The weather is wonderful right now. So, it's the perfect opportunity to finish off any more clearing or planting you still want to do. Aren't we lucky to live here? Add the trimmings and pulled weeds to your compost pile, with any leaves and pine needles you have raked up.
The stately Century plants
This fall, I have continued planting agave species, which, I hope, will prove to be hardy here in the mountains. Some will be hardy here, some will survive mild winters but succumb in a hard freeze. Where plants are of suspect hardiness, it is wise to keep one or two in a more protected place so you don't lose them altogether in an extra hard winter. Apart from being focal plants in a mixed planting, agaves are fine, stately plants in their own right. Elk sometimes dig them up and occasionally chew on their fibrous leaves, but the plants usually recover. My goats, who keep the scrub oak under control, sometimes attempt to chew the agaves but don't get far.
Microclimates occur in a small area and can apply to our gardens. Due to any buildings we have, wooded areas, and the aspect of slopes, the temperature can vary a few degrees from spot to spot. If you have a favorite plant and it dies in your garden, it is worth trying another specimen in a different place. Change the elevation, place it where it gets morning sun or, maybe, afternoon sun. When the morning sun strikes a frozen plant it will often render it to mush, whereas it may survive well when it gets only afternoon sun.
If you think a plant may be tender, try planting it near your house where the day's warmth will be held in the walls. The heat will leach out during the colder hours.
Near the top of a hill is usually better than the frost-hollow of a dip in the terrain.
The cold air rolls off the top of a hill and down the sides and stays a while in the dip. Gardening can be an experiment. But it's fun.
South African bulbs
If you want some small plants in pots which you can keep on a window sill and enjoy their blooms in winter, then South African bulbs may be a good choice for you, particularly if you go away in the summer, as they are happy being neglected while they rest at that time.
Lachenalias are easy to grow and come in several colors -- yellow, red, some with blue petals, white, and the leaves are plain or spotted.
Their common name is Cape cowslip and they are in the hyacinth family. They are offered by some bulb companies.
Soon, the catalogs will be arriving and, with the dark evenings, you will be sitting around the fireplace browsing and planning which plants to grow next year.
When Lachenalias have finished flowering the leaves will die down and it will appear that you have a pot full of potting mix only. Do not throw this pot out. Put it somewhere out of sight for the summer. In about October, the new leaves will start to appear. Start regular watering and it won't be long before the flower stems appear as well.
The same culture goes for albucas. Also in the hyacinth family, the common name, "slime lily," is unflattering for this plant, which sometimes has pretty, spiraling leaves.
Closely related are the Ornithogalums (chincherinchee a.k.a. Star of Bethlehem) and scillas.
Maybe you already grow some plants in your garden that originated in South Africa. Did you know that the red-hot poker is a native of South Africa? Lachenalia flowers resemble miniature red-hot pokers, Kniphofias, which grow from rhizomes.
Then there are the ixias which grow from corms, available from most companies which sell bulbs and, likewise, sparaxis.
Sparaxis are known as Cape buttercups, harlequin flowers or bluebonnets. Gladioli populate many gardens and come in a variety of forms.
If you are ambitious and want to learn more, buy or borrow a copy of "The Color Encyclopedia of Cape Bulbs by Manning, Goldblatt and Snijman," published by Timber Press 2002. ISBN 0-88192-547-0
Save Your Seeds
If you have been looking through vegetable seed catalogs for many years, you may have noticed that where there used to be many varieties of, say, turnips, there are now only one or two hybrids offered. This applies to many vegetables these days.
The older varieties offered good flavor and different forms. You had a choice. A hundred years ago there were about 1,500 different plants that we ate, each coming in many different varieties. Now, most of our nutrition is provided by a mere 30 types of food plants.
The problem with this is that when commercial growers all grow the same variety of, say, corn, rice or soybean, and the crop fails, then there is a shortage of that product and the commercial grower may be forced to give up due to failed crop.
Economically, this is bad. With a large selection of seeds each with differing parameters and huge diversity for growers to choose from, it is highly unlikely that all plantations will fail simultaneously.
This is healthy for us all -- as well as the commercial growers.
Maybe you've had a great tomato plant whose seeds you save and grow each year? This is good. Keep on saving these seeds and those of other vegetables you enjoy. You may not be able to buy that variety of seed any more. Years ago there were many seed companies, then with all the takeovers and mergers, only a few seed companies emerged. Today, the importance of maintaining many of the older varieties of vegetables is realized and thus, there are now a number of small seed companies offering a wider choice again.
When choosing which seeds to save, remember that if you have grown a plant from F1 hybrid seed, the progeny will not breed true to the plant you have grown.
After several generations, standardization may occur and all the plants will be alike, and they may or may not be good. To grow the same plant you got from the F1 hybrid seed, you would need to make the cross between the F1 hybrid's parents, and grow those seeds.
Seeds Trust, an organization in Cornville, (http://www.seedstrust.com) has lots of seeds for high-altitude gardens and encourages the saving of seeds of older varieties.
In 1989, the owner of Seeds Trust visited a remote Siberian village and brought back 60 varieties of tomato seeds that the villagers had grown and saved over several generations. The Soviet Union had hidden some of their scientists in this secret safe haven when threatened in WWII.
Out of necessity at first, they and their descendants saved seeds for their next crops and, thereby, have maintained lots of vegetable varieties in their gardens for half a century. The Seeds Trust has a nonprofit, educational foundation, International Seed Saving Institute, dedicated to saving seeds to maintain sensible diversity.