Clean Up the Garden

Garden Clippings for November 23, 2019

To clean up the garden or not clean up the garden…that is the question.

I confess.  At the end of every year Cheryl and I clean up the garden.  We chop down the perennials, gather up all the stems and leaves, and toss them in the back forty where they eventually decompose, and become part of the earth.  We dutifully rake up the leaves, put them in the wheelbarrow and spread them on the adjacent farmer’s field.

The job usually takes at least a full day.  We’ve never done the math, but we probably take 20 or 25 wheelbarrows of garden clippings out of our horticultural garden and deposit it into the farmer’s agricultural garden.  And when the job is done Cheryl and I look at the gardens with a sense of pride and accomplishment.  We’ve lost the colour in our pots of annuals on the patios and we’ve lost the magnificent colour the perennials gave us all summer, and the garden has become barren again.

Truth be told, as much as we admire our summer garden, we also admire the cleanliness of the fall garden once its all been cleaned up.  I suppose Cheryl and I could be labelled as neat freaks, but I am confident we are in ample company.  Life is chaotic and busy enough and leaving the garden in an unfinished state all winter long doesn’t sit well with the soul.

But the prevailing wisdom of the Nature Conservancy, World Wildlife Federation, conservation authorities, and every like-minded tree hugger would tell Cheryl and me that we have it all wrong.  Even Houzz, my favorite online source for endless decorating ideas recently sent me a notice titled “7 Reasons Not to Clean Up Your Fall Garden.”

Leaf litter, twigs, compost and plant stems are host to a wide variety of insects, frogs, mice, junior butterflies and umpteen other critters.    And when we gather garden clippings and put it in a bag on the curb, we are quite possibly denying these hibernating insects the privilege of winter survival.

Leaving up your plant stems welcomes wildlife that you might not enjoy if the garden was barren.  Birds, chipmunks, bunnies, hawks and deer are more likely to visit a dense backyard than a yard that is squeaky clean.

The problem of course, is that Mother Nature won’t decipher between the desirable wildlife and the less desirable intruders.  We would love a visit from an owl or praying mantis, but we are not keen on Japanese Beetles, Skunks, mosquitoes and tomato hornworms.  We’ll have to take the good with the bad.

As for our home garden, Cheryl and I have decided to leave the perennial garden by the water feature unattended this fall.  Admittedly, this year’s Remembrance Day snow nudged us to do so.  But to keep peace with the neighbours, we’ll dutifully gather up the leaves.  We have already cleaned up the veggie garden and chopped up the perennials in our South garden.

Wish us luck, because not cleaning up the perennials around our water garden is akin to not vacuuming the living room carpet.