible.