Summer’s Second Act

Just when you thought the gardening season was over, fall arrives to prove you wrong. Many believe we hang up our trowels on Labor Day, as if Mother Nature slammed the garden gate on us. Not so fast! There are at least two more months of pleasant, productive gardening weather—over three in the Sun Belt.

This bonus gardening season, starting during a socially-distanced mid-August, is a happy surprise—a “second summer” for both the currently estimated 30 million US gardeners as well as the 18 million new ones who took up the healthful hobby during the initial COVID-19 lockdown. First, find an open spot nearby, pull out the weeds and till forth.

For those who missed out last spring, you still have time to start a vegetable patch (cooler weather and fewer bugs too). Sown or transplanted now, a fall garden will abound in poignant flowers; sweet Asian cabbage; crispy lettuce and peppery radish; savory broccoli, cauliflower and greens; creamy root vegetables and fragrant herbs—all before Thanksgiving.

Some of us tend to view the coming months after August with foreboding, envisioning a season of darkness and decline—a chilly farewell to blooming flowers, a vegetative requiem, an ominous prelude to winter’s cold, blink-and-they’re-gone days and mausoleum-long nights. Not quite!

Fall is not an end but a beginning—a season of complex initiatives and burgeoning power, not of fading glory, incapacity and lassitude. COVID-19 shouldn’t deter but rather encourage outdoor family fun and tasty, nutritious harvests. Life-affirming gardens provide a plucky panacea to anxiety and gloom. Your mind is tricked by seeing fewer lusty blooms, and trees shedding their tear-like leaves. This is creation? Absolutely.

As fall nears, the plant kingdom becomes its most creative: rearranging, reallocating, restoring, and preparing energy and food reserves for the winter and spring. Autumn’s perceived decline is just the opposite. Behind poignant scenery, plants, bushes and trees are hard at work, switching from flowering and photosynthesis to reproduction, ripening, and the dispersion of thousands of seeds—and that’s from an average backyard. The seeds of fall ensure the future. The “amber waves of grain” are vast resurrection machines.

Nowadays we tend to gauge our progress in terms of technological advances. Yet seeds put our high-tech marvels to shame. No surprise there: they got a 350 million-year head start. Imagine a microchip—or a robot, if you like—which, equipped with needed nutrition and a protective shell for surviving, proceeds to produce millions of identical chips, each of which then becomes a new, slightly varied replica of its original self. Can your robot do that?

But we can’t survive on microchips alone. The difference is that seeds are alive, their reproduction is essential to both the endurance and continuity of the plant and its species. For humankind and nearly all life on Earth, seeds, and the myriad foods made from them, are the lifeblood and, perhaps, the genesis of our existence and survival. Respect.

These very same seeds can help focus the attention of restless students house-bound by the continuing COVID pandemic. The autumn garden is the ultimate 3-dimensional outdoor classroom, rewarding patience and care with tangible results: fresh, nutritious and tasty home-grown produce and the magic of ornamental plants. Here is an education that can last more than one school year—the pleasures of gardening are lifelong. We shall rightly perceive spring as a miracle after enduring the long nights of winter. Remember that “spring” was set, and first came to life, during the biologically active months in the autumn garden, to which you are warmly invited.

A version of this article appeared in The Fayetteville Observer and the Chicago Daily Herald.

This entry was posted on Friday, August 7th, 2020 at 12:49 pm and is filed under Original Posts. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed. Both comments and pings are currently closed.
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