How to Wear Fall Fashion Trends on a Budget

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I know the first day of autumn is still a month away, but back-to-school promotions seem to trigger an unyielding desire for boot-and-sweater season. This is problematic since it’s still a constant 90 degrees where I live, but my office thermostat is helpfully turned to the “arctic” setting, allowing me to get away with fall fashion a little early.

Retailers similarly jump the gun by stocking shelves with cable-knit sweaters while patrons browse in tanks and flip flops. And though New York Fashion Week highlighted the latest in skin-baring looks for next spring, we’re tasked with finding frugal ways to cover up for fall. Consider the following roundup of my favorite trends based on the top ways to afford them.


Bright Colors
Spring always brings out the freshest colors to combat the dreariness of winter. Thankfully, you don’t have to store away that fuschia jumper when the first brisk breeze hits your city. Pair it with black tights and a blazer for an on-trend outfit that won’t cost you a dime.

This vintage look is still going strong in fall thanks to the continued popularity of ensembles from eras past. Replace sandals and sleeveless tops with long-sleeved blouses and cap-toe pumps for a sophisticated style.

In a post I wrote covering spring trends for The Stylish City earlier this year, I highlighted the use of athletic-inspired apparel in everyday wear. That trend is carrying over from spring into fall, where a terry-cloth sweatshirt looks casually chic atop a white button-up and matchstick pants.


Riding Boots
A look once dominated by American designer Ralph Lauren, everyone from Gucci to Givenchy is embracing the equestrian trend. Riding boots are still all the rage and slide comfortably over jeans and leggings for both work day and weekend looks. If you failed to pick up a pair last year, don’t fret; grab this coupon from and score your new fall faves with free shipping and $20 off.

Cozy Knits
Cozy sweaters never go out of style, something I’m thankful for when I wake up to several inches of snow. Create a fresh look for fall by taking a cue from Target’s new Kirna Zabete collection and pair a fuzzy sweater with your favorite skirt.

Olive drab and excessive gold buttons are here to stay, influencing such designers as Victoria Beckham and Alexander McQueen. Opt for simple femininity à la Mrs. Beckham by wearing chunky black boots with a fitted, jersey-knit sheath and black belt. Military hat optional.


Statement Collar
Collars with bling aren’t just for Fido anymore. The runways were abuzz with heavily adorned collars, ranging from gems to spikes to busy patterns. Since this look is as fleeting as your dog’s newly washed smell, keep it cheap by finding detachable, one-of-a-kind creations on Etsy, or DIY with a cheap button-up or two from Target.

Navy Peacoat
Though the oversized coat dominated designer collections, the classic navy peacoat was also spotted on the runways. Conventional wisdom suggests you make this trend an investment piece since it never really goes out of style. However, it doesn’t hurt to look for bargain buys on eBay or Old Navy.

Tangerine Tango was all the rage at the beginning of the year, and fall is taking a similarly scrumptious approach to its go-to color: wine. Alexander Wang showcased the earthy hue in oversized coats, while Donna Karen kept it feminine with dresses in bordeaux. Embrace this trend in any form you want, but be sure to keep your complexion in mind; think brick red for warm skin tones and plum reds for cool skin tones.


Kendal Perez is a frugal fashionista and bargain shopper who helps fellow shopaholics find hassle-free ways to save money. As the marketing coordinator for Kinoli Inc., site manager for a family of money-saving websites, Kendal has the resources to be an extreme couponer but prefers a less complicated approach to staying in-budget. Kendal has been quoted in such media outlets as People StyleWatch, CNN Money, FOX, ABC, NPR and Kiplinger Personal Finance. For savings tips and more information, visit

More Ideas from the Garden for the Perfect Thanksgiving Celebration!

Pumpkin Topiary Centerpiece

Do you want to save money and go a little “greener?” If so, why not decorate your home and Thanksgiving table with items foraged from the garden or picked up at a local farmers market? Right now you’ll find a bounty of beautiful natural elements just waiting to be creatively re-purposed into holiday displays. Last month I did a blog on ideas for Fall Centerpieces.  I want to share a few more ideas for your Thanksgiving table.

Pumpkins and gourds continue to be a favorite focus of Thanksgiving displays because of their vibrant autumn colors. Make a topiary of different sized pumpkins or gourds and add fresh herbs for scent and contrast. Or, use a large pumpkin as your container, scoop out the insides and add fresh flowers and garden greenery for a wonderful accent piece.

A simple centerpiece that celebrates the South, is a large colorful bowl filled with magnolia leaves. Select leaves of different lengths and arrange them standing in the container so you see some of the leaves from the front with their glossy green and some from the back, giving a brown contrast. If you don’t have magnolia leaves, you can cut some branches from your camellias that are now in bud. Arrange the branches with buds in a vase and add some interesting twisted branches like those from Harry Lauder’s Walking Stick. Tuck in some holly or nandina sprigs with berries to add some color.

When foraging outside, select some of the following: acorns, pinecones, evergreen branches, berry sprigs, dried flowers from hydrangeas and butterfly bushs, blooming mums or ‘Knockout’ roses, ornamental grass plumes, twisted branches, pretty rocks, fall leaves, variegated ivy and herbs for scent. Get the kids involved and see what imaginative centerpieces they can create!

Arranging fruit is an easy and attractive way to add color, texture and style to a table centerpiece. Pomegranates have beautiful color and shape. Stack them in a compote dish and you have your elegant centerpiece. Or, you can use fresh apples, oranges (dotted with cloves) or pears. Cranberries add a holiday splash arranged around candles.

Your houseplants can also play a role in your table decorations. Select some vintage silver champagne glasses or small bowls and place a succulent plant in the center of each for a very sophisticated and unusual look.

Don’t forget to dress up the outside of your house for the holidays with wreaths and window boxes made from natural materials.

A Trip to the North Georgia Mountains

Some of our group of friends who enjoyed a box lunch from Mercier's Orchard during our weekend in the mountains.

You can’t go wrong taking a trip right now to our North Georgia mountains to enjoy the fall color and the apple harvest. Dan and I joined several friends for an entertaining weekend in Blue Ridge.  Our first stop was Mercier Orchards outside Blue Ridge. We arrived around 11:30 a.m. and the place was MOBBED!! Busloads of folks descend on this market and others during apple season. I recommend getting there by 10:00 a.m. during apple harvest if you want to enjoy shopping before the crowds hit the place. Don’t miss trying the apple fritters and the fried pies. Our

Some of our group of friends who enjoyed a box lunch from Mercier Orchard during our weekend in the mountains.

group ordered boxed lunches at Mercier and then ate at picnic tables in Blue Ridge. For more information about the orchards, read Sherri Smith Brown’s blog about Apple Alley.

After lunch, our next stop was the 100-year-old train depot in Blue Ridge to take an afternoon excursion aboard the Blue Ridge Scenic Railway. The leisurely and historic one-hour trip takes you from Blue Ridge through the Chattahoochee National Forest along the Toccoa River and ends in McCaysville Georgia and Copperhill Tennessee. McCaysville/Cooperhill is actually one town split down the middle by the Georgia and Tennessee state line. Car hosts aboard each train car shared the history of the area as we traveled the 13 miles to our destination. Our host pointed out a Cherokee Indian fish weir (trap) – a large “V” shaped dam in the water made by stacking stones that trapped fish. It is amazing to me that it is still visible and has not washed away in hundreds of years!

All aboard the Blue Ridge Scenic Railway!

Notice the "V" in the water signifying an old Cherokee Fish Trap

I decided to make friends with the train conductor during our excursion.

Upon arrival, we had the chance to explore the town for 90 minutes. There are several antique shops and restaurants and great views of the river. Dan and I sat outside at the Nifty 50s Café overlooking the river and enjoyed the scenery.

Returning to Blue Ridge, our group headed to the Toccoa House Properties where we rented three fabulous cabins on 12 acres of secluded mountain land for the weekend. The main cabin – the Toccoa House – had a large kitchen/dining area where all of us could gather for meals. We also enjoyed the large big-screen TV to watch the college football games! Since our group included Georgia, Florida, Auburn, Georgia Tech, Tennessee and Ohio State fans, we had to spread out in all the cabins to view all the games!

The Toccoa House is one of four cabins that provide a "pampered" mountain experience.

Dan and I hit the hiking trail early on Saturday morning. It was a gorgeous fall day with sunny skies and crisp temperatures, perfect for being outside! We chose to hike the Flat Creek Loop Trail on the slopes of Davenport Mountain in the Aska Trails Area near Blue Ridge. We were the first hikers to arrive at the Deep Gap Trailhead where you pick up the access trail that will connect to the Flat Creek Loop. The whole hike is 5.8 miles, and I would consider it a moderate hike with gradual uphill climbs at the beginning and end but a nice section of level hiking in the middle along the creek.

Along the trail on the Flat Creek Loop Trail

You start out ascending through a mixed oak and pine forest. We enjoyed viewing some fall color but our long summer of high temperatures and little rain has postponed and even curtailed foliage color this year. (You can keep track of leaf color progression by checking out my blog on Leaf Watch 2010). As the trail descends to the creek, the forest changes to hardwood, dominated by sweet birch and white oak. In the damp areas you’ll find a profusion of ferns, laurel and rhododendron. As we neared the end of the loop, lots of hikers and mountain bikers were beginning their treks on this very beautiful and popular trail.

Crossing over Flat Creek on the trail.

Tired but also energized from our hike, we relaxed on the back deck at the Toccoa House with friends and reveled in the gorgeous mountain scenery. Dan and I later reveled in our Georgia Bulldogs win over Kentucky! Go Dawgs!

Don’t miss out on Georgia’s natural wonders – take a trip to our North Georgia mountains soon!

Create Fabulous Fall Arrangements from the Garden

Easy autumn arrangement using natural elements from the garden.

Now is the perfect time to create colorful fall arrangements to take you from Halloween through Thanksgiving. And the best part…you can get a great look while spending little or no money if you scavenge in your garden for natural elements that emphasize shape, color, texture and a bit of whimsy. Use your imagination and see what you can create!

Take your garden pruners and a bucket and stroll through your garden looking for late-blooming flowers, colorful foliage, dried flowers, evergreen branches, berries, pine cones, seed pods and small branches with interesting shapes. Last year I needed several centerpieces to dress tables set for Thanksgiving. I placed a small serving platter in the center of each table and added a wet foam oasis to each platter. Then I went outside to find natural elements to fit into the wet foam.  I cut some holly with berries, some of the multi-colored foliage of Nandina ‘Firepower’ and camellia sprays with new buds. I scouted around for pine cones, acorns and sweet gum balls. It took no time at all to create some colorful centerpieces for the holiday meal.

Easy autumn arrangement using natural elements from the garden.

Those beautiful hydrangea blooms from May are now dried and make wonderful additions to an arrangement, as do the stalks of ornamental grasses. Also consider corkscrew or twisted branches, magnolia pods, pecans, rose hips and moss. Add fruits or vegetables for that down-home touch. Southerners have been decorating with fruit and vegetables since colonial times. To add the vibrant yellow and orange colors of fall, purchase gourds and pumpkins for a display that will last several weeks. Other fruits and veggies to consider are kale, apples, oranges, lemons, limes, pears and turnips. Don’t forget to add some herbs to lift the spirits with scent.

A beautiful fall garden vignette using pumpkins, gourds, mums and corn.

Once you have your natural elements gathered, do another scavenger hunt to find interesting containers. (Check out my recent blog on making a pumpkin container). Old baskets, crates, mason jars and galvanized metal tubs make great containers for the fall.

This container filled with pumpkins and gourds is so whimsical and unusual. This display is at the Atlanta Botanical Garden.

So, take a stroll through your garden this week and see what treasures you can find. Send me your photos of your fall arrangements and I’ll post them on my blog. Email me at

Tour Apple Alley in the North Georgia Mountains

There are plenty of apple to pick during the fall in the North Georgia Mountains along Apple Alley.

During the time when my husband and I were writing The Best of Georgia Farms Cookbook and Tour Book, we spent a lot of time touring agricultural areas all around the state. One area I particularly liked visiting was Apple Alley in the North Georgia Mountains during harvest time. From late August to December, the roadside stands of North Georgia overflow with fresh local apples. Some 20 orchards in the mountains offer harvests of Granny Smiths, Solid Golds, Rome Beauties, Arkansas Blacks and more than a dozen other varieties.

Gilmer County is the heart of apple production in Georgia. The county produces 400,000 bushels a year, about 70 percent of the state’s annual harvest. Numerous apple houses and outlets are located along a 10-mile stretch of scenic mountain highways near Ellijay and Blue Ridge known as Apple Alley. A couple favorites of ours are Hillcrest Orchards and Mercier Orchards.

There are plenty of apples to pick during the fall in the North Georgia Mountains along Apple Alley.

Hillcrest Orchards on Georgia Highway 52 east of Ellijay is a 75-acre orchard with an impressive number of first place ribbons for apple varieties from the Georgia National Fair. Heward Reece started the orchard back in 1946 with 15 acres, selling apples from his garage. In the retail outlet section, bushels of apples crowd the floor, along with apple bread, apple cider doughnuts, apple fritters, old-fashioned cider, jams and jellies. In the warehouse, a 10-minute video about apple growing discusses how Hillcrest rents bees to cross-pollinate the orchard flowers in the spring and how the orchard has replaced much of its standard-sized trees with dwarf ones, which are easier to handle and harvest. In the back of the warehouse outlet is a large apple sorter and washer.

Several dozen varieties of apples are grown in orchards in the North Georgia Mountains near Ellijay and Blue Ridge.

On weekends in September and October, Hillcrest hosts its Apple Pickin’ Jubilee. You can pick your own apples, milk Buttercup the Jersey cow, see live honey bee demonstrations, cheer at the Pork Hill Downs Pig Races, ride around the orchard in a mule drawn wagon, and enjoy lots of good food, live music and games, such as apple bobbing and corn shelling. There’s also a petting farm and play area for the little ones.

Mercier Orchards on Blue Ridge Drive (Highway 5) in Blue Ridge is the largest and one of the oldest apple producers in the state. It’s known as Southern Living Magazine’s “favorite roadside apple market.” Three generations of Merciers have worked the orchards since 1943. A good Mercier harvest can bring in 100,000 bushels — 20 varieties, including Gala, Red and Golden Delicious, Jonagold, Rome, Stayman, Granny Smith, Braeburn, and Fuji. For months, the packinghouse in the rear of the outlet warehouse churns out apples earmarked for out-of-state delivery. Then in mid-autumn, the Merciers, like all the other growers in North Georgia, cater their roadside stand to the tourists streaming into the mountains for fresh apples and fall foliage. Mercier also sells apple products, such as breads, slushees, doughnuts, heavy cider, jams, jellies, relishes and their famous fried apple pies.

Apple cider, apple cider doughnuts, apple fritters, fried apple pies and apple bread are just some of the homemade foods you can find along Apple Alley.

October 16 – 17 is the last weekend this year for U-Pick apples; but this year, Mercier Orchards is hosting its first annual Halloween Festival/U-Select Pumpkin event, S.P.O.O.F (Spooky Pumpkin Old Orchard Fest) on Fridays, Saturdays and Sundays in October. Depending on which day you go, you can take a hayride, select your pumpkin, or hear the “great story of Orchard History.” There are other Halloween activities, including apple fishing, a bouncy house, face painting, and a Spook House.

For directions and more information about Hillcrest Orchards and Mercier Orchards, visit their websites.

Read more of Sherri’s travel adventures at Brown’s Guides.

Enjoy Scarecrows in the Garden at ATL Botanical Garden and Griffin Research Garden!

Scarecrow 2

I visited the Atlanta Botanical Garden to see what is blooming in autumn and to enjoy the annual Scarecrows in the Garden exhibit. This year over 100 scarecrows are scattered throughout the grounds. Local civic groups, businesses, individuals and schools have created and donated scarecrows to the exhibit. Dozens of children were running around, captivated by the scarecrows. All are funny, charming and whimsical. The fall weather is perfect for leisurely strolls through the garden and you’d be amazed how many plants are still blooming.

The Children’s Garden will host Goblins in the Garden on Sunday, October 24 from 11:00 a.m. until 5:00 p.m. Kids can dress up in their favorite Halloween costumes and be part of the costume parade. The Atlanta Botanical Garden will also offer train rides, pony rides and lots of treats.

I love the poker-playing dogs vignette!

This scene is a little spooky but lots of fun!

There is plenty for adults to enjoy at the garden in the fall, including gorgeous harvest displays of pumpkins, gourds, mums and Indian corn. Don’t miss visiting the Edible Garden with its stunning cornucopia filled with hand-blown glass pumpkins and gourds.

If you’d like to check out some scarecrows in the garden closer to home, the UGA Research and Education Garden in Griffin has a wonderful collection of scarecrows you can enjoy from October 11 – 24, weekdays 8:00 a.m. – 4:30 p.m. and Sundays 1-4 pm. There is NO COST to visit this wonderful educational garden. Don’t miss the Scarecrow Celebration on Sunday, Oct 24th from 1:00 p.m. – 4:00 p.m.  The garden is located adjacent to 131 West Ellis Road, Griffin, GA. You can get the latest garden event information at Griffin Research Garden Scarecrows.

Leaf Peeper Alert – Fall Color Sightings


Fall has finally arrived after three months of temperatures in the 90s!  The long hot spell and the lack of summer rain have caused autumn’s annual color show to be postponed. The foliage on many oak trees has bypassed color altogether, gone straight to brown and started to fall. Take heart!  Some trees are now starting to change colors including maples, dogwoods, sourwoods, sumacs and hickories.

Cooler temperatures and shorter days signal trees to put on a vibrant show before trees go dormant. We are starting to see color at the higher elevations in the North Georgia Mountains. If you are a “leaf peeper” like me, you’ll want to keep track of Leaf Watch 2010, sponsored by Georgia State Parks and the Georgia Forestry Commission. In the weeks ahead, you can follow leaf color progression across north Georgia and get recommendations for where to find the best color. You can access the site at Leaf Watch 2010 through October and November.

This year you can also see leaves change in real time by viewing the webcam set up at Black Rock Mountain State Park in the Blue Ridge Mountains. Just click here for color changes in the park: Black Mountain State Park Webcam. You can also follow leaf color progression at Brasstown Bald, our highest mountain, by going to Brasstown Bald Webcams.

Ever wonder what causes leaves to change colors? A chemical reaction within the leaf cells is initiated by the shorter days and cooler nights of autumn. The green leaf pigment (chlorophyll) which produces food for trees during the spring and summer begins to break down in the fall as deciduous trees go dormant and the green color begins to fade. Leaves are taken over by other pigments from yellow/orange (carotenoids) to red (anthocyanin) and color combinations in between. The amount of pigment is based on the tree species, and other environmental factors.

Weather can affect the intensity of the color each autumn. Warm, sunny days with cool temperatures above freezing at night encourage the vibrant red pigment and the best overall color. If we have an early frost, the red will be less intense. Rain and clouds can also affect the brilliance of fall colors. In 2009 we had the right conditions for a marvelous display of color. The long period of hot weather well into September that we endured this year is postponing and may limit the intensity and duration of our leaf color display.

Don’t forget to check out the fall color right here at home. Line Creek Nature Preserve in Peachtree City and Sams Lake Bird Sanctuary in Fayetteville will offer opportunities to view the beautiful colors of autumn in the weeks ahead.

My Japanese maples had vivid fall color in 2009.

Test Your Knowledge of Great Plants for the Winter Garden

You can't beat the beautiful, peeling bark of the River Burch for winter interest.

Autumn is the perfect time to add plants to the landscape, and now is a good time to look at your outdoor space with a critical eye to see where you can add some color, structure or texture to increase winter interest. Yes, your garden can be attractive and appealing during the long winter months. Test your knowledge of great plants to plant now that will add that much needed punch. Answers appear at the end of the column.

1) This tree can be untidy during the spring and summer when it is prone to lose small branches on a windy day and drop its leaves prematurely in hot and dry weather. This tree, however, redeems itself in the winter when its spectacular “V” shaped trunks and papery, peeling bark add great texture and a wonderful silhouette to the winter landscape. Choose the newer cultivars, ‘Heritage’ or ‘Dura Heat.’

2) This beautiful evergreen shrub has dark shiny leaves and dense upright foliage. During the holiday season you can count on a profusion of small, single, bright red flowers with yellow stamens. Unlike other holiday plants that may last only one season, this festive shrub will give you years of holiday blooms and a pleasing evergreen appearance in the winter garden.

3) This deciduous shrub, or small tree, blooms in the spring but is grown primarily for its unusual twisted branching pattern. Make this plant a focal point because its contorted corkscrew branches add tremendous whimsical interest to the winter garden.

4) Nothing hails the end of winter and promise of spring as the blooms and fragrance of this deciduous woody shrub or small tree. The showy and attractive yellow, orange or red scented flowers appear on bare branches in mid to late winter (January – March). An added bonus is the attractive fall foliage.

5) This plant was the 2005 ‘Perennial Plant of the Year’ and deserves the recognition. This spreading evergreen perennial stays low to the ground and rewards the gardener in January or February with a profusion of small bell-shaped nodding blossoms in a variety of colors. This easy to grow and drought tolerant plant will uplift your spirits in the late winter.


1) River Birch (Betula nigra)

2) Yuletide Camellia (Camellia sasanqua ‘Yuletide’)

3) Harry Lauder’s Walking Stick (Corylus avellana ‘Contorta’

4) Witch Hazel (Hamamelis intermedia ‘Diane,’ ‘Jelena’)

5) Lenten Rose (Helleborus x hybridus)

For more information on plants that can add winter interest to your garden, contact the UGA Cooperative Extension Fayette County at: 770-305-5176

Ten Fall Tasks for a Great Spring Garden

Do a garden review. Do you need more seating to enjoy your space?

Autumn is a second spring when every leaf is a flower.
Albert Camus

We often think of autumn as a time to put the garden to bed and ignore it until next spring. Experienced gardeners know, however, that what is accomplished in the fall reaps big rewards in the spring. Do you want a spectacular spring garden? Take advantage of the cooler weather and get your garden in shape now for the coming year. Here are ten things you can do this fall to ensure a great garden next spring.

1.Start with an annual review of your garden. Ask yourself some

Do a garden review. Do you need more seating to enjoy your space?

questions: What is the purpose of my garden? Is my garden meeting my needs and the needs of my family? Is it interesting and colorful during all seasons? How can I improve the space? After your review, develop a plan to enhance your garden. Select one project you can complete this fall.

2.Get your warm-season turf ready for winter dormancy. Watch the weather report and put down a weed preventer (pre-emergent) on all your warm-season turf a few days before temperatures are forecast to go down to 52 degrees  for three nights in a row. This prevents chickweed and annual bluegrass weeds. Make sure the weed preventer gets watered into the turf. Mow your warm-season turf grass one last time in late October then clean, sharpen blades and store your lawn mower for the winter. Fertilize cool-season grasses like Fescue this fall.

3. Start a compost pile. It’s as simple as piling materials in a secluded area of

Start a compost pile and create "black gold" for use in your planting beds.

your yard. Add the grass clippings from your last lawn mowing of the season and mix with shredded autumn leaves. Keep the pile moist and turn it occasionally. Compost is an excellent source of slow-release nutrients and improves soil structure, texture, aeration, and water retention.

4.Clean up your flower beds. Prune out and remove damaged, diseased and dead leaves and branches. Deadhead flowers on late-summer blooming perennials and annuals and continue to fertilize with a liquid mix to enjoy more blooms until the first frost. Rake up autumn leaves from turf and planting beds, shred if possible and add to your new compost pile.

5.Improve the soil in your planting beds. First get a soil test analysis to learn your soil’s pH (the level of acidity or alkalinity) and what nutrients need to be added. You can obtain a soil sample bag from the Fayette County Extension Office. If you are creating a new planting bed, till the area at least 8 inches deep to break up compacted clay. Add compost and other soil amendments and work it into the tilled native soil. If you are working on an established bed, rake back existing mulch and “top dress” the area with a layer of compost. You can work the old mulch into the compost mixture. Finish off with 3 inches of fresh mulch like pine straw or pine bark mulch.

6.Divide and transplant clumping plants like daylilies, liriope and iris. Share your extra plants with friends and neighbors.

Plant a Japanese maple this fall and enjoy brilliant fall color next year.

7.Plant shrubs, trees and spring-flowering bulbs. October is the perfect time to add new plants and give roots time to get established before spring growth. Dig a planting hole at least 2-3 times as wide as the root ball but place the plant at the same level in the bed as it was in the container. Keep new plants moist and apply 3 inches of mulch to conserve moisture and protect the plants during winter. Plant spring-flowering bulbs as soon as the soil temperature drops below 60 degrees. To track soil temperatures in our area, visit the Georgia Automated Environmental Monitoring Network.

8.Add seasonal color by planting pansies, ornamental kale and other cool-season annuals now so they are well-rooted before cold temperatures arrive. Remove spent late-summer annuals and add to the

Cool-season annuals add cheer and color during the late fall and winter.

compost pile. Fertilize your newly-planted cool-season annuals with slow-release fertilizer, mulch for protection and keep them moist for a fabulous winter and spring display.

9.Add at least one rain barrel under a downspout to catch “free water” for your plants. Many local companies sell assembled rain barrels or you can take a class to learn to assemble your own at the Fayette County Extension Office.

10.Start the design project you have been putting off! Update a perennial bed, add a garden path, build a potting bench, design a garden “room,” screen an eyesore, or create a garden in a neglected area.

Last fall, my garden project was to paint all our outside wooden furniture.

While out in the garden this fall, don’t forget that the most important thing to do is to enjoy this beautiful and ever-changing season. And remember – “Even if something is left undone, everyone must take time to sit still and watch the leaves turn.” – Elizabeth Lawrence

My UGA Garden Vignette

UGA Flag

I am a proud member of the Bulldog Nation!  I know, I know — it’s a lousy year to be a Georgia Bulldog fan with the football team struggling so.  Yet, those of us who bleed red and black will always support the dawgs (even if we mumble under our breath) and think about what may happen next year!

During the college football season, I try to show my Bulldog pride by creating a UGA garden vignette in a little side area by my garage. This year I got inspiration from a dilapidated wooden bench that was falling apart after years of sitting in the garden. (This bench in no way reflects my feelings about the team this year – “dilapidated” and “falling apart.”)

UGa BenchMy husband, Dan, rebuilt the bench and rather than paint or stain it a neutral color, I decided to paint the slats an alternating red and black. To complete the project, I added some UGA decals to really show that school spirit!

I have a Georgia pinwheel next to the bench and my UGA stepping stone that informs people they are in “Bulldog Country.” I included some pots of blooming red plants to balance the scene.

My neighbor next door smiled politely when he saw my new garden vignette. Of course, I could see the pity in his eyes – he is a Florida Gator fan. But, he is a good neighbor and never comes over to gloat whenever Florida whumps up on Georgia. (Georgia did win in 2007 and the whole team did a cool end zone dance…but I digress).

Adding whimsy to your garden is a way to show your personality and what you care about. Now you may have no interest in sports teams but you may have a collection of bird feeders, watering cans, old chairs or even ceramic frogs.  Why not use them in a garden display?  Massing your collection gives greater impact than sprinkling the objects all around the garden.

To start your garden vignette, think in terms of one big focal point to build your scene around. Maybe it is a signature plant or tree, a charming old painted chair or a sculpture. This will be the primary object to draw the eye to the vignette. Next create additional visual interest by selectively adding to the scene. Look at the site as a painting and move things around until it is pleasing to your eye. Add some color and fill in bare spaces with colorful containers of plants. The vignette will seem more balanced if you use an odd number of items in the grouping.

My UGA garden vignette is fun for the fall, slightly tacky and expresses who I am and what I care about.  “Glory, UGA Flagglory to old Georgia and to _____ with Georgia Tech!”

The Little Pumpkin Cheesecake That Could

I am ridiculously proud of the vegetarian chili I made this week.

Ten years ago, about this time of the year, I experienced a big reality check when I called Caroline, my sister-in-law, to confirm our holiday plans with my husband’s family for our Thanksgiving dinner.

“What would you like me to bring?” I asked her.

“Nothing,” she replied.

Here's my baby! Check out the recipe at

The cheesecake that changed my life. This photo & the recipe are from

I was a little surprised. “No, really, it’s no trouble. Would you like me to cook a side dish? A dessert? I don’t mind.”

“No, really,” Caroline responded, “Don’t bring anything. We’ll take care of all of it.”

Now, to give a little context here, Caroline and her partner Sandy were (and still are) very good cooks, and they knew exactly what they were doing when it came to a five-course Thanksgiving feast. By contrast, I was not a good cook at all.

Or maybe I should say that I was not a cook at all, since I never really learned (no fault but my own).  At that time, I defined “home-cooked meal” as Tuna Helper with a side of canned green beans, and my encounters with fresh produce extended to a weekly bag-o-salad and a tomato to go on top. My husband Erik and I were both working hard; he was commuting into the city and would get home late every night (usually around 9:30). I always had studying or writing to do for my grad school courses and couldn’t afford to spend two hours on making a dinner that I’d be eating alone. We got a lot of take-out, pizza and Chinese food. Leftovers night was usually reheats from the restaurants.

So when I had that Thanksgiving meal planning conversation with Caroline, it didn’t come as a surprise that she was letting me off the hook for dinner. But it was a wake-up call, and my almost nonexistent cook-ego was a little bruised.

Anyway, that Thanksgiving I decided to crash the menu (so to speak)  by bringing a dessert, and I wanted to redeem my reputation by making something really impressive. I went and found this really yummy-sounding recipe for a pumpkin swirl cheesecake. It was complicated for me at the time, but I braved the unknown, buying my first jars of allspice and ground nutmeg and crushing pecans and ginger snaps for the crust. I learned as I went along. It came out fantastic, and I was so, so proud to bring it to the table that year.  I basked in the compliments, with my fragile emergent cook-ego buoyed for a long time to come.  And I have made that pumpkin swirl cheesecake recipe for every Thanksgiving meal thereafter.

I am ridiculously proud of the vegetarian chili I made this week.

I am ridiculously proud of the vegetarian chili I made this week.

Since then I’ve kind of taught myself to cook—not a gourmet, yet, but I can deglaze a pan with the best of them. It’s funny, but even now, I am still as proud as can be when I master a new recipe. Just this week I tried making vegetarian chili for the first time, and I made a newbie mistake when I got to the end of the recipe and found that I didn’t have chili powder or cumin to finish it off. (Lucky for me, in my neighborhood I am surrounded by all kinds of domestic goddesses and amazing chefs. A quick call to my neighbor Robin saved the day.) Erik, who rarely praises my vegetarian versions of meat recipes, said it was “really good.” Even now I am still quietly congratulating myself on making an awesome pot of chili, patting my silly little cook-ego on the back.

I’m happy because each success gives me the courage to be a little braver, to try something a little more challenging. It’s addictive; nowadays I read more cookbooks than novels. I’m planning to surprise my family this weekend  with two new recipes I’ve been excited about trying: Eggplant Rollatini and Pumpkin-Cranberry Scones.

Now whether my picky kids will actually *eat* the eggplant recipe is another question (although I’m hoping to have better results with the pumpkin scones).  I may be in for another reality check. Nowadays my chef-ego can handle it, though.

Autumn – The Perfect Time to Add Plants to the Garden

Sidewalk Corner

“You ought to know that October is the first Spring month.” – Karel Capek

Some of us view the fall months as a slow time in the garden. We rake (and rake again) the falling leaves but tend to view “gardening” as over for the year. Yes, our plants are going dormant and the colorful blooms of summer are just a memory, but autumn is the best season to tackle a garden project and add or transplant plants for the coming year.

There are many reasons for starting a garden project in the fall. The cooler temperatures make physical labor so much easier and most of the pesky insects that torment us in the summer have disappeared. Increased rains make digging easier and provide moisture that new plants need. You can also save lots of money planting in the fall. Right now, garden centers are offering great sales on trees, shrubs and perennials. This week I purchased several 3-gallon ‘Knock-out’ roses for just $10 each. At another nursery I bought lots of perennials at a “two-for-one” sale.

Adding new plants or transplanting existing ones in the fall gives your plants time to develop a strong root system before spring growth. When spring arrives, they will be bursting with vitality.

This past weekend, my husband and I decided to spiff up a long narrow bed next to the sidewalk leading up to our Sidewalk Cornerfront door. This area gets lots of sun and is further heated by the cement sidewalk. I have never been happy with its appearance and decided this cool fall weekend was a wonderful time to create a fresh bed of plants.  Plus (and this is most important) the Georgia Bulldogs had a bye week in football, so it really freed up my weekend!

Since my front yard is part of my public space, I want nice curb appeal but also want tough, hardy plants that will survive without a lot of attention. I chose plants that thrive in full sun, add color in different seasons and are easy to maintain. I decided to mass plant several of the newer varieties of Nandina domestica (Heavenly Bamboo). Now I know that lots of you dislike Nandina and will think I made an unoriginal selection. But Nandinas have multi-colored leaves, keep their leaves year-round and can thrive in hot conditions. I chose Nandina ‘Harbor Belle’ which is a dwarf, spreading variety with new growth in various shades of pink that matures to deep green. Bright red berries and burgundy leaves appear during the winter months to bring cheer and color. I also added some Nandina ‘Blush Pink’ and some ‘Fire Power’ which displays dramatic red leaves during the late fall and winter months.

As companion plants, I added rosemary, one of my favorite herbs, for its sculptural interest and scent. It is wonderful to run your fingers along the edges and release that pungent smell. As flowering ground covers, I added creeping phlox around some rocks and tucked in some perennial Coreopsis ‘Crème Brulee’ (tickseed) to add some colorful flowers next summer. After we finished this project, we still had time to get rid of some over-grown and ugly ‘Nearly-Wild’ roses and exchange them for the ‘Knock-out’ roses we got on sale.

So, on one cool fall weekend, I got lots of exercise and vitamin D and designed and planted a new garden bed that will develop strong roots over the winter and be ready for the demands of spring and summer. It’s not too late for you to check out the garden center sales and plan your own fall gardening project.

Sidewalk Garden