The harsh grays and whites of winter are invariably followed by a vernal bloom of pastel colors which ease our eyes away from bleakness, preparing us slowly for the cacophony of intense color we know as summer in the garden.
Fall, even in Florida, gives us one last chance at vibrant colors shortly before those Chrysanthemum blooms darken to become lifeless cocoons settling in for the cold winter.
At least that’s how it is in most parts of the world.
December in the Florida Panhandle gives us a reprieve from an immediate garden death sentence. Bouts of warm weather, following spells of cold, entice Azaleas to bloom, haltingly perhaps, not with abandon as in the spring, but celebrating in a measured sense the pleasure of 70° degree Florida sunshine.
Locals tend to say the flowers and shrubs are confused, but I don’t think Florida plants are as mindless as many gardeners think. I feel they are simply taking advantage of another opportunity to re-experience their glorious youthful days of summer. Don’t we humans do the same thing when the chance presents itself?
This fall we planted both Mums and Gaillardia, and when both were in full bloom in October we noticed we seemed to have a bit too much yellow. The yellow Gaillardia were scarcely ten feet away from the yellow Mums. Both flowers had yellow petals and maroon centers. Whereas true gardeners would consider that a travesty, we, being somewhat more tolerant of our foibles, simply decided the flower colors complemented each other. And that is how it would have to stay until next year.
I have always been one to give flowers a chance to bloom again, and so as any caring husband would do, I asked my wife to prune off all the dead blossoms from the yellow mums, just to see if they would bloom again. There appeared to be nascent buds hiding beneath the green foliage.
It did not take long for us to realize that the trio of Mums appreciated the deadheading and repaid us with December blossoms. But much to our surprise, all three plants decided, in unison, to change their colors.
Now, true Fashionistas would proclaim underneath their breath that they would not be caught dead wearing the same wardrobe as the gaudy Gaillardia next door. And so they didn’t. They reversed their colors, wearing a winter coat of maroon accented by yellow centers.
When a Christmas visitor comes up our walkway, they are no doubt inspired by the clever combination of fall colors that still adorns our flower beds.
But I am confessing to you that we, the flower guardians, had absolutely nothing to do with it. The Mums managed a magical switch in color that we were powerless to even conceive, never-mind enact.
And I must profess, there is a certain aesthetic logic that the Mums demonstrated. After all, dark colors are more in keeping with the relentless slide into winter that will, sooner or later, catch up with northern Florida.
The Gaillardia blooms, on the other-hand, are optimistically unchanging, blithely unaware of what is coming. The first killing frost will, I fear, catch them quite by surprise.
Once the Gaillardia and Mums finally decide to rest for the winter, I wonder what color schemes they will be dreaminbg about. Will next year include even more surprises in the fashion competition between showy species, each trying to out-compete the other?
I can hardly wait to see.