Every gardener knows which garden is the best of all: next year's.
That's why even though many of our yards are at their peak, we're already making plans for spring. It's kind of hard not to take stock of your garden toward the end of the growing season.
So go ahead, give your garden a thorough going over. Take notes on what worked. Was there a flower or foliage combination that really popped? Make plans to repeat it again. Did you end up with too many eggplants (or ugg-plants, as I call them) and not enough peppers? You'll want to adjust your planting plans.
Just make sure you take the time to enjoy your garden. As it is. Now.
Take pictures of your garden — from as many angles as you can, up close, from the sidewalk, even from across the street. If you had a successful year, those pictures will be a source of comfort during what may be a long, cold winter. Even if this wasn't your best year, those pictures can help you evaluate your garden with a critical eye.
One trick is to take black-and-white photos. (Just use the edit function on your phone or computer.) Colorless photos weed out distractions and help you focus on the design and structure of your garden.
If it looks like a monotone gray blob, maybe you need more variation in the tones of your foliage. Consider adding plants with silver, gold or variegated foliage to lighten up your garden.
If everything is the same height, include a small tree or several larger shrubs. If the plants all have the same shape, change them up. If the leaves are all the same size and shape, introduce different textures. Feathery grasses can help to blend plantings, while one specimen plant with oversized foliage or interesting structure can add just the right accent.
Manage your harvest
Keep picking your vegetables so they'll continue to produce. (Even if you're overwhelmed with cucumbers or tomatoes, pick them, then donate them to a food bank.)
Freeze all the fresh veggies you can and sign up for a canning and pickling class and learn how to safely preserve your bumper crop.
When the harvest is over, think about which garden goodies you and your family enjoyed most and which were shoved to the side of the dinner plate. Next spring, vow to be in better harmony with your harvest.
To make even more delicious veggie dishes next year, plant more herbs. You'll thank me.
Also, aim to maximize your production by using the succession-sowing method. Once the spinach is spent, sow beans in that same spot. When the beans have run their course, consider a fall planting of carrots.
If you'd like to expand your garden, but don't have the room, go vertical with space-hogging plants like squash and melons next year.
Refresh your containers
Until you're ready to replace the plants in your containers, continue to deadhead and trim them to keep them looking nice.
If your containers look a tad ratty, buy fall plants now, before they're picked over. If your petunias went kaput, pop in some ornamental peppers or curly kale.
Or consider using perennials in containers, then planting them in ground before winter. (Know, however, that the later in the season you plant them, the less likely they'll be to survive winter.)
Get out your camera again and look for interesting container combinations when you're out and about. Take pictures of any you'd like to copy (with the owner's permission, of course).
If you don't take a picture, you know you'll forget. Besides, having a photo will make next spring's trip to the garden center that much easier.
Tackle a few fall chores
Of course, there are a few chores to hop on now.
You can divide day lilies and irises through September. Trade with fellow gardeners to get new colors and shapes in your garden. Not only will you increase your garden stock, you'll also improve the health of your existing plants. Just be sure to water and mulch these new transplants to ensure they make it through winter.
Pick up your spring-blooming bulbs now, before they sell out. Go ahead and plant tulips and daffodils if you love them, but throw in one or two distinctive bulbs — grape hyacinth, Siberian squill, allium, fritillaria — for a little surprise in the spring. When it comes to spring bulbs, more is better. If you order from catalogs, go in with a neighbor or buddy and get a quantity discount.
Take a time out
While I've been urging you to look forward to next year's garden, don't forget to take the time to enjoy the garden you have now — whether that means sitting in the shade watching butterflies flit around your late-summer flowers or eating a garden-fresh tomato sandwich. Enjoy it while you can. It will be over all too soon.
Rhonda Hayes is a Minneapolis- based garden writer. She blogs at www.thegardenbuzz.com.