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Berkshire Garden Style: Transitions

It's transition time! In the season, in the landscape, and in our local, national and global arenas. Covid has created an upheaval in so many people's lives. In many ways we have been both urged and given an opportunity to embrace transition, rather than fight against it.

Today I want to share with you what's most important when I think about gardening during this time of transition. I want to encourage you to embrace the transition because because it is beautiful and to see the beauty in it. I want to give you the reasons why I embrace this time and what I do in my gardens to support the natural ecosystems as they also transition.   I want you to reflect on two extremes - ‘fall clean-up’ and ‘doing nothing’ and see that I strive for the balance between. 

Most of us can see the incredible beauty in the leaves as they move from green to golden.  We can see the way the autumn sunshine highlights the fall colors.  We know and remember well the childhood chores of raking leaves and we remember the fun of jumping in the piles.  We can smell the air as the moisture levels change and we enjoy layering up for a pumpkin picking excursion.  

In addition to these pleasurable experiences of fall, many people also partake in the annual fall-clean up either in their own work as gardeners or as clients.  The sounds of leaf blowing are now abundant all around us as we work in the gardens - constant sound which results in a sterile environment void of ecosystem dynamics.  When I walk onto a property which has been left untouched I feel the warm golden light, I feel the abundance of color and the harvest.  When I walk onto a property which has seen a heavy duty fall-cleanup, I feel empty.  All of my senses are assaulted and I immediately feel on guard.  It feels ‘out of synch’ and in a state of disharmony.  Feelings are vital feedback. 

Now, I want to be clear that I am not advocating that garden crews who do leaf blowing should stop working.  I want to be clear that I am not saying to ‘do nothing’.  Instead I want to let the workers who do the work - the leaf blowers and other garden workers - into a new piece of knowledge which both supports their continued work and the wider ecosystem.    

Start by observing the activity of your garden.  Watch the activities of the birds and explore - gently - any thicker areas of leaves to see what critters may be seeking shelter.  It is best to wait until after the ground freezes to place the leaves on your garden beds so as to not attract rodent homes.  My approach, and to further support the wider ecosystem, is to collect the leaves and if you have an abundance, you can put some in the compost and layer some on your garden beds. You should mow any thicker leaf patches on the grass to mulch and nourish your grass or move the leaves to your garden beds once the ground is frozen.  Leaves on garden beds provide both insulation for the plants, nourishment for the soil and a home for bugs which in turn feeds the birds as other food sources become scarce.  Moth pupae which inhabit healthy layers of undisturbed soil and leaves is a crucial source of winter protein for the garden birds.  Leaf litter is free fertilizer - it feeds the soil and provides a richness for fungal growth and microbial life.  It provides a home for all known and unknown organisms and nurtures the ecosystem in ways that we are only just beginning to understand.  

I believe that our actions and habits of fall cleanup are just that - habits.  We have become accustomed to the activities of leaf blowing and extreme fall cleanup.  Habits can be changed.  Practices can be adapted and changed.  We can use the resources that are beneath our feet to support both our work and the work of the wider ecosystem.  The more we understand, strive to understand and learn about our inter-being with the world the more conscious we can become of our actions to support the wider ecosystem and encourage others to do the same.  It is exciting to see that local companies like Carmen Barbato Inc. (Barbato Disposal) also support the idea of “leaving the leaves” and in time it is my hope that we may shift the paradigm so that the leaf blower is not a familiar sound marking the transition of fall.  The garden is but a small footprint in this wider ecosystem.  We must continually seek to understand how to nurture the process.


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