It’s always been said that the gardener should get a physical in summer or fall when they are at the peak of their health. All of that dead heading, cutting back of perennials and weeding gives us stamina and mobility.
Soon the garden will slumber, Mother Nature drops a blanket of leaves and the gardener hums “Rock-A-Bye Baby” as the beds are cleaned and weeded. I feel myself decompressing as the garden is tidied, leaves raked, stems cut down. But wait, are we doing something wrong? Is there another way? Many would argue that a tidy garden may not be the answer. There’s a shift in the age-old practice of fall cleanup.
Under the leaves, bedded down as well, are various insects. It’s a habitat for wildlife, small wildlife, and beneficial wildlife. Two butterflies winter over as adults. They lodge themselves in cracks and crevices of rocks and trees. Their blood contains glycogen’s, effectively an antifreeze that allows them to survive freezing. The mourning cloak and Eastern commas are the first butterflies of spring, emerging from their winter lodging as full fledged adults.
Solitary bees live in the pith of stems. Some will also excavate a hole in rotten logs or twigs. These are good, non-stinging bees. We need them.
A single queen bee also finds a safe and insulated lair. She will wake up in spring, lay eggs and actually sit on them to keep them warm. In the course of a summer, other queen bees will be raised to take her place. The connecting cycle or season is important.
Seed heads that are left in fall become sustenance for various birds and small mammals. In our world that is becoming more and more sterile, a little haven is the very least we can do. If there is a part of your garden that can be left and ignored till spring, I would advise you to leave it so. If stems are cut, lay them in a place where beneficial insects may still survive.
Spring is a fine time for leaf removal. Clear the vegetable garden, rake under the roses, and remove last years peony stalks. They will be softer, easier to pull. There will be a different kind of urgency, the expectation of wonderful things to come. A reminder, once again, that muscle memory does exist, it just takes a little longer to catch-up each year.