By the beginning of April, seed starting has been featuring heavily on the gardener’s weekend to-do list, claiming what little time we have between catch-up laundry and filing the dreaded 1040. By the time we finally draw breath and look around at the new life perhaps springing out of hedgerow and front walkway, it has already sprung, and seedling flats must take second place to a good pair of pruners.
This may be a huge job, or a small one, depending on what you did last fall.
There are two schools of thought at the end of autumn. One, that the gardener neatens and puts the last of his back out in a final, pre-Christmas wrestle with Nature; or two, that he ignores it and goes to Puerto Rico for a long, well deserved holiday.
The brilliance of the second plan is that, correctly spun, the gardener is merely showing great deference for the wild creatures that inhabit his garden during the winter – giving them the food, lodging and general succor that is less and less available as our wild spaces fall prey to the developer’s magic re-zoning pen. It is rare thing when our altruistic moments coincide with our more self-interested ones, and thus I embrace this plan whole heartedly. Including the bit about Puerto Rico.
But before facing the job before us now there is a mental adjustment to be made. I have gotten quite used to the shapes of last year’s garden in all its muted, disheveled sweetness, and have a hard time letting go – even with the promise of new and better growth ahead.
The grasses are the hardest to see go, with their punctuated rhythms that create flow and echo tawny color throughout the garden; but the fertile fronds of the ostrich and sensitive ferns are also mourned. They are present in such abundance and mark territory that will be dormant for a few weeks yet. And the less I say about the rounded hips on the roses the better.
Thus it is a final goodbye to last year and a trust that all will return in even greater glory in the season ahead. I trust, therefore I shear.
Here are a few tips for your shearing – hopefully making the process easier and faster.
- Create small accomplishments. It’s usually a big job. Make a decision to work on a section of your garden or a particular type of plant and see that job through to the end, not going on to another if you finish early, or even if you don’t. For example, cut back all the roses, or all the grasses, or all the ferns – or simply deal with the area around the front door. Don’t move on to the fertilizing, or the dividing, or the whimpering in a corner.
Cutting back can be a satisfying spring job, but you may want to make changes in your timing (fall/winter) depending on what you’re seeing out there now (such as a huge amount of seedlings from those grass heads). I’ll be rethinking the extra mulch I’ve piled on canna, as most of it has simply given cover to new dynasties of voles, who have very much enjoyed the comforts of shelter and a good meal, and are excited about the new grandkids three holes down.