Why we plant in Fall

Fall gardening could very well be the perfect object lesson in faith.

Also – patience, love and … what’s the word for when you need to let go and just give it to God, Nature or Happenstance?

I asked my mother to help me put my finger on it.

“Trust, surrender, submit, release,” she said.

Ah, yes.

Fall gardening is about deep roots.

Fall gardening is about the kind of relationships you have (should have, long to have) with your mother, your lover, and your closest friends.

It is mysterious, testing and counter-intuitive.

We hack some plants nearly to the ground so that they’ll grow again in the spring. Roses, columbine, day lily.

We plant gnarly-looking things – peonies – dry as the potatoes in our pantries; papery tulip bulbs that aren’t supposed to grow this far south; and irises, their foliage trimmed into tidy but insubstantial fans.

Even the irises – the purple ones are our Tennessee state flower – seem unlikely to the doubting heart.

But a gardener waits with optimism through cold, dark months knowing something tender and lovely will bloom of them in the spring. Valentine’s Day. Easter. Mother’s Day.

Just in time.

Annuals are showy and make for extravagant bouquets. They fill in gaps in perennial beds, are inexpensive and easy to plant. They are bought by the pallet at big box stores.

Alas, they are also fleeting.

Real love comes with patience, a turn of seasons. Roots.

This is why we plant in Fall.

For what to plant in fall… 

Tulips: It isn’t too late to plant them, and it isn’t too far South for them to grow. I’ve planted 250-400 of them the past four years in my quarter-acre yard. It’s at least a day’s worth of work, but it’s worth it. Also, men, something I have always thought would be romantic: Plant bulbs when she’s not home. Don’t tell her until she notices them poking up in the spring.

Irises: Dig them up and cut the roots into pieces. Trim the foliage into short fans. The ones in my garden came from my mother’s garden, and hers came from the elementary school in Mt. Juliet where she is principal. I divided mine this year and gave batches to a friend’s mom in Franklin and another friend in East Nashville. Tennessee state flower, indeed.

Peonies: They will grow the first year, but they probably won’t bloom for another two or three. When they finally do, hold onto your hat. Literally – stake them; their blooms are so big they will drag the rest of the plant into the mud. I once wrote a whole blog post on how peonies are like the most gorgeous – and complicated – woman you’ve ever known.

Crocus: They are spring’s first arrivals. In the catalogs, they are pictured poking through snow-covered landscapes, and I can understand the sweetness in that. But even without the snow, a little pop of purple or yellow on a gray, late-winter day is nothing but charm and optimism.

Daffodils: I read a story once about a gardener who went through a particularly tough time one fall. She couldn’t bring herself to plant tulips or irises or crocus. She eventually pulled out of her funk, but by then it was January. On a whim, she planted daffodils. And with … luck? fate? … they bloomed.





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