Garden Muse
by: DENISE FARWELL, “Matrona” sedum’s dozens of colorful and flavorful flowers are a smorgasbord for bees.

As the light wanes just a tiny bit each day, I treasure the garden all the more, knowing the season is moving toward dormancy.

I feel less rushed in fall, and more attentive to the small details that make living in a garden so compelling.

As I write this, I glance out the window to see a squirrel, with a large meal in its mouth, racing up the enormous sweet gum tree. I get out the binoculars to see what he's found - is it a pear, or a fig, or an apple? But no, it's a sunflower that's gone to seed.

I'm tickled to see him stretched out on a broad limb, clutching the chunky flower head with both front paws and nibbling on the seeds the way you'd eat corn on the cob. He's very thorough, turning the circular pod around and around to get every morsel. It's a meal on a wheel. It's fall, and the garden's bounty keeps coming.

Bees gather in great numbers on the large flat pink discs of 'Matrona' sedum. They're so cooperative, sharing the space on dozens of flowers as swarms of their kin arrive to feast. Dozens of flowers - plentiful platforms full of color and nourishment - offer up their nectar and pollen.

Mexican orange, normally a spring bloomer, is flowering again this fall, and hummingbirds flit back and forth between its round white flowers and summer jasmine's (Jasminum officinale) funnel-shaped blooms.

Even though books say hummingbirds like red and orange, clearly they're happy with white flowers, too.

The dangling flowers of Himalayan honeysuckle have turned to wine-colored berries that are soft and ripe. Maurice Horn of Joy Creek Nursery once told me they taste like burnt caramel, and sure enough, one little bite confirms his description.

Nearby the scent of caramelizing sugar fills the air around the katsura tree. As its leaves turn golden in fall, they emit the tantalizing fragrance of a bakery.

A little farther along, the rich aroma of ripening Concord grapes adds another note to fall's perfume. I stop to taste one, linger to eat just a few more, and finally cut a stemful of plump purple fruit to take with me as I roam.

I make a mental list of friends who might like grapes for making juice or jelly. Fall's bounty is the perfect excuse to reconnect after a busy summer.

Heading for shade, I decide that deadheading the masterwort (Astrantia major) is the perfect job on this hot afternoon - not too strenuous and quick to bring satisfying results. Masterwort opens its white lacy flowers all summer and fall, and snipping off the spent flowers not only refreshes the plant's appearance but prolongs the bloom time.

The yellow tubes of Kirengeshoma palmata catch my eye. They began in August and are still opening, and even though they're subtle, this late in the season any dab of color is welcome.

This shade-loving perennial earns its keep with handsome maple-shaped leaves that contrast nicely with filmier maidenhair fern and sweet woodruff. At its feet the dazzling lavender-pink flowers of autumn crocus (Colchicum autumnale) put on their fall show.

The wonderful but weird bulb sends up leaves without flowers in spring, and flowers without leaves in fall, so I've placed it amid hellebores whose foliage surrounds the crocus's naked flowers. I bought the original bulb at Beth Chatto's nursery in England back in 1994, and this year I count 13 flowers. When they're done blooming, I'll investigate underground to see if there are enough bulbs to separate and replant. I'd love to spread the color along the bed.

It seems that overnight the false aster (Boltonia asteroides), which was nothing but a tall mass of gray-green foliage, has burst into a bouquet of radiant white daisies, and the turtle flower's (Chelone obliqua) stems have lit up with bright pink flowers.

Fuchsias are offering their final surge of bloom, especially 'Yolanda Frank,' which is dripping with peach blossoms.

The pleasures of fall are many, with the promise of more to come. Porcelain berry vine is just beginning to show color, and 'Lady in Black' aster is opening its first tiny white stars.

A gardener always has plenty to look forward to.

Garden events

• An opening celebration for the Weyerhaeuser Pacific Rim Bonsai Exhibit, 6 p.m. to 9 p.m. Friday, features curator Dave De Groot, jazz guitarist Toshi Onizuka and Oregon Poet Laureate Lawson Inada at the Japanese Garden, 611 S.W. Kingston Ave. Tickets (includes refreshments): $45, $35 garden members. For reservations and information about the exhibit, on display through Nov. 15, call 503-796-9180, or visit

• Portland Fall Home and Garden Show, noon to 9 p.m. Friday, 11 a.m. to 9 p.m. Saturday and 11 a.m. to 6 p.m. Sunday, Portland Expo Center, 2060 N. Marine Drive. Tickets: $8 adults, $2 children ages 6 to 12, free for children 5 and under. For information and tickets, call 503-246-8291, or visit

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