With the unseasonably warm weather this first week of November, it seemed a good time to put the gardens to bed for the winter. Usually I’m doing this in a chill wind instead of sunny 60F days.
The backyard — back border, sunroom border, shade garden, kitchen garden — are easily dealt with. I leave most grasses and the stalks and seedheads of other perennials standing tall until spring, to provide a little food, a perch, and cover for birds and small animals. I cut back only the baptisia, with its many dark seed pods, and the comfrey, with its crispy black leaves (and some fresh green ones), composting all of this.
On to the fruit guild. A couple of weeks ago, a friend and I sprayed the peach trees and blueberries with a holistic spray (liquid fish, Neem oil, effective microbes, molasses, dish soap). The purpose of this spray, done in fall when 40% of the leaves have fallen, and in spring at various times, is to boost a plant’s defenses against disease.
To get the guild ready for the winter after that, I had only to cut back the baptisia and the yarrow (noticing that there is fresh foliage growing) and do some weeding. I’ll leave the fallen (and sprayed) peach leaves to mulch the ground until spring. Eventually I’ll dig up the carrots.
The front border was even easier, just tidying up the hosta bloom stalks, cutting back yet more baptisia, resheet-mulching the edge between the garden and the lawn, and minimal weeding. I also planted purple tulips there a couple of weeks ago. Amazingly, the alyssum is still blooming, even after a few nighttime temps in the 20s.
… the laying out of the spring bulb garden [was] a crucial operation, carefully charted and full of witchcraft. … As the years went by and age overtook her, there was something comical yet touching in her bedraggled appearance … her studied absorption in the implausible notion that there would be yet another spring, oblivious to the ending of her own days, which she knew perfectly well was near at hand, sitting there with her detailed chart under those dark skies in the dying October, calmly planning the resurrection. — E.B. White, Onward and Upward in the Garden, 1979
Finally, I tackled the side yard bed and the vegetable bed, which took about three hours of intense work. Cutting the scarlet runner bean vines from the small cherry tree enclosure (bamboo and lots of fishing line) took quite a painstaking while, because I wanted to preserve the inviolability of the enclosure.
Cutting the same vines from the fence around the vegetable garden took less time, as that fishing line was being taken down anyway, but because I was composting the bean vines, I needed to make sure fishing line wasn’t intermixed with it. All in all, it was an occasion for meditation.
Then I pulled out the cosmos, vervain volunteers, cucumber vines, and the tomato, bell pepper, basil, arugula, bush bean, and broccoli plants, and a few tiny beets I had missed. I heavily cut back the lemon balm to tidy it and give the new growth some sunlight. I left the bee balm, zinnias, main vervain plants, crocosmia, echinacea, aster, hydrangea, buddleia, and perovskia entirely alone. Weeding the beds, which I hadn’t done since planting in spring, took another hour or so.
I was quite surprised to find a few buddleia (butterfly bush) shoots scattered about the bed; I have read that it could be invasive, but in the 20 years I’ve lived in northern New England, I have rarely had a buddleia make it through two winters in a row. I left a couple of these and we’ll see if they survive into spring.
My last garden act was to harvest the Brussels sprouts, pulling the three plants out of the ground, then kneeling on the grass to pull the sprouts, amounting to two or three pounds, off the stalks. I cooked about half of them last night, sauteing them in olive oil with garlic and salt and pepper.
The bean vines, broccoli and sprouts stalks, and sprouts leaves went to the compost pile, while everything else was tossed into the back strip on top of branches and other woody plant debris, to provide habitat for creatures (including perhaps our attic mice, who really need to find a suitable second home).
I’ll probably do a little mulching after the ground freezes, but that’s a task for another day.
Today, there are flowers blooming, and bees, spotted cucumber beetles, and ichneumon wasps seizing the last abundance.
“Each golden day was cherished to the full, for one had the feeling that each must be the last. Tomorrow it would be winter.” ― Elizabeth Enright,