Collecting leaves

I remember walking to school in the fall with a beach-comber’s lurch looking for the most beautiful leaf. When I found it, I memorized it and then kept looking for a more perfect one. I don’t remember ever making anything from my found leaves – some people probably like to press them or make wreaths – I just kept them as bookmarks until they faded to boring or disintegrated. Now that I have a digital camera I collect only pictures of leaves and I have to say it’s not nearly as gratifying and I end up with way too many to look at when just one perfect real one tucked in a book would do.

Franklinia alatamaha (still in bloom)Sweetgum (Liquidambar styraciflua 'Silver King')Kousa dogwood (Cornus kousa)Scarlet oak (Quercus coccinea)

I also remember that the most strenuous garden chore I had as a kid was raking leaves and I thought that the whole point was to make a giant pile to jump into (preferably before the dog noticed it). It’s funny, the whole raking leaves issue. Why do we do it, really? This article from the Fine Gardening E-newsletter makes the claim that raking is actually unnecessary. The author, Terry Ettinger, recommends mowing the leaves into little bits and leaving them to break down on our lawns and in our gardens. I can think of two reasons not to do that. 1, I have had it with mowing by now and 2, the neighbors already give my garden the hairy eyeball for looking a little wild. I think tidiness is the main number-one reason we all collect leaves and I’m pretty sure Fred and Dan, now into their second or third pass with the blowers around the property, would agree. It’s bred in the bone. Gail and I also rake leaves out of the garden beds and our main reason for doing that is so that we can see beds as blank slates when we do our fall planting. Ettinger says, “observation shows that unraked leaves in planting beds don’t smother shade-tolerant perennials.” You know me – I’ll happily test that theory at home but here we’ll continue to mulch beds with shredded leaves instead which break down much faster than whole ones.

Red maple carpet

The great debate ends when all agree that collecting the leaves – not just one for a keepsake but as many as you can use in the garden – is what’s important. Whether they stay in bits on your lawn or in your garden beds, are added to the compost or shredded for mulch, we gardeners know that leaves are way too good of a soil amendment to let go of.

How do you feel about raking? And do you collect leaves too?

3 thoughts on “Collecting leaves

  1. Leaves. I raked them all up last year and put them every bin till full and in bags behind my shed. This year I’ve been lazy and sent a couple of green waste cans to the community compost pile. I like leaving leaves in the beds as it acts as a bit of an insulating mulch. By spring it’s all a sodden mess, though. Still, I’m all for doing less messing about out there. I like the mowing idea, except I’m surrounded on three sides by spurge and dandelions and other weedy legions of suburban neglect. I have to mow and bag, but I love sucking up the leafy grass clippings–instant compost!

    Funny about the leaf thing–I did that too.

    Susan, It might be a sodden mess in the spring but isn’t it the greatest thing to uncover all the fresh growth curled up snug as a bug under there? I love the reveal… (I think I’m already really looking forward to spring.) -kris

  2. I love raking. The body memory kicks in as I step backwards while raking one swipe (or maybe 2 or 3) with each step. I don’t know if I started doing that so I could see some progress in front of me or if I was taught that for some ergonomic saving. For whatever reason, it still feels good to do it that way, and it connects me with when I was little enough that the rake seemed huge. And the leaf jumping–the best! I don’t do either so much these days. I’ll take a rake over a leaf blower any day. Maybe I can rent myself out. Thanks for the memories!

    Patricia, I think raking is right up there with weeding for being totally gratifying work. And just like with weeding, there’s always work to be had as more leaves fall – I like to think of it as job security -kris

  3. We get rid of the leaves anyway we can. For the last several years I have left the a light coat of leaves on the perennial beds. It has cut out losses dramatically. I see you have a a picture of a Franklin Tree. That is one of my favorite trees and it has an interesting story.

    D.F., Leaves are such a useful insulator that it’s funny that so many of us have to retrain ourselves to leave some be! I enjoyed seeing your post on Frankinia and you’ve put the notion in my head to do one too. Stay tuned… -kris

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