A Victorian Cottage Exterior in Autumn Surrounded by Trees and Plants in Shades of Burgundy, Gold and Green.

DELICIOUS AUTUMN COLOURS

Dreams and Plans

Here in Southern Manitoba, it’s amazing to me how hot it gets in summer (47C/117F with humidity) compared to how cold it gets in winter (-50C/-58F). On those days when the temperature soars to astronomical heights, one dreams of just a taste of a cool, autumn breeze.

To conjure up the sensation of that breeze, we dream of autumn colours.

In The Olenick House gardens, an evolving, seasonal colour palette is planned out during our winter downtime. Spring brings new life, summer offers juicy fruits and vegetables. Autumn is harvest time and the occasion for nature to reward us for all our efforts with a spectacular show.

While we busy ourselves collecting seeds from annuals and perennials, late-season bloomers come into full form and we slow our pace to marvel at those familiar golds, burgundies and fading greens.

Fall colour, here, begins with the humble marigold. These are started from seeds that were collected from last year’s blooms and the unending cycle of harvesting and planting moves ever forward.

Sowing begins indoors in February when snowdrifts still blanket the gardens.

Bright Orange, Autumn Marigolds on a Sunny Day
Bright Orange, Autumn Marigolds on a Sunny Day

By mid-spring, the marigold seedlings are strong enough to be hardened off and all that remains of those drifts is well-watered soil.

“Hardening” entails leaving plants outside for a couple of hours per day and increasing that time every few days until the plants are fully acclimated to being outside.

Without this effort, plants will go into shock from the sudden difference between indoors and out. This applies to all plants that you seed indoors and those that you bring inside to winter over.

Marigolds and other jewel-toned annuals will bloom right up until the first frost, heralding the season of hardy, comforting soups and stews, good books and glowing, crackling fires.

As new blooms open in autumn containers, seeds for next spring’s sowing are harvested from spent ones around the tomatoes. These are swelling with dried seeds and typically fill two large canning jars.

A Person Holding an Open Marigold Seed Pod in Their Fingers
A Person Holding an Open Marigold Seed Pod in Their Fingers

Every morning, I check the maturing nasturtium and milkweed seeds, waiting for them to reach full size before picking them. I find that larger seeds are more likely to germinate and produce hardier plants. These will be for the bees and butterflies to feast on, in the new year.

The seeds for these are relatively easy to locate and harvest. Others take a bit more patience, like those of petunias or lavender. But, every puzzle has a rewarding solution and it’s worth taking the time to discover it.

Once seeds from flowers and vegetables are harvested, the remaining, yellowed foliage is added to the compost heap to contribute to the health and well-being of future plants. It all comes full circle, eventually.

In the depths of winter, when it gets so cold you can’t stay outside for longer than five minutes, the final planning stages of seasonal colour bring us to some traditional autumn favourites.

One of which is sunflowers, fields of them, gently swaying to the rhythm of the dance, between solstice and equinox. 

Bright Yellow, Autumn Sunflowers Turning to Face the Sun with a Clear Blue Sky Behind Them
Bright Yellow, Autumn Sunflowers Turning to Face the Sun with a Clear Blue Sky Behind Them

Seeds of different varieties are pulled from our collection in late winter and logged on our planning spreadsheet. Once transplanted outside, young seedlings turn their leaves toward each sunrise and follow their guiding light across the sky.

Seasonal maturity culminates with large, bright disks of yellow, orange and burgundy on tall, thick stalks that create the perfect autumn backdrop for the rest of the garden.

Elegant banks of chrysanthemums bloom in every shade found in a brilliant, prairie sunset. These aren’t grown from seed but propagated from clippings and wintered over under grow lights.

Planted in between are the lowing-growing marigolds, offering cover for any exposed mum stems and keeping weeds and pests at bay.

The best thing about these particular fall planting options is that they can easily be grown in pots. Making a beautiful fall garden possible no matter the size of your outdoor spaces.

PRESERVING AUTUMN COLOURS

Propagation is an effective way of preserving and prolonging your carefully curated, seasonal colour palette. For us, it’s an integral part of autumn garden activity. In addition to mums, cuttings from woody herbs like lavender and rosemary, fuchsias, potato vine and petunias are also taken.

The original plants don’t winter over well, here, nor will they survive outside. Making propagating a more successful option.

If you choose to use a rooting hormone for your own propagation projects, organic is best. For us, apple cider vinegar serves this purpose nicely and is much easier on the plant, as well as the environment.

Autumn Mums in a Deep Orange Hue in a Garden
Autumn Mums in a Deep Orange Hue in a Garden

HOW TO GET EARLY AUTUMN GARDEN COLOUR

Shortly after I moved to Manitoba, my husband surprised me with a small token to honour my favourite season. A humble 4″ pot of sunburst mums. 

In order to prolong this very sweet gesture, I propagate this plant every year. The expanse of his thoughtfulness presents itself along our front walkway, every autumn.

The production of chrysanthemum blooms is triggered when the plant senses the days becoming shorter. In order to get the plants to bloom earlier in the season, I cover them around 5 pm at the beginning of August, to simulate shorter days, and voila! New buds begin to pop up.

AN EVOLVING GARDEN

Autumn is not all work, though. I mentioned that summer can get surprisingly hot in our neck of the woods. But, as summer wanes, so does the heat.

This window of bliss is our last opportunity to enjoy nature and the outdoors before there isn’t a speck of green in sight for what feels like forever. 

We often dine outside on the terrace, enjoying a spot of homemade wine. Darren wanders around his beloved blueberry, haskap and saskatoon bushes that just months before offered up the perfect specimens for fermentation.

Stemmed Glasses Filled with Homemade Wine Against a Blue Sky and Leafy Green Trees
Stemmed Glasses Filled with Homemade Wine Against a Blue Sky and Leafy Green Trees

Time is spent in the hammock with a good book and a cup of tea, with the birds and the breeze providing the perfect background soundtrack.

Then the moment ends and it’s back to work.

PREPARING FOR WINTER

All our planning and efforts reward us with a spectacular and dependable autumn show. And while we do make plenty of time to enjoy it, another kind of garden preparation is necessary to protect them from our severe winters.

For example, bulb and perennial foliage are pruned back after their energy has returned to the roots for the winter. The Tiger lily bed is getting a bit overcrowded, as is evident by the plants spreading and growing out from the foundation of the shed.

Bulbs tend to replicate themselves fairly rapidly in a healthy bed. I will need to address that issue come spring.

We also save the pruning of our various trees and berry bushes for early spring. This practice allows their sheer mass to protect them and ensure survival during long periods of plummeting temperatures.

Throughout the final days of this lovely, temperate weather, the bird feeders and baths continue to be filled, but the garden decor is slowly removed, pieces at a time, and stored until the darkness has once again passed.

A Sun Sculpture Reflecting the Afternoon Light
A Sun Sculpture Reflecting the Afternoon Light

Three copper sculptures, each representing a stage of the rising sun, shine on warmer days, perched on a garden fence. But, now these are carefully packed away in the gardening section of the basement.

As is the resin owl that keeps watch over our crops, warning approaching birds and other critters looking for a snack of impending consequences. The hammock, swing, umbrella and dining set are also put to bed for the season.

What remains is a canvas of sleepy trees that appear deeper into their seasonal metamorphosis every morning, providing an elegant frame through which our various late-season perennials and annuals can be seen coming into their own.

By removing the garden decor, the process of storing it all accomplished, we are now able to relax and actually enjoy the gradually decreasing temperatures and the finale of this brilliant, seasonal show.

Throw blankets are brought into our living areas and we find ourselves lighting the fire a bit more frequently. Gazing out the picture window with a hot mug in hand, the imagination begins to stir and dreams of future fall colour.

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