In the Garden:
Mid-Atlantic
November, 2006
Regional Report

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A hillside of golden hostas, purple ornamental grasses, and chartreuse-leaved mophead hydrangeas leads to the Montreal Botanical Garden pagoda.

Autumn Tickles All Senses

Autumn is definitely my favorite five-senses season. Jewel-hued foliage flows from the ground skyward -- golden variegated hosta leaves and plumed ornamental grasses brighten a garden bed (Sight). Splashes of yellow, orange, purple, and crimson ash, sumac, sassafras, and dogwood shimmer in the horizon.

Even cloistered in a Vermonter train coach from Philadelphia to Burlington, Vermont, I revel in the late-autumn transformation -- from full, green-canopy trees in Pennsylvania through blue Connecticut marshes into northern architectural corridors of gray, cream, and black barks dappled with turning leaves.

At my cottage in Wayne, my ears perk up (Sound) when falling walnuts encased in spongy natural green hulls hit the roof ... thud, thud, thud, at all hours. In the grass, the dark tennis-ball look-alikes are a bit of a tripping hazard. They easily roll underfoot before I see to pick them up (Touch). A small collection of hull-less black walnuts sits on a windowsill waiting to be cracked, then added to oatmeal or cookie dough. (Taste).

Anyone with an oak nearby knows the click, click, click of acorns hitting the roof, sidewalk, patio, deck, yard. Of course, squirrels and chipmunks are busy stashing nuts and seeds; lots of bushy tails rounding corners, disappearing into ivy patches and behind shrub and tree branches. (Next time you watch a chipmunk, notice how it moves. The Ojibway/Algonquin Native Americans named this perky rodent "atchitamon" -- one who descends trees headfirst.)

The sound and whimsy of crispy leaves can stir our inner child. This morning I saw one middle-aged, well-dressed suburban commuter who couldn't resist their lure. He detoured from the sidewalk into the thick of crackling, brown oak leaves, then shuffled through them for nearly a block to the train station.

Even my nose notices Indian summer (Smell). The burnt-sugar scent of Katsura (Cercidiphyllum japonicum) leaves reminds me of New Orleans pralines. While I'm keen to pocket and press the Ginkgo's golden leaves, the female tree's smashed seeds warn me off. Their fleshy pulp smells like vomit. Roasted, toasted, or boiled, Ginkgo nuts are an Asian favorite thought to have medicinal qualities. (They are not recommended for children under six.) In Philadelphia's Fairmount Park, Asian women wearing rubber gloves gather the smelly seeds. They soak them for several days to remove the odiferous flesh, then don gloves again to thoroughly wash the pulp away before cooking the seeds. Be careful if you try this at home. The seed pulp and liquid can cause minor skin irritation and mouth and stomach pain; eating green nuts can cause an allergic reaction.

In my container garden, three green 'Fourth of July' tomatoes hang on a vine, as yet unfazed by frost. I've been potting up dozens of small hydrangeas and miscellaneous perennials to overwinter under Reemay poly fabric in a protected spot. So far, I've used five wheelbarrows full of two-thirds ProMix BX all-purpose soilless mix and one-third humus plus Garden-Tone fertilizer, alfalfa meal, and kelp meal. The most important step is watering with liquid kelp to help transplants root well before winter.


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