But that’s fine, it should be, the annual cycle is complete and now is the time to get busy outside.
My garden is filled with perennial plants which start into growth in spring, reach a peak sometime later and come winter, die back. The trick to using these plants is planning a scheme that uses perennials that flower in a sequence starting in spring and ending in autumn so as to have something colorful and interesting to look at throughout the growing season. Even better is to use plants that remain interesting and effective after they finish flowering and possibly develop seedheads and skeletons that persist late into winter.
In November and December my garden looked good. The ornamental grasses stood proud amidst a blanket of snow with ice crystals decorating their stems and seedheads. But with the thaw, the rain and the wind that followed, the tableau fell quickly apart leaving leaning clumps of broken stems and the blackened remains of many other autumn flowering perennials calling for attention.
Simetime in the next few weeks I will look for a break in the weather; all I need is three or four sunny afternoons to clear the mess away; by this time the dead top growth is dry and brittle. In the past I used to carry it all away to the compost heap, but now I know better. Wearing gloves, I can snap off the stems of phlox, eupatoriums and most other plants with a wave of my arm; I then proceed to snap handfulls of stems into short pieces and simply let then fall to the ground around the crowns of the dormant perennials. Of course there are always some tough subjects and a few things that collapse into a stringy mush that need cutting into short pieces with secateurs. When I have finished my borders are covered in a mulch of debris that helps protect the ground and will within a few months rot away and add humus and minerals to the soil.
It surprises me just how few weeds there are to remove, but when a perennial meadow matures the plants fill the space leaving no room for unwelcome weeds.
My perennial meadows are densely planted. Initially they are thickly mulched to get the plants off to a good start and thereafter the annual tidy-up returns adequate nourishment to the soil. The result is low maintenance, high impact gardening.
Timing is the key; in a mild winter perennials and especially bulbs start into growth earlier than expected and can hinder the efficient annual tidy-up. One year I had to tip toe between the precoceous noses of tulips in mid February, this year is still quite cold so with luck the job will quickly be behind me.