Whenever I see an article for no maintenance gardening or an advertisement for maintenance-free plants, I alternate between laughing and rolling my eyes. I think anyone who has ever gardened will agree that the words “maintenance-free” and “gardening” when used in combination is nothing but an oxymoron. My gardens are about as low-maintenance as they can be, but still require a good deal of work, especially in fall.
It’s a good thing autumn days are my favorite days to spend working outside, and even better that these past two weekends have been sunny and warm. I got the canna tubers dug and stored in the basement. The ceramic and clay annual pots have been emptied, and stored in the shed, along with both the ceramic and the concrete bird baths. Keith emptied the rain barrel, and stored it away; we had so much rain this summer, it was used only a handful of times.
The vegetable gardens are cleaned out, and the perennial beds cut back. It was especially pleasant cleaning up the herb garden; the marigolds still smelled marigoldy; the chives smelled oniony, the winter savory smelled savory, and the parsley…smelled parsleyesque(?) Let’s just say it all was a banquet of olfactory delights.
That’s one of the many things I love about fall – the smells. There’s the smell of fallen leaves, the earthy, slightly decaying scent of foliage starting to decompose. What other time of year does decay smell so good?
I pruned the blackberries, roses, and the big ‘Pink Diamond’ hydrangea. Keith pruned the grapevine; I had already pruned the grapevine. He got a little carried away. Once, up and over the arbor, now the vine is just a trunk, barely reaching to the top of the structure. From this point forth, Keith, the grapevine is off limits! Your pruning technique is better suited for use elsewhere!
While I sent him off to hack down the butterfly bush and elderberries, (which are supposed to be cut nearly to the ground), I netted the low-bush blueberries so the rabbits don’t gnaw off every new bud in spring when the tender growth is too tempting for them to resist.
Speaking of rabbits….
This spring, there was a nest of baby rabbits in the strawberries. Summer brought blight to the tomato bushes, and tiny, green inchworm-like caterpillars devoured the greens in the fall garden. The parsley also had caterpillars – Shannon and I counted more than a dozen of these beautiful guys at one time.
It was exciting for her to watch one grow from tiny to big and fat until it formed a chrysalis, then emerged a beautiful black swallowtail butterfly.
Fall is a great time to take stock in the gardens: what worked, and what didn’t; what needs to be done next year; what would you like to do next year. In the vegetable gardens, the spring green onions didn’t do very well; heavy rains made it too wet. They’ve done well in the past though, and I’m definitely planting them again next year. The spinach was a bust in both the spring and fall garden, but again, it’s done well in the past, so we’ll see about next year. Arugula did great, but I won’t be planting it again; no one but me ate it.
Peppers, green beans, lettuce, potatoes, and blackberries we had in abundance. And the tomatoes! Despite the blight, (which could have been avoided if I’d remembered to move the pots under the porch eve during a week of heavy thunderstorms and extreme heat), the heirloom tomatoes were awesome. I’m not taking any chances on missing out next year – I’m ordering ‘Kellogg’s Breakfast’, ‘Black Krim’, and ‘German Johnson’ seedlings well in advance to be sure we’ll have them again. I also plan on ordering pepper seedlings instead of trying to find what I want in garden centers. I searched this spring for poblanos, and Hungarian Wax pepper seedlings. I finally found Hungarians at the grocery store, but was disappointed when three out of the four plants turned out to be jalapenos. I want to try growing leeks next year too; a friend gave me some he grew from seed, and they were a wonderful addition to soup, or sauteed in butter and used as a casserole topping.
Raking, of course, is a ritual of fall. Leaves have been heaped into the compost pile until it’s overflowing, mulched and added to the vegetable gardens, and raked to the curb for the leaf-sucker-upper truck to vacuum up and haul away to rot on the huge town compost pile. I have a fascination with the leaf-sucker-upper truck; I want to drive that Cat-in-the-Hat-like truck…just once!
Can you imagine the fun, moving the arm to suck up huge mounds of leaves, and everything else in its path. Ooops, there goes a football, a baseball mitt, a tricycle; kids should learn to put their things back where they belong. A tiny hybrid car....you're not supposed to park on the street this time of year anyway; snow lanes, and I just saved the owner a ticket.
It's probably a good thing I'm resigned to the other side of the leaf pile.
There’s still so much to do. Some things will get done; others I won’t get to until spring. One thing though, that definitely needs to be done is to plant the Virginia bluebell bulbs my dental hygienist (I suddenly feel the urge to floss) gave me a couple of months ago. There’s still time….bulbs can be planted through December, as long as the ground can be worked; some years, I’ve even planted them in the snow.
Do you plant bulbs? Do you want to plant bulbs? If so, leave a comment here and you may win 2 dozen crocus bulbs of mixed colors, and a dozen Dutch Master daffodil bulbs. I’ll draw a name and announce the winner this weekend.
Enjoy the rest of this glorious season!
Bulbs were grown in the Netherlands for Vandenberg Bulb Company, and provided courtesy of my ever-lovely boss, Jan.