The autumn garden is full of lettuce, kale, spinach, herbs, and more

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The first stirrings of fall are in the air, and the autumn equinox has come and gone. Fall for this “late middle-aged” gardener means I have this irrepressible instinct to start thinning, chopping, dividing, and conquering.

I’ve been busy trimming boxwoods, forsythia, Carolina jasmine vine; pulling up okra that has turned into giant spears; shaping shrubs that are swallowing the back porch; and chopping the camellias down to a manageable size. Mulch has been laid down. The grass has been seeded and fertilized.

And there’s still more to do. But in this whirl of activity, there is much to appreciate.

The Spider Lily bulbs, a brilliant red coral color, have popped up out of nowhere all over the garden. Every Southern garden needs a collection of them, as they multiply rapidly and surprise you as to where they show up each year.

A profusion of Ginger Lily in full fragrant bloom droops upon the ground, its 4- to 5-foot stem heavy with the bloom. My love affair with Ginger Lily started from a single root I bought at a master gardener plant sale about a decade ago. Now it is everywhere in my yard.

A patch of sedum, in full bloom, was covered with bumblebees. The gardenia is in heavy bloom. Perennial garden mums, now for sale at local nurseries, re-bloom every fall in my backyard. I have a pair of yellow mums that my mother gave me over a decade ago. I always look forward to its friendly blooms in the fall.

In the vegetable garden, my cover crop is sown over the upper garden patch, the asparagus patch trimmed, fertilized, and mulched. My annual herbs have been harvested, trimmed, and pinched back to be renewed with the cool weather. My perennial herbs, like mint, oregano, thyme, sage, tarragon, and rosemary, are fertilized and revitalized.

I have devoted two of my 8-by-8 raised beds to lettuce and greens for the fall. Endive, lettuce, spinach, cilantro, fennel, mustard, baby bok choy, parsley, Swiss chard, radishes, beets, and kale are seeded and sprouted, as are some garlic and onion bulbs. Collard starts have yet to arrive in the nursery, but I am saving them a spot.

Lettuce is one of the easiest plants to grow in pots. If you have not gotten your seed in place yet, try your hand at a pot full of lettuce. Buy a couple six packs at the nursery, and put a pot near your back door in a sunny spot. Using potting soil, place your plants in the pot and lightly fertilize. Lettuce matures in less than 60 days, and you can trim it every couple of days for greens as the season chills.

Begin watching for spring bulbs in the nurseries now. Plant bulbs at the end of October when the soil starts to chill. Visit the Clemson University Extension website for more information on planting bulbs and details for all things about gardening in our area.

As the light shifts and the length of the days shortens into darkness, much goes in the garden. Soil temperature cools, and we prepare for the coming darkness. In the words of a favorite author, Margot Rochester, “No matter how old we are or how busy we are, our lives are enhanced by growing.” See you in the garden.

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