Sept. Garden Column: Autumnal Cleanup

Autumn Refreshers for the House & Garden


SEP. 14, 2020

from What’s Up? Magazine and e-zine

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With summer waning and fall arriving, perhaps we will want to expend some of our pent-up energy freshening up our long-suffering homes. 

We can each repay our houses and gardens for the countless hours, days, weeks, and months of shelter and comfort they have afforded us by dedicating some time and energy to sprucing up our surroundings. If we’re still sticking pretty close to home, (I’m writing this while still quarantined) we might be able to enlist the aid of other family members or housemates. But, perhaps not. This might be a project you’d rather tackle on your own—a quiet, contemplative work detail for one. And, I suspect, you’ll find that those less-enthused by the idea of a household spruce-up will stay out of your way, give you lots of time to yourself while you putter in the garden and tidy that closet. 

So, without further ado, let’s get started. Always a good idea to begin any project, it seems to me, with a bit of planning—the judicious making of lists, notes, drawings, recorded messages to self. I like to make lists. To focus your list-making, begin by take some photos of the areas where you’re thinking about making some changes. I seem to see my room with a more critical eye when I’m looking at a photo rather than staring at that room I’ve walked through countless times. 

So, that’s what I’ll do. First, a list and some photos of potential household projects to freshen up my tired house, and then, the tasks I want to tackle. Expand

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First Decisions 

What is the scope of your project(s)? Do you want to do one area? One room? Or, do you want to plan several projects—the bedrooms, or the baths, or the home-office space(s)? 

Do you want to spend money—is there a budget, or will you do what you can with the resources at hand? 

Based on the budget question, how much of the work do you want to do yourself? What will you put your hand to? 

Can you hire professionals for some or most of the project(s)? If so, you may want to get several estimates or go with your reliable painter, electrician, or handy-person. (Here too, having those “before” snapshots will be helpful.)

Suggestions: Here are Four Potential Indoor Refreshers 

First Impressions: Look at those photos of your front door, front stoop or porch, front entry, or the front of your house. You might decide to paint the front door a color that “pops,” add a dramatic doorknocker, replace or polish the faceplate and door knob, and check handrails for wiggles. Perhaps there’s room for a tall, slender planter or interesting sculpture or statue to personalize the entryway.Expand

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Kitchen Catch-up: Your kitchen may have been getting far more use than ever before and need a little pick-me-up. Look at those photos; something may leap out at you: a simple project like getting the clutter off the counters. Are there places to stash that seldom-used toaster or the waffle maker? What about those recipes, crumpled and stained from countless references? How about organizing them? Maybe a scrapbook or an old-fashioned recipe box with indexes? Or, if you are really done with those paper recipes cut out of newspapers and magazines, and you want to toss most of them in the recycle, do it! If you’re really ambitious, you may want to plan a redo of your cabinets. That could mean taking out everything from the drawers and shelves and totally reorganizing them. Or, that might be replacing the pull-knobs or painting the cabinets a fresh color that brightens up the room. And, speaking of bright, why not look for a new or previously-owned light fixture? Sometimes, simply replacing old bulbs with bright, new LED bulbs makes a huge difference. 

Lighten Up Those Living Spaces: Those rooms where everyone congregates—that is, after the kitchen—may be crying for some freshening. The living room, family room, den, sunroom, or deck, wherever the fun takes place and the TV reigns, look over those pictures. Maybe you want to clean the couches, chairs, and drapes. How about giving a fresh coat of paint to the walls, woodwork, and ceiling? Sometimes it’s fun to take everything off the walls—all the art work and family photos—and then move them around. You’ll look at that painting differently if it’s placed across from your favorite chair. And, speaking of moving, consider moving furniture too. The couch might move from one side of the room to the other, or from the family room to the den. Those end tables may look like new pieces if you settle them beside the easy chairs in the living room. With cooler weather setting in, add some texture to the room—baskets for the magazines or toys, nubby pillows for the couch, a velvety throw across the arm of a well-used chair. You might find a small rug that will jazz up the area in front of the television, where the kids love to gather. And, while you’re adding a bit of splash with that area rug, how about changing the window treatments? Where you’ve had curtains, replace them with Roman blinds; get rid of those dusty vinyl blinds and install some chic, louvered shutters. Keeping the focus on the rooms light, look at the lamps in your room. Do the shades look a bit shabby? Replace them. Are there areas where there’s insufficient light for reading or playing board games? Add a floor or table lamp. As the days grow shorter, you’ll feel better in well-lit rooms.

Brighten Up the Bath: Unless you’re planning a total make-over for this important room, you’ll want to think about some TLC here. Like the living areas, the bath will benefit from a fresh coat of paint and new window treatments. There’s always the replacement of those tired, thin towels with some delicious, plump towels in some new color. Then, add a new bath mat and rug. You might want to install another mirror, perhaps a full-length or a mirror dramatically framed. If you have the floor space, the bath is a great place for some greenery. Maybe there’s a window where you can set a plant on the sill. A fern is pretty tolerant of low light and lots of moisture, and it adds a bit of drama to the room. If you can’t bear thinking about a live plant dropping leaves or someone knocking over the pot, create a pretty arrangement of silk leaves in a basket or bowl. 


Whether you work in your garden or work with your gardeners, you’re probably pretty familiar with the drill—preparing your garden for the winter ahead. Whether you’re dealing with your planters and pots on the patio or your extensive flowerbeds, early autumn is a great time to tidy up and freshen your garden.

Suggestions: Here are Four Potential Outdoor Refreshers 

Food for Thought: Are you thinking it might be fun to eat what you’ve grown? There are a variety of vegetables that you can plant now and harvest in the early winter. Repurpose some of your planters, if you’re going to limit your edible garden to the patio. Or, choose a flowerbed close to the house that you can be transformed into a winter vegetable garden. Among the winter edibles are: lettuce, kale, cabbage, broccoli, fava beans, radishes, beets, Brussels sprouts, and garlic. You may be able to pick up the starter plants from local farmers at one of the farmers’ markets.

Keep an Eye to the Future: In addition to the satisfying task of clearing the debris that’s settled in your garden over the last three months, you can also see opportunities to increase your number of favorite plants, the ones that really thrive in your garden. There are ways to do that, dividing plants, collecting seeds, and planting divided bulbs. To divide your hostas, daylilies, asters, and creeping phlox you’ll want to be sure to first soak the soil around the plants so you can get your spade in and lift the large plant root ball. The exposed root ball will have to be cut with some sharp garden tool. Relocate the divided plants around the garden. Don’t worry too much about the clumsy process; your plants, if they’re a bit overgrown and unwieldy, will appreciate the trimming and bounce back lovelier in the spring—plus, you’ll have twice as many. Collecting seeds is quite a bit easier. And, if you miss some seeds, your backyard birds will thank you and enjoy the dropped seeds throughout the winter. Foxgloves, morning glories, sweet Williams, and marigolds are generous with their seeds and will even reseed themselves if you don’t disturb the soil beneath the adult plant in the fall. Finally, once you’ve divided old favorites and seeded lovely flowers, you may still have the energy to separate bulbs and replant tulip, daffodil, and hyacinth bulbs for those wonderful early-spring bursts of color. 


About J. F. Booth

I am a writer and educator.
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4 Responses to Sept. Garden Column: Autumnal Cleanup

  1. says:

    Hey, I heeded your words before I even read them!!! You mentioned painting, not back rooms, but I’ll forgive you for that slight. Think back to when we were younger and how excited we were to put fresh paint on the walls. Now think of us today. I was excited to get it done but on my, how the body through a fit!! This article too gets an A+. Lots of good pointers. Love you.


  2. Barbara says:

    Most timely And, as always well said… Hoping you are all well and looking forward to the holiday season!



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