Turn your garden into a place to celebrate fall

First published on Charleston Gazette-Mail.

Fall — it’s my favorite time of the year. I know, as a gardener, this is crazy. I’m supposed to love spring and the rebirth of the garden, and I do, but I really love fall.

There is something about the colors and textures of fall that make me happy. It’s the sweaters, scarves and jackets I wear. It’s a great bowl of soup made from the garden’s last harvest; it’s the piles and piles of leaves that I rake. The beautiful colors and textures of fall are everywhere.

I work on ways to enjoy my outdoor spaces during the shorter days and cooler nights of the coming months. In the garden, this means I trimmed back perennials and left others tall, knowing the birds will enjoy the seeds. I planted and replaced a few bushes, giving them time to get rooted and comfortable before the first frost.

I planted 400 bulbs — daffodil, crocus, grape hyacinth and alliums. So many bulbs, so many holes to dig. Most bulbs like to be buried 6 inches into the beds, but be sure to check the packing for specific planting depths.

Have fun when deciding where to plant your bulbs. I usually pick an area, then I toss them on the ground and plant where they fall, giving my garden more of a natural look than the straight rows of a sculpted bed. I hope to be rewarded in the spring with early blooms and color in my garden, and I’ve had good luck with these blooms being deer resistant.

After finally getting the last bulbs in the ground, I put down fresh mulch. This will keep them warm in the winter and give my beds a tidy appearance during the coming months. A fresh layer of mulch has an added bonus for me: It keeps my pup from tracking muddy paw prints into the house.

With the garden put to bed for fall, I began to think about fall accents for outside. That means pumpkins, mums and asters.

I have a gardening confession: I think of mums as annuals, not perennials. I do have a few plants that come back every year, but generally I buy them, enjoy them, then clean up the pots in December. I mix them with ornamental cabbage and kale in my window boxes; I use them in pots on the front porch, back porch and in the garden beds. Bright yellow tends to be my favorite mum color, but I mix in rust and dark red for contrast.

I have a soft spot for pumpkins. The garden does not get enough sun to grow them, so I visit local stands and load up. I love the ones with deep colors and warts, white ones, green ones, and, of course, the traditional big orange ones.

I mix the medium ones into my window boxes and around the base of plants in planters. Often, I surround my inside hearth with pumpkins and gourds to bring the fall feeling indoors. I’ve been known to hollow them out and use them as soup tureens when friends come for dinner.

Over the years I have stacked them, drilled holes in them and filled them with sparkling lights. I have painted them with faces or welcome messages. And, of course, I always toast the seeds. Yes, I love pumpkins, and use them until the end of November.

Many of my friends have fire pits and fireplaces incorporated into their outdoor areas. I haven’t done this, but I do have twinkle lights throughout my garden.

Lighting at all levels becomes important as the days become shorter. Paths and entrances need lighting for safety, but low-level lighting can enhance your garden and provide a soft glow to your outdoor evenings. Strings of lights can be wrapped around fence posts or hung from tree branches or porch rafters.

I got a deal on white outdoor lights and a remote on/off switch at an after-the-holidays sale, but there are all sizes and shapes of string lights available year-round. Solar lighting stakes are an easy and clever way to spotlight an area in your garden, but, again, lighting stakes comes in many different forms. Choose what is right for your garden and your budget.

Most importantly, enjoy the outdoors. Create a space that will make you linger into the evening. Keep a blanket or two handy so you can easily pull them out and snuggle when enjoying your evening garden. Invite your friends and family to a harvest dinner and dessert under the full moon, and share with them the outdoor spaces you have created for fall.