Tuesday, March 30

Right Now, I Have an Ugly Garden

There is a lot of discussion right now in the garden blogosphere about "ugly" gardens.  More specifically, about "ugly" vegetable gardens.  Without wading into that fray, I will simply say that I believe that form and function are not mutually exclusive... nor does something have to be useful to be beautiful, or vice-versa.

I will also say that a garden does not have to be weed-infested or poorly designed to be ugly at certain times of the year.  Case in point:  My own front yard garden, shown in these pre-spring-cleanup photos that were taken this evening:

Two views:  From the top of my steps (above)
and from my driveway looking toward the steps (below)

I am pretty sure that the current state of my front yard garden horrifies at least a couple of my neighbors.  One couple has gorgeous traditional borders, but admits that naturalistic gardens are not their thing and that they don't much care for grasses at all.  Another neighbor, Ms Type A Personality, whips out the Roundup at the slightest hint of renegade greenery, and keeps things neat as a pin in the block-lined beds near her porch. 

Unstated, though understood, is that my yard feels a little TOO messy to all of them.  I like all three of these neighbors, for the record, but this is the only time of the year when I agree with them in regards to my exhuberant front yard garden!

So why do I let my garden get to this state?  Several reasons.  First and foremost, saving all of this cleanup work until the spring saves me from my own enthusiasm.  It's still March--in Cleveland--for heaven's sake!  I have no business doing much of anything outdoors besides some late winter pruning, and planting the earliest of edible crops.  But if I didn't have spring cleanup chores left to do, I would most certainly be outside anyway... getting myself and my garden into trouble.

Second, this garden IS my front yard, which means that fall cleanup would leave a boring, barren landscape for me to view during a long Northeast Ohio winter.  Perennial skeletons poke up out of the snow and make interesting mound designs in the white stuff.  Buff-colored grasses add some height and movement (it's very windy here) and even provide a nice complement to some of my early flowers like the 'Ivory Prince' hellebores shown above.

Thirdly, plant detrius helps me to overwinter some marginal plants here in the front yard.  Unfortunately, this is NOT the year that my 'Black & Blue' salvia finally, miraculously overwinters (boo!) but various grasses--like the carex albula 'Frosty Curls' shown above, and nasella (aka stipa) tenuissima--regularly come back for me each spring if I leave them alone in the fall.  And in 2008 I lost one of my caryopteris by cutting it back too early in the year.

Last, but not least, I might miss out on a few miracles of spring if I wasn't out in the yard doing cleanup.  The feeling of elation at picking up a mat of wet oak leaves and finding my little species tulips peaking through the ground is something I would hate to miss.  So is seeing the otherworldly, deep purple sprouts of sea kale.

And if I hadn't been out working in the yard this evening, I would never have noticed the first official front yard blooms of 2010, shown above.  'Purple Dragon' lamium fills up the circular bed that showcases a cutleaf Japanese maple... but the delicate blooms on this branch were on the side facing my neighbor's house, and so they would have escaped my notice entirely.

So for all of these reasons, I embrace having an "ugly garden" throughout the month of March.  And as I dirty my fingernails and grimace at the squish of decaying leaves between my fingertips and palms, I look at my ugly garden and smile... knowing that come summer, it will be beautiful and exhuberant once again.


gintoino said...

I believe every garden goes trough this "ugly" phase at least once a year. March is also my ugly garden phase. In my case because of the weeds that burst from one minute to the other (damn oxalis!) Anyway, yours doesn't look as igly as you say ;-)

Joseph said...

I am SO with you on garden cleanup. When I first started gardening, I followed the advice I found in books and cleaned everything up perfectly in the fall -- only find myself with a gardening itch and nothing to do come spring! Now I leave EVERYTHING and rejoice in having lots to rake, prune, clean and weed in March.

Lisa at Greenbow said...

I have the same neighbors. They only tolerate me and my garden. Ha.. I don't care. I love my busy garden. I think every garden gets a bit ugly during late winter. That is what gets us going in the spring to coax it back into the beautiful place we like to be.

Mr. McGregor's Daughter said...

You've given me hope to try Nasella/Stipa tenuissima. I've admired it, but thought it wouldn't survive here. I don't cut anything back until spring also, so I might be able to pull if off.
Even after spring garden cleanup, my garden looks a little lame until everything starts doing its thing. But I can see the beauty in the minute, like your Lamium blooms.
BTW, Coco looks adorable, if not entirely happy to be tied up to the porch.

Heather's Garden said...

I so agree with you on the ugly garden debate silliness! And I'm going to adopt the whole skipping fall garden clean-up on purpose explanation.

Stratoz said...

the weeds have taken over, but I have told my ankle it is going to get tested on Saturday... so be it for at least some of the weeds and the fall cleanup will start at that time too.

chris m. said...

I don't think your garden looks ugly at all. And your explanation is perfect. To really appreciate something one has to look at the details, not just gaze over the thing. When you see the Heuchera, it looks great, and the Bergenia is wonderful as always. The flowers of the Lamium can be really seen in this modest background.
Your garden is very exposed...and is very different from your neighbors; you must sometimes want to escape to the back yard!

We have a large front yard but never use it because it's so exposed: I specially dislike working just a few feet from where cars are going by. We plan to close it off with a fence and grasses.

It'll be fun to see your garden in the next few weeks!

Gail said...

Beautifully stated case for spring clean up and the differences between traditional and naturalistic gardens. There are just less traditionally beautiful times for our gardens...and that's the way it is!

I do love spring and think that the only way to appreciate some of those small bulbs is up close and personal and that's on your knees cleaning up!


joey said...

Nothing about your garden is 'ugly', dear Kim, and your posts, why we all love you. Nobody says it better! I see your bergenia, one of my favorites, that we all know ... does it thing so well ... but, like all loves in our life, need tending throughout the year. We are are gardens and our garden are us! Happy Easter and happy gardening, dear friend!

joey said...

Correction ... "We are our gardens and our gardens are us!"

EAL said...

I was thinking about this today. I think the presence of a green backdrop is helpful in early spring--I only have that in the front garden but not in the back, which is very ugly in places now. It won't be later, of course. But I am confident in saying it is ugly.

There is such a thing.

Yours isn't though; nice contrast of textures and colors.

Pam said...

I like decaying 'ugly' winter gardens - for all of the purposes they serve - ecological purposes being on the top of the list. Hopefully, with time, our view of a city or suburban lawn will change.

Dirty Girl Gardening said...

A garden can't be beautiful without being ugly at some point during the year...

Randy Emmitt said...

Happy Easter!
We just planted Ivory Prince a few weeks ago, we got it at the hellebore universe Pine Knot Farms. Your plant looks to be doing very well.

Unknown said...

Oh, Gintoino, don't get me started on the weeds! The perennial ones I'm battling now are bad enough, but once the clover starts here, too, I almost just give up. :)

Greensparrow, amen. It does "scratch the itch" to have so much to do in the spring, doesn't it?!

Greenbow Lisa, LOL! That's one of the things I love about garden blogging. We get to forget about all of the "real" neighbors and be each others' virtual neighbors instead. :)

Mr. McG's D, I started mine from seed several years back, and the 3 that I did separate out of the 1 wintersown pot are all still going strong. The first year, though, they looked pretty wimpy... and I don't believe that they have ever actually bloomed. But the wispy look is still there.

Oh, and re: Coco. She actually loves being tied up to the porch (that's her retractable leash, so she can go pretty much anywhere she wants in the front yard) but she HATES getting her picture taken for some reason. :)

Heather, I admit, it IS a nice "excuse" for fall burnout, too! lol.

Stratoz, I was thinking about you on Saturday and hoping the ankle stood up to the test. :)

A wildlife gardener said...

It's well worth the wait, BSG, as you say...too early, and you could lose the plant...

We have very little out just now...mainly snowdrops and aconites, though our frogs are back in the pond. What don't you click on the link and come and see my new videos?


Unknown said...

chris m, I think that's why I tend to do most of my front-yard gardening when it's colder out or at night by porchlight, so there are less people... and I DO have a fenced-in back yard to which I abscond quite regularly! :) I bet you will like the front yard a little better once you get it fenced in. (And you need to start a garden blog of your own so we can all see that transformation... nudge, nudge. ;)

Gail, I agree with the appreciation of the small bulbs! Happy spring... :)

Joey, you're too sweet, as always. (((hugs))) That bergenia is one of my loves as well. The fleshy, scalloped leaves. The ruby tinge to the foliage. The undemanding elegance. Ah, be still, my heart! lol.

EAL, you have really had me thinking. The parts of the front yard garden that I really like are the ones with the little evergreen sedum as a groundcover. No matter how tattered and torn the rest of the plants in there look, the sedum just kind of makes it all seem okay.

On the other hand, where the golden oregano provides just a tangled mess of a backdrop... UGH. Even now, where the tangled mess has been cropped closely to the ground, the new growth hasn't yet pushed up through enough to provide that cleaner backdrop. (Although it does look better.) So maybe the golden oregano is the one thing that I SHOULD make a point of cutting back in the fall? (Or maybe I just move some of the sedum around?) More thinking is needed on this score, for sure!

Unknown said...

Pam, I agree wholeheartedly: I, too, hope that in time, our view of a city or suburban lawn will change! And I think that there have been some positive steps taken in that area. But then I listen to my brother talk about all of the maintenance (and chemical applications) his neighbor does to his suburban lawn, and I get discouraged... :(

Dirty Girl, even in California?!?!!! (No, I'm just teasing. I agree with you... and, really, I think that it makes us appreciate the beautiful times more, no?)

Randy, Happy Easter! My other hellebores are 'Pine Knot Strain' hellebores, so I envy you your apparent access to that hellebore mecca. :)

lisa said...

I have the same logic when it comes to garden cleanup, spring just makes more sense. Like you, my energy level is more evenly matched with my chore list in springtime...giddyup! :)

Post a Comment

One of my favorite things about blogging is the interaction--posts are often simply the beginning of an interesting conversation! So thanks for taking the time to join the discussion, and please know that I enjoy reading each and every comment left here. I try to answer as many as I can.