I have a confession to make. It’s been quite some time since my garden thrilled me. Spring and summer can be unkind to the garden (and the gardener) in the deep south. Honestly, it’s so hot and humid in August and September that I hide in the cottage with a good book or experiment in the kitchen with a new jam recipe. I nap, I knit, I nip. I pore over seed catalogs. I don’t even look at the garden, because it distresses me, much like the long, dark days of winter fill my Yankee friends with longing. By the end of September, my springtime pride and joy has transformed into an overgrown mass of weeds, inhabited by ginormous grasshoppers, huge cretin arachnoids and other mysterious creatures that stare at me with their beady eyes, daring me to pull a weed or toss a vine aside, whilst rubbing their hairy mandibles together in anticipation of consuming something. Like my thumb or forearm. I leave the garden to them for a while. But fall and winter gardening is a new chapter.
One of the wonderful things about a garden is that it is forgiving of occasional neglect (much like my patient husband). With a little love and attention, it bounces back, like the beautiful clematis and Malabar spinach that scamper up my trellis. Malabar spinach is a nice addition to our beloved winter soups and stews. A cool-season vegetable, it reseeds every year, with no effort on my part and just at the moment when I need to see beauty. I love its lavender clusters of buds, but it is the tender leaves that we will consume.
It was only a couple of weeks ago that I sowed the Lacinato kale seedling pictured above. Kale is one of our most important winter crops. It is gorgeous in the garden, with deep green, leafy vegetation that has a tropical look. Kale is packed with nutrients, and we’ll eat from the kale bed all winter long, snipping the outside leaves to eat, and allowing the heart of the plant to continue producing new vegetation. Kale is great in salads, soups and on its own as a quick sauté with olive oil, garlic and perhaps a few pine nuts. And if you want to make kale chips, Lacinato, with its sturdy leaves, is the variety to grow.
Broccoli, Swiss chard and cabbages are also planted in the fall in the south, and their flavor is only improved by the light touches of frost we typically experience. These babies were planted just a couple of weeks ago, and as you can see, they are settling in well. All members of the brassica family are pretty easy to grow, but I’ll keep a sharp eye out for any sign of caterpillars. I’ll treat them with Neem oil, if necessary.
Alliums (members of the onion family) are another of my favorite fall and winter crops. These shallots, with their mild onion/garlic flavor, will be treasured in the kitchen come spring! And the tender little shoots of shallots (as opposed to onions) are true scallions that will season our food this winter. A snippet here and there makes a salad sing. Garlic is another favored member of the allium family, but I will wait a few more weeks to plant my garlic, as it prefers nice, cool soil. If you’re interested in planting garlic, now is the time to buy your seed. I recommend that you purchase it from a local independent garden center that specializes in edibles. If you live near Tallahassee, Native Nurseries carries beautiful organic Inchelium Red garlic seed, along with strong and healthy veggie starter plants. I have had great luck with alliums, including garlic, by soaking the seed overnight in compost tea prior to planting, which seems to give them a strong start, as evidenced by my shallots!
Of course, we always leave space in the garden for ornamentals. Drifts of Salvia Wendy’s Wish, Purple Heart (Setcreasea pallida), Knockout rose, Mexican petunia (Ruellia brittoniana), and Maiden grass (Miscanthus sinensis ‘Gracillimus’) delight human visitors as well as pollinators.
There are so many great options for fall and winter gardening in the south. What are you growing?