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November 6, 2005

Keeping a Clean Garden

During the past few weeks, one of my volunteers and I have been emailing back and forth about my gardens – he asking if I had all my bulbs in or had cut back my perennials yet and me providing a litany of excuses for why not: we went out of town over MEA weekend, then we were preparing for a Halloween party the weekend after, I got sick, and with daylight savings time, it’s pitch black by the time I get home from work….and on and on.

I admit that part of my delay tactics has been simple laziness. The weather has been unseasonably gorgeous, and the gardens still look lovely. Why should I mess with success?

And it’s true – the gardens are truly lovely this time of year. The green leaves have changed to a riot of colors.

Some colors have been unexpected, like the hot colors of this creeping sedum.

The bergenia are also providing a vivid edging display.

Even the green maidenhair fern has shown her fall colors.

But the cooler tones mixed with burgundy also look great in fall, especially with a mix of textures.

Finally, the volunteer wrote, “Why don’t you just forget about cutting everything back and leave it over the winter?

Ahh, there lies the rub. The eternal question of “Should I cut everything back in the fall or just leave it until spring?”

There are many reasons supporting either platform. If you leave everything up in the fall, you provide winter interest to an otherwise dreary landscape. I have wonderful memories of snow falling on “Autumn Joy” sedum, leaving little pillow shapes floating above the ground. Seed heads from grasses and native plants such as purple coneflower provide food sources for birds and animals. Leaving perennials in place also helps with winter protection. The structural stems capture snow and provide another insulating blanket over tender crowns.

I do leave some plants up each year, including upright grasses such as “Karl Forester” feather reed grass, which doesn’t flop over the minute a heavy snowfall occurs. And I will leave up the grass bed because it does provide interest in an otherwise arctic-looking front yard.

But for the most part, I cut everything back. I like a tidy garden at the end of fall. I like knowing that I won’t have piles of half-rotting leaves to paw through when the first tender bulbs appear. I like the warm feeling inside knowing that I will enter the holiday season and the dark months of winter with all my garden ducks in a row, with no niggling thoughts of unfinished business.

I definitely cut back the beds along the driveway because all too soon they will be covered in drifts from the snow blower. There aren’t any upright grasses that can remain standing amid several feet of snow.

My first bulbs appear in these beds, sometimes even as early as mid-March if the feisty snowdrops can push their way through the layer of ice and snow that remains. I want to give them the best possible odds to be seen in all their glory, foretelling winter’s doom.

So this afternoon I will pull on the Hunter wellies that I bought in Wales and head back outdoors for another round of chopping back, putting my gardens into their tidy beds for winter.

Prairie Garden

This week, Brian mowed the prairie garden down, the suburban version of a “burn.” We have a few lily bulbs to naturalize in there and then I will spread a few bags of topsoil and manure over the seeds that have dropped. The soil in this bed is terrible, just a light dusting of topsoil over heavily compacted clay. I’m trying to build it up a little each year. I don’t want it too rich, as prairie plants often thrive in poor soils, but I do want it better than it is now.




Late October 006 small.jpg

And Brian developed a sure fire method to planting hundreds of bulbs in record time. He come up with this after we found our soil to be compacted into concrete due to heavy machinery during a home remodel phase. This method works great. Watch Brian plant some bulbs in the video below.

Click on Brian to watch him plant two bulbs in 15-seconds...

Lost and Found

One of the last perennials to bloom late in the season is the toad lily. Several years ago, Arla Carmichial, the head gardener at Noerenberg Gardens, gave me a clump. I was pleased with how nicely it spread throughout my shade gardens. Toad lilies can be disappointing because they are very frost-intolerant. You can have a huge patch of them, dripping with bursting buds, and blooms and the next day they are all gone, victim of a hard frost.

With last year’s funny winter, I lost a number of perennials in my shade garden, including, I thought, my toad lily patch.

But yesterday, as I was cutting back the hosta, I found one survivor. Whew!

What I’m Reading

Just finished: “One Shot” by Lee Child. Another satisfying read in the Jack Reacher series.

Next in the queue: “Sahara” by Michael Palin. The former Monty Python member has written a number of delightful travel tales.

Listening to: “Seldom Disappointed” by Tony Hillerman. After listening to his memoirs, I’d like to return to his books.

Graham’s current favorite: “1001 Things to Spot in the Sea” by Katie Daynes.

Here’s What’s Blooming Now

Toad Lily
“My Favorite” mum – lavender, red and coral
Nicotiana – all shapes, colors and sizes
Verbena bonariensis
Nasturtium “Peach Melba” and others
Hydrangea “Annabelle”
Alpine strawberry – and fruiting, too

Garden Chores for the Week

Repot the amaryllis.

Finish cutting back the dead stuff.

Cover the roses.

Vegetable Garden

I finally ripped up the tomatoes. The dogs would pick them off the vine and play with them in the yard. And eat them. I covered that bed with a few inches of compost so I can be ready to plant peas early in the spring.

There are still some purply lettuces growing amid the calendula.

If I would have been smart, and had more room, I would have put in some lettuces in August. They love the cool weather.

And I finally harvested the “Yukon Gold” potatoes that were growing in the compost bin. Look at these beauties! They will make a tasty salad or maybe a savory baked omelet or frittata. I may have to bury some potatoes in my compost bin every year!

Today’s Grahamism

"When does the teacher go to the bathroom?"

"Did you know that biggest whale in the world is the blue whale? It’s 99 inches long. Or is that 99 pounds?"

"I’m going to be a doctor when I grow up, just like my dad. I don’t want to be a movie maker any more. All they do is make movies and more movies and no one brings them presents."

Posted by maasx003 at November 6, 2005 1:26 PM | Books | Family | Gardens


Lovely blog! I've been reading food blogs for some time and am just now exploring gardening blogs. Yours is very nice! I'll be back.

Posted by: Ellen at November 7, 2005 9:58 AM