The fall vegetable garden is a delight in the Mid-South. The greens and reds are vivid. Fresh lettuce and beans will grace the table until the first heavy frosts; perhaps even beyond if we are fortunate and blessed. Spinaches, cabbages, broccoli, collards and radishes will yield through the Christmas season. Garlic, onions, and shallots will repose through the winter, then burst forth in spring with their abundance. No vegetable is sweeter than fall harvested. Soon the hard summer heat will relent, the nights will cool, and that soft autumn rains will allow the plow and hoe to shape the new beds for strawberries, and yield to the fall planting. As nature slowly slides to its annual death, fall planting remains a quiet, yet defiant act in the face of winter. Even more than the spring garden, the gardens of fall smell of hope and reaffirm Virgil’s old saying, Dum vita est spes est.
Fall is fickle in the border states; she is never on time—too early or too late, all glorious splendor then done. Maryland, Kentucky, and the hill country of Missouri–too soon they will feel the heavy gray clouds, or the pale, squinty suns of winter. Autumn is brief in this country, and the act of fall planting is one where the summer party conversation is winding down, the company is becoming reflective, but we so do wish the celebration to remain; we strain at arresting its departure. The planting is hurried in summer’s heat, the harvests are full, but brief; so every trick of the trade is used to keep alive that which keeps us alive.
Fall, I believe, loves best the Carolina Piedmont. I have never known her to be late here. She always seems to arrive with the equinox, and then lingers on through much of Advent, often even to the Golden Christmases Mr. Simms of South Carolina so heartily praised. Under her hand, nature slowly and gently recedes to her winter sleep: the putting forth of roots by trees, the drowsy glance touching the south bound waterfowl, and the faint stirring of crisp mornings roused fully awake by the bark and clamor of rabbit or bird dogs in the field. Fall never wishes to leave the Carolina piedmont; only reluctantly does she give way to the dreary winter, and in the Upcountry of South Carolina, she often holds winter at bay until the very arrival spring.
In the fall we plant with the expectation of rich and full harvests. Yes, we hope for the succulence of spinach, the sweet collards sautéed in garlic butter and served with bacon and cayenne sauce. Mounds of broccoli dressed with Hollandaise or lemon butter seduce our palates, as does the sweet beans cooked slow with fatback. But other things are planted in the fall as well. We plant ideas, stories, and the cardinal virtues, in the minds, hearts, and imaginations of our families, neighbors, and students. Hopefully, we also plant the spiritual and corporal works of mercy, so that the theological virtues may bloom and grace from heaven is harvested and savored. Hospitality we also hope to both plant and harvest, especially as the holydays draw nigh. All this done in the long and lingering goodbye of our dear cousin fall, before she too must give way to the rude imposition of time.