The Virtues of a Raggedy Yard

b zebra grassSo many people complain about northern Novembers being grey, but I always think of Elinor Wylie’s description: “… landscapes drawn in pearly monotones.” November is an invitation to calm, to quiet, to pause before the big winter holidays, take stock, and be thankful.

b red berriesIt used to be standard practice, once all the leaves were down, to rake them away, pull out spent stalks and branches, and cut everything else to the ground. If you left ratty edges in a suburban yard, your neighbors would complain, or at least drop hints. Calling it “winter interest” mostly garnered eyerolls. But there has been a lovely confluence of awareness of the ecological value of not cleaning up, and fewer people having time for it anyway, that is bringing improved habitat to the critters that spend winter in our yards. An untrimmed shrub that holds its berries for months, a brushy low plant that provides shelter against the wind and cold – these are real assets for birds that have been kind enough to stick around. Let the leaves lie where they fall, and first you save yourself the effort of removing them, then when they decompose and enrich the soil you save money on compost.

b agastache seedsHere’s the agastache standing up with its clutch of seedheads, feeding birds but ignored by squirrels.  That’s a win.

b seedhead hydrangeasHere, the standing hollow stems of hydrangeas make cozy hibernation homes for solitary native bees. Don’t cut them down until the bees come out, which for me is when the daffodils bloom.

b foxglove

And here’s a surprise – it’s November 30th and one of my foxgloves, still green in 25 degree overnight temperatures, has put out a last, short stalk of flowers.

I’ll leave you with a poem.


b deerOn a November day, the garden store
stacks a display of mulch and birdseed
on its open porch.  Buyers come and go
for chrysanthemums, rakes and barrows,
autumn merchandise, and are surprized
to hear a congregation of sparrows
who’ve found a corner torn in a
bag of millet, and call their friends for more.
It seems when the universe is kind to birds
it is unkind to merchants, unless
they are prepared to take the song as reward.
The singer doesn’t know enough to be thankful.
Remember this when times are hard.

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