Thursday, October 8, 2015

Early October at the Cape

We just got back from several days at Cape Cod visiting with a large group of retirees from my old company -- people I had worked with 30 and 40 years ago.

It's remarkable how this group still gathers periodically and that we go back so far. There was much story telling (embellished) and remembering (faulty) and bemoaning what has become of the company these days without us.

The Cape was stark and beautiful in early October. The summer tourists are gone, the crowds have left, and it's easier to appreciate how different the landscape is from my own New England garden.

There are many lovely towns all up and down the Cape with the traditional cozy Cape Cod style houses, pretty gardens and treed Main Streets. But the dunes are never far away, and it is the sandy open scenes that I love.

I am fascinated by the way plants grow in pure shifting sand -- Sahara style white blown fine sand. There is no soil to grab onto, but grasses spread out all over the dunes, bayberries grow in slight hollows, and cranberries and blueberries hunker down in the sand.

Poison ivy winds between everything, and in early October it was brilliant red in places, especially noticeable against all that white sand.

In the open windy sand dunes it is hard to picture how Cape Cod was thickly forested when the Pilgrims arrived in 1620, landing first here and then sailing on to Plymouth across the bay. The trees were all cut down in the first century after Europeans arrived, and the landscape was changed forever.

Our guide on a dune buggy tour we took through the dunes explained that huge numbers of volunteers spend time planting plugs of grass to stabilize the shifting sand. Otherwise it blows away.

When we returned home I still had those images in my mind of wands of grass standing up sturdy and strong in the wind, hanging on to shifting sand.

The way the sturdy little wands of fleeceflower in my garden stand up instantly reminded me of the grasses. These are not grasses of course, they are a groundcover persicaria.

But they have that tenacious quality of the beach grasses, anchoring my garden, and standing up all summer in a little army of rusty pink spikes. Really, they have been blooming forever, and as the fall garden goes by, they are still blooming, unfazed by long dry weather or too much rain.

When we got back I saw that the sourwood is just starting to turn bright red and soon it will match the color of the chairs.

But the red buckeye, Aesculus pavia, always loses all its leaves very early, and when we returned it was naked. This is just not a tree for fall interest. It redeems itself with red firecracker flowers in spring and big buckeye leaves all summer, but it's bare in autumn.

The peeling bark of the river birches is always interesting, but it takes autumn light to make them really shine. I noticed the stems of this one by the patio were glowing the day we got back.

And of course my fall gardens welcomed me back with some pretty sights. Montauk daisies make a happy white contrast with the red iteas now.

On the drive to Cape Cod we saw beautiful fall color in the forests all along the highway. Early October is the perfect time for a New England drive, and the colors did not disappoint. In my own garden the red maples are turning, and the sassafras is turning orange.

It's a pretty time of year, we got enough rain before we left for things to look refreshed, and the getaway to visit longtime friends in a lovely setting refreshed me too.

But how did we all get so old?

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