October '21 vs. October '22

 I feel in a summertime warp. While searching for photos for an article the other day I happened upon photos from the garden exactly one year ago; I marveled at the difference. This year seems to be perpetual summer with no autumnal color. Last year, normal color.

Therefore, a "Then and Now" post is in order to illustrate how weather impacts the garden. Half of these photos are from October 17, 2021, and then their counterparts from October 17, 2022.

Then: Acer palmatum 'Sango-kaku' and its two siblings elsewhere in the garden were spectacular last year.

Now: No autumn color this year. It's as lime green as ever. I note the Salvia o. 'Berggarten' under the yucca is gone, it died in our record wet spring. Too bad, I really like the shape and color of those leaves.

Then: Spiraea betulifolia 'Tor' with some pretty color coming on that grew intensely more vivid as the days passed into November.

Now: Not only no color but they are crunchy crispy from being so dry despite repeated waterings.

Then: Green field grass against deciduous shrubs in a high shady area.

Now: The green field grass here is only because FM kept watering a patch he reseeded. You can see on either side of the green how brown it all is. Everything else looks relatively similar.

Then: Hydrangea macrophylla flower blossoms have a lovely purple shade, contrasting nicely with the native vine maple, Acer circinatum, in the background.

Now: No color on the acer, just brown bits and fewer, less colorful hydrangea flowers.

Then: Veronicastrum v. 'Album' at the edge of the berm garden with pretty yellowing foliage against silvers of Stachys 'Helen von Stein'.

Now: Slightly different angle but no coloration at all. In fact, I chopped off the ends of one of them because it was crunchy, needing much more water than what I could give it. The Stachys 'Helen von Stein' looks quite ratty, I notice.

Then: Flaming red foliage of Itea v. 'Henry's Garnet' set off by Hesperantha coccinea 'Oregon Sunset' flowers.

This year you can't even pick out the itea foliage, it is still fairly green (although I'm confident it will shift to red soon). It looks more like high summer than mid-autumn.

Then: The edge of the labyrinth garden, very low water and full hot sun.

Now: Not that different.

Then: Pretty berries of Berberis jamesiana

This year, barely a blush.

Then: Stewartia pseudocamellia, although small has mighty color.

Now: Zero color (unless you count brown crunchy leaves).

Then: Phlomis russelliana seed stalks

Now: To be fair, seeds don't change much. But the foliage of santolina in the foreground matches it, being especially crunchy this year.

Then: Green field grass, glowing Acer palmatum and Amsonia hubrichtii.

Now: Brown field grass and no autumn color.

Then: Another shot of Acer palmatum 'Sango-kaku' among Muhlenbergia rigens.

Now: No autumn color but the Muhlenbergia rigens looks great! Again, it feels more like high summer than mid-autumn.

Then: The edge of the labyrinth with Ceanothus 'Italian Skies' in the center, Rudbeckia hirta and Helianthus 'Lemon Queen' (the taller on the right) sporting some lovely red foliage shades.

Now: I show this primarily because the ceanothus is gone. It died, branch by branch. I had another Ceanothus 'Italian Skies' die last year in a different location, it was pretty crowded. Not sure why either of them died but both are gone. The Helianthus 'Lemon Queen' on the far right is fried, no color, just crunchy dead. In place of the ceanothus I planted an Arctostaphylos 'Louis Edmunds'.

Then: The path leading to the dry garden with a pretty Acer palmatum and Amsonia hubrichtii glowing on a dull day. The green field grass colored up after our early autumn rains, it had been dormant as it is every summer.

Now: Umm . . . at least the Amsonia hubrichtii, while not golden, is a pretty green color even without much, if any, supplemental summer water.

Acer palmatum 'Sango-kaku' at the top of the driveway.

Now:  No color as of yet. That branch on the right has been like that since May.

A parting shot, just for fun (no comparison shot), of the edge of the labyrinth. This is a very hot, very dry, very well-drained site and it looks pretty good despite all of that. I think more of this is in order in the near future.

While I subconsciously realized there is little to no leaf color right now, it didn't come into focus until I stumbled upon last year's photos and I was, frankly, shocked at the difference. The field grass is a big piece of it being completely brown and still dormant with no way of it greening up until we get real rain. I don't mind that so much, but when plants like Stachys 'Helen von Stein', a stalwart, drought-adapted plant, looks as crummy as it does, it makes me really take notice. I still think we could get some color in the coming weeks if rain does indeed arrive, but I also think we could go from 85 degrees on October 16 to 40 degrees in mid-November with no real transition. The Acer macrophyllum, big leaf maples, are losing leaves like crazy and not due to seasonal leaf drop. Rather they are dead, crunchy brown and just falling on brown lawn. That seems to be the trend, extreme summer and extreme winter with no real transitional seasons any more and maybe, in the case of the big leaf maple, no autumn color. Just an observation. 

That's a wrap for this week at Chickadee Gardens. As always, thank you so much for reading and commenting, we love hearing from you and hearing what you are up to and how your gardens area faring! Happy gardening everyone.


  1. Gayle Parrish7:49 AM PDT

    Wow, that’s eye opening! I’ve lost plants this year too and am desperately awaiting some rain. It would be lovely to have a transition season, though, and not go from 80 degrees to 50 degrees almost overnight. Oh well, it’s a good thing gardeners are eternal optimists, right?

    1. Gayle, I couldn't have said it better myself. For some reason we gardeners are eternal optimists! Hooray for that!

  2. Anonymous10:57 AM PDT

    Those comparison photos are startling!
    When I visited my garden after 2 week absence, something didn't feel right though I couldn't quite put my finger on it. The home owner (my partner) watered as he does, everything is maintained okay, and yet the soil is kind of dry, plant colors are off, I can't start fall projects in this state of garden (and mind). Rain is promised for tomorrow, and I need a little scent of wet soil to get motivated.
    I looked up Arctostaphylos 'Louis Edmunds'. The first thing on the internet said: "native to Sonoma Co. where it is considered very rare and threatened by development". I'm glad you found this Arcto and I hope it loves it at the chickadee gardens.
    My Amsonia hasn't dazzled me with fall colors yet either. I'm holding on hope it will 'vibrant up' soon.

    1. Hi Chavli, your account of your garden not feeling right is spot on. Can't start a darned project with the soil this dry....today is supposed to be the rain day! Let us cross our fingers. Arcto 'Louis Edmunds' looks to be fantastic and I'm excited to add it to the garden. And yes, come on Amsonia!

  3. Your post shows the virtue of keeping visual track of what's happening in the garden. We've just had our first frost. Last year it didn't happen until the end of the month. Lots of tip dieback on trees here due to extreme temperature fluctuations in early spring. It's all a new learning curve and photos help a lot to compare and evaluate.

    1. Hi Linda, visuals are how I, for one, learn. It surprises me to go through old photos, for the human memory (mine, namely) fails and I get to surprise myself all over again! It is a new learning curve. I hope I am up to the task.

  4. Interesting comparison. I was most surprised by the difference in the Berberis berry color but less so by the rest given the hot, extended summer you've had. The largest of my 2 Acer palmatum 'Sango-kaku' looks just like yours. In my case, it usually does color up but not until November or later. My smaller 'Sango-kaku' burned up early during the summer for the second year in a row but I'm hoping it'll do better as it matures. What's been most disappointing to me is that the leaves of the Ginkgo 'Autumn Gold' we planted last year have burned up and dropped without any color change 2 years in a row. In contrast, my neighbor's Ginkgos, partially shaded by other trees, have held onto their green leaves much longer and eventually develop fall color on the same schedule as my larger Acer. Hopefully, this will be just a one-off year for you.

    1. Isn't the Berberis jamesiana color surprising? It seems with your example that perhaps it's the cooler (and wetter?) weather that sparks fall color. Too bad about your Acer 'Sango-kaku', that's rough. And the Ginko 'Autumn Gold' - what the corn? Too bad, they have such spectacular gold coloration! Hopefully a one-off year indeed, however I fear it's the norm now.

  5. Wow. Thanks for the eye-popping comparisons. Such a contrast from just one year ago. (Please hang on, Amsonia!) I remember last year, end of September we had the first rain and it made all the difference. As my garden is 90% containers, I have only lost a couple plants this year. I have been toting buckets of kitchen gray water to the shrubs left by a former neighbor who moved away in spring. But alas it wasn't enough to sustain them. The maintenance guys came with chain saws and loppers and cut them all down this morning, including a rose and a hydrangea she had planted.
    Perhaps we need to discover even more creative ways to garden with limited summer water in these uncertain times.
    All best to you and FM as we all wait for the rain.

    1. Ooh, yes, hang on Amsonia! Good on ya, Yohanna for taking such good care of your potted garden. Too bad about your neighbor's garden - but yes, perhaps more creative ways (and more drought-adapted plants) are the way to go here in the west. All best to you as well! Hugs!

  6. It's definitely been an interesting season. Retrospectives like this pinpoint how the garden as a whole adapts to the varying seasons. I spent two rather unpleasant days digging out our potatoes. The soil came out in concrete blocks. Just can't get enthused about Fall bulb planting when the soil is so hard. We have set a record for the driest October on record. Years like this challenge a gardener's optimism.

    1. Interesting indeed, Elaine! A lesson for me. Adaptation is a key word you touch on, and plants will tell us whether they are willing or not. Yes, planting bulbs is not on the radar any time soon for us, either. Your potato harvesting sounds most unpleasant - makes you wonder how farmers fared. My optimism has been put to the test for sure this year. Hang on, though - we're in this together.

  7. Such a crazy year! Someone mentioned the "fall color" on a couple of nearby trees the other day and I had to laugh. I guess drying drought stressed leaves to get a bit of color before they fall, but that's a much different thing than what we'd usually be seeing with "fall color"...

    1. It's been nutty, to say the least. Even though you are not autumn's biggest fan, I do know you appreciate the shifting leaf colors. We've even been denied that. *sigh*


Post a Comment

Thank you for your comments! I love hearing them, I will approve comments as soon as I can. Yay!

Popular Posts