NOTES FROM THE GARDEN | The autumn equinox

Our gardens are bone-dry, dusty, thirsty and patiently waiting for the refreshment of the autumnal rains. Yes, we can water or irrigate them, but the end-of-summer dryness has a chokehold on them. I am always amazed by how well they continue to withstand this last summer heat until the change at the equinox.

Many dry leaves rustle in the trees and on the ground, yet the brilliant fall color has not set up yet. Our plants seemed revitalized a few weeks ago with the first touch of cool air, but the overall sense of deep dustiness has returned along with the midday heat.

As much as we love these last few days of warm weather, it, too, is a challenge for us. The mornings have a serious chill factor for our bare toes in our sandals, but by 1 p.m. in the afternoon, a tank top is de rigeur. None of us want to see the winter darkness descend again, but it is time to change the season.

According to Chinese medicine, these two weeks before the equinox are very difficult for our bodies. It is a time of exhilaration for new beginnings after the full harvest, yet a sadness pervades for the loss of the bountiful and nurturing growth from our lands. This strange dichotomy wreaks havoc on our bodies.

If you are feeling pings and pangs that seemingly have come from nowhere, do not be alarmed. Some healing acupuncture, more yoga, gentle herbals baths or your favorite indulgence or soul-satisfying activity will tide you over until the actual equinox. 

A time of uncertainty

After the seemingly slow, lazy, warm days, now we must intensify our focuses and get ready for the long, dark days. Many more of us are making pantries for those days. Given the world’s chaos, I think it is a return to being unsure, rather than always knowing we could get food here in America.

Also, many of us want to return to some nurturing traditions to educate the very young. We are being told to wean them off their devices or to limit their use to maybe just one hour a day. I think having them actively involved in the harvest days and pantry preparations is as important for them as getting the spring bulbs in the ground.

The other day, someone showed me a fancy package, with scenes of a verdant pasture, with the words “grass-fed beef.” She looked at me and said, “Isn’t that the way we had beef in our childhood?”

Of course, all the trends associated with local, sustainable, organic have come together at this time of great uncertainty. 

Springing to life

Spring-bulb ordering already?

Yes, and once again, we will order too many, but what a joy over the years to have our collections grow and multiply and bring all our sweet memories of spring to life again.

My absolute favorites are the specie crocus and the French tulips. How is that for spring bookends?

My specie crocus are in a pot with a small Japanese maple tree by the front door. The simple green shoots can be seen through the bare branches of the maple.

When I first see them, it is almost as exciting as the joyous peeling of the bells in my beloved Rome. With that cold, low-light, winter day in January or February, when I first spot the small shoots, I then know that warmth and light are, indeed, returning.

As the days go by, the flowers — very small in comparison to their cousins, such as Crocus Mammoth Yellow — stay closed until a ray of sunshine hits them. Then they have no shame, and they splay open their petals to the light. What a fine, sensuous celebration from these demure, little flowers.

I also plant these crocuses out in my front garden. Needless to say, when the sun is out, they draw me out and into my very dormant garden beds.

I reconnect with my garden through their vigor. I see all the buds on my deciduous trees fattening. I feel the sense of resurgence in our landscapes. On my walks, I have what one might call “spring-hopeful” eyes.

As for the French tulips, they speak to the abundance of the late April-May garden. The colors are pure French elegance. They stand at least 18 inches tall. They perform beautifully as cut flowers.

Put them in a part of your garden that will receive no summer irrigation. Then you can leave them in the ground, year after year.

MADELEINE WILDE is a longtime Queen Anne resident. To comment on this column, write to