Story and Photos by Ashley Bommer Singh
The moon is full, smoke is in the air. October is the time to gather friends and family around the table, carve pumpkins and stoke first fires of the season.
Middleburg-area residents who want their tables filled with local bounty were lucky this month: the Piedmont Garden Club, welcomed Matthew Benson, author, farmer, and famed photographer at the Middleburg Community Center on Oct. 8 to share his expertise.
Benson’s book, Growing Beautiful Food, has been on my shelf for years. Not only is the book a visual delight, it offers practical advice, tips and acts as a go-to guide for how to create an inspiring life in the country. From beehives to chickens to cut flowers and running a full CSA at his historic small farm in the Hudson Valley, Matthew Benson does it all.
It is no surprise that great cut flowers such as Gomphrena, Amaranth, Celosia and Cosmos are in my flower beds and also in his book. His planting, growing, harvesting, and organic pest management tips have always been a fantastic reference and motivator. How can you not be inspired by someone who notes that he and his family find joy and purpose in the garden?
While the filtered light and change in seasons encourages a time to slow down, there is still plenty to do. Stay focused. Now is the time to add mulch to the apple trees, dry your cut flowers, plant bulbs, split perennials, add deciduous trees, turn those fall apples and pears into crisps or preserves, and make pumpkin soup.
Whew. I once carved twenty pumpkins into bowls to serve homemade pumpkin soup for a party. The process was painful, but the result was magic. Twenty pumpkins on the table, each guest felt like harvest royalty. I don’t even remember the rest of the menu, but I do remember the great pumpkins as the starter, and the poached pears as the grand finale (thankfully made by a friend who also helped with carving). I think with wine, fresh bread, and fall greens, that would have been enough for the party. Now I am getting close to growing those pumpkins, making that bread and picking those pears and greens myself. Living in the country, everything is possible.
As much as possible, we try to eat what is in season, serve what is in season, share what is in season. The renowned author Barbara Kingsolver hammered that in my head with her fantastic book, Animal, Vegetable, Miracle: A Year of Food Life. Why are we eating bananas in October? Pick apples this month. They are delicious right now and grown locally – find them. And if you didn’t plant apple trees or pumpkins this year, visit your local farms, orchards or friends who did. Support your CSAs, local farmers, and restaurants that source from local farms. There are so many in our region, and they are there waiting for you.
Pumpkins are always at the top of my list in October. My favorites for decor are the white and green ones. For serving soup on the table, I prefer orange. For making soup, I prefer peeling the smaller pumpkins, or butternut squash. Add peeled chestnuts into the simmering pot like French chef Mimi Thorisson whose Lucky Pumpkin Soup recipe is a staple for us in the fall.
I also love to extend the season and fill planters with ornamental peppers and pansies, mums, and of course, celosia.
Bulbs are at all the garden centers now, so if you do not want to special order them, grab a handful or two at the store, and plant. You will be so happy in the spring. And it doesn’t take much time. For tulips, dig a hole four times the bulb height. For daffodils, three times the height of the bulb. And don’t forget to add leaf mulch on top.
For planting perennials, dig holes at least as deep as the nursery containers, add some organic matter such as leaf compost and water thoroughly. Keep watering if we have no rain so the roots can reestablish in the still-warm soil. This month is a wonderful time for filling your vases with the last flowers from the garden. Asters, Celosia, Zinnias, Gomphrena, Amaranth and grasses all make beautiful arrangements. Pick to your heart’s content. There is a reason there are so many October brides!
Bring the outside in with your pumpkin soup and fall flowers and set up a s’mores station to entice guests back outside. Or bring out hot apple and pear crisp from the oven and eat around the fire. Start planting so more of your harvest feast can be from your own garden with each passing year. The nights are getting chilly, but the moon, fall harvest and change of seasons and light is exciting. To Summer let’s just say: Thank you, next. ML
Ashley Bommer Singh is a writer, garden lover, and designer of landscapes and interiors. Instagram @unisongardens.
This article first appeared in the October 2019 issue of Middleburg Life.