Colour by the yard-full

monkshoodby Richard Burke
It’s one of those typical, ambiguous autumn days: sun shining but from an increasingly lower angle on the horizon, temperature 12 C, but wind so hard it seems to penetrate walls. 

But, this is during the last week of October. What’s different about the scene is still-flowering sweet pea vines leaning east at a precarious angle, finally torn away partly from the chicken wire. And calendula planted in the backyard greenhouse in March still in bloom on the boulevard. A two-toned pink trailing verbena still drapes itself over the low rock retaining wall. The first-season, low-growing, spreading cotoneaster maintains its dainty, dark leaves in contrast to its bright red berries. White and golden yarrow continue to flourish, but now with a green and wine-coloured foliage blend.

On top of that are the monk’s hood, fall aster, chrysanthemums and blanket flowers, a more normal sight this time of year, but only because we haven’t had the really killing frost we usual associate with late October.
It’s not that we haven’t had frost that required pampering tomatoes and moving agave and the trailing begonia/fuschia wall pot into the greenhouse until the threat passed. 

cherryBut, the really hard frost that knocks the punch out of an Evans cherry tree before its leaves can turn gorgeous has been held at bay, somehow.
The average late frost around here is Sept 18. Early this month, we had two evenings that got down below the -3 C killing frost line for tender plants. Otherwise, we’ve had nothing to complain about, with an average low of just under plus 3 C. The average high this month has been over 17 C. Not bad.

So, thanks to the weather, we haven’t had to head for the hills, or down east where colourful falls are legendary, to find colour. It’s in our own back yards.
Take a look around: when you’re sucking up leaves to ship off to the city composter (or compost yourself), you can really get into what each plant still has to offer. We have brilliant red ornamental fruit and a variety of colours obesthummbirdn the weeping crab.

Each of the four or so barberries has its own spectacular hues. The ninebark diablo and purple-leaf sandcherry leaves remain a part of the palate. The honeysuckle, which the hummingbird left behind a few weeks ago, still has bright trumpet-shaped orange blooms.
A real bonus in a land that is usually brown for about half the year is the still-green of many of the plants, most notably roses, and some of the ground cover (which some years is just covered in white). The veronica, creeping jenny, ice-plant, snow in summer, bugleweed, mother of thyme and various sedums continue to shine.
And, I’m still picking strawberries.
No matter what tomorrow brings, we can pretty well say our gardens made it through October.

Time to start the chili pot, with tomatoes harvested only a couple of weeks ago, and celery and peppers still growing in the greenhouse.
But, that’s another story.

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