For me, fall starts with a frenzy of activity. Gotta get the daffodils in the ground; clean up the spent irises, daylilies, peonies, cranesbills; repot all the young shrubs and trees into larger containers for their winter rest. The sun sets sooner each day, the hours in the garden are shrinking, and I panic. How will I ever get it all done before frost?
But then, as the first seedless champagne grapes ripen and the aroma of sweet fruit fills the air, I take a break to enjoy the garden's last offerings. I stop to pick a cluster of these petite, sweet grapes and sit under the arbor to enjoy them. When I go back for just a few more, I notice that the large cone-shaped panicles of 'Pinky Winky' hydrangea have turned a soft shade of pink.
'Pinky Winky' is one of a half dozen hydrangeas growing on the north side of the arbor where the grape leaves shade them from summer's heat. With a soaker hose to keep them moist, and no tree roots to compete with, they are happier than any other hydrangeas in the garden.
I cut a bunch of dahlias for the house and arrange them in a bouquet. Early in October, all the pink, coral and dark burgundy Karma dahlias are flowering like crazy, as if to make up for their late start with this final fireworks. Earlier on, I'm stingy about cutting flowers - they last so much longer outdoors - but now that the garden is winding down, I enjoy bringing them in for a closer look.
Many roses are also making a resurgence. Deep pink 'Lovely Fairy' rose is not only in full bloom but is packed with buds for yet one more flowering. The silky pink and pale orange blossoms on 'Mutabilis' rose are bigger than they were all summer and seem to glow in the autumn light. 'Coral Floral Carpet' rose has simply never stopped blooming since early summer, and looks as good now as it did in June.
True, lots of leaves are declining, especially on many of the poor hostas, but the fuchsias, growing in big pots, are making up for them. 'Zulu King' is a waterfall of wine-colored flowers, long and slender, while 'Maxima' dangles luscious blossoms, bright red-pink above and dark purple below.
Last spring, a friend shared some sweet alyssum that he grew from seed, and I tucked them around the the fuchsias, mostly for the fragrance. The alyssum bloomed once, then I cut it back in late summer, and now it's flowering once more, a froth of white lace underpinning the glamorous fuchsias.
I know I've complained about self-sowing asters that spring up everywhere in the garden, some in washed-out colors like pale lavender. But I change my mind when drifts of volunteer asters in all shades of pink and purple bloom together with yellow Rudbeckia triloba. On autumn days that start out overcast, followed by a misty rainfall, and sun breaks in the afternoon, I love just about any flower that brightens the garden.
By the middle of October, I realize that I'll never get all the fall tasks done, so I give up and relax into the season. I settle for getting the daffodil bulbs, potted hostas and ferns planted in the ground by Thanksgiving. I vow to move the young Japanese maples I've been growing into larger pots, very soon.
Other jobs can wait for winter. That's when topping the paths with wood chips will give me a good workout and keep me warm. That's when I'll prune away the dead wood from climbing and shrub roses, when I'll dig out more Siberian irises.
Fall is for mellowing out, for enjoying the light as long into the late afternoon as it lasts, for looking at the garden with appreciation for all that it has given. Volunteer 'Sun Gold' tomatoes from last year's plants have been the best producers in the garden this year - thank goodness I didn't weed them out by accident. I'm also enjoying the large purple seed pods on Fuchsia hatsebachii - they're edible, and quite sweet.
Any day now the Concord grapes will be ripe enough to feast on. Purple, pink and green clusters dangling from the arbor are a beautiful sight. One good frost enhances the taste from passable to terrific. That will be my consolation when the cold weather blackens the dahlias - that very same dip in the temperature will also turn the grapes even more delicious.
• Farmington Gardens presents Fall Rose Care with rose expert Rich Baer, 11 a.m., Oct. 30. Learn fall maintenance to keep your roses healthy and productive. Free event. Farmington Gardens, 21815 S.W. Farmington Road, Beaverton 97007. For more information call Linda Shively, 503-649-4568, or visit www.farmingtongardens.com
Space is limited; registration suggested.