The Cranky Gardener

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Annual Autumnal Ramblings

Autumn has always been my favourite season. I love to watch the maple and sassafras, sumac and oak turn the hillsides into a blaze of colour. I love the crisp mornings and warm afternoons. I eagerly anticipate my late-blooming asters, chrysanthemums and ruffled cockscombs. I look forward each year to ripening pumpkins and Hubbard squash; to green tomato relish and the pungent smell of mulled cider; to cutting grapevines, strawflowers and bittersweet berries for wreaths; to gathering black walnuts, pecans and hickory nuts for winter baking.

Autumn, more than any other season, also makes me reflective. There are many religious texts and oral traditions thought to be inspired by a divine force or intellect. These are meant to inspire and instruct, comfort and delight, elevate and disclose. However, in my humble opinion, all are flawed in the sense that they reveal more about man than they do about God.

I have often thought that if there is a divine intellect, and if It has left us with an instruction manual for life, then surely it is written in nature itself. Nature's lessons transcend language, nationality, race or creed. They are at the same time simple enough for a child and profound enough for an aged philosopher.

Many, many years ago I learned that no matter what kind of problem I have, if I sit quietly in my garden and think about it in the context of nature, I will find some kind of insight. Sometimes I discover things about myself that I wish I hadn't. Other times I gain a fresh perspective of the situation. And often I am able to formulate a response or a plan of action. I always leave in a healthier state of mind than when I began.

This year I had one of those mile-stone birthdays that we all look forward to when we're young and then begin to dread as the years go by. I hit the big 55 - old enough for senior citizen discounts - insurance rates increased - time for HRT - my dentist moved me from two cleanings a year to three. I have been feeling depressed and very much like a failure. You see, 20 years ago I set out a list of all the things that I was going to have accomplished by the time I turned 55. Well guess what? Very few of them actually happened. And I had convinced myself that I'm too old to do anything except keep keeping on.

At this point I decided to go outside and reflect about my sorry state of affairs. I took a wine cooler, a boom box and, for old times sake, Johnny Mathis Greatest Hits. I was determined to make peace with my age and my lack of achievement.

My first thought was that it wasn't quite fall yet. That isn't particularly profound, but for some reason it led to another thought which led to another and another. I looked at a sassafras in my neighbour's yard and realized that my life is like a sassafras. It is an unpresuming tree most of the year. Then, in autumn, it becomes the crown jewel of the hillsides. No other tree can match its clear, vibrant colours.

But the sassafras has another quality. Its roots have been used for hundreds of years by native Americans for flavouring and medicinal purposes. My strength, like the sassafras, lies in my roots. These roots are what keep me here, working to better the community in which I was born. My neighbours need my strength. My family needs my strength. And my community needs my strength. I am where I'm supposed to be.

It isn't quite fall yet. I have to complete my current tasks. I have to shepherd my husband and my mother through their winter. And I have to finish the community projects I've started. Then, I'll be able to have my autumn.

It occurred to me that my lifelong love of autumn has been a preparation for my own. My autumn can be filled with beauty and accomplishment and can bring me fulfillment. I can be that sassafras tree turning the hillside gold and orange and red.

My reflection upon the sassafras tree left me feeling more connected to the people around me and to the life of my community. It left me with the knowledge that, within myself, is the promise of something surprising and spectacular. I learned that, once again, my downfall is impatience. If nature teaches us anything it is that life is cyclical. And that things happen in their own time. My present is completely different than that which I had hoped for 20 years ago. But it is no less valid.

My garden fulfills many needs in my life. It is my physical exercise, my peace, my teacher, my muse, my priest. I wish all of you a garden and time to tend it.

It's the time of year for fresh, crisp apples. Everyone loves caramel apples. This week's recipe is for a 'company' version of the old standard. These can be wrapped in cellophane, tied with a bow and given to a lucky friend.

Party Apples


  • 5 medium apples
  • 5 wooden sticks
  • 1 14oz - 400g - package of caramel candies, unwrapped
  • ¼ cup - 75g, 3oz - corn syrup
  • ¾ cup - 100g, 4oz - chopped pecans or walnuts
  • 1 cup - 175g, 6oz - semisweet chocolate chips
  • 1 teaspoon canola oil
  • Nonstick cooking spray


  1. Spray a small baking sheet with the nonstick spray and set aside. Wash and dry the apples. Insert a stick into each apple at the stem end.
  2. In a microwave safe bowl, combine the caramels and corn syrup and microwave on high for 3 to 4 minutes. Stir after each minute. The caramels should be melted and smooth.
  3. Dip the apples into the hot caramel mixture, turning to coat. Scrape the excess caramel from the bottom of the apples. Roll the bottom half in the nuts and place on the baking sheet. Refrigerate for 15 - 20 minutes.
  4. In a small microwave safe bowl, mix the chocolate chips and the canola oil. Microwave on high for 1 - 2 minutes until melted. Stir.
  5. Drizzle the chocolate on the chilled apples and return to the refrigerator for 10 - 15 minutes. Wrap the apples individually and store in the refrigerator.

The Cranky Gardener


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