About 35 years ago a gardening campaign called “Fall Is For Planting” began. It was okay, but just okay. Nice title, but it didn’t go anywhere, much less take you along for the ride. It wasn’t bad, but it wasn’t great – no “wow” factor, not even a smile.
In fact, it described work. Planting is a bit of a chore, so no point in reminding people of the labor. That was its biggest mistake. Another is its length – five syllables are two too many for a slogan or title. Finally, one should avoid using the word “fall” in an ad or slogan. There are so many negative associations with “fall”, it’s impossible to count them all. Trees fall, empires fall, grandparents fall…you get the idea.
I believe this campaign was adopted by the woody nursery industry and picked up aggressively by the Dutch bulb industry. Fall, or autumn as we here at the old bloggie prefer to call it, is an ideal planting time for many diverse cultivars. It can be called a “second spring”, or a “second summer”, since it is some of both! Keep on growing!
Let me tell you why. I was driving down the road last week – that’s Monday, August 29th – and over the radio Dunkin Donuts announced that it was “Fall” and that I should hurry on in for “Fall Cider” served piping hot, etc. Sugar water, maybe with a bit of apple and cinnamon flavoring. But “Fall”? Summer lasts until September 23rd.
Here’s the way it happened: first came the Labor Day holiday (which I love since I was born that day). The industrial base of the Northeastern US drew people like a giant magnet and soon Labor Day became “the last holiday of summer” for working class people – which is most of us.
Then schools and colleges followed suit and late September – the actual end of summer – was replaced by the week following Labor Day. However, recently, as in the last 20 – 30 years, schools have begun in late August. Why? To get orientation out of the way, I was told, so that families may enjoy a “final” summer holiday weekend and then, theoretically the kids would knuckle down to work the following week. This convoluted explanation explains little, to me at least. Maybe, since I have no family, I shouldn’t speak much about it.
It gets better. The media began to respond to the new opportunities to distract idle youth from doing very little (they used to do farm work, but not generally for almost 100 years), to preparing for school by purchasing new gadgets and fashionable clothing. Don’t study – buy!
Plus, the retailers fell into line by ignoring the typical sweltering heat of much of the US in late August and early September and stocking silly things like Halloween costumes. God!
Football – that great Romance of Death – became extremely popular as the last century ended, resulting in hordes of people sitting indoors on perfectly wonderful days watching pre-season games, while the regular season broadcasts – both NFL and especially college began feeding on folks’ brains earlier as well over the past few decades. Now, Monday Night Football, that destroyer of many pleasant fall evenings, has new competitors such as “Thursday Night Football”.
So, what is my point? It is that ever since the beginning of humankind, we have celebrated the autumn with autumnal crops. And, recently, here in the US, the population has slowly expanded into the southern states for the two main reasons of the energy crisis and the gentleness of the climate for the elderly and soon-to-be elderly. Why not? During summer the South may feel like a pizza oven, but during the rest of the year the climate is very pleasant. The only obstacle to gardening year ‘round is the short day. This affects some crops, such as a few temperate (Northern) annuals, but certainly not all.
Then, as I continued driving, I began to ponder how miserable the summer just ending has been, capped off recently by Irene. The record-shattering heat wave simulated a cold snap for such tender annuals as peppers and tomatoes. The heat was so intense, many plants recoiled or withdrew their metabolisms from exposure, just like they do in an unseasonable cold snap. They stop flowering, stop fruiting, stop ripening. They freeze, so to speak, wait for the heat to pass, and then resume normal growth. Only problem is that this summer, for most of the US, the extremely high heat persisted for nearly 6 weeks, dead in midsummer. This is normally when gardeners enjoy their outdoor chores, and spending time with their “second family” of garden plants. Not this year! Most folks peered out at their garden from inside what the writer Henry Miller called “the air-conditioned nightmare”.
So, we at both Heronswood and Burpee – as well as The Cook’s Garden? suggest you break out the garden tools anew; the “second summer” is in full swing and will last throughout the US until mid-October in the northern tier states (and even late October if you are on the water, as in Boston), and well into late November in the mid-South and as late as mid-December in the Deep South, including South Texas, Southern New Mexico and Arizona, and Southern California. Of course, altitude plays a big role, so I generalize about these areas at below 2-3,000 feet elevation.
Why “green autumn”? I was sitting on my porch last Sunday morning during Hurricane Irene, wondering where she was. As I waited and drank my coffee, I noticed swirling eddies of green leaves stripped by the previous night’s high winds. It was a surrealistic image: piles of fallen leaves that were perfectly green. I love the word “autumn” and so I thought “Second Summer”, which I have been preaching for years, might be conveyed more effectively by the term “Green Autumn”. It brought smiles to people’s faces, unlike the other titles and slogans, which provoked mostly quizzical looks or blank expressions.
What to do? Well, a lot. Imagine a summer-long season (three months) from early September to early November, at least where we are in Zone 6B.
First, check your soil’s health. Then, if all is good, sow or plant and expect full crops of the following:
Collard Greens-Georgia, (south)
Mustard-Florida Broad Leaf,(south)
Brussels Sprouts-Dimitri, (north)
Cabbage Caraflex, (north)
Cabbage Kalibos, (north)
Finally, there is the “dream summer”. This is what the nursery folks referred to with the 40 year old slogan, “Fall Is for Planting”. You should consider fall as a pre-emptive spring. Plant the following for over- wintering to enjoy in both spring and summer of next year:
Spring Flowering Bulbs:
These are just the tips of the iceberg, so to speak. Dozens more worthy cultivars can be grown in the pleasant days of “green autumn”. Consult your Heronswood Catalogue or
www.heronswood.com, as well as the recent Fall 2011 Burpee Catalogue, our first in over ten years, as a response to the strong interest in fruits and vegetables over the past years. Or, of course, www.burpee.com, as well as www.cooksgarden.com
In coming days, we shall email you more culture tips and special projects you can do easily to keep your “second summer” going.
Happy Green Autumn!