In praise of the beauty of an undressed, Autumn garden.

Autumn is one of my favourite seasons (the others are winter, spring and summer). In autumn one can harvest potatoes, carrots, late cabbages, painted corn, hemp, beets, winter squash and more.

Summer is a fading memory for me. And autumn has its times of glory, to be sure: when the aspen leaves resemble gold coins. But that time is brief.

G.M. Hopkins describes autumn (“Summer ends now”) as “barbarous in beauty.” True: especially where grain harvest or a Carolinian forest of maple, beech and oak stuns our eyes with glory.

But here I’m referring to another autumn scene, the one I look at 20 times a day: my garden in dishabille.

I’m using the word in the French sense (déshabillé) meaning simply “undressed,” not “salacious”. “Dishabille” entered the English language in the 19th century. As one of the editors of a website called Unused Words says, “when the English incorporated it, the word immediately gained a negative connotation – as in ‘poorly dressed’ or ‘scandalously dressed.’ […] The fact that they chose to import a word perhaps points to the idea that the English language was so pure and proper that it could itself never give birth to a word that could aptly describe both nakedness/scandalously clothed and impart a ‘proper’ sense of indignity at the thought.”

My garden is undressed. Gone are the bright petunias, calendulas, marigolds, coloured flax, California poppies, lavatera, snapdragons and rudbeckia. Though the plants are not completely gone. Some are piled up for composting; others are there sagging. The garden looks scraggly, gaunt, ragged, haggard, careworn, drawn, exhausted: just plain old and tuckered out.

Not for everyone is beauty predicated upon blazing glory, bright colours and heights of process and result. For me, beauty is “splendor in the ordinary,” to use Thomas Howard’s phrase. I amplify his meaning to suggest that beauty is also splendor in the fading and fallen, dignity in the worn, and victory displayed by scars.


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