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Simple Ways to Savor Gardens at Your Thanksgiving Celebration

Decorate, garnish, help guests sleep, connect generations, and keep the holiday vibe growing--all from your garden!

Well, the big day is finally here, and all that growing, freezing, drying, and canning of fresh fruits and vegetables is about to pay off when you showcase it on your holiday table or bring it to share wherever you may be going as a guest.

What's more, this year's mild climate so far in metro-Atlanta means that many gardeners have tomatoes and peppers still growing. I even heard of okra and summer squash, those reliable producers from our 90-degree days of summer, still going in some gardens, which means you have an even greater variety of home-grown goodies from which to choose as you plan your Thanksgiving menu.

A particularly pretty holiday salad combines a spinach-like green named tatsoi, a variety of lettuce leaves, yellow grape tomatoes (which, if you grew them this year, are probably still producing), and pomegranate seeds, as pictured. (If you want to grow your own pomegranates, please note that the Atlanta Local Food Initiative's Fruit Tree pre-sale, in partnership with Georgia Organics, just kicked off and pomegranate trees do grow well in our climate.)

Your garden gives in other ways as well this week and throughout the holiday season.  Here are some more ideas to consider:

1. Decorate. Pick a bouquet of herbs studded with  amaranth and sorghum stalks as your holiday table centerpiece, plus tie a long sprig of rosemary to each guest's napkin with a piece of raffia. You can also use seed-heads from tall grains you might have grown during the summer such as Hungarian broom corn and Egyptian wheat to make an arrangement to hang on your front door.  If you haven't grown interesting crops like this in your garden before, consider them for next summer.  Not only do they add height, movement and beauty to a late-summer garden and usable clippings for your Thanksgiving celebrations, but they also serve as gifts to our feathered friends during the winter as they enjoy the seeds at a time of food scarcity for them.

2. Garnish. Use a wide variety of herbs to garnish your holiday dishes. Right now, mint, lemon balm, thyme (including the delicious lemon variety), sage, rosemary, oregano, parsley, lovage, and dill are plentiful. Cinnamon basil is enjoying its last hurrah and adds an exotic fragrance to old-time favorites.

3. Help guests sleep. With so many stresses in life and the news lately, everyone could use a little extra relaxation, although sometimes sleeping at someone else's home or in a different time zone can be challenging. Put a small vase or jar with a lavender bouquet on the bedside table where guests will be sleeping or hang some from a doorknob to encourage peaceful dreams.  Lavender has a "soporific" effect, meaning it is sleep-inducing. Turkey, of course, has this effect, too, due to its tryptophan, but with so many vegetarians out there now, a little lavender may be appreciated. If your guests suffer upset stomachs after a long day of eating rich food, you may try offering them a cup of soothing lemon balm tea before bedtime. Simply boil water, take the water off the heat and immerse the cut and washed herbs in it, let steep until "tea colored," and add local raw honey or other sweetener of your choice.

4.  Connect generations. I used to advise people to be sure to ask the seniors at their holiday table to share their gardening stories from Victory Garden days, but now with so many school gardens, the younger guests can get fully involved in the conversation as well and connect in ways unimaginable only a few years ago. Ask for, and be sure to record, gardening tips across generations. See what everyone can learn from each other. If grandparents who garden live locally, they may even want to come help at school gardens. If they live far away, maybe they can share seeds throughout the year or a grandparent and grandchild can start a blog together about their gardens.

5. Compost. Don't forget to compost your vegetable peels and skins (unless you save them to make a soup) as they will decompose to create a rich enhancement for your spring garden, which will keep the holiday vibe growing. See From Waste to Wow: How and Why to Compost, if this is new for you.

Inviting your garden and those of your guests into your holiday celebration in these ways honors the original Thanksgiving celebration of bounty and gratitude in simple ways that are bound to become traditions. Find out more tips about all aspects of gardening at www.farmerd.com, and check out our 2012 Holiday Gift Guide to keep your dollars circulating locally as a gift to your community--simply call our flagship store to order. As a small Thanksgiving gift to you, here are a whole buffet full of tips from my articles on U.S. News and World Report's blog. It may give you some more things about which to talk with your gardening relatives, and may even inspire a little outdoor action!

This post is contributed by a community member. The views expressed in this blog are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of Patch Media Corporation. Everyone is welcome to submit a post to Patch. If you'd like to post a blog, go here to get started.

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