Lessons Learned from an Unseasonably Warm Autumn

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I took this photo of a field of Gaillardia growing on a hillside on the Leslie Spit back in July before The Worst Drought in Fifty Years took a hold and sent lots of plants into hiatus on a short term or permanent basis. On a return visit in late August I found only a few blanket flowers blooming and many of the plants looking half baked. Gaillardia are an excellent drought tolerant flower but even the heavy hitters have their limit.

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We went back to this spot yesterday afternoon on what is reported to be the warmest Canadian Thanksgiving on record reaching over 30 degrees C here in Toronto. In fact we’ve had an amazing Fall overall with plenty of sunshine, warm temperatures, and enough rain to bring our gardens out of the late summer’s drought-induced coma. Evidence of this turnaround is everywhere. The Gaillardia, among other flowers at The Leslie Street Spit have made a turnaround with a second coming of colourful blooms and lots of fresh new growth.

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I’ve still got basil and other tender plants in-ground and producing new growth in both my community garden plot and out on the roof. Amazingly, I haven’t even brought my citrus trees indoors to overwinter and they are both still producing tiny fruit.

While I am enjoying a delay in putting my summer gear away I have to admit that I do find the warm temperatures a little bit disturbing since it is a continuation of a trend we saw last year with winter staying mild and rather un-winter-like until well into January. From another vantage point I am fascinated by the way the plants are adapting (or not) to a warmer Fall — instead of going dormant as many of them would at this time of year, plenty of plants just keep keeping on. And some, like the tomatoes and curcubits have either prematurely succumbed to poor conditions early on or are experiencing a second wind after a short break. The sole surviving zucchini plant living in a pot on my rooftop deck has started making flowers again. I have never had a zucchini plant shut down for a while and then come back with a brand new set of leaves and another harvest! As bad as this warm weather may be for the long term, I am learning a lot from really getting first-hand experience of how an extended growing season works in warmer climates. While I have done my homework and know what to expect and I have even experienced second harvests from some early-producing plants in the past, this whole experience is quite different and has been really educational.

This shifting nature of… well… nature is one of those things that makes gardening so interesting and challenging — no matter how much you know you can never know everything. And just when you think you’ve working things out and have got the perfect system in place, nature throws in a curveball or two. Gardening from year-to-year is never, ever the same. As intimidating as that can be, knowing perfection is unattainable is also very freeing and the unpredictability is certainly never boring.

Gayla Trail
Gayla is a writer, photographer, and former graphic designer with a background in the Fine Arts, cultural criticism, and ecology. She is the author, photographer, and designer of best-selling books on gardening, cooking, and preserving.

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5 thoughts on “Lessons Learned from an Unseasonably Warm Autumn

  1. Ciao Gayla-

    I hear you! I’ve got silly tomatoes thinking it’s August, growing to the point of having me do additional tying up. I had intended to yank out the dwarfs out front, but they’re still producing. Tristan’s cosmos finally decided to flower in a huge way, his cherry tomatoes are still giving us a couple of cups each day, and we’re still getting about 2 lbs of beans per week. The raspberries and blackberries are also still producing about 2 cups of fruit per week. I have enough tomatillos for the entire GTA!

    The main thing I’m concerned about at the moment is my basil, not for the leaves, for the seeds. I’ve got a lot of varieties out there that I wouldn’t mind saving, but the seeds are still immature and the racemes haven’t stopped flowering at the top. I’m praying that this warmth will last long enough for the seeds to ripen to black so I can snip off all the racemes before frost arrives.

  2. Hi Gayla!
    Welcome to what gardening in Southern California is like – it’ll most likely still be in the mid-to-late 80′s until after Thanksgiving, which seems wrong – that’s salad eating weather, not turkey/stuffing/mashed potatoes eating weather!
    But the second spring is nice. Having fresh tomatoes in December is nice. Peas, kale, carrots … I feel strange complaining when the bounty keeps coming.
    But it IS getting warmer. Every year. And that scares me.

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