The Gardener's Apprentice

New This Month

October light, mellow and golden, brings new perspective to the garden and the gardener.


Make choices about how to clean up garden beds and borders.  Leave at least some seedhead-bearing perennial stalks for the birds.

October 24, 2016
by The Gardeners' Apprentice
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I have always loved the October light, which is so distinctive that novelist John Gardner, who had poetry in his soul, used it in a book title.  On any sunny October Saturday, the light is mellow and golden, illuminating the plants in ways that are absent in summer.   While it gilds the landscape, the light also becomes steadily more precious, as the days grow markedly shorter after the Autumn Equinox on September 21.  That lessening of daylight triggers the garden chrysanthemums’ bloom cycle, not to mention the coloring of leaves on deciduous trees.  I was sure that this year the drought would make the maple in front of my house drop all its leaves before changing color, but now it has suddenly become brilliant.  The absence of chlorophyll ...

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October 18, 2016
by The Gardeners' Apprentice
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Wild Asters

I love the big, bumptious, fast-spreading asters in my garden.  There is ‘Alma Potschke’, often written about and even more often spotted in every single one of my garden beds.   I know she is officially an “it”, but calling her “she” seems more logical.  ‘Alma’ self-seeds as if she thinks extinction is just around the corner.  Despite that, who could not love her?  She is tall—growing over five feet high when deer don’t shorten the stalks—and flowers in shades ranging from medium pink to dark magenta.  The many individual blooms open over a long period, so ‘Alma’ can shine forth for a couple of weeks before giving up the ghost for the year Only slightly less vigorous than ‘Alma’ is Aster frikartii ‘Monch’, ...

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October 10, 2016
by The Gardeners' Apprentice
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Cucumber Magnolia

Several weeks ago, as I was prepping for a local shade tree tour, one of the tour organizers sent me a picture of a “mystery tree” that was growing on private property on our chosen route.  The picture showed little, except very large green leaves.  I thought the tree might be some kind of catalpa, a genus that features impressive foliage, except that catalpa leaves are usually heart-shaped and the picture did not seem to show that. I didn’t see the tree in person until I was actually on the tour and accompanied by about twenty-five enthusiastic tree lovers.  When I saw the “mystery tree”, a voice in my head said “magnolia”, but did not specify a species.  There are a large number of magnolia species in commerce, and an ...

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October 3, 2016
by The Gardeners' Apprentice
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Butterfly Farewell

The night temperatures are growing cold enough so that last week I turned the heat on in my house for the first time since spring.  The plants have caught a whiff of the oncoming season, but most of them are still going strong.  The roses shine, almost literally, in the autumn light, with a color intensity that is peculiar to October, amid beds that are full of hundreds of asters.  Hardy, garden chrysanthemums await the moment when they will bring down the curtain on the fall flowers. The flowers go gradually, but the butterflies leave the scene all at once.  We always notice this in our household, because we keep track of the butterflies and a few of the more unusual moths.  I never fail to feel a sense of loss on the day that I realize ...

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