The Happy Autumn-fields

Alfred Lord Tennyson“Tears, idle tears, I know not what they mean,
Tears from the depth of some divine despair
Rise in the heart, and gather to the eyes,
In looking on the happy Autumn-fields,
And thinking of the days that are no more.”

Sob. Those lines would probably get Alfred Lord Tennyson laughed out of any poetry workshop today—the sentimental is just not in fashion—but they are memorable and resonant! Who hasn’t felt a little vague melancholy as summer turns to fall?

I love fall—it’s the season with my birthday, wedding anniversary and daughter’s birthday. I love the weather, the food, the foliage (I live in New England!), just about everything about the season. But as the temperatures cool at the end of the summer and the sun sets noticeably earlier, I always think of that Tennyson poem and get a little choked up.

This year it seems like autumn is coming early where I live. The nights are already pretty cool— low 60s—and for the past few weeks we’ve had regular (and at times heavy) rain. Rather than sink into “divine despair,” I got a jump on fall planting. That’s another thing I love about fall!

My first goal was to “finish” the makeover of our foundation planting that I started last spring. I really wish I had taken a “before” photo, because I think it looks so much better, if I do say so myself. The strip in front of the house is about 15 feet long and I enlarged it to an average of 8 feet deep, including a 2-foot alleyway under the eaves for weeding and access to the hose. When we moved in there were a pair of Hydrangea macrophylla flanked by some sort of little cone-shaped arborvitae. I wasn’t interested in watering the hydrangeas so they looked pretty deflated most of last summer, wilting in the sun. Also I didn’t like how they looked like a bundle of dead sticks over the winter, right in front of the house.

So last spring I pulled out all four plants and replaced them with a dwarf Korean lilac (Syringa meyeri ‘Palibin’), an inkberry holly (Ilex glabra ‘Shamrock’) and a fastigiate boxwood (Buxus ‘Green Tower’). Over the past couple weekends I polished it off with three Coral Drift roses for summer-long color and to ground the boxwood, plus one Caryopteris clandonensis ‘Dark Knight’ and two little bluestems (Schizachyrium scoparium ‘Carousel’) for autumn interest and to hide the base of the inkberry, which may lose its lower leaves as it grows taller.

My sister came over to take a look and she gave me the best piece of design advice I’ve heard about my project: “Looks great. Maybe take those tapes out of the cellar window.” Sure enough, you could plainly see a stack of VHS tapes in the window behind the shrubs—The House Without a Christmas Tree was on top—plus John’s old ski hat and some cobwebs. Going inside and cleaning up the “backdrop” was the final touch. All done! (Though I do have my eye on Coreopsis ‘Sienna Sunset’ as the perfect plant to tie the foundation and the lower sections of my garden together . . . )

I think it will look great in a few years, and if the sun ever comes out again here!

What are you planning to plant this fall? Does autumn make you happy, sad or both?

Top image: public domain.

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2 thoughts on “The Happy Autumn-fields

  1. I just try to get everything weeded, and get the vegetable garden emptied and supplied with a good layer of compost. It never gets all done, but in the spring I am so grateful for the work I did in the fall.

  2. This spring and fall I’m concentrating on soil improvement, pruning and transplanting in a long, narrow side garden that my elderly in-laws ‘gave’ me last year when it had become completely overgrown with ivy and a mosquito breeding ground.

    Since I had pulled up bushels of ivy and other volunteers, the ground collapsed because so much underground material had been removed. Sept and Oct I hope to be improving the grade.

    Oct and Nov is bulb season – I spread some canna lilies around in spring and every bulb put up three or four stalks. They have gorgeous bright red flowers, but their architecture is out of place. I’ll be digging and re-locating.

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