Thursday, September 21, 2017

Grooming The Garden For Winter

Cosmetic yard maintenance now pays hugely over the holidays. It's a special joy to contemplate a well-managed landscape from a Thanksgiving table. This weather is just right for comfortable labor.

From English garden writers Vita Sackville-West and Gertrude Jekyl I learned not to over-groom my plants. Seattle's climate is like that of England, so that skilled and elegant advice makes the most of my efforts. Mass-market garden books are aimed at the interior and eastern continental US climate, that has four seasons and looks like a Dick and Jane primer. Seattle does not. 

Seattle has one season: it's forty-five degrees and raining. Anything else is a minor variation. Ignore broadcast weather reports: they take all the fun out of living here with their self-indulgent definition of a good day. My good day is overcast, kind to the eyes and skin, and supportive of the vegetation.

The English approach to perennials is to let them have their head, straying at will during the growing season. As cold weather approaches, tidy the stalks but leave them in place. The bare stems harbor welcome predatory insects over the winter and act as windbreaks for new growth that peeps out in the spring. Groom those stems when the new growth seems safe from frost.

I leave seed pods and withered foliage in place on the native iris, so it looks as if it is growing wild. The seeds are more beautiful than the ephemeral blossoms. I weed diligently and sheet compost what I gather. Ratty, chaotic foliage from the food garden is sheet composted as well, along with deadheaded roses. Aside from that, little needs tending except for the odd conifer branch. A local arborist goes after mature shrubs now and then, and I harvest a juvenile conifer as a home-grown Christmas tree nearly every year.

Like child-rearing, timely action yields an appealing result. The year's minor grooming pays off at the end of the season with comely groups of withered plants. Anything that is overgrown is simply mowed in place or cut and sheet-composted on the lawn. In Seattle, one prunes anytime the tool is sharp and the weather is dry.


I don't grow anything that requires a stake or special handling to look its best. I increase perennials by cutting their seed heads and shaking the pods around the garden. No doubt I am recreating an archaic planting ritual in doing so. All plants want to do is grow. All I have to do is figure out how to work with them -30-

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