Wednesday, November 4, 2009

Rake or Hammock. Hmm...

Today was one of those perfect Fall days. Sunny, cool, colorful and that wonderful smell that comes with falling leaves. I did some light pruning, planted some elephant garlic in the Children’s Garden and moved compost. It feels great to be out in the sun.
Long ago, I used to teach a class called “Putting the Border to Bed”. In it I would outline all of the tasks for autumn, including clipping all perennials back and cleaning the ground spotless. I don’t do that anymore. One reason is that a super tidy garden is not conducive to wildlife habitat. The birds and the beneficial insects like a little leaf litter here and there to rummage around in and hide under. Perennial seed heads left up offer an abundance of seeds for little birds. A certain amount of leaf litter adds insulation to the soil and feeds it as it breaks down.
After a good storm I love to walk through the woodland, picking up small branches that have fallen from the trees and breaking them into smaller pieces. Then I toss them back into the woodland to decay and nourish the plants there. Large, matting leaves are removed from the woodland so that they don’t smother the plants beneath them, but smaller leaves, such as Raywood Ash and Japanese Maple are left where they fall. Larger branches are piled on the side as habitat for toads, frogs, newts and such which help keep the garden free of pests.
A wonderful book, which I re-read often, is Mirabel Osler’s “A Gentle Plea for Chaos”. It reminds us that the best gardens are where we gently sculpt Mother Nature, not dominate her completely. Let the roses ramble a bit, don’t be too quick with the rake and look at your garden from the viewpoint of the little creatures that live there.

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