Having spent quite a few hours in the garden this weekend tidying up after nearly a month of bad weather I found myself smiling at Victoria’s post about her winter garden. In particular it was her confession of being a neatnik that amused me. Not only is it a peculiar expression but it connected with my musings whilst collecting leaves and cutting back collapsed perennials.
There has been much over the last year, if not longer, in the gardening media including blogs about a change of attitude towards the autumn tidy up of the garden. Those with a focus on wildlife and an organic approach to gardening have been advocating that gardeners should be less fastidious in their gardens. Not only should we leave seed heads for the birds but it is better to leave leaf litter on the borders so that wildlife can hide and keep warm under it. The recently departed editor of the RHS The Garden, Ian Hodgson, in his welcome to the December 2010 edition, admits to a less tidy approach to his winter garden given a “realisation that all the detritus has a purpose in providing homes for wildlife, particularly overwintering insects.”
So as I was heaping piles of leaves into my trug there was a niggel at the back of my mind that maybe I shouldn’t be expending so much effort on the big tidy up. However, as I pondered and plucked fallen sodden leaves from amongst the perennials I came across slug after slug. Not the big ones but the little black ones which in my opinion do the most harm. My cutting back was not as comprehensive as in past years, this year I have left lots of seedheads for the birds. This change has come about from watching birds attack the Agastache seedheads during the snow last year. But I cannot bring myself to leave the borders covered in leaves. As far as I am concerned leaving leaf litter in my borders is just providing a haven for those annoying slugs to hide and wait for the young new shoots to appear – my perennials and bulbs won’t stand a chance.
Not only this but I suspect there is a degree of neatnik in me. I find it more uplifting to look at the garden and see neat borders with the hint of fresh green shoots appearing than to look out at a sodden decaying brown mess. I find winter hard to get through so anything that lifts my soul is important to me.
My conclusion was that, like so many things in life, if you choose to pay attention to the things you read or see in the media then you shouldn’t feel obliged to follow it religiously. Instead it is a case of finding an approach that works for you, following your instincts. My approach to the tidy up is to lessen my fastidiousness. The leaves have been collected from the border where the perennials and bulb are but not from under the trees, shrubs and hedges. They have been racked from the lawn but not collected from the wood chip paths (after all that is quite a hard thing to do!). The collected leaves have been piled up under the hedges and at the back of the garden.
After all I don’t mind providing somewhere for wildlife to hide out during the winter but if they are going to munch on my young plants they can at least make the effort to get to the young plants instead of lying in waiting!!