Fall 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.
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!
This 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!
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?