cleanClean up your room!” Four of the most overworked words in my home. No excuses are accepted, no bribes received. Yet of course, if positions were reversed, and my children happened to glance out of the window at the flower border and the vegetable garden and the back lawn, they might be tempted to utter the very same words. And, after they had finished scrubbing the baseboards for their impertinence, I might answer with, “I’m waiting until the

[insert appropriate season].” or “I don’t have time right now” or “you missed a spot” or something else equally profound.

I’m aware of the mess out there. Every day it is being added to by bushel-baskets of browning maple leaves and various other vegetative clutter blown in from goodness knows where. Just when I get my porch swept and my world in order, a windstorm makes it look as if I haven’t picked up a gardening implement for three months, much less had the gumption to use it.

december4And of course, when I’m really harried – when the leaves threaten to blow over the threshold; when there is a six inch buildup on the beds; when twigs from the Silver Maple litter the front garden and a visiting friend looks around with raised eyebrows – I am often tempted to quote from whatever handy gardening reference will support my indolence.

I can always find someone to help me – there are plenty out there, and they don’t all agree. Some authors believe clean-up should happen in the spring, allowing for a natural mulching around tender perennials and trees; as seed pods and berries from browning twigs will feed hungry birds and provide structure and beauty to the winter garden.

Others maintain that leaves, weeds, canes and twigs provide convenient resting places for pests and disease, and that a thorough fall clean-up will go a long way towards a healthy spring garden. These also tend to be the gardeners that have immaculate homes and sterile baseboards and so I’m naturally suspicious of their motives.

I guess I fall somewhere in between. November and early December usually elicit one or two large scale clean-ups out of me, and a fair amount of aimless pottering. After that, I tend to let the leaves blow where they may and avert my eyes when I realize that I never did manage to pull all the hops off of the fence this year. I tend to think that following the example of Mother Nature is usually the best way to go, and if she wants to mulch my lilacs with four inches of leaves over the winter, who am I to question her wisdom?

december3If, after a particularly large cup of coffee and a burst of unusual energy I happen to go all out in the middle of December to tart things up, I am always disappointed two days later. Invariably, ‘north winds doth blow and we shall have snow’ and an afternoon’s manic clean-up will not make one inch of difference to the beauty of the white blanket covering all the work.

And four days after that, what is attractive about a two inch cover of hardwood mulch trapped in a soupy mix of melting ice and errant leaves?

Of course, you may be tied hand and foot by housing association regulations and city regulations and neighbor regulations, and all the regulations we seem to be tied up with these days. To some extent this applies to me – which makes at least a cursory tidy-up de rigueur this time of the year.

But don’t try and remove every leaf, every twig, every browned branch and withered stem. There is a quiet beauty to the winter garden, and much of it has to do with just sitting back and watching it sleep. Just like your four-year old during a particularly sound slumber, it’s rumpled and disheveled, yes…but serenely enchanting.

– not to mention desperately loved.