The Observant Gardener: The Beauty of November in Our Mountains

The Blue Ridge Mountains in November. Photo by Judith Canty Graves

“Although the dying time, it is also the color time, the time when faith in the steadfastness of nature is surest … The seeds all have summer in them, some of them thousands of summers.” ~ John Muir

By Judith Canty Graves

The month of November fascinates me. It is the time of transition from fall to winter, revealing hints of what is to come with cold nights and a barren landscape but also showing us the best of fall with warm Indian summer days. I enjoy that duality. The mountains of Western North Carolina are majestic in November. The sun sits low on the horizon, casting dramatic shadows on the mountains from the clouds above.

November comes from the Latin novem, meaning “nine,” because it was the ninth month in the Roman calendar. Later, as the Julian and Gregorian calendars added January and February, November retained its name even though it became the eleventh month. November has also been known as the time of the “Snow Moon” and the “Moon of the Falling Leaves.”

In November, my garden beds are almost bare except for plants like rainbow chard that enjoy the cold. A killing frost usually occurs in late October or early November. Many plants in my garden bear the brunt of this frost. Annuals such as sunpatiens, zinnias and tithonias, which have the most colorful flowers, turn brown overnight. These plants are my pride and joy, as I have nurtured them from early spring. In one night their season ends abruptly. It is always a shock when this happens, even though I have experienced it before. Once these plants die, I cut them down and gather them for the compost pile. Accepting that this will happen helps me appreciate their short, vibrant season each spring and summer.

Weeding continues in the fall, but at this point most of the autumn chores are done. After the intense colors of October, the subdued landscape of November is alluring. There is a mystery in the air as winter and its accompanying darkness approach. Shadows lengthen and the late afternoon light becomes dramatic. This is the time to slow down and contemplate our lives and our own mysteries.

Like the trees and the earth, we are also changing and moving toward our next season. November is symbolic of our progression. The fleeting autumn landscape, with dying plants and bare branches, reminds us to let go of the things we love, starting with the plants we have nurtured for months. I accept this impermanence as winter comes to the mountains.

Nature is a great teacher, showing us the stages of life. November unfolds as the month of beauty and loss, splendor and decay. The light fades and darkness dominates as the days become shorter. Yet we can find light in this season, knowing that the cycle of growth will resume in the spring. Gardeners in particular have faith in this because plants have spread their seeds and perennials will rise again as they always do.

Judith Canty Graves is a home gardener with a background in photojournalism. She lives in Asheville. To see more of her garden photography, visit TheObservantGardener.com.


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