Just as many in America – as evidenced by this year’s election results – are hoping that people are drawing back from the politics of extremism, I’d love to see the same happen in gardening culture. Unfortunately, however, I think gardening polarization is of more recent vintage and will take longer to disappear.
I drew some of it upon myself in a recent Facebook post, in which I included images of my leaf-covered front garden, sidewalk and easeway, explaining why I do not “leave” this unsightly, water-and-air blocking mass to sit all winter, emerging from the snow cover – in slightly wetter and browner form – just in time to impede species tulips and other ephemerals struggling toward the early spring sun.
No. I do not “leave” this, nor can I mow it without grinding up the perennials in my grass-free garden in the process. It has to go.
Others’ mileage can totally vary. Many people can avoid leaf pick-up altogether. Many cannot. Many follow a half-and-half strategy. That’s my point regarding this and other one-size-fits-all gardening directives that now infest social media. Some of the memes are kind of witty (the leaves aren’t going to invade your house, drink your booze, etc.), so much so that even non gardeners – people who have no idea what they’re talking about – like to share them, thinking they are making jokes and doing good.
And the same with the “no mow” directives, the “leave garden debris until well into June,” “planting buddleia hurts pollinators,” and others.
Whatever measure of validity these sayings might contain is obscured by their totalitarian disregard for the fact that different situations call for different solutions. And this is why I deliberately draw down the wrath of the leaf leavers every year. I never would have before all this – I mean, who really cares what I do with my leaves? But now that I am confronted with these bossy edicts every single day as I scroll through my feed, I feel as though I have to offer alternatives.
Like, it’s fine for me to send my 25 bags of heavy maple leaves to the city’s composting facility. Like, the burrowing insects have plenty with which to make do in the form of shrubs and perennial litter. (I’m not worried about the rodents; they’ve already demonstrated their supremacy.)
I realize this is almost certainly a futile effort. Why explain the complex nature of a situation when you can sum it up in 12 words or less that may or may not be applicable?
At least, as the leaf season draws to a close, I have 4 quiet months before the next season of evangelism begins. I can tend my houseplants and bulbs in peace -though I’m probably not toeing the party lines there either.
At top are the leaves I am happy to “leave:” well-behaved Japanese maples.
I’d recently been thinking something very similar. Perhaps it’s just too tempting to argue?! I know I feel like arguing when I come across pronouncements and evangelicalism. But then, I’m argumentative…..
I’m argumentive too and used to take an opposing side just to get a good argu-I mean discussion going. Alas those days are gone, people are too angry
Ideology and extremism are some of the worst weeds in the garden.
I have been habitat gardening for some 30 years and sometimes offer a program entitled Habitat for All. Something I say repeatedly in the program, in one way or another is that ” What you create, if it is to last and if you are to love it, must be in accordance with your own tastes.” Maybe extremism begins and then thrives when people don’t take the time to own who they are and, in the gardening case, don’t have enough of a sense of what is most important to them…what they want their garden to look like and be for them. Before those (morphing-over-time) realizations happen, it is easy to spew out absolutes rather than dwell in the ambiguities that, at least I have found, gardening often presents.
Thank you, Elizabeth. It’s not like we don’t have enough to argue about… leaves/no leaves, mow/no mow, natives only/diverse plantings and cha cha cha. I do my very best for my own garden and try to let others do what they find best. Peace!
Thanks for this point of view. The mantra I share is “balance”. I too am perplexed about those who oversimplify principles in service to a sound bite like “No-Mow May”, but even more so about the scolds I call “Gardening Zealots” whose sweeping pronouncements discourage home gardeners from taking even small steps to increase native plantings, attract pollinators and other beneficial wildlife, enhance soil health and support our ecosystems more broadly. The challenge is how to engage and support our neighbors without doing either.
I find most of the advice to “let things fall where they may” and otherwise stop cleaning up the garden in the fall, is dispensed by people who have a team of gardeners ready to pick up the slack later in the year. For those of us managing things on our own, it’s not so easy to put everything off until spring.
I agree with all of the above but draw the line on neighbors broadcast spraying poisons that kill pollinators which do include flies, bees, hornets, moths etc. One year the tenants who lived next door took all the leaves and put them on the lawn inches deeo and did not have to mow at all the next summer, but they no longer live there and things are back to continuous summer mowing. I have had years when I did nothing in my flower beds and years when I cleaned it up in the fall. Unable to see a difference. Never underestimate the resilience of nature.
Fed up with raking all of the acorns in our yard year after year (we have three mature oak trees), I tried the “let it lie” approach one year as an experiment and came to regret it. Come spring, we had hundreds upon hundreds of oak saplings pop up – in flower beds, all along our mulch paths and in our potted plants. It was quite a task to pull all those saplings out by hand! Unfortunately for us, a great majority of our leaves (which I could and would otherwise collect and shred for leaf mold) are so thoroughly “infested” with acorns that we really must gather them and get rid of them (I am not willing to sort acorns and leaves into two separate piles). And it never fails that every year as I’m out there bagging leaves, a neighbor will kindly inform me that I am taking away some poor hedgehog’s leaves. “Keep calm and carry on”.
If I leave my leaves, they leave me. I live in a very windy area and my leaves will not just sit on the so-called lawn throughout our mild Winter. They will end up blowing into the neighbors’ yards. And thus, end up at the central landfill composting facility all the same. I compost as many as I can, shred some to use as mulch, and yes, send some to be composted by the county. But leaving them is not an option. Like many gardening memes, those “leave the leaves” posts only apply to specific situations in which most of us do not live.
I think most people who have gardens are just not aware of how complicated gardening is. I was trained as a Master gardener, and it was still years before i was able to apply my learning to my garden; it’s complicated, it takes time, we learn new things all the time. It takes time, and most people just can’t devote much time to their gardens. The most one can do is be happy with the success the gardeners you know have, and when you have a choice share your learning. I’m made happy when people share with me gardens they make with a few pots outside their front door. As to the criticism online, they have to be ignored, they just want attention, negative or positive doesn’t matter. I have read your gardening input online since the early 2000s, and have enjoyed learning how to change a garden for the better from your experience. Thanks! Keep on trucking.
Promoting extremism is part of FB’s business model.
“Facebook’s stated mission is “to give people the power to build community and bring the world closer together.” But a deeper look at their business model suggests that it is far more profitable to drive us apart. By creating “filter bubbles”—social media algorithms designed to increase engagement and, consequently, create echo chambers where the most inflammatory content achieves the greatest visibility—Facebook profits from the proliferation of extremism, bullying, hate speech, disinformation, conspiracy theory, and rhetorical violence.”
Understand the sandbox in which you play.
The 12-words or less, meme culture that surrounds us has no place for what actually happens in gardens, i.e. lifelong learning, adaptation, adjustment, and Thomas Jefferson’s philosophy: ” but tho’ an old man, I am but a young gardener.”
Some leaves I allow to stay where they fall, but some areas directly under trees get too many. I usually thin some of those leaves and move to other areas. Yes, they do protect insects over winter, not all of them good: I have to keep the leaves from collecting against the fence in the back part of my garden because I go through a tick outbreak in that area in the spring.
Thanks for this Elizabeth. One hopes that amongst all the memes, a few gardeners will stumble upon this post and find your POV — and that of thoughtful comments — compelling enough to make them take a second look at their own practices. Very little hope for the ideologues. Reductionist memes are one of the juiciest evils of the 21cen. – MW
Unless, Marianne, the gardeners are the kind you wrote about a while back who won’t read anything more than 400 (?) words or whatever insanely small number it was. I think sometimes people respond to posts to continue controversy and to be “in your face”. It’s sad that it has to be about gardens too. Gardens should be one place for people to be peaceful, creative and positive. I thought your walkway was fine, Elizabeth but I can understand the need to clean up those heavy piles of leaves. Seeing both sides or even several sides takes more effort than simply blasting someone who doesn’t do or say what you do. Keep gardening in whatever way keeps you sane. As long as it’s the way I garden…tee-hee.
I have tried both approaches-but I have 14 oaks in the yard that hold a lot of leaves almost through the entire winter-so fall clean up is necessary-the hangers on inevitably end up collecting around shrubs and perennials I’ve left standing. The others get shredded and bagged and mixed with manure (someone donated 3 tons of composted horse manure this year-oh joy!) hopefully to make good mulch for next year.
Leaving the leaves made spring start up a night made and I wasn’t too popular with the neighbors either. So I’m for finding the balance-I’m not too tidy-but I do gather a lot up.
The amount of leaves that are left in my garden over each winter depend on a combination of (a) my general health status in late autumn, (b) the weather pattern, and (c) whether there are things I’d rather spend my time on, on any given December day. I do always make sure that no leaves collect anywhere near the foundation of the house, however… even if it’s just to blow them out into the middle of the lawn or (yes, I will say it) the street. That said, I live in hope that my neighbor will someday decide to remove more of his **** oaks, because the prevailing winds mean that much of their leaves end up in my yard and gutters. That said, whatever leaves are still here on January 1st can stay where they are until April.