Sunday, December 11, 2011

A Change of Clothing

or Autumn Slips Away

I wonder sometimes whether hummingbirds recognize people.  My guess is that they don't—I'm not sure whether they even recognize people as people, let alone have the ability to recognize individuals.  If I wear pink or orange out in the garden, the hummingbirds are much differently aware of me than if I'm in green or blue.  Pink and orange qualify me as Potential Dinner.  Yellow might let me be Worth a Shot.  But blue and green?  They just make me blue Not-a-Dinner or green Not-a-Dinner, equally uninteresting in either case.  A change of clothes is worth a whole new role in the ecosystem.  It's practically an existential makeover, in hummingbird terms.

The 'Wild Thing' autumn sage looks thoroughly chastened.  Winter stalked through the garden this week in a grumpy-neighbor "Some of us have to work tomorrow" sort of way and shut down the party, slam!  Now the riotous blooming by the patio is at an end, and the loud outbursts of color have gone quiet.  Let's hope 'Wild Thing' doesn't look in the mirror until it's gotten some rest.

'Wild Thing' autumn sage (Salvia greggii) when it's at home

Winter really did let us have it, at least in the Albuquerque scale of things.  On Monday the temperatures reached record lows for that date, dropping to the single digits F; some parts of town (though not mine) had several inches of snow.  The unusual cold pushed the garden forward into winter by about three weeks, if not into a whole different growing zone altogether.  The Jupiter's beard and 'Goldflame' honeysuckle, usually green through December, are blackened mush.  The ipheion, which comes up in fall and was beginning to make a bright, grassy (if somewhat threadbare) carpet under the sand cherries, is limp and flattened.  Even the more or less evergreen 'Lady Banks' rose has lost most of its leaves.

The changes are a little disappointing this early in the season—I was hoping for more life in the garden this winter and am sorry to lose it before winter even starts.  The changes are also a signal, though, that it's time to reframe my idea of beauty, to reset it to winter's standards and let autumn's slip away.

Crocus speciosus, on a bed of cotula and cat hair

The days of leaves and seed pods are yielding to the days of stems and trunks, stalks and buds, to the play of light and shadow, to grass seeds backlit against a low, white sun.  A new wardrobe, a new role in the ecosystem, an existential makeover.  The new clothes may well turn out to be striking, shapely, and chic.

But they won't be party clothes any more.


  1. I was hoping autumn would last for a long, long time, too. I haven't ventured out too much in my garden lately - too busy getting ready for Christmas - but I have numerous evergreens to help me get through the winter. As for hummingbirds, I always thought they instinctively knew people were their slaves! The second they run out of nectar, they are looking in the window, as if to say "Hey, you in there! Get out here and feed us!"

  2. "Winter" caught me off guard this year too. We had leaves on the trees until a week ago. Then the hard freeze came and they were all on the ground in a day.

    I wasnt ready for fall to end... I agree with HollyGarden--too busy to welcome a new season....

    I love your posts and how they give me something new to ponder.

    Blessings to you.

  3. I'm afraid that when I do eventually have time to get outside, the plants which have been smothered by fallen leaves will have been decimated by slugs and worse. Yuk. In an effort to find a bright side maybe that will necessitate a shopping trip.

  4. I love the quietness of the winter garden. The gardeners' memories are more concentrated than when we were spoilt for choice earlier in the year. I'm sure that you see more than a bunch of stalks when you look at Wild Thing.

  5. Wow your winter has been more of a winter than mine so far....although it takes only one hard freeze and all stops in the garden and we are left with the quiet tattered remnants of plants and memories...I love the idea of wearing other colors in the garden and seeing what the hummers do...they certainly buzz me and have a few words if they feel I am too close...

  6. Another wonderful post!

    Stay warm!

  7. Sorry that all in your garden got slapped down so suddenly and brutally. You'll need to wear pink and orange non-stop-till-Spring to brighten things up. But honestly? "Days of stems and trunks, stalks and buds, to the play of light and shadow, to grass seeds backlit against a low, white sun" doesn't sound too bad. Enjoy.

  8. Holley, I was just thinking that it’s time to start appreciating the boxwood properly again… I’d forgotten that about hummingbirds and feeders—ha! I’ve only been offering them flowers, and the hummingbirds don’t seem to make that same association. They definitely know which side of the bread the butter’s on!

    Elaine, it’s hard to keep track of the seasons when they go by fits and starts like that—especially with all you’ve had on your plate recently! A friend from California always complains that “it looks like the moon” once the leaves have all fallen.

    Karen, I must say, one of the very, very best things about a dry climate is not having slugs. Or Worse. (That’s got the old imagination going in a scary way.) I hope the damage is minimal—just enough that you need maybe one or two new things to round out the bed again…

    b-a-g (or would you rather now be e-w-p?), as a general rule I like quiet, but by now I’m full of it up to here (::points::). You’re right, though, about concentrating memories—and experiences, too. I just need to recalibrate my expectations for winter. And I actually kind of like the way ‘Wild Thing’s bare stalks look—they catch the light beautifully.

  9. Donna, I think winter usually hits a little earlier here than back east—and then it leaves, earlier, too. What a difference there is between a regular frost that just takes out the “hothouse flowers” and a hard, killing one. I imagine you’re enjoying having a little warmer weather so far… Ounce for ounce hummingbirds have to be the most courageous animals on the planet.

    Ronit, thank you—so nice to see you here on “the other side”! I’ve been digging out the wool socks from deep down in the VT weather gear and being incredibly grateful for them.

    Dave, if I would just stop fussing about how much I dislike winter, it would probably be much more enjoyable… (For all concerned!) In this case it’s a small matter of defeated expectations—I thought the garden would look like “this” and it ended up looking like “that.” Now that that’s out of the way, though, I’m ready to enjoy the beauty that’s there. More or less...

  10. Each winter I appreciate the tapestry of browns a bit more... So many colors, really, when you look hard enough. You've captured that with your camera already. Happy winter beauty...

  11. The plants are dressing for winter here, but the temps have been up and down, so much confusion. Wild Thing makes a great photo.

  12. I think your garden lasted about a month longer than mine did. Your salvia greggii were stunning this year. I might have to find some room for a few of them in the late spring.