It never ceases to amaze me how fast things change in the northeast when winter comes around.
Here in the Hudson Valley, what was green and almost frighteningly verdant in September bursts into flames of yellow, orange, and red in October as the weather grows colder and the days become shorter. Then a hard frost hits in November and the landscape is transformed once again, this time into a muted tapestry of blondes, tans, browns and greys, with the blue sky and its early sunsets serving up the brightest colors of the day. If you, too, live in a cold climate and you haven’t already finished your garden cleanup for the year, it’s time to get out there before the snow hits (and transforms the landscape once again).
I always encourage people not to cut their perennials and grasses back too fiercely in the fall. Leave some seed heads on those coneflowers, goldenrods (above), and the like – the birds will thank you for it, as will you on a snowy winter’s day when the seed heads sport delightful little snow caps and the grasses wave gracefully from a blanket of snow (or frozen mud in March).
In a more institutional setting like a hospital, nursing home, or even a public park, this unkempt look may be a hard sell – many people like things to look neat and tidy because that’s what they’re used to. I don’t know of any studies that have looked specifically at people’s preferences between the wilder look and the more manicured, but I do know that education can go a long way. When people learn about the benefits to wildlife, or about collecting seeds, or even are just turned on to a different point of view, they may change their mind and appreciate those scraggly seed heads rather than just seeing them as “dead flowers that need cleaning up.” Hey, it’s worth a shot, right?
Some good resources to inspire you and/or your clients:
This is a great website with a wealth of resources: Winter Gardening: A Guide to Selected Resources.
Plus a few more:
Seedheads in the Garden, by Noel Kingsbury
Bringing Nature Home: How Native Plants Sustain Wildlife in Our Gardens, by Douglas W. Tallamy
Suite 101 article: “Seeds and Seedpods in Winter”
Brooklyn Botanic Garden article: “Inviting Wildlife into Your Winter Garden.”
Lots more where that came from, just Google “garden in winter” or “planting for winter interest.”