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  • Writer's pictureKat Cervoni

The Cultivation, Issue 23

Updated: Oct 29, 2020

October 29, 2020

Inspired Ideas for Tending Your Home and Garden

Image by FaradayPhotography courtesy iStock.

With Halloween around the corner, this is the ideal week to talk about some spooky things in the garden. From deadly plants to Jack-o'-lanterns, I'm embracing the holiday! I'm also including recommendations for some late-season planting. Yes, you can still get things in the ground! I hope you are inspired to make the most of these last few weeks of gardening.



The Story Behind Jack-O'-Lanterns

Our front porch after a busy day of pumpkin carving. 

Do you feel the urge to cover every available surface in decorative gourds this time of year? Me, too. Ever wonder why we take things a step further by carving out spooky faces and autumn tableaus?

The story stems from the Irish myth of Stingy Jack. Upon his death, Stingy Jack was deemed too unscrupulous to even be let into hell so he was forced to wander the earth at night with only a lump of coal to light the way. Crafty guy that he was, he fashioned a lantern out of a large turnip by hollowing it out and placing the coal inside, earning him the moniker of Jack of the Lantern, or Jack-O'-Lantern. And so each year on the eve of Samhain, what we now refer to as Halloween, the Scots and Irish would carve scary faces into large root vegetables and light them with coals with the hope of warding off any evil spirits.

A traditionally carved turnip Jack-o-Lantern. Image by Fiantus courtesy iStock. 

The tradition evolved into carving the larger and more readily available pumpkin when the Irish and Scots immigrated to the U.S.

What to Plant Now: Trees + Shrubs

With all this talk of putting the garden to bed, it may feel as though the time to plant has come and gone. While we are getting close to the end of planting season, the cool days of autumn are actually the ideal time to plant most woody trees and shrubs. Here are a few that I'll be planting before the cold fully sets in.

Boxwood (Buxus microphylla)

Image by Yarygen courtesy iStock. 

The boxwood finds its way into nearly all of the gardens that I design because it can thrive in a multitude of conditions and fits well in many garden designs. Compact, evergreen, and long-lived, I recommend using it for low–to–medium hedges or as structural punctuations throughout a planting bed.

Ilex "Nellie R. Stevens"

Image courtesy Home Depot.

The ilex or holly family is immense and offers a number of wonderful small tree and shrub options. I'll be planting a long-time favorite, Nellie R. Stevens, this fall for a bit of evergreen privacy in the backyard. This variety tolerates sun and part shade and typically tops out between 15' and 24' tall, which is perfect for a small- to medium-size yard.

Dogwood (Cornus florida)

Image by winipins courtesy iStock.

The dogwood trees in my neighborhood have provided some of the richest and longest-lasting autumn color that I can remember, so I'm definitely adding one to our garden. I also love that the dogwood's berries are a great source of food for local birds and its spring show of flowers will undoubtedly be glorious.

Plant Lore: Deadly Nightshade (Atropa belladonna)

Image courtesy Margaret Whittaker.

With such a spooky common name and a botanical name (Atropa belladona) fit for a Harry Potter spell, deadly nightshade seems fitting for some Halloween-inspired plant lore. This highly toxic plant — a surprising cousin to the potato, eggplant, and tomato — is native to southern Eurasia and can be most easily identified by its glossy black berries. It holds a place in history for being an effective poison and is thought to be responsible for the deaths of many notable figures, including Emperor Claudius and Emperor Caesar Augustus. Shakespeare's Macbeth even used it to poison the Danish army.

Image by merlinpf courtesy iStock.

Named by Carl Linneaus, the 18th-century Swedish botanist known as the "father of modern taxonomy," Atropa is a nod to one of the Three Fates from Greek mythology, Atropos, who was responsible for severing the thread of life. Belladonna, meaning "beautiful lady" in Italian, comes from deadly nightshade's other popular use during the Renaissance. Back then, women made eye drops from the plant's extracts, which caused their pupils to dilate, giving them what was considered a more beautiful and alluring appearance.


We hope you enjoyed issue 23 of The Cultivation. If there is a garden you love and want to know how it was done, let us know by emailing us here. Want to catch up on previous issues? Click here to read through all of our prior editions. And remember to follow us on Instagram @staghorn_living!

See you next week.

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Oct 29, 2021

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