Shorter days and the Encore Azalea conundrum

I tend to really resent the shortened days following daylight savings.  I mean, early sunset isn't a personal insult, but it sure as hell feels like it when the sun starts setting at 5:30 and I still have 8 things I want to do outside before it gets dark.  I find myself less motivated to tackle energetic projects.  I know I'm not alone in this and suppose it's really about accepting my place as a living creature--subject to omnipotent natural rhythms.  Despite perpetually buzzing elliptical machines at the 24-hour Snap Fitness Center, it's only in relatively recent human history that electricity has allowed us to resist this natural spinning of the earth on its axis.  The more subtle thing is that these shortened days require an internal set shifting--from the flurry of early-fall activity into a quieter more contemplative stance.  

So here it is, high autumn, and the beech leaves are glowing in the 4'oclock light.  Cold humidity stirs up the smell of leaf mold.  It quiets me.  The crunch under my boots and the sound of squirrels pouncing also creates a hush.  Maybe during this contemplative time there is something we're supposed to be hearing in the whispers of a maple leaf floating to meet its companions on the ground.  

My scientific side would say, "Bollocks!  Nature isn't here to say something directly to us."  My need to hear something is just another example of narcissistic anthropomorphizing.  Still, I'm urged toward quietude, sensing there is in fact a message available when I pay attention.  (Besides, I don't say the word "bullocks" so my scientific side clearly isn't winning).

As humans we are nothing if not meaning-finders.  We derive meaning from the spaces around us.  Beauty calls to us, appealing to the better angels of our nature.  In a beautiful space, we are elevated from a mean scrappy existence.  The space itself communicates something hopeful and motivates.  And holding this truth alongside a respect for Nature's remote processes may be the most important thing I need to understand in seeking to design gardens.  Design matters, beauty calls and we respond.  The spaces around us reach into our cerebral isolation and pull us out into a global community.

In each designed space, we're challenged to find the delicate balance between artifice and nature.  And in each space, this balance rests a little differently on that continuum.  Maybe it's at this time of year, when the natural processes of decay and dormancy are so obvious that I become a little more aware of that culture/nature tension.   Strong gestures and architectural bones in the garden are only frames for what is happening in the cool dark autumn.  No matter what ideas I have for the exuberant spring, they seem remote as I watch and listen to the garden preparing for its winter rest.

Autumn argues for a stronger nod to natural elements in the garden.  Without seasonal reference, such spaces feel hollow at this time of year.  I don't want to be in a garden so full of broad leafed evergreens that there is no response to the season's calling (I also NEVER want to see an Encore azalea in bloom in November--but that's just me!).

 Perhaps the most seductive aspect of designing gardens is that the medium (plants) and environment (climate, architecture, time) place strong parameters on the designer to create something authentic within those bounds.  Never is this more true than in the late Autumn garden, as we can't ignore the raining of leaves and sinking of the sun.  So I guess I will listen, before the loud demands of the holiday bustle crowd out the message.


  1. Lovely, lovely post! Reading this is even better than a brisk autumn walk--and I do love those. You're an engaging writer. And here, here for the anti-Encore rant. What IS the point of a fall blooming azalea?

  2. I couldn't agree with you more about this daylight saving thing, only here furthur north we are dark by 4:30. Sure cuts the day short.

    1. I hope you have time to get outside earlier in the day for some Vitamin D!

  3. Thanks, Thomas! I've been enjoying your input in GDRT too.


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