Some time ago, a friend visiting us in late Autumn remarked rather negatively on the presence of dead perennial stems in the garden (actually asked why we’d got so many weeds in the borders!). I suppose to many it probably looks very untidy, but notwithstanding the fact that seeds and stems provide food and shelter for birds and insects over winter, there’s also the magical effect on a sunny, frosty morning – today has been such a day.
So, which plants to leave? Well, we take out spent annuals once they’ve gone over, and dahlias are lifted once the leaves have been blackened by the first frosts in Autumn. Stems we leave include food sources, e.g echinacea and rudbeckia; those with hollow stems for ladybirds and lacewings to find shelter – hemerocallis are a fine example; and those with the additional benefit of structural beauty such as fennel, cephalaria gigantea, the ice plant (Hylotelphium spectabile), verbena bonariensis and some hydrangeas. For their own protection, we leave the rather scruffy stems of penstemons until spring. Of course, many of the seeds can also be harvested for propagation – more plants for free!
Of course there’s more to the winter garden than last years dead stems – evergreens add valuable structure all year round. Amongst many, we’ve planted quite a few varieties of viburnum, including davidii – this is a plant I’m not always sure I like, but this morning it certainly passed muster. Skimmia japonica, photinia ‘Red Robin’ and dierama pulcherrimum were also shining in their icy crystal dusting this morning.
However, it was very cold in the garden at 8am, so after a quick run round with my camera, I was back indoors, in a comfy seat in the window with a hot cup of tea!