Fall in the Garden

I write to you from the garden desk. There is a cooling breeze, birds are tweeting, an ant is crawling over my laptop, and I am not being bitten alive. It’s fall in the garden and the best time to be here (according to me). For one thing, in summertime I would not get to sit at this “desk” because someone would be eating here, but most of the garden’s al fresco diners have gone back to their cool-weather routines. I’ve just finished turning over compost, adding in lots of overgrowth, of which there will be much less from here on in. I’ve chopped and tidied, walked around and admired. I’m filthy, but I don’t care because the air is dry and I can brush the worst of it off. In my garden plot, echinacea are blooming because they finally have room. The tomatoes are still going and there are thankfully fewer zebra tomatoes and more midsize red ones. (Though very interesting looking, the zebras don’t have much taste. I’m thinking of pickling them.) A few plots away, a friend has taken out his tomato plants and put in cool-weather greens.

Sunflower

Sunflower in the preschool garden.

This is the perfect time of year for getting kids involved in gardening. If the garden is already in place, as it is at the preschool where I teach gardening, even better. Our school garden is still quite lush with squash and melon vines, tomatoes, of course, bean plants (a bit scraggly), shade plants (ferns, hosta, astilbe), sunflower stalks, annuals, and tropical plants that will go inside next month. Though the kids have missed a good bit of the summer garden, they are getting to see a very important point in the life cycle of the seedlings they planted last May. They can taste the garden’s produce and gather seeds to preserve for next year’s planting. They’ll also have a chance to see birds and other urban wildlife foraging at our garden as they get ready for winter. That’s why we leave the dried sunflower heads in the garden, though salvaging a few seeds for us to plant later on. This is also the time for drying herbs and gathering flowers and leaves for pressing. Dried flower petals look beautiful in handmade paper. Lamb’s ear is surprisingly tough and when dried becomes an excellent bookmark. One of the projects I intend to start the kids on when we meet again next week is a plant id book or set of cards, using pressed plants from the garden and fall leaves. Last fall we worked on a small rock garden for a poorly draining raised bed. We’ll be getting back to that after clearing the annuals. The special twist to that project was that every preschooler contributed a rock to the rock garden.

Birdbath we made for the preschool garden.

Birdbath we made for the preschool garden.

Bulb planting is on my list both for the children’s garden and my own. I have some different things in mind this time around and will be reporting on alternatives to the usual tulip-daffodil-crocus menu—one of which I’m still very fond.

These are all natural tie-ins with the start of school and the harvest season, but there’s more: Fall is a preparation for spring. What we do now will affect how well our garden survives the winter and the kind of spring awakening that will be possible.

Harvest above 42nd Street.

Harvest above 42nd Street.

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