Before the first hard frost, I cut the proverbial “last rose of summer” and thought of Shakespeare penning that line in one of his sonnets, only it wasn’t the Old Bard at all. Thomas Moore wrote it after having been inspired by a specimen of Old Blush. He’s not the much earlier Sir Thomas More, an English lawyer, social philosopher, author, statesman and noted Renaissance humanist whom Henry VIII beheaded, but the Irish poet (1779-1852):
Tis the last rose of summer
Left blooming alone;
All her lovely companions
Are faded and gone . . .
I’ll not leave thee, thou lone one!
To pine on the stem; . . .
Not one but three full-blown heads of the Grand Dame rose hung from weakened necks. I relieved them from shedding petals to blanket their feet, brought them into the kitchen and stuck them into an old canning jar. They never perked up but, one by one, dropped their petals onto the marble.
My Red Rose of Lancaster has crowned herself with red and orange hips, her blooms long faded along with Cicero’s ancient Damascena bifera, sometimes called Rosa d’Castile. All the other roses are long gone except for The Fairy, our real “last rose” until winter snows smother the blooms. I hate to cut back the canes while their pinks remain vibrant in October’s brilliance.
The last of the herbs, except wintering sage, parsley, and sorrel, are drying on screens on the kitchen counter. I think I’ll cut the parsley, anyway, and freeze in little Zip-Loc bags for winter stews.
I’ve cleaned out summer urns, repotted geraniums and brought in huge Boston ferns and the ever expanding gardenia in its own blue urn. I washed and oiled my garden tools and hung them on nails driven into one wall of the tool shed already re-organized and the clutter cleared away.
But I’m still not sure what to do about the ginger lilies. Perhaps leave them in their protected corner? Dig and store the rhysomes? Dig and pot up for indoors? I may do that. The rhysomes alone must be wrapped in a piece of old burlap before they are stored in paper bags. At any rate, I can’t dig any until their green tops turn brown with frost.
All the perennial beds have been covered in rich bark mulch, smelling like fresh sawn wood from the lumber mills across the river. Brown pine needles covered that in a recent wind storm; they remind me of our Southern azaleas mulched in loblolly pine straw.
The final mowing is accomplished, the final lawn watering done, and the hoses coiled and disconnected from the spigots. Any seed-bearing plants, such as fleece flower, tansy and yarrow, are left in place for winter birds already returned from the mountains: juncoes, chickadees, bushnits.
Now that the garden has been put to bed, I turn my attention inward: autumn colors for interior décor, aromas of pork roasts and peach chutney from the kitchen, cozy cuddling in a favorite plaid lap blanket, and the sights and sounds of college football from the television. From the library windows, I relish views of the garden in early mornings. Sunlight slants his rays across dewy lawns and tickles maple and magnolia leaves. Little winter birds flit about from the hanging gazebo feeder to the blazing dogwoods and back again. A pair of white, ring-necked California doves peck among grass blades for any spilt seed.
Charlie, my cocker spaniel, has learned to be content merely to observe these goings on behind the confines of glass without clamoring to get outside. Instead, he is rolling his eyes around to see if I notice. I do.