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The Butchart Chronicles : September 14, 2015

The Garden Notebook - Autumn 2015

Autumn in the Japanese Garden
I have always wondered how this dynamic and beautiful season came to be known simply as ‘fall’. To me, naming a season based on the single basic fact that this is the time of year when leaves ‘fall’ from trees just seems somewhat inadequate. In my brief research I didn’t find an exceptional answer, but I did find out that it was the British settlers who introduced the term to North America. It seems that once the name stuck, they abruptly stopped using the name back home – I suppose it could have been a joke, but nobody is quite sure about that one. In all honesty, we’re not sure how quickly they stopped using the term in England, but the term is almost obsolete and you might get a blank stare or an odd reaction if you mention how lovely the ‘fall’ weather is when you are there for a visit.

I would consider ‘Autumn’ to be the more appropriate term as the season starts with the autumnal equinox (September 23rd this year) and ends with the winter solstice. The word ‘Autumn’ is derived from the Latin word ‘Autumnus’ and as we gardening types love the use of Latin for our plant names we kind of like that connection. With all that said, the most important thing for us is that this is really the time of seasonal transition in the garden - with each passing day we see the vibrancy of summer slowly fading away with the quiet beauty of winter waiting patiently on the horizon. In our part of the world the days become shorter and the temperatures begin to cool off, making it a great time to make preparations to put the garden to bed for the winter.         

However, putting the garden to bed for the winter isn’t all that exciting so I’d rather talk about things that may entice you to keep reading. There has been a lot of promotion these days to celebrate this season and we at the Butchart Gardens are no different. For many, this is their favorite time of year as you can still find plenty of late season summer colour as well as an abundance of brilliant colour being provided by the foliage from hundreds of trees and shrubs. You may have thought that these fall colour effects appear randomly in the landscape, but this is something that we have also planned and continue to enhance as the landscape evolves over time.

One of the initiatives that we have taken in the past couple of years has been to set up seasonal displays which include some of the bounty from our harvest. Many people would be totally unaware that we harvest any kind of crop at all (besides flowers), but a few years ago we came up with a brilliant idea to plant a cover crop of pumpkins and gourds on our massive piles of compost. For years we battled weeds and other unwanted plants growing out of our compost piles, then one year (after scattering a few pumpkin seeds and completely forgetting about them) we found the vines thriving and producing all kinds of fruit. We knew that gourds and pumpkins were allelopathic – which is to say that they produce biochemicals that inhibit the growth of other plants, but we had no idea how well they would perform.

Pumpkins and gourds at The Butchart Gardens in autumn
Well, this was obviously a match made in heaven as the pumpkins thrived on the warmth and abundance of nutrients from the compost! Coupled with their natural allelopathic properties, the weeds didn’t stand a chance of competing. The final result for us was a weed free compost pile with the bonus of a bumper crop of healthy pumpkins! We have since expanded this planting to include gourds and now we have an incredible variety of conventional and novelty pumpkins and gourds that we use in various displays around the property. It seems as though the breeders of these plants are trying to do everything in their power to create the most freakish looking fruit perhaps as some kind of tribute to Halloween.          

Speaking of displays, this is also the season of the Chrysanthemum and we plant thousands of these beautiful fall flowering plants to enhance our garden display. This year we have also planted some new varieties of Cyclamen, which have the most interesting foliage to go along with their brightly coloured flowers. This could be a new trend for us as Cyclamen are typically hardier and longer lasting than Chrysanthemums and may potentially last right through the winter. Be on the lookout for these if you happen to come for a visit this fall – I mean autumn!

Plants that you simply can’t miss at this time of year are the Dahlias. I realize that I probably comment about this plant every year, but I can’t help it – these exceptional plants are completely worthy of every comment and compliment they receive. The diversity of flower shapes, sizes and colour are unmatched by any other plant in the garden and our massive Dahlia border is truly a sight to behold. I will repeat that it is a sight to ‘behold’ and not a sight to ‘hold’ as sometimes we ‘behold’ one of our wonderful visitors getting so emotional upon experiencing this display that they can’t stop themselves from jumping right in with the plants to ‘hold’ and photograph a flower! Maybe it’s the gravitational pull as some of these plants are enormous, growing up to 10 feet tall with flowers well over 12 inches in diameter!      
Dahlia border at The Buchart Gardens
A very exciting and special project that we will be commencing in October will be the installation and landscaping of a permanent home for our beautiful dragon fountain. If you have visited us during the past few months you would have noticed the dragon happily playing and spraying water in a temporary pond on waterwheel square. Although this location seemed ideal, we really felt that it would be much more suitable to create a beautiful, permanent setting within the actual garden. After much discussion we decided to locate this magnificent piece in an underdeveloped area in behind the current Dahlia border. We are very excited to be able to provide another visual highlight for all of our visitors to enjoy and we hope to unveil this new feature in the spring of 2016.     

While we begin the work on this project we will also be installing or planting our display for spring 2016. We are always excited to get this show in the ground before the weather turns too wintry and we eagerly anticipate another exceptional spring display with many new additions and improvements.

As you have read, there is much more taking place in the garden than simply putting it to bed for the winter. Our gardeners are always available to answer any gardening questions that you may have - this is especially true during planting season as this provides them with an opportunity to take a short break from a very physically demanding task.      

So come out and be dazzled by the colourful changes taking place in the garden during this special time of year. We really don’t mind whether you call the season either ‘fall’ or ‘autumn’, but just make sure that you do the right thing for ‘Daylight Savings Time’ as that’s about the only time when the term ‘fall’ (backward) really seems beneficial and suitable for the season.      
- Rick Los, director of horticulture

Autumn in the Sunken Garden