"What is it that makes you think of fall?" by the Whistling Gardener

Fall is a feeling, a sense of change, and there are different things that trigger that feeling in us.  Photo courtesy of Sunnyside Nursery.
Fall is a feeling, a sense of change, and there are different things that trigger that feeling in us. Photo courtesy of Sunnyside Nursery.

This weekly column is being reproduced with the permission of Steve Smith, The Whistling Gardener, and owner of Sunnyside Nursery in Marysville. 

The whole concept of “fall” is something so much more than the relative hours of daylight and darkness. Fall is a feeling, a sense of change, and there are different things that trigger that feeling in us.

For me the fall season begins when the school buses start rolling down the streets again. It’s the time of year when the moles become active and you can drive down most any neighborhood and see their destructive evidence everywhere.

It’s a cool crisp Friday evening where if you listen carefully you can hear the announcer at the local high school football game.

Fall is the return of my clump of Cyclamen hederifolium that has been dormant all summer and is now in full bloom. Or my Schizostylus coccinea, a lovely iris relative, that has finally come into bloom with gladiola-like star shaped flowers in shades of salmon and pink.

Fall is the dark gentian blue flowers of Ceratostigma plumbaginoides and the white and pink blooms of Japanese anemones.

I would be remiss not to mention my little patch of toad lilies, Tricyrtis formosana, that bear one inch purple spotted orchid-like flowers on arching stems. The name Toad Lily doesn’t really do them justice.

These are just a few things that come to my mind when I think of fall. Since everyone is different I decided to query some of my staff and find out what triggers the fall feeling in them and here is what they told me.

Mary marks the beginning of fall by the fall colors of her Oxydendrum, the harvesting of her garden, picking the tail end of the blackberries and the color orange. She likes the morning fog, spiders everywhere, Halloween decorations, apples and taking drives to see the fall colors. Fall for Mary means mildew on the roses and zucchini and rust on the hollyhocks and monster slugs. Fall means she gets to clean up the garden and cut back perennials, rake leaves and generally tidy up. And finally, fall for Mary is a carpet of yellow birch leaves all over her lawn.

Chris knows fall is here when she sees dew on the lawn in the morning. Monday night football and Halloween candy in the stores are sure signs summer is over and fall has arrived. Rudbeckia (Black Eyed Susan) in full bloom and Pee Gee Hydrangeas turning pink are her indicators of fall. The smell of the fresh, clean air in the morning with a hint of wood smoke in it and of course spiders everywhere are all indicators to Chris that it is fall.

Mary Ann notices the birds: flocks of starlings in the trees at night; crows gathering at their evening nesting grounds; bushtits returning as regular visitors to her garden and hummingbirds getting resourceful with what they find to eat. Fall is for planting garlic and eating Chanterelles. Fall means she has to move farther east in her back yard to still catch the sun’s rays. The fall colors of Sweetgums and Maples are early indicators that fall has arrived as are fall blooming crocus (Colchicums to be correct), Black Eyed Suzies and Asters. Oh, did I mention spiders everywhere?

As you can see, fall evokes all sorts of emotions from gardeners and I’m sure you have your very own list of fall triggers. Take a minute to reflect on what makes you feel like fall has arrived and then share those thoughts with your fellow gardeners. You might be surprised what they have to say.

Steve Smith is owner of Sunnyside Nursery in Marysville and can be reached online at

Our gardening sponsor.


Our featured sponsor

Google ad