Garden Clippings for October 21, 2023

A decade ago, there were a lot of climate change deniers.  Today, those who think climate change is a hoax are few and far between.

A decade ago, the jury was out on whether or not you should leave the leaves in the garden through winter.  Today the case is closed.

Perhaps I should fess up.  Although I should know better, in a few weeks Cheryl and I will clean up the garden as usual.  We’ll pull out the faded perennials, rake up the fallen leaves, clean up the annual flowers and toss it all in a compost heap in the back forty.

But before the tree huggers hang me out to dry, we do have a back forty that is left to grow as grassland.  I’ve already planted 20 native trees in the meadow, and this fall I hope to plant 18 more.

I am lucky to have a yard that is 800 feet deep.  The front half of the yard is home to driveway, turf, the house, the backyard, a garage, and a landscape that you might expect from a Landscape Architect.

The back half of the lot is left alone, just the way it was when we moved in.  I am not entirely happy with its development, because the invasive weeds, mostly Knapweed, are thriving at the expense of more Milkweed and desirable native wildflowers that I hope to introduce.  Pulling out the Knapweed is an exercise in futility.  I can only hope that eventually the newly planted trees will give enough shade to beat the weeds.

On both sides of the meadow along the property lines we keep the grass cut low, to give us a tick-free access path to the back of the yard.  The well-maintained perimeter also serves to prevent the weeds and meadow from invading the neighbours’ yards.

No doubt, our back forty is a haven for birds, mice, butterflies, squirrels, bees and more, although I expect the landscaped areas near the house bring in much more wildlife because of the increased diversity of plants of all kinds.  The water garden is a draw for countless birds, especially Finch.

Although I am often tempted to clean it up, Cheryl and I will leave the grassland back forty as is, largely uninterrupted.  Fallen leaves won’t be cleaned up, and the dead perennial weeds will eventually decompose as happens on the forest floor.

The benefits of leaving leaves, weeds and organic debris on the ground are plentiful.  Leaving it in place will help protect plants and suppress weeds.  Our nutrient poor soil will eventually be replenished with years of organic matter accumulation.

Fallen dead leaves are a necessary home for butterfly larvae, worms, microbes and overwintering insects.  Perennial plants with their dried-up flower heads are a source of food for insects and small animals.  No doubt, pollinators prefer our messy back forty to our neat and tidy front garden.

It will always be a challenge to introduce native plants into a non-native environment.  Case in point is the Laura Santina Braun naturalization plot at the Goodwill corner of Wellington St and Murphy Rd.  For understandable reasons the garden has been cleared and has now been returned to grass.

Most homeowners who live in urban areas are not ready to let their yards go wild.  Yet, little by little, we can take steps to add plants to improve biodiversity.

Next week’s Garden Clippings will outline steps to take to increase the use of pollinator friendly native plants into urban areas.