I enjoy the time of year when the weather begins to cool off, not a great deal perhaps but noticeably. It’s a good time to think about a fall garden, a time when herb enthusiasts can plant what they call the winter herbs, such as dill and basil. It’s also a time to consider vegetables, either in the ground or planted in pots large enough for elbow room but still small enough for portability.

It’s a time for browsing seed catalogs and dreaming of bountiful harvests. But when the time comes to make out the order or head for the nearest seed and feed store, it’s necessary to put the brake of those dreams. I’ve found that the gardens of my imagination are far more elastic than the limited space actually available.

I’ve made a feeble start on my fall garden with the purchase of a solitary tomato plant. My mother use to lay her tomato plants in a shallow trench and cover the stalks up to the lowest set of leaves, or you can plant them deeply but vertically. Either way, roots form along the covered portion of the stalk and the more roots, the more water the plant absorbs giving you bigger and juicier tomatoes.

One of my very favorite vegetables is Swiss chard. It isn’t all that difficult to grow the stuff, but neither does it take kindly to benevolent neglect. I put around a half-dozen plants in large pots because Swiss chard cooks down like mad, and you have to start with a lot of leaves to get a decent helping of the cooked greens.

And maybe I’ll plant a couple of packages of seed, too, to have more coming along after the starter plants bolt.

When I buy seeds of unfamiliar vegetables for next year's garden, I’m careful to buy only those in illustrated packets. A couple of years ago, I bought an un-illustrated packet that purported to contain seed for summer spinach, bred to flourish in climates such as ours.

As it turns out there were very few seeds in the packet, so I wanted to be really, really careful with them. I spotted a reasonably large plastic pot already filled with potting soil. Seems to me it had contained a petunia plant that had been taken out by an invasion of giant grasshoppers.

I planted the teeny-tiny seeds according to the instructions, watered them faithfully and fiercely defended them from any dastardly weeds that dared to sprout in the pot. I was careful to protect my portable spinach patch from an excess of sun, religiously moving it from one spot of shade to another as the day went on. The plants weren’t getting very large, but they were flourishing in their own modest fashion.

Eventually I bragged to my friend Chris that there would soon be enough for a very small harvest — say about 2 tablespoons worth when it was cooked. Enough for each of us to have a taste.

She studied the little plants seriously, then said, “You may want to pick them pretty soon; it looks like that one’s getting ready to bloom.”

I looked where she pointed. How interesting. I didn’t know spinach had pale purple blossoms, but I also wasn’t all that familiar with spinach blossoms, and since this was Summer Spinach, perhaps it was different.

I said as much to Chris. She thought about it for a moment, then asked, “Are you sure this is spinach?”

“It’s supposed to be.” I hesitated. It was just possible we had an identity crisis on our hands. “Do you think we should wait until the bud opens and see what kind of blossom it is? After all, the leaves are shaped a lot like regular spinach leaves, but the texture is more like petunia leaves. Are petunia leaves edible?”

“I don’t know,” said Chris.

Chris is a nurse, and therefore conservative. I am inclined to gamble on horse races, but not on food. We waited, and our patience was rewarded by petunia blossoms.

Mary Ryder can be reached at PracticalPotwatchedr@cfl.rr.com or by regular mail at P.O. Box 460, Mascotte, FL, 34753.