Deborah Needleman,

Deborah Needleman,

A weeklong electronic journal.
Nov. 7 1997 3:30 AM

Deborah Needleman,

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       My garden has slowed considerably, but not yet gone silent for winter. The autumn crocuses have recently emerged, venturing forth from under the foliage of lamb's ear. They're up a month late because I forgot to plant them as suggested in August, and didn't remember until late September. The stately Aster tartaricus, standing 7 feet tall, is still sending up new lavender blossoms. An annual cup-and-saucer vine that clambered 15 feet up the trellis in a single season hasn't yet succumbed to the cold nights, and is sending out plump green seedpods that look like tiny watermelons hanging from gracefully arching stems.
       I had expected that as things were winding down in the garden, my anti-social behavior might come to an end, and that I might re-enter society. I envisioned phoning my friends to see if they would have me back. Turns out I'm not quite ready. While it's true there aren't a lot of weeds begging for my attention or deadheads that must be pinched back, that's what makes it a great time to get in some gardening. With everything tucked in for winter, one can begin to redecorate and start new projects.
       Unfortunately, I am, as usual, a little behind schedule. I'm a month late for moving the peonies and the irises, and the dahlias should be out of the ground already. The frost arrived before I could bring the potted plants to winter indoors. (That was actually euthanasia, however, because they died quickly and painlessly compared to the slow torture they would have suffered under my care in the house.) Yet I'm now ready to dig that vegetable garden I never got around to in the spring. And I want to start a new area devoted to my current favorite flower colors--deep plum, yellow-chartreuse, black, and green. Yes, there are green flowers. It could start to blossom in spring with fritillaria, hellebores, and euphorbias. Fritillaria is a splendid genus of mostly delicate flowers in sultry plum and olive tones, and this year I got several different kinds to experiment with. As the days are short and there is much to be done, the only people I really want to talk to are my gardening pals.
       My gardening girlfriends are similarly obsessed women who, like me, seem on their way to becoming eccentric old ladies. Together we can gossip about men and discuss the merits of Fritillaria persica. (Grace and I think its foliage is so extraordinary as to satisfy us completely if it should fail to send up its sublime, nodding bells in the first year.) When I project sexuality onto the mesmerizing quality of the soil this time of year, they nod with understanding. "That's why they call it 'dirty,' " Catherine smirks. And like me, these girls are still as busy in their gardens as bees in August.

Deborah Needleman is Slate's gardening columnist and an editor at large at House & Garden. She lives in New York City and Garrison, N.Y.