The “Fifth Season”

Even while summer fades, Jean finds fall bounty in her quiet garden, and knows there’s always time for a few end-of-season chores.

Photo by Getty Images/somkcr

Through these dog days of summer, which can’t end soon enough, I find myself downcast even when gardening. I begin to miss the weeds, the lack of which seems a harbinger of winter, visible now in the hot, dry remains of this summer’s bounty. This time of year is what I call “the fifth season,” a liminal space between green summer and crisp fall.

I often think of the Greek goddess Demeter during this transition. At this turn of the year, she would release her daughter, Persephone, to Hades, and grieve as she watched her make the dark journey to the underworld. Like Demeter, I’m anxious during the fifth season. I’ll get to work thinning the iris bed, hoping that I’ve separated new growth deftly, rather than destroying these happy Iridaceae. I’ll say goodbye to my perennial flower, herb, and vegetable beds, dress them, and begin tucking them in for their winter nap. However, I also know the annual sweet potato dig will come along soon, and some sage will hang on long enough to use in fall menus. That always feels like a surprise and a miracle.

Soon, my visits to the garden will turn from work to reverie. But before I join my plants in their frozen slumber, I’d love some last-minute tips and tricks for preparing my garden for winter. What rituals, techniques, or processes help you nurture your perennials in fall and winter? Email me at to share your seasonal know-how. I’m particularly interested in safe, natural weed control, as well as cover crops and soil support, that might help our office garden here in Topeka, Kansas.



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