Putting the garden to bed is the major activity of the late-autumn garden calendar. Or was. At one time it was the most demanding, the most scrupulous and sensuous of moments. Think parti-colored leaves raked into great conical Egyptian piles of most fragrant odors, set to fire under blest November skies. All the clipping-down and raking, tidying the great strewn wig of growth to coherent plots, borders, edges neat of weeds, the party definitely over, the table swept, chairs just so, readied for another event but one far in the future.
Still so at Madoo, although what leaves do not constitute mulches now are consigned to our river of compost at the garden’s west, and we now plant bulbs edible and ornamental: garlic, tulips, daffodils, multiplier onions, crocus, shallots. And divide and replant such perennials as have burgeoned beyond control, and we replace such bushes and trees as have failed outright or diminished into parlous states.
This autumn the main pond needs relining after decades of use, and the slippery, oozy job also involves transferring koi and goldfish and frogs to the smaller ponds while the task is being done. Shears will edge toward relicts of water iris, phragmites, various grasses and sedges. Or not.
Here is where aestheticians, persuaded mostly by the superior lens of great photographers, are inspired to leave well enough alone. They are thinking of stunning winter shots, shots of a single blazing male cardinal poised on the stalk of a swamp iris — the seed-pod stalk, that is, baring its rows of seed like a partially husked corn. And of course, there is a heaulme of ice at the iris’s crest and the rest of the portrait is rimed in dazzling frost.
Similar cameras roam the unkempt garden for leftover verbascums and erungiums and various other whatnot residue, photographed like buried armies and afterthought and the heartbreak of us all, and there for a moment is the Russian army collapsed on Lake Ladoga, and there, there, is the contralto lamenting over the dead. . . . There is pity for the sparrow and awe for the last gaud of sunlight on red willows.
My oh my and Heidi is your aunt and I am Rebecca of Sunnybrook Farm I am and I give you the unkempt garden as a nice repository of plague and insects. I salute your courage as you survey its wither all winter long. Lord knows you will need it when you clean up, as you must, next spring, in ooze and chill, putting aside necessary tasks to do so. Be reminded that snow is not confectioner’s sugar and that, as you reach into borders to at last take down rudimentary stalks, you will be pressing down on tenderest shoots of bulbs as you offer your knees to blains and arthritis (that wasn’t a stalk that snapped!). You will murder stretches of your lawn as you wheel debris to the compost pile (count the contents out as fertilizer for this year).
I know that rakes look lovely in the snow.
I am a gardener, however, and I need all my tools in good form. Doses of rain, sleet, blizzard, and frost hardly assist.
The good camera will find enough resources in the edges of woods and even the borders of highways and I wish them well as I snip and snip and prepare my locations.