On second thought, after sleeping on it, and with considerable deliberation, I must fess up that more maintenance is accomplished in this garden than I might imply. After all, the property is an acre and a quarter, so after subtracting for the house, driveway, and small amount of lawn, what remains that is garden is much too large to be managed as any more than a weed patch by any definition of low maintenance.
Though I am pained to admit it, the likelihood is that I spend more hours laboring in this garden than you do in yours. My point in mentioning this is that there is much more that could be done if I were a fastidious gardener, which most certainly I am not, and so I must make choices, or too many hours would be spent performing tasks that I find to be the least enjoyable.
I have decided in recent weeks that the piles of leaves in the garden will not be shredded this winter. I have cleared leaves and debris from the paths and patios (mostly), so all that remains are deep piles in the garden’s beds. These will remain, except for scattered areas where hellebores (above) are buried, and of course these must be cleared or flowers will not properly develop through the next several weeks.
The hellebores are the subject of another matter that is accomplished in some years, but probably not in most. Once the low growing hellebores are dug out from piles of sycamore leaves that have blown in from neighboring properties, there is the question of whether the foliage should be removed to better display the late winter blooms. And if so, when?
In most years the leathery leaves are cut off, though rarely in late December when this is more easily accomplished with less prominent flower buds that have not swelled to be so much in the way. Today, bunches of stems can be grabbed, and with one cut, with little attention to be certain that flower buds are not also being chopped off, the process is completed.
There is no question that the blooms are much more prominent once the old foliage has been cut away, so this is very much worthwhile. After flowering, new foliage grows back quickly, so there is no downside to this chore except it is another thing that must be done, and often it must be accomplished in temperatures that are less than ideal.
Today, weather is suitable for this chore. The afternoon is cool and cloudy, certainly not a day when the gardener would be inclined to lounge on the patio by the koi pond, basking in the winter sun, but appropriate for working outdoors without being concerned about dressing to avoid frostbite. Colder days are forecast ahead, so there will be convenient excuses why the cutting of hellebore foliage is not done, and then the buds will be fat and in the way, so why bother?
And so, if I cannot drag myself outdoors in another hour or two, the foliage is not likely to be cut until the last moment, or at all. Which is not such a tragedy, since the task takes only a bit longer if it is delayed, and even if the leaves are not chopped off at all the flowers are still visible, and still quite marvelous.
Mounds of leaves in most of the garden can remain with few consequences. A few low perennials might suffer if they are not removed, and I must identify those areas before spring growth begins, but most leaves will decay without any effort on my part. The appearance of wet and matted leaves is perhaps unsightly to some compared to fresh mulch or shredded leaves, but shredded or not, all will decay before summer.
Of course, there are other tasks that must be accomplished some time before spring. Many perennials and grasses must be cut to the ground, and for most this can be done immediately, or delayed until the last moment when other chores are piled high and not a moment can be wasted. These are best done earlier, but better late than never, and this is in large part how this garden is maintained. Low maintenance, unfortunately not, but this is as little maintenance as I can get away with.