Text and photographs are © by Ellen Spector Platt & Ellen Zachos, all rights reserved.

Sunday, November 23, 2008

Goodnight, Garden(s)

Putting the garden to bed for the winter might seem sad to some, but for me it's an appropriate end to a busy, productive, exhausting season. Along about Halloween I start looking forward to the week of Thanksgiving, which is when I say so long, farewell to all my gardens.

Cutting Back
I actually started doing this about a month ago. As soon as the annuals and perennials begin to look bedraggled, I cut them back, not only to make the garden look neater, but also to make my final clean up faster and easier. Yes, the gardens look a little bare with fewer flowers and less foliage, but I think that's appropriate for late fall. Subdued, serene, focus on the evergreens, the ornamental bark, the dried seed heads.

Move it Around
At the end of the season it's easy to see what's outgrown its place and needs to be moved, maybe even divided. Yes, it would be nicer to wait till the warmer days of spring, but will you really remember how big that Rudbeckia got, or will you convince yourself it couldn't possibly have been so huge and let it muscle out the elderflower yet another year? I thought so. Do it now.

Drain the System
Skip this part if you don't have an irrigation system. (But stay tuned for my "Why Everyone Should Have an Irrigation System" post, due out next Spring.) Truth is, your system should be drained before the first frost (or at least the first hard freeze), so keep an eye on the forecast. PVC piping can crack if water inside freezes and thaws, and this may lead to messy, wet insurance claims from that formerly pleasant downstairs neighbor.

Mulch it Good (like Shanti, my lovely assistant)
This is tricky, because here in NYC the leaves haven't always finished falling by Thanksgiving. And really, what's the point of mulching if a metric ton of small, yellow, locust leaves are going to fall the next day, messing up your mulch job? You definitely need to mulch, but you might have to wait until after Thanksgiving. The exception: I don't mulch rooftop containers. Why not? because I...

Bough & Berry
There's something about bare containers that is more depressing than bare, in-ground gardens. Maybe because the containers are positioned explicitly to be viewed, directly in front of the windows. Maybe because the railings and walls they once camouflaged are now exposed metal, brick, wood, or stone. So I decorate containers with evergreen boughs and decorative branches. These last for months and brighten up a bleak view. Notice the clever use of blue cedar boughs as mulch!

Say Goodnight, Gracie
Once your garden is neatly trimmed, mulched, and berried, you may survey your work with well-deserved satisfaction, knowing all will be well till spring. Unless a branch falls and crushes the hydrangea, or the Japanese maple tips over and breaks a limb, or the frost heaves up all the Heucheras. Or a thick blanket of protective snow gently covers the entire garden until the beginning of March...yeah, I pick that one!

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