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Venice Williams talks about putting your garden to bed for winter

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James Steakley
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Wikimedia Commons

It’s that time of year again: winter is coming to Wisconsin. As we prepare our bodies and minds for the impending deep freeze, it’s also time to prepare our yards and gardens, while also taking the time to remember the bounty they’ve already given us.

Venice Williams, executive director of Alice’s Garden, joins Lake Effect's Joy Powers each month for our regular series, Dig In!, which is all about gardening, herbs, and healthy cooking. This month, Williams offers advice on how to put your garden to bed while also giving some fall reading recommendations that will get you excited for spring.

“This time of year is really one of my most favorite for the garden because I love putting gardens to bed,” says Williams. “I like the beauty of autumn, but also what autumn calls us to pay attention to in our garden — for me putting the garden to bed always begins with a ritual of gratitude.”

As for how Williams shows this gratitude she says it can range from anything to actually blessing and thanking each of her plots and fields, to simply harvesting what remains. These are things that she urges every gardener to do when putting a garden to bed.

“It’s one of those things that more people are doing, especially as we continue to live into this pandemic and we talk about scarcity of food and scarcity of goods, and yet our gardens were so abundant,” says Williams.

When talking about continuing to harvest what remains Williams recommends that certain items in your garden should be cut at different times to optimize current and future yields.

“I really want to make sure that when we talk about cutting back our gardens that we don’t start too soon,” says Williams. “I often hear from people who want to know, particularly about their lavender come spring and summer, why their lavender has not done well, and then I ask them ‘did you cut your lavender way back in the fall?’ And the answer is normally yes — so there are some things that you want to focus on cutting back right now and some things that you don’t.”

As for the things you do want to cut, Williams mentions irises, begonias and daylilies. The things she urged people to wait on are asters, lavenders and lambs ear — which she recommends waiting until spring to cut.

When thinking about how to put to use the items you have already harvested, Williams recommends picking up a book on recipes over the winter that will allow you to enjoy the fruits — or vegetables — of your labor.

“One of the books I always recommend during this time is The Book of Greens, it’s by a woman named Jen Louis” says Williams. “It is an incredible book of recipes and history on greens, she doesn’t just focus on what may be familiar, she includes forage greens, succulents and herbs things like that. There are some familiar greens in her recipes, but also some unfamiliar greens.”

One other book Williams recommends for a garden lover's reading list is Vegetable Literacy by Deborah Madison — describing it as “one of those books you will take to bed with you.”

“The gift of October, November, December is, if you are a true hardcore gardener, we are already planning for the next season,” says Williams. “What I love about Vegetable Literacy is, once again, it helps me to appreciate the abundance and variety of what we can grow throughout the world.”

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