Last week, we got our first big frost at the farm, and overnight, our garden was dead. The dahlias drooped, the tomatoes shriveled, the hasta turned to mush. A few plants are struggling to stay alive, like this hydrangea that clearly doesn’t know it’s supposed to have died back!
But for all of that, there is still beauty in the garden.
We have hundreds of dahlias and they are cut back and their roots, or tubers are saved to be replanted next year.
At the end of August, we planted some cold weather crops like the kale and chard that are so good and so healthy. Our rainbow chard has the most beautiful stems which really do come in a variety of colors.
If you have a small property, espaliering trees, or growing them against a flat surface, is a great way to have fruit trees without them taking up a lot of space. Ladew Gardens has some spectacular examples of this, including an apple tree trained into diamond shapes.
Now comes the hard work. Everything is dug up and put into the compost heap to make “black gold” or super-enriched dirt for next year’s gardens. Before the ground freezes, we’ll turn over the gardens to refresh the soil and aerate it.
We prune back the espaliered apple trees, to prevent both breakage during the winter, and airborne diseases which can affect fruit trees. Although there were apples, we didn’t get as many as we had anticipated.
We will turn the garden over again in the spring, either by digging in by hand, or with the roto-tiller, which is much easier.
Even as we’re putting the garden to bed, we’re thinking about next year and planting our bulbs. We will plant several hundred tulip and daffodil bulbs and be delighted when they pop up next spring. We made the investment of a deer fence to surround the gardens after they feasted on all of our plantings one year. We know that we can plant pretty much anything and the deer won’t eat it – it’s worth the peace of mind.
The fountains are turned off so the lines don’t freeze, and then they are drained. We keep them covered with screens because of the herons who like to eat our fish. It also keeps the leaves and other debris out of the water.
Every garden has its bones, the framework upon which the design is built, and with everything dead and leafless, the bones of the garden shine through. While the plants are still in place, it’s the time to make notes about which worked and which were duds. There are always some of each when you have a garden.
We are lucky enough to have a greenhouse where we can over-winter many of our plants, including our huge citrus trees, which keep us in limes for gin and tonics all summer long. We move the trees inside before there’s any chance of frost.
We dig up the figs, having learned a lesson last year when they were left outside for the winter, barely lived, and didn’t produce any fruit. We will let them go dormant, and then ball-and-burlap the root-ball for the winter.
Speaking of leaves, rake them up! Don’t leave them to blow into your neighbors’ yards. It’s great exercise and you can pile the leaves onto the compost heap. If you can run the lawn mower over them to break them into pieces, they’ll decompose more quickly and make better compost. You might mow the lawn one final time and collect all of the grass to add to the compost heap, too.
While it is sad to see the demise of the garden, we temper the sadness by searching all of the gorgeous garden catalogues to choose what we’ll have in the garden next spring.
Stay tuned for next week, when we’ll have our tips for Thanksgiving!