Not in my garden. I garden organically and that means, among other things, a live and let live attitude. There used to be a time when gardeners would clean up their garden around October time. Out would come all the annuals and perennials, and the shrubs and rose bushes would be cut down to the ground. All the leaves would be removed from the lawn and borders and thrown away. In short, a kind of scorched earth policy would be implemented and the end result would be a vast stretch of bare earth where once the flowers were blooming and the bees buzzing.
Well, as I said, not in my garden. Why not? For various reasons actually. First and foremost if the gardener removes just about everything from the garden and cuts down the rest, where would all the beneficial insects such as ladybirds shelter during the cold winter? Where would our other garden friends such as frogs, toads and hedgehogs find a warm place to overwinter?
And the birds, especially the ones that eat mostly insects, where would they find food? The vast stretches of bare earth do not cater to the needs of our feathered garden friends at all; no insects, no seeds, no berries etc. My borders provide the birds with ample opportunities to find insects, seeds and berries during winter, and to make doubly sure that my feathered friends have enough to eat I also provide them with bird feeders and water and they love it! I love it too because in the dull winter months the birds make my garden come alive. I love watching birds and so do all the members of the Bliss team.
The second reason why I do not winter clean my garden is that by cutting everything down to the ground you expose your plants and shrubs to frost and run the risk of losing them due to frost damage over winter. I do not remove annuals, nor do I cut down or tidy up my borders. I let things be. The only thing I do is remove a branch that's in the way, or one that is overly long and could get wind damaged during the autumn storms. That's it!
I do, however, remove the fallen leaves from my lawn but I do not throw them away. The majority is put into plastic garbage bags. I just stuff the leaves into the bags, add a liter of water, tie the bag up and punch a few holes in it here and there. Then I leave the bags for months and months, sometimes checking to see if they need some more water to help the decomposing process along, and in the end I'm left with glorious leaf mould that I can use in the garden.
The leaves that don't go into the bin bags, I put on my borders to protect the plants against the cold and frost. It is not a good idea to prune your plants back hard in autumn because that's a good way of losing them to frost damage. When the frost hits the stems freeze up, if the stems are long only the upper part will be frozen but not the rest. If the stems are very short, they will be frozen completely and killed and the heart of the plant will get frozen and die too.
If you want your garden to provide you with some interest in winter too, then don't cut everything down to the ground. There are many plants that have lovely seed heads that will look good in the coming months. Others produce berries that will cheer your winter garden up. Ornamental grasses looks great in wintertime so don't cut them down.
Let their beauty gladden your heart in the depths of winter. And if there's snow it will turn your garden into something magical like this.
Do you really think a bare patch of earth covered with snow would even look half as good as this?
So you see, gardening organically actually saves on time and labour. ;-) Of course there are still a lot of things to do in my organic garden this time of year: collecting leaves for making leaf mould and spreading the rest of the leaves around my borders, cleaning garden paths to make sure they won't be slippery in the coming months, weeding, putting the pots with tender plants into the conservatory and greenhouse, planting up the pots that stay outside and putting several hundreds of bulbs into the ground.
Come Spring all I have to do is clean my borders up a bit when the earth has warmed up enough and the air is nice and warm. A very light task as most of it has decomposed over winter and the very little that is left is easily cut and thrown into the compost bins.
Gardening with nature is so much easier than gardening against it.
copyright 2007: Y.E.W. Heuzen
Summer, you old Indian Summer
You're the tear that comes after June-time's laughter
You see so many dreams that don't come true
Dreams we fashioned when Summertime was new.
written by Al Dubin, sung by Frank Sinatra
'Indian Summer', 1939