Why I Delay Fall Cleanup

With the inhospitable cold and wet weather kind of putting the damper this week on my spring planting plans, I took a look at the garden with some of the remnants of last year’s garden still standing in their dry and dehydrated state and wondering why I didn’t do a better job with garden cleanup last fall. The bitter truth is that it probably has to do with laziness on my part. Usually my thought is that I’ll do a thorough cleaning before the first snow and then of course I don’t. This is probably because fall is my favorite season and weekends are meant to be spent hiking through woods in all of their fall color glory and stopping at an orchard or other roadside stand for a gallon of apple cider and a few cinnamon doughnuts. Joyriding down country roads looking for cider and doughnuts definitely takes priority in the fall, so the heck with fall garden clean up! Then I had a thought that maybe I’m not lazy. Maybe I just like the look of the dead seed heads covered with a little snow in winter, looking like frosting on the cake. I could also rationalize that the delayed cleanup makes it easier because by spring, last year’s plants are dry, crispy, lighter and easier to dispose of. All great reasons, but then I thought I need a loftier reason to explain my laziness. In my infinite wisdom, it occurred to me that these old, brittle and fragile plants need to be there to greet and impart their own wisdom on the tender green shoots emerging from the soil. Sort of like plant grandparents. So here is an ode to the changing of the guard in my garden.


Skeletons of rosemary and stonecrop,
Hydrangea and aster,
Their roots still clinging to the soil,
Were left with intent
To brave a winter harsh and cold,
To stand tall through stinging winds,
Witness the rebirth of a garden about to stir.

Their brittle remains,
Like elderly souls
With wisdom and grace,
Seem to welcome and foster
Every emerging sharp blade of lily,
Every feathery, soft clump of new yarrow,
Every unfurling green fern.

Timeworn seed heads, tired and bent, Look down with a doting glance
At each tender shoot,
The brown with the green,
The old with the new,
What was and what is,
Shepherding the spectacle of rebirth.

There comes the day each year,
Just after the vernal equinox,
Before full blown spring,
When the gate to the garden
Adorned with a grinning green man,
Opens after being closed for the winter, Inviting all to enter for a celebration.