The Cranky Gardener

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No Rest for the Weary1

I know lots of people who think that spring and summer are the only busy times in the garden. These are my non-gardening acquaintances. They assume that since October has arrived, I should have nothing to do outside but rake leaves and give the lawn a final trim. Oh that this were so.

I love autumn. Always have. It's my favorite season. But autumn gardening makes me cranky. For one thing, the days are shorter which means that I can't get anything done after work. This forces me to schedule too many tasks for weekends. And the weather is so undependable this time of year that I always have to reschedule and reschedule and reschedule.

Take today, for instance. I should be outside mowing, dividing perennials and moving some of them from my back garden to my front garden. I have blackberry plants to set out. The fence row needs cleaning. My herbs need to be trimmed back and thinned. Plants need to be deadheaded. I have two more fruit trees scheduled to arrive any day and I need to decide where on earth I'm going to find room to plant them.

So why am I inside moaning about it instead of doing it? Because we started the day with a heavy fog, a real pea-souper. There has been no sun and, at 3:00 pm, the grass and foliage are still too wet to work in. I may get something done today and I may not. It's very frustrating.

Tomorrow, when I'll be at work all day, is supposed to be sunny and warm. An absolutely perfect day to garden. It's no wonder that gardeners have been known to tip the bottle on occasion.

If it were dry enough to be in my garden, I could also be sowing hardy annual and perennial seeds for next season's bloom. This activity would probably annoy my grandfather. He always sowed his flower seeds on Good Friday. Well, you know what? The weather on Good Friday is generally dreadful. I have better luck sowing my seeds in the fall and letting them winter over.

Some plants that I have had success with for autumn sowing are Impatiens, Coleus, Marigold, Zinnia, Cleome, Purple Basil, Morning Glory, Rudbeckia, Gaillardia, Alpine Strawberry, Echinacea, Delphinium, Larkspur, Hollyhock, and Shasta Daisy. Your own climate will influence which plants will do well for you when sown in the autumn, but generally those plants - both annual and perennial - which self-sow, will be good choices for you.

Autumn is also a good time to reseed your lawn or to lay new sod. In my climate it is the preferred time to plant fruit trees and small fruits such as berries and grapes. Most perennials will do better if planted in the fall rather than in the spring. This is because our springs are short-lived and summer comes quickly. When perennials and fruits are planted in early October, they have a chance to get their roots established before the ground freezes hard, (which normally doesn't happen until mid-December), without the stress of drought and insects.

October is the month to plant spring and summer flowering bulbs, tidy your herb beds, turn over your vegetable plot for spring planting, and clean the annuals out of your beds and borders. It's time to bring tender container plants inside and to plant Pansies for fall and early winter bloom. It's time to lay in a good supply of straw or hay or whatever you use for winter mulch. And it's time to gather pecans - if the squirrels leave you any!

I have to tell you this story. It's true - honest. I have a pecan tree in my back garden. It is probably 30 feet tall and will eventually reach a height of 50 feet. It's a beautiful tree. We have placed a picnic table and a swing underneath it to take advantage of the shade. One hot summer day I was taking a breather from weeding by sitting at the picnic table sipping a glass of iced tea. There I was, minding my own business, when an apple fell out of the tree and hit me on the head!

You don't have to be a rocket scientist to know that the odds of being hit by an apple while seated under a pecan tree are pretty high. I was just about to call Ripley's Believe it or Not when I took a closer look at the apple. It had teeth marks in it. Holy McIntosh, Batman! I looked up into the tree and saw a rather irate squirrel on the branch directly above my head. He started chattering up a storm... really chewing me out for taking possession of his apple. He took the apple (an early ripening variety) from my neighbour's tree, brought it into my garden, then carried it up the pecan tree to eat.

Speaking of apples and pecans... this week's recipe is for apple cake. We're all trying to eat healthier, but still want a sweet dessert now and again. These are the easiest, tastiest baked apples you'll ever eat. And you can make just one or enough for a crowd.

Hypatia's Baked Apples


  • Firm, blemish-free apples, cored
  • Brown sugar
  • Chopped pecans
  • Cinnamon
  • Nutmeg
  • Butter

Preheat oven to 350ºF - 180ºC, Gas Mark 4. Wash your apples, core with an apple corer, and cut a thin strip off the bottom so they will sit up in the pan. Place the apple/apples into a pan or baking dish of suitable size. Mix enough brown sugar, and pecans to fill the holes left by the cores and pack firmly into the apples. Place a pat of butter on top of the brown sugar and nuts. Sprinkle with cinnamon and nutmeg. Add about a half-inch of water to the pan. Cover loosely with foil and bake for 45 minutes or until tender.

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1Plant names capitalised for clarity.

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