Wednesday, November 13, 2013

Putting In, Pulling Out, Cutting Down, and Raking Up

This time of year it is hard not to feel like one of those rapidly crisping oak leaves clinging tenaciously to their sixth-story penthouses along the border of my front yard.  Especially if you are a gardener.

Autumn and spring are actually my favorite horticultural seasons.   

Summer, aka the growing season, not quite so much – toiling in the hot sun just isn’t fun.  Winter is something that we New Englanders say we enjoy because – like not wearing white before Memorial Day or after Labor Day - it is one of the rules for living here. 

Autumn and spring however are the times when I get to do the things that I believe allows me to call my self a plantsman – putting in, pulling out, cutting down, and raking up.               

There is not much “putting in” this time of year except for bulbs, which I don’t do much of – preferring to give food directly to the squirrels rather than burying it underground and forcing them to dig it out.  (This is my same approach to Casino gambling.  Instead of wasting all that time at some noisy gaming table with a bunch of blurry-eyed strangers, I would rather march directly to the cashier’s window, just hand over my money, and go do something more meaningful with my time – such as putting, pulling, cutting and raking.) 

Like many of those who have gardened for lots of years, pretty much of all my available growing space is dedicated to perennials – many of them, in spite of my previous writings, not invasive.  This can present a problem to someone who considers the major role of a gardener to be putting new plants in the ground.   

So every spring, as soon as the first sprig of green-anything appears in any of my plots, I go on my annual deathwatch walk – looking for (and secretly hoping for) shrubs that might not have made it through the cold weather and (joy of joy) need to be replaced.  Fortunately for the lives of all the later bloomers Marsha has the final vote – thus preventing me from uprooting everything and putting in another round of what would be correctly labeled “annual perennials”. 

To substitute for my frustrated “pulling out” and “putting in” yearnings Marsha now has me cut down all the perennials in the spring rather than the fall when I used to do it.  Nonetheless every November I approach her with Golden Retriever eagerness fondling my pruning shears and seeking permission to ravage the low-growing foliage.   

And every year she patiently explains to me that fall shearing (a) removes hiding and resting places for the birds that provide so much cold weather entertainment to us, (b) makes our property look less inviting than the Russian Tundra by removing all the “winter interest” and attendant shadows from the land and (c) really confuses the plants who, after being pinched back, get hit by one of those freakishly hot October/November days that seem to be becoming more common nowadays, and decide to start blooming – only to have their growth spurt crushed by three months of really inhospitable cold.

So I go get my big red oversized plastic rake and gather up the fallen high-altitude foliage instead.   And, like one of the aphorisms on my daily Dove dark chocolate candy wrapper counsels me “Take time to notice the leaves changing.” 

And it’s not just the ones I am herding to the curb.  I also see such works of art as the jarringly red Burning Bush cross the street, the maroon fronds of my backyard blueberry bushes, the orange Chinese lanterns amidst the soft, auburn Coreopsis feathers, and most of all this year,

Prostrate gold hostas

bowing obsequiously -

autumn supplicants.


All that plus the warm sun on my back.  It’s definitely something worth hanging on to – at least in our memories.

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