Here in New England, it has been a VERY long winter. For those who make their living plowing and salting, the relentless snow and bitter cold has been a real boon, although they probably won’t realize it until they have been able to drag their weary selves to bed and sleep for two weeks. For the gardener, however, this winter hasn’t even been hospitable enough to take a cup of coffee round the garden to dream of summer plans, unless you want your Wellies full of snow and your coffee and enthusiasm to be cold in a matter of minutes. So, you amuse yourself indoors with gardening magazines and seed catalogues, and look longingly out over the garden from inside. These activities only go so far to scratch the gardening itch, however – in a moment of desperation this year I even sharpened my pruners, a job which I always mean to do in the winter but never get around to.
It is now March, and it has found me with sharp pruners and the desire to think spring no matter what. As a designer, I already have jobs lined up to begin once the ground clears, so there is now something of a sense of urgency when it comes to getting my own jobs done at home. I started some seeds a couple of weeks ago, and they are now pushing eagerly upward towards the light and add an infectious atmosphere of enthusiasm and optimism to my studio. It will soon be time to prune deadwood out of the shrubs and trees, and to try to make some sense out of the grape vines, which made an impressive bid to take over the world last season. I should have tamed them before the snow fell, but I was just too busy and so they were allowed to continue their fantasy of dominance for a few more months. But not for much longer… (insert maniacal laugh here.)
Conventional gardening wisdom says that a garden should be tidied up and “put to bed” before winter comes. Perennials should be cut to the ground, leaves raked away, and bare ground be left to look neat and tidy before the snow flies. Recent studies have found, however, that providing you can stand the look of it, you should leave everything alone. Rake the leaves off your lawn, yes, but wait until spring to cut down the perennials. The seed heads are enjoyed by the birds, the old stems and foliage protect the crown of the plant, and the garden looks more interesting. Leaves that have fallen around the plants will insulate them and break down over the winter, adding nutrients to the soil. And, let’s be honest, fall clean up isn’t much fun. Memories of the summer still in my head, the last thing I want to do is put those memories in the compost heap, as sinister thoughts that I should start thinking about the holidays begin to take root in my mind. So I’m more than happy to leave that job to spring.
In the spring, it’s all about new beginnings, promise, and potential, and all jobs are more pleasant. I relish the first scratches, bruises, and sore muscles of the season. All are satisfying reminders that despite the snow (which is actually very good for the garden as it insulates the plants and provides them with needed nitrogen) the garden will be ready for action in a matter of weeks.
So look out, grape vines, here I come! Now, if I could just find those pruners…
Coming soon to a garden near you!
Harry Lauder’s Walking Stick