Wednesday, March 24, 2010

Erasing the garden

Last weekend, I finished erasing the garden--burning the last of the grasses,and cutting all the remaining herbaceous growth to the ground, chopping it with a mower. Now the garden is a clean slate. Every year I find it hard to remember the miraculous return of life as hundreds of perennials and grasses emerge from this blankness, filling the space with constantly changing patterns and shapes.

Stripping away the growth from the previous year, returning the garden to something closer to its "natural" state, a simple clearing in a woodland, is a useful reminder of where I garden, a reminder that I need to keep all this appropriate to this place.

The dry-laid stone wall at the far end is last year's addition to the garden's structure, and I think it works well as a visual stop, helping separate the garden from the surrounding woods, yet remaining completely in character with the history and culture of this former farm land become woodland again.

Of course, my garden requires a tolerance for some mess. The detritus of last year's growth remains scattered across the land, left there to decompose to return nutrients and, more importantly, organic matter to the heavy clay.

Here is a view of the garden by early June of last year.

And near the end of July ...


  1. isn´t it incredible? When you see the first picture you can never imagine it will turn into the last in only a couple of months.
    I always have a feeling of uneasiness when I cut my prairies back. Will they be the same next year? What is going to sprout, what is going to be new?

    The only nutrient that is lost in the burning is nitrogen, which in winter has already been accumulated in the soil by the roots (a good reason for burning in spring) the rest of the elements go back with the ashes.

  2. I can't bare to take down my garden yet--that 1-2 months of blankness seems worse than all the left over mess. Maybe I'm also just feeling a bit tired this spring.

  3. I do think its interesting now to see gardens' structures at this time of year. A good garden should look good all year but I dont include mine in that!

  4. I feel the same as Benjamin, but went ahead and took it down, for the new growth is showing underneath all of last years' party, ready to start again. Your wall is perfect.

  5. Can't wait to chop everything back (when the snow melts, that is). Love the evergreens: great contrast for the grasses in the last photo.

    Christine in Alaska

  6. What is really great in all your posts is your sense of place and the land.
    I love all states of gardens, because they are all part of the pattern. I am even enjoying seeing bare space at the moment, because that expectancy is all part of the sensing of the garden, precisely as you have it in your photo.
    Best Wishes

  7. Phillip, no I didn't. Joel, who helps me with my garden, built the wall. Since I work all week long, and have only weekends for gardening, wall building doesn't fit into my schedule.

  8. Amalia, it is an amazing change. I've come to look forward to the burning and clean-up, and to like the emptiness, especially after the overwhelming fullness of the garden's growth by autumn. I'm glad to know I'm not losing nutrients in the burning.

  9. Benjamin, if you burn, it has to be done before the new growth starts. I almost waited too late. As I add bulbs to this part of the garden, timing the burn will become even more important.

  10. patientgardener, what structure I have has to be large scale, and mostly on the periphery of the garden. I'm not quite there yet. I need a one or two new stone walls, but that will have to wait until I finish a project to page all the paths with gravel, and plant hornbeam hedges. In winter what you see will be minmalist.

  11. Christine, the evergreens are still experimental. Haven't decided yet about that, at least the placement. They are fronted by a line of Salix alba 'Britzensis' which offers beautiful color contrast at this time of year. Of course, you can't see that in the photos.

  12. Thanks, Lesley. This "place" won't have it any other way, it's instructions are absolutely clear.

  13. There is something therapeutic in removing what was in the garden from last year, to make way for the new.

  14. Les, yes. Kind of like spring cleaning--or, a visit to the therapist. In any event, you get a new perspective.



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