About this time every year, I spend at least a couple of weekends “cleaning up” outdoors: gathering broken branches knocked down by winter winds, raking pine needles off perennial beds, vacuuming matted leaves that accumulated beneath shrubs. It’s the part of gardening I least enjoy. I mean, after all — does nature really need us to “clean up” after her? I tend to believe she prefers things on the dirty side. I think she rather likes those twigs, leaves and pine needles.
My neighbors seem to accomplish their garden clean-ups effortlessly. How do they manage it, I wonder. I rarely see anyone outdoors, yet walking through the neighborhood last evening, I passed (mostly) perfectly green lawns, neatly sheared shrubs and tidy clumps of daffodils in newly mulched beds. I must admit, there is something very appealing about that look. Edged beds, clipped hedges and even-toned turf-grass do make us feel safe and secure, somehow.
But I have another motive for gathering, raking and shredding my landscape leftovers. I stash them in a nice, big pile beneath a pine in one corner of my backyard. It looks pretty awful, but I’m really the only one who sees it (and it smells just fine). And, later this summer, I’ll dig down into my secret stash and unearth something fabulous: sweet, crumbly compost—the best possible treatment for plants and landscapes of all kinds.