Fall Gardens

Fall berries by Fran in IrelandBefore last week’s brutal cold and snow, my husband and I busied ourselves getting the gardens ready for winter. I was reminded of a Back Porch Break classic column from 19 falls ago:

Sometimes the simplest tasks can bring unexpected rewards when we have the time to do them consciously. I’m reminded of this as I make one last trip through the yard and garden before winter.

When the last of the leaves go into the lawn bag, I find myself appreciating the tenaciousness with which they held to the trees. Don’t we all try to hold on in times of change? Two leaves escape and bounce across the yard in the wind. The cat chases after them for a while and then decides he will also let them go.

On top of the leaves go the trimmings from the pansy plants in the big iron pot by the door. My mom and I are connected by pansies. I remember the photos I sent her last summer, and how hard it was to convince a little grandchild to stay next to the pot long enough for me to snap the picture. As usual, the plants are left in place in hopes they’ll make it through the winter.

Clipping the heads off a row of dianthus, I notice new green growth underneath the dead stems. No doubt the plants were fooled by the warm days of autumn. I smile at their impatience and hope they won’t suffer too much for it.

Arriving in front of a stand of iris, I kneel down beside them and stop. Before I reach out to pull away the brown leaves, I imagine the regal purple blooms on top of sturdy stalks swaying in the early breezes of summer. These iris aren’t from catalog bulbs. My dad gave the bulbs to me when he divided the ones in his yard in Tennessee. I’ve had the same bulbs, or derivatives of them, at two houses in Tennessee and three houses in Colorado. They have transplanted as well as I, and they grow ever dearer now that my dad is gone. Sleep well, my friends.

Around the rose bush I rake the smallest leaves I can find, creating nature’s equivalent of flannel sheets and goose down comforter. As the wind picks up, I collect the last of the Columbine and Sweet William leaves and a handful of fading mint. The mint still has a rich aroma, much headier than its summer offering, so I save a few twigs to add to a potpourri inside.

On to another patch of garden. The shriveled cherry tomato plants come up easily, uncovering a feast of sun-dried tomatoes for some yuppie birds to enjoy on their way back to California. The strawberry leaves, now a russet red, are an unexpected find. Having a “Martha Stewart moment,” I collect a few to tie to the top of a loaf of pumpkin bread cooling in the kitchen, leaving the rest as a quilt for the small berry bed.

The ritual complete, I realize how dulling to the senses it must be to live year round in one of those places where the seasons never change; a place where a forecasted temperature of 62 degrees sends everyone scurrying off to find a wool coat. No, I need the seasons.

The lawn bag is closed and tied; the garden gloves and clippers find a home on the shelf in the garage. Let it snow.

(The small grandchild I referenced then was Francesca, now a college graduate living in Ireland where she’s finding wonderful subjects for her photography, like the photo of the red berries above! ©FrancescaMcConnell.com)


  1. I NEED you to help me with my wintering…
    good job!

  2. Hey Nancy,
    I need the seasons as well! The changes of color and the lessons of change are gifts from our Good God and are nourishing for my soul.
    I loved your Martha Stewart moment – I’m pretty sure that thought would not have entered my mind!
    You are a gifted writer, my friend …

  3. Joan Medved says:

    Your beautiful story reminded me of my own childhood memories. My grandfather gave my parents an elm tree when they first moved into their house. My sisters and friends spend many hours climbing and playing in that tree. As far as I know, it is still there despite the many cuttings and trimmings. We also have a glorious red rose bush given to us by my husband’s grandmother. These living beauties are a great legacy to leave our loved ones.

  4. Betty Van Liere says:

    Your enjoyment of this “work” comes through your writing, Nancy. Love came through your descriptions of the different plants in your garden. In the same way I am feeling your love for your friends and for Jesus as I re=read your devotional day by day, The Hope of Glory. As long as you keep writing, and as long as I’m around, I’ll keep reading what you present.

  5. Certainly I feel the same about your work, Betty. And I want to be like you when I “grow up!”

  6. Beautiful images, Nancy. Our neighbor’s kitten chased blowing leaves until we were all laughing.
    Our ornamental purple cabbages were wonderful this season. Even the first two freezes didn’t ruin them, and we were considering digging them up and transplanting them into pottery bowls for a fall centerpiece. Ah, never make such plans. The deer must have thought they would make a better salad than centerpiece; they clipped them off in straight lines across the stems.

  7. Martha, how wonderful to feel like I am right in the garden with you. Excellent, Nancy. My only thought is ONE bag? Heavens, with all my neighbors leaves falling in my yard, I think I had about 10 bags. Good exercise hauling them to the curb. Love Francesca’s photography!

  8. I think that was garden trimmings minus the leaves, Beth. You’re amazing. Don’t hurt yourself!

  9. alice scott-ferguson says:

    warm, winsome and worshipful!
    you analogies of life to nature
    draws us as one in the Father’s garden of life

  10. Happened upon your very interesting blog while surfing the net a bit. Really like all the artists and their works that you feature. Bravo! I'll visit again so I can read further back.best from Tunisia, nadia

Share Your Thoughts