I awoke this morning to very chilly weather, downright cold actually, and a light snow falling, looking much worse than it is by the gusty wintery wind. I stood at the kitchen window, sipping coffee and gazing out. Golden Autumn leaves held on to branches for dear life and the bright yellow and orange calendula and jewel-toned nasturtium flowers still blooming in my patio garden shivered under the icy blast. So many emotions washed over me - relief because I prepared the garden for this, sadness because the growing season is over, hope and joy because another is to come, and a bit of a thrill at seeing snow.
Preparing the garden for Winter officially began Saturday afternoon. I focused on the last of the tomatoes, mostly green, plucking them from the stems and placing them in a basket to bring indoors. I pulled each plant carefully from the soil, cutting them into smaller bits and placing them in a paper bag to go to the county compost pile. I hated doing this. Each plant was still flowering, still sending out new fruit. It felt wrong, like I was breaking a law. It had to be done though. I could not risk the last of the tomato harvest to the upcoming weather forecast. I underestimated how long this process would take. Daylight was waning. So I called it quits for the day, vowing to be out bright and early on Sunday morning and leaving a few smaller bruised tomatoes for my resident critters, and headed indoors with a heavy heart and a brimming basket of green tomatoes, spending the rest of the evening researching what to do with all of them.
I returned to the garden at 9 a.m. sharp the next day, turning my attention to my herbs. I harvested what I could, cutting each plant carefully back. Sage, thyme, oregano, marjoram, catmint - all could be left there with a bit of mulching to return in Spring. The rosemary, lemon verbena and lavender needed heavy insulation against the elements. I encircled each one in some small garden fencing, surrounded them in fallen leaves, and then wrapped them in burlap. The basil, alas, would not survive the upcoming Winter. I took a few cuttings indoors for growing and pulled the plants out, their fresh scent enveloping me, making me long for Spring. While I did all of this, my hubby put away all the tomato cages and trellises and tidied up behind me as I moved along the herb garden. Another rosemary plant, more like a small shrub and kept on my patio in a large pot through Spring, Summer and early Fall, was moved indoors to the sun porch. I stowed away some of our Summer patio needs - the candles, the barbecue utensils, some unused empty pots. As I finished up, I thanked the Goddess for all the joy, all the beauty, and all the gifts the garden gave to me and my family and friends over the past growing season. I spent the rest of the day dividing fresh fragrant herbs to give to my sisters and a few neighbors and setting some aside to be dried.
Yesterday, I was out in the garden again. I gathered up all the fallen Autumn leaves I could, from my property and, I must admit, from a neighbor or two, and covered all the beds with them, to protect and insulate perennials and to mulch down into the soil. I do this every year and I have noticed, with each Spring, that the soil is even richer than the last, dark and moist, perfect for growing and nurturing. As the last of the tree leaves fall over the next week or so, I will gather more and put them in the beds, until I have a thick layer over everything. Then I will only have to prune a few shrubs and pull the annual flowers out of their beds and it will be done.
But it will also be beginning. Deep below the surface of the soil, the roots of perennials, the seeds sown by Summer winds and the bulbs of early Spring flowers will be resting, waiting to burst forth with the first stirrings of warmer longer days. I will be waiting too, gardening catalogs and notebooks piled around me wherever I rest in the house on the coming cold Winter days and nights, making new plans, sketching new visions, researching new additions to the garden. Just as my garden will be preparing to grow anew, so will I.