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Helen Chesnut's Garden Notes: As summer ends, squash peek out

Lunga di Napoli squashes have sweet, crisp flesh that can be used in many ways

It’s almost comical, like a game of in-garden peek-a-boo, how, every time I check on the winter squash vines growing on three partially decomposed compost heaps, I discover more squashes that had been well hidden under canopies of large leaves.

As the foliage began to flag slightly, early in the month, more long, dark green Lunga di Napoli squashes emerged out of hiding, no longer camouflaged by large leaves of the same deep colouring.

As we advance further into autumn, I’ll be searching diligently for a 2024 seed source. I would not want to be without a winter’s supply of this large, easily cut squash with its sweet, crisp flesh that can be used in so many ways — in soups, grated raw into salads, baked in pies and cakes, and used as a side vegetable. I’m planning to try grated Lunga di Napoli flesh in my carrot cake recipe — in place of the carrot.

This squash produces few seeds, but there is bound to be a source among the many seed companies specializing in preserving long-treasured heirloom varieties.

Transitioning. The first full day of autumn, today, brings with it the familiar, seasonal sense of new beginnings, almost as though this is the real beginning of a new year. It’s a time of harvesting, tidying up and planning for the next active growing season.

As nights begin to lengthen in late summer, I’m drawn to the accumulations of papers and books, clothing, household possessions and saved seeds that need sorting and thinning, items considered “extras” passed along as gifts or donations. Time to lighten up and carve a path toward a simpler time ahead.

A rough sketch of placements in the vegetable plots for 2024 has begun. An inventory of seeds on hand has been made. It will serve as a guide to purchases for next year’s garden.

The autumn equinox in history has been seen as a point of transition toward a period of freedom from being possessed by possessions, a time of greater inward thoughtfulness. In the garden, we begin to experience a “letting go” of the fullness of summer as diminished light and shorter days lead inevitably to increased stillness.

I’ve been immensely grateful this year for the late summer flowers, for I have needed them as part of sharing and alleviating sadness over the sudden, shocking loss of a friend I’d known and gardened with for almost three decades. There were flowers for the kitchen and the room of a mutual friend who came to stay shortly after Daphne’s death, and flowers for a bouquet to take to her memorial.

Dahlias that have been in the garden for many years can always be counted on to provide a long season of showy blooms. Cosmos is another faithful provider of floral beauty. Hydrangea and the taller sorts of sedum are further stalwarts of the late summer and early autumn flower garden.

Somehow, flowers impart comfort and a softening of grief. Nature heals.

Memories. I am looking at a gorgeous orange and gold begonia set in a bowl on my kitchen counter and thinking back to my birth family’s home during my years at university. Along one lightly shaded side of the house, my father grew begonias every year.

My parents were often asked to serve as “chaperones” at university formal dances (“proms”). I have photos of one such evening, at home before one of these occasions. My mother is in a long golden gown, with a fully double yellow begonia pinned at the back of her hair.

I’m remembering also my mother creating an impressive table centrepiece by floating begonia blossoms in water in a shallow, dark green bowl that offered an effective contrast to the bright begonia colours

Though begonias are not suitable for use as cut flowers in the ordinary way, they still can be gathered to create easily made, attractive indoor floral displays. For me, they also bring remembrance.


View Royal meeting. The View Royal Garden Club will meet on Wednesday, Sept. 27, at 7:30 p.m. in Wheeley Hall, behind Esquimalt United Church, 500 Admirals Rd. Entrance is off Lyall St. Maria Hendrix, from West Bay Rock Gardens, will describe how to create successful, long-lived, drought tolerant and low-maintenance rock gardens. A judged mini-show will feature exhibits from members’ gardens. Everyone is welcome. Non-member drop-in fee $5.

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