Compost in the Garden, Drying Herbs, Garden Season, Gifts from the Garden, Herb Vinegar, Mulching the Garden, New England Gardens, Preserving the Harvest, Putting the Garden to Bed, Wintering over Geraniums
Every year about this time I begin preparing for the end of garden season. I start to pay closer attention to overnight low temperature predictions and refine my end-of-season garden strategy. I move the potted herbs from the garden onto the back porch to make them easier to move indoors in a hurry and I dig the geraniums up out of the window boxes and from the cemetery, to winter them over in pots inside. They add a nice touch of indoor color to the relatively bleak winter months. (I know there are a lot of tips out there for removing geraniums from the soil and hanging them up to dry, in brown bags even, to dry out and ‘rest’ over winter and be replanted in the spring. For me, it works out well to just pot them up, cut them back and treat them well inside during the cold months. They are in fine shape for spring even after blooming all winter long inside.)
I bring in the tender perennial herbs and hope they make it through the long cold months inside. The dryer inside air is hard on plants like rosemary and lemon verbena. I always try to save them and have about a 50% success rate. Each year I bring in some annual and biennial herbs like basil and parsley too, just because they taste so good fresh and I enjoy them as long into the winter as they will survive inside.
Shortly before I anticipate frost, I cut several of the herbs in their prime; 3 types of basil, 3 types of thyme, oregano, marjoram, dill, bergamot, hyssop and several mints; many are hung to dry and I select some of the best to make herb vinegars with. I let these ‘steep’ until the holidays and give some of them as gifts. The rest get used up in sauces, dressings and marinades during the following months.
Before long, there are bottles and pots on the windowsills and herbs hanging from rafters. Suddenly, the indoors is transformed into a delightfully fragrant and colorful temporary end of season garden!
Outside, I always wrestle with what to do about the window boxes. The boxes are full of annuals, many reaching to the ground, trailing with ivy and colorful flowers and foliage in their prime. Dark red and burgundy Coleus with names like Black Dragon and Red Velvet, red leafed pink flowering Begonias, German Ivy, pastel colored Snapdragons and Dusty Miller. Many of these are actually biennials but as I have no place to winter them over, they must go…
I used to wait until they were actually hit hard by frost to pull them out, but the last couple of years I have removed them before then, sparing myself the sight of them blackened and withering. I almost imagine their little screams as I wrench them from the window boxes, hale and hearty, after urging them to perfection all summer long, it seems cruel somehow. I always have to psyche up for it.
The vegetable garden is harvested more aggressively as the potential of frost gets closer; nevertheless, there is always a last minute scramble to pull in the not-yet-red tomatoes, the still-a-bit-small peppers and squash that’s lain hidden and enormous, when the mercury dips alarmingly southward. Green and blushing tomatoes fill every available kitchen surface, baskets of other veggies fill corners. Kettles simmer with ripe tomatoes and herbs, creating sauce for the freezer. When there’s time, some last minute canning may occur.
Finally, we pull the lonely remains of the denuded vegetable plants and the dozens of marigolds and other flower plants out of the soil and stack them to dry. We remove any weeds that have previously evaded us, hidden beneath the larger veggie plants, and destroy them. The chives and rhubarb are trimmed back and mulched. When the veggie stalks are relatively dry, we shred them up with the marigolds and work them back into the soil. Then we add some compost and hoe it in with the straw that mulched the plants all summer long. Finally, the garden is all covered with black ground cloth that we re-use from year to year, and all is anchored down against the winds of winter. Good night fair garden, Good night.
The perennial herbs are trimmed back and mulched, the roses are mulched well and snugged up when necessary. The bulbs are cut back and all the stalks are left on top to protect them during the winter. Leaves are added as they are raked up. Things look a bit bare but we just keep focused on a splendid spring ahead!
When all is said and done, the gardens are covered and tucked in to rest, the ground looks brown and barren, there is a certain sense of peace that settles. I can almost imagine the bulbs resting up for their springtime push ups and the roses shivering in the wind, planning a splendid come back. A coating of frost makes it all seem more silent than ever, the lace comforter over the down quilts…