We’re past the autumn equinox, and the days are getting distinctly colder, with those long summer nights fast becoming a distant memory. But that doesn’t mean you should bury your nose in a book for eight months. You can still enjoy the natural world, whether you have a garden, a windowsill or just an interest in stories about the history of horticulture (and a few fancy plants we want to tell you about). Can’t visit the botanical gardens right now? No problem — just read on.
Fiona Zublin, Senior Editor
it’s fall: get gardening
1. What to Grow Now
Even if you don’t have a greenhouse, you can still plant new sprouts right now. Crops of broad beans and peas started now will mean an early crop in the spring. Onion and garlic bulbs will also tolerate the winter, but may not be ready to harvest until next summer. As for flowers, now is a great time to plant roses, as it allows them to build a strong foundation before they shut down for winter. (Not to mention, plants are often discounted this time of year.)
2. The Most Wonderful Time
While not as riotous as spring or summer, autumn can actually be the best time for planting, according to the Royal Horticultural Society. The coming months are likely to see more rain than in spring or summer, meaning you won’t need to pay as much attention to regular watering, and the falling leaves can provide a natural soil conditioner.
3. Don’t Forget the Chores
Of course, it’s not all planting. Autumn is also the time to set your garden in order: Clean any patio space, cover or store outdoor furniture, trim back hedges and elevate any potted plants to keep them from drowning if a heavy rain leaves them in a puddle. Oh, and if you’re worried about delicate plants falling victim to an unexpected frost, you can always bring them inside.
Not all of us have a big yard to work with — but that doesn’t mean you can’t grow a garden in the cooler months. If you already have a balcony or window garden, it’s time to start thinking about moving your green pals inside — but first, make sure to check for any bugs or diseases. If you’re adding new plants, consider herbs like chives, rosemary and thyme that can be grouped together in one big pot by the window, or go really trendy with a dish garden of colorful, hardy succulents.
2. Trial and Air
Now that you’re starting to keep your windows closed to keep out the cold, you might want to pay special attention to plants that naturally filter the air around them. Devil’s ivy, peace lilies and pygmy date palms will all live happily inside while making your apartment an easier place to breathe.
3. Extra Space
You may not have access to a garden, but if you have access to your roof, you could potentially turn it into a garden. This rooftop trend has been burgeoning among the urban foodie set who want to grow their own produce and salad greens, and it’s likely to get even bigger as more and more of the world lives in cities and has to maximize green space.
The pink princess philodendron was one of the first Instagram plant superstars, a hot commodity whose cuttings sell for more than $100 a pop. But when the similar pink congo philodendron — whose leaves are even pinker — took off in the same way, people soon discovered it was a scam. The plants had been artificially stimulated with a chemical to make the leaves turn an intense pink — only to revert eventually to boring old green.
2. Minima? More Like Maxima
How much would you pay for a houseplant? If your answer wasn’t $5,331, you can say goodbye to your chance at an insanely expensive variegated minima, which this summer became the most expensive houseplant ever sold on New Zealand site Trade Me. Houseplant trade on the site has grown by more than 200 percent in the past year alone, so the four-leaved, two-tone minima may not be the record-holder for long.
3. It’s Back
Hawaii’s vibrant ecosystem was the only known home of Hibiscadelphus woodii, a flowering plant related to the hibiscus that shifts from bright yellow to purple over the course of its life. But the rare flower was last seen in 2009 and labeled extinct in 2016 — until botanists found not one, but three plants growing on a cliff face in Kauai’s Kalalau Valley. The tool that helped them discover the not-so-gone-after-all flower? A drone, which can allow botanists to explore epic cliffsides with minimal risk of falling to their deaths.
1. ID That Tree
It’s a staple of autumn walks: You look down at the orange leaves you’re crunching underfoot and wonder, “What is that?” Googling “weird-shaped leaf” probably won’t do the trick, but you could try one of several AI-powered plant identification apps, which are helping biologists and regular people alike identify flowers and leaves quickly and accurately thanks to deep learning technology.
Winter is coming: Would you wear a puffer jacket filled with flowers? That’s what sustainable fashion brand Pangaia has come up with to replace traditional down or cruelty-free but still synthetic alternatives. The company’s FLWRDWN puffers have recycled plastic shells and are stuffed primarily with biodegradable dried flower petals, part of the brand’s larger mission to reduce pollution by focusing on clothing alternatives that rely on fibers currently going to waste.
3. Lines of Communication
Ever wish your plants could talk to you — so they might tell you when they need water, fertilizer or a little extra sunlight? Keenan Pinto’s biotechnology may not be able to communicate with your houseplants (yet), but his lab-on-a-chip is meant to help farmers keep in touch with their plants and soil, providing data on pH levels, humidity and nutrients that could make the difference between a crop thriving or failing.
Americans have often been drawn to gardening in times of national crisis: Both World Wars saw gardening instruction and individual attempts at growing food become a national priority in the U.S. and abroad. That’s partly because it never hurts to have another food source, but also because working with plants offers something tangible that people can do to calm their nerves and reconnect with the natural world.
If you’re a student of economic history, you may have already heard of tulip mania, when 17th-century Holland went so nuts for tulips that the price of bulbs skyrocketed … and then suddenly crashed. But many are now rethinking the conventional wisdom about the tulip craze, as what is admittedly a very good story may have been embellished by 19th-century historians. In fact, tulip speculation was hardly widespread, modern historians now believe, and when prices fell it didn’t destroy the Dutch economy as had long been believed.
3. The Great Tea Heist
In the 1840s, Britain was in a jam: The country had grown to love tea, then produced only in China, which held a monopoly on the lucrative trade. So the British resorted to a tried-and-true method: Stealing it. Botanist Robert Fortune was dispatched to covertly learn China’s tea-processing methods and steal seeds. After a false start — he packed the tea seeds in a ship to send to a British outpost in India, but they all rotted when the ship was delayed — his next attempt successfully delivered the seeds to their destination, thereby sparking India’s tea industry, which is now the second largest in the world.