Learning to Appreciate Seasonal Variations in the Landscape

First photo shows my yard in full-blown spring/summer mode, when the wildflowers I’ve encouraged to grow create a puffy riot of color. Second photo shows the same part of the yard in “Autumn stubble” mode.

Here in my part of Florida, we don’t really have seasons, at least not as most people know them. And yet, I am getting the same cozy, restful, waning-year feeling from sitting in my Florida garden right now, as I would get from visiting a stubbled northern field or meadow in fall.

After allowing the browned grasses and withered flower stems to remain in place for a couple of weeks, I cut them down and cut them into smaller pieces — my favorite yard tool is a big pair of antique steel scissors — and left them in place as mulch. (In permaculture we call this technique “chop and drop.” It provides an endless supply of protective and nourishing mulch for the soil, as well as preserving wildflower seed heads.) After the yard’s winter rest, next spring’s flowery burst will come as a fresh treat.

A few years back, some civically active folks in my area got permission to start a wildflower garden at a local library. But (according to the story as I heard it — I did not yet live here at the time) when the flowers entered their withery seedy phase, people complained. The garden was ripped out and replaced with turf grass.

What I might have done instead in this situation is “chop and drop” the browned vegetation, and make sure there were enough shrubs and other larger plants to maintain visual interest while the wildflowers had their seasonal rest. I also would have created some nice illustrated signs explaining the seasonal variation, and letting people know what wildflowers and other beauties to look for at different times of year. What a great opportunity to show people the beauty and surprise of seasonal variation.

The Florida Wildflower Foundation offers people the opportunity to take a “Pledge for Wildflowers.” Besides things like refraining from the use of chemicals and irrigation systems, the pledge includes being “conscious of wildflower and native plant life cycles and recognize that my plants might not look their best all the time.” Maybe the wildflower advocacy organization in your region has a similar pledge.

Another idea for perking up a resting landscape is to have whimsical yard sculptures. The brightly painted snake, lizard, and butterflies I’ve scattered all over my yard make an attractive focal point, and stand out more at times of year when the plants are resting from their lush phases.

There is a real beauty, and comfort, in allowing ourselves to experience the natural rhythms of the landscape. But in today’s chemically evergreen modern world (especially here in Florida, it seems), where plants get ripped out and replaced with new plants as soon as they stop looking “perfect,” people (especially people living in U.S. cities and suburbs) don’t naturally come by a love for that experience, and it is an acquired taste.

I have the benefit of having grown up in a family where we got out to the national and state parks on a regular basis, as well as being avid explorers of urban nature pockets. So I am fairly well educated about nature. Even so, I am always learning new ways to see nature. Although this is my tenth October in Florida, I have never before experienced October in Florida as a version of the deliciously cozy, earthy brown-stubbled time I loved as a child growing up in more northern climates (and as an adult, living in Japan, where autumn is magnificent). What a treat to get this new experience of “Florida fall”!

(Speaking of new takes on Florida fall, I once saw a neighbor’s hurricane sandbags that had been painted up to look like jack o’ lanterns!)

How about you? Any autumn harvest news to share? Drop me a line! And thanks always, beloved reader, for gracing my page with your presence.