Putting the beds to bed

The Deadheads cleaning up the North GardenFall garden clean-up is the subject of the week all over the world wide interweb! A conversation was started at Bliss over the merits of putting off the major clean-up until spring. Wildlife certainly benefits from a garden full of winter snack seedheads and hiding places left intact; some plants really appreciate holding onto their natural cold weather protection and the soil is better off undisturbed. The Rockettes plant 600 tulips in the North Garden



In a public garden there are other factors to consider in the fall. Blithewold’s gardens are open year-round and we have to make sure that they’re attractive to gaze upon even in the off seasons. If we had a constant blanket of snow starting now, we probably could let things go (ugh! perish the thought!) but we also do a lot of furniture moving in the fall and a-really-lot of bulb planting.

The Rock Garden is the one garden we let go a bit. We weed it and cover it in a pine needle blanket and save most of the felco action for spring. It’s off the beaten track in the winter, it’s pretty self-containedly tidy as it is and needs all the winter protection it can get (this is the garden that is occasionally covered in/surrounded by a high tide).

The North Garden is a different story and we spend several days putting it to bed in the fall. This week we took out annuals, tender perennials and dahlias and cut back things like phlox, baptisia, campanulas, asters and iris. We left the amsonia (for outstanding fall color), calamintha, nepeta (mostly – we will cut that back a little), caryopteris and ‘Rozanne’ geraniums (at least while they’re still blooming – they’re still blooming!). I do worry about the wildlife – we were able to rescue 3 praying mantis egg cases – but there’s hope that critters will retreat to the nearby Bosquet. Clearing the garden out in autumn gives us a chance to move perennials and we plant tulips where the annuals have just come out – that makes for easy placement and digging. We (and 3 Rockettes) planted 600 tulips in the North Garden this year!

Rose Garden before the annuals came outRose Garden after the annuals came outThis was the first year we had a lot of annuals in the Rose Garden. Visitors pass through that garden on the way to the mansion and it’s important that it be as aesthetically pleasing as possible every moment of every season. Melted annuals aren’t exactly a feast for the eyes so we took them out. But because we weren’t planting many bulbs in that garden we compromised a little and cut the plants off at the ground to leave a small feast (of roots) for the soil. I have to say though that cutting (hacking) through the remarkably woody stems of zinnias and heliotropes was not nearly as physically gratifying as ripping them out of the ground roots-n-all. Check out the size of the zinnia (Profusion Apricot) that Gail is holding: Last spring that plant was a 4″ seedling in a peat pot!

Gail and a full grown zinnia - that’s ONE plant!

We’ve still got a page-long list of ToDos for those gardens but I’ll save what’s next for another post. Meanwhile, what I wonder is, do you treat the public beds in your garden differently in the fall than you do the parts of your garden hidden from your neighbors’ gaze?

7 thoughts on “Putting the beds to bed

  1. Wow, what a huge clump of zinnia! I harvested a similar-sized “bouquet” of lemon basil a couple of days ago so I know of what you speak when you talk about hacking through thick stalks. I don’t think I managed to keep such a pretty smile on my face as Gail has, though–and the air might have been a little “blue” around me, I admit! :)

    As far as fall cleanup goes, public and private beds get pretty much the same treatment here. I like to leave most seedheads, grasses and such up as long as possible. I harvest what herbs I want to dry whether they grow in the front or in the back, and add compost and chopped leaves wherever it makes sense to do so.

    The one difference, if there is any, is in where I site my spring bulbs. Most of them are in the front yard and along the driveway, but that’s still for a selfish reason: I get to see them every day on my way to and from work!

  2. I’m with Kim as far as cleanup is concerned–I do some, but not a lot; but I do plant bulbs more in the front gardens than out back. There are a lot of naturalized bulbs out back, daffs and grape hyacinths, etc, but I haven’t planted new bulbs out there for a few years now.

  3. I do clean up the front garden more than the back as it’s right by the front door & walk & if I don’t cut back some of the things sprawling onto the walk, it will be a bear to shovel after a substantial snow. Otherwise, leaving things standing til Spring fits into my laissez-faire, naturalistic mode of gardening.
    That Zinnia is amazing – I might have to consider getting some next year.

  4. I start my clean up in the front and then move around to the back so if I don’t have time to do everything I want to do, I don’ t have to look at it all winter. The vegetable garden for sure gets cleaned up. This afternoon, I emptied all the containers that were on the front porch, because it was time to do it, not that they looked all that bad. It’s been a mild fall!

    Six hundred tulips will make for a stunning display. I assume you dug out large areas and planted the bulbs that way rather than dig individual holes.

    Carol at May Dreams Gardens

  5. After thinking about it, I would have to say that my public beds are a little more cleaned up than the hidden-from-view back and side beds. I used to be a real stickler for trimming back ‘all’ the perennials, but in recent years I’ve left many of them alone. The frost, followed by a good dumping of snow seems to take care of it all for me. The beds out front are in full view until the snow comes, so to ease my conscience just a tiny bit, the plants there get cut back. There’s always more clean up to be done in the spring whether you do it in the fall or not.

  6. Kim, You might feel selfish in your choice of front over back for bulbs but it’s inevitable that others will enjoy them too!

    Jodi, Me too – I spent part of yesterday planting tulips in my front yard and so far, all of my naturalizers have gone to the back…

    Chookie, We do use tulips like annuals in the North Garden. Second year tulips aren’t usually as spectacular so we save them to replant in the Cutting Garden and buy new for the North Garden. That way we can have a different “show” every year too.

    Mr. McG’s Daughter, You have a very practical reason for cutting back along your walk! And Zinnia Profusion is definitely worth putting on the list – no mildew, fairly self cleaning deadhead-wise, and non-stop! It just doesn’t get much better (if only they were scented…)

    Carol, Last year we planted 300 tulips in the North Garden and it swallowed them up. We thought we should go a little crazy this year because 2008 is the 100th anniversary of the Blithewold Mansion… And although we usually dig trenches for them, this year they went in individually so that the bunches would look less like round blobs and seem a little more naturally spaced… The digging was easy because they went in where the annuals came out.

    Cathy, It seems unanimous to give more attention to the front than the back garden and you’re so right – there’s always more to do in the spring regardless!

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