Image of a hot air balloon taken while looking up through a spider’s web

Look deep into nature, and then you will understand everything better.

-Albert Einstein

Somebody has said to expect the unexpected and that is exactly what may happen in our travels outdoors. No matter how many times someone may walk the same path in the woods or hills, visit the same beach, walk around the yard or the neighborhood or even enter a building, there can be pleasant surprises every time. There are changes in light or shadows, weather, cloud formations, the colors of leaves, skies or flowers, and the springing up of new plants as seasons change that present new wonders every day.

Pompom dahlia close-up

Look up, down and all around and there are sure to be even the smallest of delights, even if just for the briefest moment in time. Stunning displays in scenery or charming encounters with another creature can lift one’s spirit and become a pleasant memory somewhere down the road.

A black and white koi happened to swim by in water appearing black because of dark skies on this rainy day at the Brooklyn Botanical Gardens

Annual garden Harkness Memorial State Park
110 year old threadleaf maple-Harkness
Waning crescent moon and venus predawn October 13 2020
The whole moon was visible to the observer

It doesn’t have to be nature alone that provides unforeseen pleasure to the eyes and spirit. Perhaps simply a building seen in a new light will, out of the blue, add a bit of whimsy to an ordinary bit of scenery. Sometimes buildings are far more interesting when light or reflections change everything, if only for the briefest moment. Every day the sun changes position slightly and light may differ in color just a little bit. If something strikes you, catch the image as it will probably never be seen in quite the same light again.

Pergola shadows framed an entryway for a moment in time
Reflections of building on windows of other buildings in downtown Hartford

Nature presents the most impressive compositions that are unequaled in the best of man-made designs. Every little thing can become a natural diorama

Nimbostratus cloud hanging low
Common tansy, (Tanacetum vulgare), while considered invasive, still is attractive with its bright yellow disc flowers in bloom this October along a roadside in Old Lyme.
Woodland pond with reflected yellow from maple and birch leaves  created this image when two mallard ducks took off and made some waves.
These mushrooms look like tiny parasols
Mushrooms with caps in three different stages
These mums have an artistic appearance better than any painting could try to capture.

On this October day several years ago, these majestic, ancient sugar maples formed a tunnel over the country road leading to the former Golden Lamb Buttery. Since then, many of the trees have been lost due to old age and storm damage.

Country road in Pomfret in autumn
White oak leaf displaying one of several possible fall colors this tree may have.
Staghorn sumac Rhus typhina, is related to the cashew. It has attractive red seed heads and autumn foliage.  

As the season winds down and gets less colorful, there will still be moments that will give an occasion to cheers us up and maybe makes us laugh a little Maybe something as commonplace as… a weathervane…

Cat and mouse

Pamm Cooper

It’s not just people and pampered housecats that benefit from a warm blanket in the winter, plants appreciate one too – especially those that are adapted to gentler climates.  This past spring, we witnessed some surprising plant survival stories as a result of the protective blanket of deep snow that persisted through most of last winter. In my yard, parsley and gladiolus returned for an unexpected repeat performance. There’s still time to prevent cold injury to marginally-hardy plants, using a man-made version of the “blanket” principle, since we can’t count on a continuous cover of deep snow like last year’s. The easiest and cheapest method is to rake up some oak leaves and use them for insulation. Oak leaves are preferred because they are sturdier and have less of a tendency than more delicate deciduous leaves to pack down over time.  An old-fashioned nurseryman’s trick is to fill a peach basket with oak leaves, turn it upside-down on the plant to protect, and weigh it down with a brick or stone placed on top. Obviously, this will only work on plants small enough to fit under a peach basket. I’ve overwintered a rosemary plant in my Zone 6 garden for more than 10 years using this method. Now that the plant is large, I surround it with a hoop of chicken wire and simply fill the hoop with oak leaves. This variation will accommodate larger perennials and small shrubs, buying you protection a full zone warmer than where you are.

Fall-planted evergreens wrapped for winter Photo: U of Minnesota

Wrapping larger plants, such as fig, with insulating material (burlap or other fabric) will help them survive the winter in the milder areas of the state (Fairfield County and the Connecticut River Valley). Wrapping is also a good practice for evergreens that were planted in the fall or are exposed to windy sites; both conditions make these shrubs vulnerable to winter desiccation.  Avoid plastic as a wrap material; it can create a greenhouse effect on sunny days which could cause the plant to lose dormancy, making it vulnerable to cold damage. To avoid this, protection must be removed toward the end of the winter while the weather is still cold. It may be necessary to replace the covering quickly if late, extremely cold weather is expected.

An easier option may be to grow marginally-hardy plants in a container and once they’re dormant, move them into a garage or cellar with a temperature consistently close to freezing. Occasional light watering is the only care necessary until it’s time to move the plant back outside in the spring. Oleander and geranium (Pelargonium) can also be overwintered this way.

Gladiolus 'Mykones' Photo: D. Pettinelli

Plants that produce bulbs, corms, rhizomes and tubers when dormant (but aren’t hardy in our area) can be stored for the winter and replanted in the spring. The most common (and rewarding) are:


Loosen the soil around the base of the plant with a garden fork. This late in the season, the leaves will probably fall away from the corm easily, so a little fishing in the soil may be necessary.  Let the corms dry indoors on newspaper or screen for a few days. The cormels (babies) can be removed from the corm and saved for additional stock. Store the dried corms in paper bags or onion sacks. Label the bags and hang them in a cool, 40-50 degree dry location, away from marauding rodents, until spring.

If gladiolus is grown in a cluster, it may be worthwhile experimenting with a deep mulch of leaves for winter protection. The first year, do this with a few glads that you’re willing to risk losing.


Dig dahlia clumps carefully, as tubers break easily. Allow the clump to dry on sheets of newspaper or cardboard. Pack the tubers in dry sand, peat moss, wood chips or granular vermiculite. A storage temperature of about 45 degrees is ideal. Small tubers can be kept in a zip lock bag or wrapped in plastic in the vegetable bin of your refrigerator. Check periodically for rot. A dusting of sulfur will help to prevent bacteria or mold from developing.

Dahlia 'Forty-Niner' Photo: Stanford University


To store cannas for the winter, use the same process as for dahlias. Unlike gladiolas, which should be stored cool and dry, the rhizomes of dahlia and canna need to retain some moisture; they should not be allowed to dry and shrivel during storage.

Before the fierce winds of winter begin to blow, protect those perennials and shrubs that may benefit from a blanket. If the ground isn’t frozen, glads, cannas and dahlias can still be lifted. Seize the moment!

James McInnis