burning in the air. As a child I associated the scent with snow -- whenever the ground was white, there was invariably the smell of hearth fire and burning leaves on the wind. Such a warm smell for such an icy environment, it was universally surprising. I was so excited when I smelled it for the first time each year, I always had to tell someone, "Smell the air? That means it's going to snow soon!"

unexpected temperatures. Lower fifties on the brightest, clearest, sunniest day you've ever seen, upper seventies in the darkest midday thunderstorm; looking out the window is no longer the best way to choose the day's clothing. The jacket you require for frosty morning will be oppressively hot by afternoon. Buildings can't keep up with the temperature either, when the air is still on being indoors always calls for a sweater, and after the heating starts up you can't avoid a few sickeningly hot days.

leaves. Dancing over the ground weightlessly, coating each patch of grass, accumulating in drifts against anything solid. Softer and less dangerous than rain, snow, or ice. Soft because they aren't a product of pure stochastic nature, but of life, the layer that built itself above those forces. Except ... they may only begin to move (off the trees, across the ground) because life has been taken from them by another of natures forces, gravity, distancing them from the sun.

coffee. Hot and rich, a drink that can only be truly appreciated in the fall, in a dark coffeehouse in the night in the rain. Warming your body and waking your mind from the slowness of a temporarily grey world.

the wind. Blowing and gusting, never still, never silent. Causing random hissing, whooshing, whistling in every rooms with windows, in every car, every place of shelter. It persistently tries to blow you over, knock you off your feet and into the bushes. But it fails, so instead of making its presence known by effect, it can only get attention from its sound, its endless wordless white noise.

"What am I supposed to do now?"

When autumn comes late and
the structural integrity of a new house
becomes readily apparent when the
wind ratchets up, and the car windows
refuse to unfog, and the bathroom tile
stings like a frozen lake in bare feet,
but before the heat begins to rattle in the pipes
and the doors stop swelling from the humidity
enough for that bruise on your shoulder to heal
from the daily pre- and post-commute persuasion,
and before a romantic evening becomes a night
on the linoleum in front of the electric stove,

breathing helps.

I will tell you about the gum tree buttoned with creamy flowers. Gardens tawny with tired sunflowers, late tomatoes, aubergines and squash. Magpies share melodic stories. The grass dry, grey and still, waiting for rain. Mice leave the fields and look for shelter for the Winter. Ambiguous skies, slow dusty sunsets and cool nights. It is cool enough to bake. After rain, a bonfire is safe.

We don't call it Fall. I don't think we should call it Autumn either. It feels more like the primary growth season for native plants, but is still a northern hemisphere Autumn for the species which still stack their defences against Winter instead of Summer. So our landscape is syncopated. Hatched with two different patterns of investment. Well three if you count the northern tropical areas which have two seasons; a hot Wet and cold Dry.

Some gardeners choose plants and planting times that use the European pattern of growth and flowering, this makes most sense in cooler climates such as Tasmania and some parts of Victoria. Others perhaps in warmer drier locations may plant in Autumn. The plants look like they're not doing very much over Autumn and Winter, but their roots are becoming established which will increase their chances of surviving the intense Summers.

In South Australia some trees do turn, remembering habits from other climates, they shed colour and stand bony and angular like shorn sheep or wet cats. The native plants keep their leaves and wait hungrily for the end of bushfire weather and the return of rain. For them this is a season for stretching roots into new ground, for pushing forth new growth. After rain gum trees blush pink with tender red shoots; a kind of antipodean Spring.

Autumn flowering

Some plants have adapted to flower in Autumn. The weather is less windy at this time of year, it’s mostly dry and there are plenty of pollinating insects, which spring flowering bulbs sometimes miss out on.

• Sternbergia lucia or the yellow autumn crocus which has a beautiful yellow flower and is a wonderful bulb that’s hardy and cheery in Autumn

• Colchicum byzantinum ‘Innocence’ is another hardy autumn flowering bulb. They come up without any foliage – that follows about mid-winter.

• Sea squill Urginea maritima from the Mediterranean has delicate flowers and it produces many of these up the stem which open over a prolonged period.

Cyclamen hederifolium - one of the most beautiful autumn flowering bulb. They flower for ages, and once the flowers finish have marbled leaves in winter through until spring.


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