Autumn gardening is a great way to experience the last blooms in your yard and cleanse the area for the upcoming winter season. As the temperatures turn colder (in the northern hemisphere) it is time to put our gardens to rest, and to stow away all the furniture and decorations. I’m sharing with you some simple projects you can do right now. Let the cool breezes fill your heart with all things nature.
What kind of projects can you do in the garden in autumn? You can fill your house with colorful bouquets, make wreaths with wild vines and wrap bundles of sage into smudging sticks. Don’t forget to harvest the last of the produce and do a cleansing reset of your outdoor space. Take this journey with me as I offer you some simple end-of-the-season project ideas.
With the last bit of warmth from the summer sun, we are blessed with some extra time to spend outdooors. It is a great time to make the most of the time left with fresh herbs and blooms. Bring in some of those natural elements to enhance our living spaces by overwintering our plants or adding a fresh bouquet to the dining table.
Pick the Last Produce in your Autumn Garden
Before the first freeze, pick all of the remaining tomatoes and peppers from your autumn garden. Did you know that tomatoes ripen from the inside out? Most tomatoes are picked green or in a blush stage (orangey), which is why they are fresh when you see them at the store.
The same goes for garden tomatoes. Pick the green tomatoes and set them on the window sill to ripen. You can use green tomatoes in many delicious recipes. Make fried green tomatoes or roast with tomatillos to make green salsas for chicken enchiladas. Nothing goes to waste.
Collect the last handfuls of peppers, sweet and mild, and make a simple homemade hot sauce. Cut the tops off the peppers and put them in a medium size pot with a bit of water. Throw in a couple of chopped tomatoes and add seasonings like cumin, coriander, or garlic. Let the true flavors of the peppers shine in a simple hot sauce.
Simmer the peppers on low until soft. This could take an hour or so. Then, using an immersion blender, puree until smooth. Run the sauce through a fine mesh strainer to get out any lumps and create a smooth texture. We store ours in recycled glass jars.
Hot sauce will stay fresh in the refrigerator for a long time (a month maybe) if it lasts that long! You can also can hot sauce easily using the water bath method. Use it on everything to kick up the flavor. It is a great way to use up the last of the peppers.
Pick The Last of the Berries
Every year I plant a new tree or bush in memory of my father. It’s been over 20 years so I have a lot of plantings as you can imagine. About five years ago we planted a raspberry bush. It has since produced several offshoots and become this massively beautiful jumble of vines. It produces raspberries from mid-July until the current day (in early November).
My oldest son is always the first out there to pick some for his oatmeal, but he always comes to me and offers his first bite. Plant trees and shrubs around your yard with memories attached. It makes your outdoor space magical.
Harvest Your Herbs
Herbs are one of those garden staples. No matter what your space looks like, you can grow fresh herbs in pots, garden beds, in jars of water, and even on your kitchen window sill. Depending on your climate some herbs will need to be potted up and brought inside or harvested before winter.
Herbs give your culinary experience a whole new meaning in the summer months, and there is no reason why you can’t continue to enjoy them into autumn and winter. Autumn gardening is the perfect time to focus on herb preservation. You can turn them into food seasonings, smudge sticks, or dried floral arrangements, put them in sachets for a natural scent, and make loose-leaf tea.
Decide what herbs you are going to focus on and get your kitchen scissors ready. Today I harvested sage and Italian parsley. Grab a handful near the middle of the plant stalk and cut it off by the base. Give it a good shake to set any bugs free. Continue until you have harvested the amount you want. Next, gather them up and bring them inside.
Drying the Herbs
Lay the herbs out onto trays, spreading them out as best you can. Set them in a non-windy/out-of-the-way place, like a spare room or on a high shelf. Fluff them around once a day or so. Depending on your climate, this could take anywhere from a few days up to two weeks. You’ll know they are completely dried out when you can crinkle them up with your hands.
For the parsley, break off the stems to compost later. Lay the leaves on large trays, giving them as much space as you can so they can dry out completely before storage. Store the dried parsley in a glass jar and seal it tight. Make sure there is no moisture to prevent molding. You can enjoy this homegrown herb indefinitely in soups and stews, on chicken, in salads, or just about anything you wish.
For the sage, I broke about half of it down into smaller pieces to dry out completely. Once all the moisture is gone and you can crunch it up, store the sage in a glass jar. It can be used in a variety of dishes like chicken, turkey, and soup. Furthermore, it is amazing in a homemade chicken pot pie.
Make a Sage Smudging Stick
The other half of the sage I left in bigger pieces to make smudging sticks. If you aren’t familiar with this ritual, you should definitely give it a try. The act of purifying and blessing with sage (or other herbs) dates back to over 4,000 years ago in ancient Egypt. For centuries after this and in countries around the world, people burn herbs (mostly with wooded stems) to cleanse negative energies and clear unpleasant aromas from their living spaces. Much like the modern world today does with incense.
To make a smudging stick, gather some woody-stemmed herbs or shrubs. I usually make them with just sage, but lavender is a lovely choice as well. You could also use thyme and or rosemary. Go ahead and mix them together, it is all up to you and what you have.
First, gather piece after piece in your hand, tucking in the stems and squeezing gently until you have the desired thickness. Then, using cotton cording or twine, tie a knot at the base and begin winding it up upwards. Mine are usually about two hands tall. At the top, fold over the remaining leaves and begin winding back down. Crossing over your cording and securing any loose leaves.
Lastly, tie another knot at the base and leave a little extra to tie a loop for hanging. Dry hanging upside down for a couple of weeks.
To smudge, the light whichever end feels right to you. Think about your intentions (visualize what you want to cleanse or purify). Holding the smudge stick over a metal bowl, gently blow out the flame. It should smolder and give off smoke. At this time, think about all the negative energies attached to the smoke.
Walk through your living space holding the smoldering smudge stick. Extinguish it respectfully when you are finished. Open the windows up and watch the smoke clear. Invite the positive energy in.
I made these two smudging sticks a few months ago. They are a blend of lavender and sage and I used a lightweight cotton thread.
Gather Colorful Leaves
Spend some time gathering up some of the beautiful leaves. There are shades of red, orange, green, purple, and brown. Choose different shapes like maple or oak leaves. After you have collected your fill, bring them inside and find a big heavy book. Stick two or three to a page on random pages throughout the book. Wait a couple of weeks and you’ll have perfectly pressed dried leaves for decoration or other crafts.
For a simple project, gather up some blank notecards and clear contact paper. Arrange the leaves in any patterns you like. Smooth out the contact paper over the leaves, pressing and securing them to the cards, and trim the edges clean. You can make a set of handmade stationery to use or give as a gift. Try pressing the flowers in the spring and summer.
Make a Bouquet
End of the season blooms and leaves make beautiful bouquets. Pair flowers with colorful leaves and seed pods. Select interesting weeds and grasses, and add anything that catches your eye.
Gather unexpected items, like the last geranium blooms to give you a showy burst of color. Add the last rose of the season.
Bringing a bouquet of flowers into your home brings visual interest, and adds a touch of nature to your decor. Autumn gardens offer unique choices differing from the light colors of the spring and summer gardens.
The colors are deeper and richer. The blooms emit a kind of warmth and coziness when bringing these seasonal colors together. Select a vase that matches your aesthetic. An antique mason jar fits this bouquet perfectly.
Making Handmade Grapevine Wreaths
There are a lot of grapevines (wild and cultivated) that are perfect to make wreaths. Cut lengths that are easy to work with, and you’ll be wrapping in and out of a circle. If the vines are cracking you can soak them in water to make them more pliable. If cutting them fresh, they should be fine.
Starting with one end, make a circle about the size you want your wreath to be. Begin wrapping sections of the vines weaving in and out of the circle and going in the same direction. Tuck loose ends into cracks and crevasses you’ve made to keep it tight and secure.
Wrap and wind until you have the desired thickness and size. Last but not least, secure the end by tucking it in tight. Check out this tutorial on how to make a handmade autumn wreath that uses a handmade grapevine wreath. You can learn my secret of how I dried flowers in one day.
Bring in Plants to Overwinter
Bring in any house plants you took out for the summer, as well as any herbs or plants you want to protect from the cold. Choose healthy and disease-free plants only, and clean up the containers before moving indoors.
This is a hibiscus plant that I am planning to overwinter inside. Overwintering outdoor plants can be tricky because of several factors including water, temperature, lighting, and humidity. Winter is a time of rest for these plants so under and overexposure to any of these might have negative effects.
Some plants do better than others. Herb plants tend to be very sustainable with proper care and cutting. Give it a try and see what you can do.
Overall Cleanse of the Autumn Garden
At the end of the season, it is important to put our outdoor spaces to rest. Clean out the garden beds and secure your growing trellises. Bag up any diseased plants and throw them away. Healthy plants can either be composted in place or in a bin. Leave some stalks and seed pods for the birds in the winter when the landscape is bare.
Get a large garbage bag and go all around the yard picking up any trash that has accumulated. We gathered plastic seed trays that were left out, cracked flower pots, and broken toys. We filled two bags.
Winters are harsh in some parts of the world, with cold temperatures and snow. Stow away lawn furniture, wind chimes, and decorative glass items. And very importantly, unscrew your hoses. Years ago, we forgot this step and had a broken pipe in the basement. I can tell you, we’ve remembered every year since.
Wrapping Up Autumn Gardening (Last Minute Crafts and Cleanup)
Saying goodnight to the autumn garden is an important ritual. Our gardens go through seasons of change and winter is a very crucial time for the outdoors. It is a time when plants lay dormant and rest, conserving and redirecting their energies for new growth in the coming spring. Winter brings a certain freshness and cleansing. It is a time to reset and look forward to starting anew. Take a few moments and breathe in the freshness and give thanks to the earth for its provisions.
I’d love to be inspired by some of your autumn gardening rituals. What do you do in the final weeks before the cold and snowfall arrive? Let us all know!
Thank you for coming on this journey with me.
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