NOVEMBER…Fall Into Gardening

November… autumn, a time when we long for tradition, and being home as we celebrate the season and all its richness…we have firewood stacked, warm soup bubbling, along with soothing teas and woolen shawls to ward off the evening chill…we are grateful for all and we are blessed!

We prepare and offer food for family and friends that feeds the body and soul, that generates a feeling of warmth and a day and chance for reflection. My spirit soars as I begin to plan what I want to cook and bake…my Thanksgiving feast honors the tradition of all the past holidays I created for my family, and may even include a few new favorites. A perfectly roasted and glazed turkey filled with herbs and lemons, and sometimes stuffing, surrounded by heaping bowls of mashed potatoes, fresh made cranberry sauce with spices and orange, sweet potatoes, steamed green beans with slivered almonds, Waldorf salad, a huge basket of homemade yeast rolls with herb butter…how fondly I remember all those dishes…and a few probably long forgotten. There was always too much to choose from…but leftovers for days were as important a tradition as the turkey! So on Thanksgiving I will lift a glass of crisp white wine to all my family and friends and to tradition and feel my heart and spirit soar as I experience the abundance of comfort that comes with it all!

Some new recipes to consider for this season…butternut squash soup spiked with apple brandy, Bosc pears poached in red wine and spices, pecan pie with bourbon and chocolate!!! Oh, my…there is way too much I want to try…who else can we invite?

A gathering of fall finds...
A gathering of fall finds…

NOVEMBER is a seasonal turning point in the garden, a welcome respite from high summer! I love this time of year…the colors, the light through the trees, dewy grass and morning stillness…well, it was until the guineas started their calls for each other…they were near the compost pile and found some tasty insect treats…

Speaking of, I still find the compost process magical…the fact that I can make a pile and recycle almost everything from the garden…plant trimmings and kitchen waste, too…and leave it to the worms and microorganisms to break it all down to something so rich and nourishing, for my garden that is!

Some things to do now……rake up leaves from driveways, paths and lawns…but please, leave some leaves in planted beds to help protect plants and provide shelter for beneficial insects!! MEANING: DO NOT BLOW leaves out of beds!

…put leaves in the compost pile or start a hidden leaf pile, this will allow leaves to breakdown forming “leaf mulch”…DO NOT BURN OR SEND TO LANDFILL IN PLASTIC BAGS!

…remove saucers from under outdoor pots

…continue planting spring blooming bulbs, any trees and shrubs, and cold season crops

…remove catch bag from mower and allow leaves to mulch grass, it also adds cover for over-seeding; my annual rye mix is brilliant green and growing stronger daily

…if you haven’t kept up with tool care, clean all garden tools NOW!

…resist pruning hydrangeas, the dead blooms will protect buds from frost!

Trowels and Tribulations…speaking of tools!

Quality tools are a gardeners’ best friend…so never hesitate to invest in the real thing! I always look for solid tools made in the USA.       

   Some Essentials:

   Garden spade…use for edging turf, dividing perennials and thick groundcovers

   Round point shovel…use for digging and making good holes for almost any ‘dirt’ job

   Garden fork…use for amending, breaking and turning soil, gathering debris and for mixing/turning compost

   Iron rake…moving and grading soil, gathering debris

   Soft rake…typically for gathering leaves and small debris

   Hand trowel…perfect for digging small holes, planting sets, removing weeds

   Three pronged hand fork…use for breaking up soil, planting, digging weeds and general work…I use mine more than any other garden tool

How to choose good quality tools

   Look for strong WOODEN handles and notice how the business end is attached. There are some excellent synthetic handles on the market but do take notice of how well the blade or tines are attached to the handle. Trowels and hand forks with wooden handles and blades of good tempered steel are best…and yes, there are some cast aluminum and stainless steel tools out now that are also very good. I just prefer wooden handles…so much so that I have a nice collection of very old digging forks.

Take care of your tool investment

   To avoid rusty tools, clean them after each use. If you do find a bit of rust, clean the tool with a stiff brush or fine sandpaper and then wipe down with oil. I like to use lemon or orange oil on the wooden handles and metal parts, smells great …mineral or vegetable oil could also be used…And, most important…Store tools in a place not exposed to weather!

Some other items/tools you’ll need

   Hand pruners…I prefer FELCO [blades are replaceable]

   Anvil pruners, secateurs, heavy loppers…AND…garden gloves…you’ll need several pair for different jobs…leather for dry, heavy work and waterproof for planting and wet work 

       Expect to pay more for good tools made in USA, BUT you’re worth it and tools will last longer!!

Celebrate seasonal fruit…Beams of golden sunlight illuminate the autumn foliage of apple trees in the garden. Apple trees are not always that easy to grow in the Tidewater area…they dislike strong winds and need plenty of sun and well-drained soil. They obviously grow best in the western part of Virginia and in areas throughout the country where temps are moderate and cooler at night…usually at higher elevations. I will always remember a trip to Taos, NM years ago…Carl and I were looking at property along a river in the mountains above Taos filled with orchards. Grown without using pesticides, the fragrance of the ripening apples was overwhelming and sweet…at every bend in the gravel road that led us up the mountain valley was a small cart or wooden stand with apples and all varieties of apple products for sale. _

Plant compatible apple trees now, you need two or more to pollinate, and try a new way of growing…espalier the trees to protect from wind and make the blooms and fruit easier to care for…just like T. Jefferson did at Monticello. They are often called “step-over trees. Pears can also be grown this way and actually do very well!

Capture the flavors of this bounty of fruit in many different ways…both sweet and savory! Apples are a versatile fruit, they can be baked, mashed, sauced, dried, fried and eaten ripe picked off the tree. You should always wash well before eating or cooking and if you buy shiny apples from a market, remove the wax coating with vigorous polishing!

Apples, good sharp cheddar, walnuts and a fine liqueur or snifter of brandy make a fine ending for an autumn meal…as it has been for several hundred years…a classic is just that!

Like the candy box, or was it shrimp in FORREST GUMP…apples with pork, apple fritters, apple pie or tart, apple muffins, apple nut bread, apple walnut turkey stuffing, apple cider, apple turkey meatballs or burgers…and so on!

GLOWING IDEAS FOR AUTUMN DAYS…As a child, I remember riding home to Ohio from the summer spent at Grandmother’s farm in North Carolina…my head was stuck out the old Packard car window gazing at golden streams of flowers rushing away beside the highway. With their rugged green foliage, golden yellow faces, and deep brown centers, I heard my Mom call them black-eyed-Susans…which just happens to be the state flower of Maryland, where I was born.

Black-eyed Susans, or Rudbeckia for short, are quite easy to grow, will live in almost any soil type, will bloom constantly from early summer to frost, make great cut flowers, and are low-maintenance and pest resistant. Just trim spent blooms to the next bud or leaf in mid-summer and you’ll have a splendid fall show, too! They can easily wander about the garden from seed and roots, but that doesn’t bother me…I just transplant as needed. I’m still fascinated by their golden glow in the garden planted in front of deep pink phlox…which blooms just about as long as the BES. A few of my favorites are:

‘Goldstrum’…2 ½ -3 ft, fits in any garden setting

‘Herbstonne’…4-6 ft, bright yellow flower with a small green eye, good foliage, adds height to a garden

‘Irish Eyes’…3-4 ft, yellow flower with distinctive green cone

Planting Companions…A swath of Rudbeckia can be stunning by itself or grouped with other plants such as Russian sage, pink summer phlox, asters, sedum, verbena bonariensis, boltonia and indigo spires.


WATCHING THE SQUIRRELS GATHER ACORNS IN THE BACKYARD…I am reminded of the quote I heard years ago…’Trees come out of acorns, no matter how unlikely that seems. An acorn is just a tree’s way back into the ground…for another try, another trip through…one life for another…’

 DO YOU HAVE DEAD, DYING OR BROWNING EVERGREEN SHRUBS? A few clients have called to ask about replacing some dead or poorly growing shrubs, I always ask why and what happened and where they want to plant something new and then make a suggestion. BUT, if you’re looking for a replacement evergreen shrub to make a good windscreen or sound barrier…a good choice is elaeagnus. Simple to grow, pest resistant, needs little or no care…how great is that!

_ A few days ago while walking down the road with Holly, I walked through a cloud of sweetly delicious fragrance…looking around for the source…I found the huge shrubs growing as a privacy screen by the road. The branches, stretching wildly into the air, were covered in tiny bell-shaped blooms…the potent atmosphere made me linger for a few minutes, just savoring the vanilla-ish moment…the thought of those tiny buds creating such a sensory scent experience was rather amazing!

 The next day I drove to the old garden place in town and purchased several 5 gallon pots of elaeagnus and planted them by the driveway!  [Pronounce it: el-E-agnes] Oh, and PLEASE, DO NOT PRUNE THESE SHRUBS INTO SHAPES, ‘pick prune’ arching shoots from deep into the shrub if you wish to control any growth…but remember, you can plant them to grow big and just leave them alone. The little bumps on the leaves are normal!!

TURN OVER A NEW LEAF…Reveling in the beauty of a mild, late autumn afternoon as sunshine filters through the gold, crimson and russet leaves of oaks, poplars, birch and sycamores, I muse on which job to prioritize in the garden…maybe just filling the birdfeeders and watching it all for a while is enough for now! But the ever-increasing numbers of leaves cascading from the trees and covering the driveway are about to cover the truck! Well, mark leaves as #1 on the list today. Some might see them as a nuisance with all the raking and sweeping and then to have it start all over again hours later…but once you realize how invaluable as soil conditioners the leaves are, you might be more enthusiastic about the whole process! I’ve never met a pile of leaves I didn’t LOVE!                                                                                    photo(71)_

A simple way to handle  a plethora of leaves is to make…leaf mould. You can use a huge wire netting enclosure in which to pile the leaves as you collect them which is very efficient and NEAT. Or, you could just rake them into a huge heap in the woods…and just keep piling on as they continue to fall. Any deciduous leaves can be used but some rot slower than others. I have a few pine trees so I always include pine needles in the mix. Leaves on the lawn can be used too by collecting while mowing…this shredding speeds up the process. I just wait, forget about them and let everything slowly decompose. By next autumn they will have formed a mixture that may still be rough but could be used to improve soil. It could also be used as a moisture-retaining thick mulch for planted beds. BUT, waiting for 2 years will give you a small pile of fine crumbly black soil-like mixture perfect for amending and feeding soil…the lazy, but efficient way to use nature’s bounty of autumn color. After all, where do you think all the covering in a forest comes from?

And raking all those leaves is much more fun than going to a gym!

Growing and Cooking with Herbs…Thyme, French thyme, English thyme, lemon, lime and orange thyme, even lavender thyme… I cannot be without THYME!   For growing and cooking, thyme is essential…this hardy and usually evergreen perennial herb thrives in many growing conditions from dry slopes to between pavers in a walkway! The flavor of thyme is best when grown in full sun…and the flowers are edible. I use thyme as an attractive fluffy edging for a garden bed often mixed with onion chives…French thyme and lemon thyme are my favorites for cooking and landscape. The flavors and fragrance of thyme often changes depending on soil and climate and environment.

Cooking with thyme…it goes well paired with meats and poultry and is especially nice with leeks, onions, roasted vegetables and tomatoes. Thyme oil is also an antiseptic which kills salmonella as does lemon juice, which is why the pair are often used in chicken dishes.

I love making my leek and thyme tart for dinner…add a salad, crisp white wine and simply divine dining!

LEEK & THYME TART…You’ll need a nice, buttery pastry crust base to start. Makes a small, deep 8” Tart…

Melt a few tablespoons butter in a heavy pan and sweat the finely sliced white parts of a ‘bunch’ [usually sold in fresh markets this way] of leeks with a finely chopped clove of garlic and several stems of thyme, stripped. Add a little salt and simmer for about 30 minutes. Let the mixture cool.

Whisk together 1 cup of cream fraiche and 2 large organic eggs with some salt and pepper to taste. Stir in cooked leeks mixture and add about ¾ cup of goat cheese and ½ cup grated Parmesan cheese…turn into pastry crust, sprinkle top with thyme…bake at 375° for 30-40 minutes.Everything is loosely measured when I cook..

The flavors of fall, 3 great reasons to eat comforting oatmeal…

1.     Oats are rich in fiber which is good for your heart; eating oats may reduce the risk of heart disease and lower cholesterol levels

2.    Because of the fiber content the oats help maintain a healthy digestive system and will stabilize blood-sugar levels

3.    Make it with organic milk and you will have the benefits of oats and Omega-3 which is good for brain health…organic milk has 65% more Omega than non-organic milk

So if you think oatmeal is boring, doesn’t have to be!! I usually make the oatmeal and then add my own vanilla to flavor, chopped walnuts, organic raisins, cinnamon…and for fall flavor…add some maple syrup or chopped apples…breakfast like this and I’m not hungry again for hours!

For a healthy and delicious snack…to boost heart health, swap your afternoon cookie or candy bar for a good handful of nutritious NUTS. Research shows that eating nuts reduces cholesterol levels and they have plant chemicals that improve heart health…I love walnuts with a small glass of milk and for later, 5:00 o’clock somewhere…almonds with a glass of healthy red wine!


NESTING and NURTURING…make a comfy spot, line your nest with a warm woolen throw, curl up with a good book, some popcorn and hot tea and sit by the fire until the wee hours of the morning…one of my favorite times. Layers of wool and cashmere bring warmth to a room come winter… we want to sink into the sofa or wing chair and envelop ourselves in comfort embraced by the softness and warmth of wool…’course cashmere is even nicer!

Some of the best things about autumn…One cool, sunny November morning I was walking the garden making mental notes of what I wanted to get done…the raking of leaves into the big pile was done and I noticed that the blueberry bushes in pots were back by the chicken/guinea shed. I had forgotten to trim them…it is best to prune blueberries after the leaves have fallen. The fruit grows on short lateral branches that develop the previous year: strong canes produce berries at the tips and are best cut back by half to ensure branching. After the first few years bushes need very little pruning, just a general clean-up and trimming of long canes.

With established bushes, remove green growth from base, cut back fruited wood to strong young growth and remove dead or non-productive branches, or overcrowded canes…

Raking leaves in the front yard into the azalea growing area, adding more wine bottles to edge the beds by the butterfly bushes and dry creek bed, trimming/cutting dead stalks of coneflowers, pulling out support stakes and dead tomato vines…I stuffed the seed heads into paper bags and tomorrow I will take them to my brother’s yard and spread the seeds in the front meadow…what a great day it has been!

Just as I finished loading the last of the trimmings into the wheelbarrow…a chill wind stirs and slate-grey clouds blow in to bruise the sky. Within just a few minutes the trees are thrashing their branches and dropping more leaves…the sky opens with a torrent of rain…I pull up my hood and run for cover! So glad I put some firewood for tonight under the cover on the porch…love the smell of wood smoke mixed with dried lavender branches burning.

There is a time to hold on and a time to let go…and for every ending there is a new beginning…

photo(78)Until next month…enjoy the holiday traditions and family gatherings…

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