Never mind clean-up. Winter will take care of most of that. This is when I like to tear the garden apart.
First comes the time of judgement. I walk through the garden and figure out a. Which areas suck and b. Which ones, of all the areas that suck, can be fixed? Certain substandard plantings must be accepted—like the Viburnum rhytidophyllum that’s tall, but not nearly as full as it could be. Not much else will thrive in its spot, so shouldn’t rip it out. Maybe pruning would help. The Jeana phlox are also too tall for their spot, but I love them. The hydrangea petiolaris is hiding the pond; I’ll fix it next August.
For the most part, though, nothing is forever in my garden. This is when I love to pull it to pieces; nobody will see (especially in 2020). This is when I create new borders and get rid of plantings I have tolerated for too long. A huge clump of Joe Pye, towering over nearly every other plant in its bed, is on the chopping block this year. It’s not easy to pull and I am sure I’ll see plenty of survivors next year, but that’s OK. We’re lucky to have a few nurseries here that keep a good perennial section going into fall, with some decent markdowns. Planting them now in that spot will help keep the persistent Joe at bay. The replacements will be mostly well-behaved and colorful: dark purple and light yellow daylilies, perennial salvia, purple Stoke’s aster, and perennial geranium (shown above).
What’s more fun? Cleaning stuff up or making a huge mess with something new to look forward to (or bitterly regret) in the following season? I know which one I’d pick every time.