Around the Island

Gardening with Galligan: On this harvest moon

CAROL GALLIGAN PHOTO The Harvest Moon on September 24 signaled the end of the gardening season.
The Harvest Moon on September 24 signaled the end of the gardening season.

And so, my fellow gardeners, the season comes to a close after all that dreadful heat and humidity. At least we have cooler temperatures to sustain ourselves as we do the last chores of the season. And let’s talk about them now.

The first and most important of course, is closing the beds and this means cutting back the spent stems. For a long time, I followed the rule, i.e. they must be, if not brown, at least tan. Then one season, my daughter phoned really upset. Her work crew had, when she was not present, cut all her perennial stems right down to the ground when they were still green.

When she remonstrated with them, they looked at her as if she were crazy. “Who told you that?” they asked. When she somewhat defiantly replied, “My mother!” they were at a loss to respond. When she called me to report all this, I pointed out to her (my degree is in science after all) that at least we had an excellent opportunity for a controlled experiment. Hers were cut back and mine would die back as the books instructed. In the spring we could see if there was any difference. You know where this is going, I’m sure. There was not. Since then, as long as the plant has run its season, I cut back when it’s convenient and/or when it’s become unsightly.

Then the beds should be heavily mulched, whether they’re for perennials or annuals. If you read the Ruth Stout book that I told you about, you know why. The soil will be friable in spring and that will save you all the chores of getting the beds ready — they will be. As I’ve told you before, do not, I repeat, do not, fall prey to accepting free mulch, often available at Town and/or garden centers — it has not been sterilized. This means it is full of not only germs but weed seeds. You need neither.

Now it’s time to put your tools away. Do not, I beg you, put them away the way they are. They should be cleaned and very well cleaned. The best way to do this, if possible, is to remove all the surface soil and then run them through the dishwasher. If you don’t have one, perhaps beg friends. If you promise a good faith gift, as in baking something, you may well succeed.

If you’ve done all of the above, you may actually sit down. Have you done your bulb order? This final chore, and it may actually be done while sitting down, will bring the season to a close.

Now, make a fire. Pour a glass of cold, white wine. Put your feet up on the hearth. And think about how lucky we are to be gardeners, to be close to the earth as it turns, to be integrally connected to the universe. What could be better? See you in the spring, inshallah, have a wonderful winter.