With Director of Horticulture Eric Kimbrel
A chill is in the air now as summer temperatures disappear and warm air no longer wraps around us. In exchange is a mosaic of colors so vibrant one just stares into nature’s mural.
Our plants are doing some behind-the-scenes preparation for winter as well. Roots continue to extend outward and downward in the soil. The flow of water and nutrients slows down and sugars are stored away in roots and stems. Special cells form an abscission layer at the base of leaves forcing them to fall off. Without fresh water the chlorophyll begins to disappear in the leaf, and the remaining glucose causes the colorful pigments to appear.
We are starting fall cleanup of the garden, blowing leaves and cutting down perennials. The wildflower labyrinth will be left undisturbed as a shelter and food source for the animals until late winter. Cutting down some aggressive wildflowers like snakeroot, goldenrod and Joe-Pye weed right after they finish flowering will reduce seed amounts and help control their spread. We do this on an annual basis in some areas of the garden.
In the fall, I am constantly making lists of tasks for the winter and working on design projects such as the renovation of the lower Pond Road. This fall has been similar to the dry May we experienced this year, and therefore we have been watering a lot more than typical for hurricane/storm season in the southeast. The lack of rainfall will affect the fall leaf color in the area. Drought can cause trees to lose their leaves early or prematurely change color due to stress. Acorns are also releasing from the trees because of drought-like conditions, and that has increased animal activity in our gardens: enter the bears!
As the herbaceous plants fade into dormancy and the trees provide the grand finale of color for the growing season, we begin mentally to prepare for winter on top of Toxaway Mountain. For me the fall is like putting the gardens to bed for a long winter’s rest. So, I ask myself, What do they need? More mulch, compost, a drink of water? Secretly and internally, I tell the gardens good night and to rest well until I see them again next spring.