As I prepared for bed last night, I didn’t think there would be much of a chance to work in the garden today. The forecast called for rain starting in the early morning and lasting most of the day. So when the ground was still dry around 9:00am, I grabbed my gloves, a few yard waste bags, and a pair of bypass pruners and headed outside.
Over the past few years, I’ve procrastinated with my spring garden cleanup, often waiting so long that I’m trampling spring flowers in a vain attempt to get the dead stems and foliage from last year out of our beds and borders. I never took advantage of the transition time between seasons, when the temperatures are warm enough to work outside, but the spring growth has yet to hit full swing. So today was a bit of a new experience for me, removing the remnants of last year’s garden while surrounded by the just-emerging life of this year’s landscape.
When I came to the border on the northeast corner of our house, pruners in hand, I stopped at the Sedum that serves as sentry to a short stone path between the driveway and our front yard. The stems of the Sedum had all collapsed to the ground, except one. The central stem in the clump still stood straight as an arrow, holding a beautiful russet brown flower head three feet in the air. It was a flower cluster that I’ve photographed countless times this winter, and I hesitated to cut it down out of respect to the beauty it has provided us for the last few months.
The new basal foliage of the Sedum has already sprung from the soil, so leaving the dried flower head standing would simply be delaying the inevitable. The new season is arriving, and it is time to let the past take its place in my memory, words and photographs.
I couldn’t make myself cut the stem and simply discard it into a yard waste bag, an ignoble ending to a stately plant. So I went inside and grabbed a vase, placed the Sedum in the center and quickly went around the yard gathering dried flowers and grasses to create an arrangement that we could enjoy indoors for some time more.
Dried flowers of Monarda didyama (bee balm), Echinacea purpurea (purple coneflower), two varieties of Sedum, and Miscanthus sinensis ‘Gracillumus’ complemented each other in color, form and texture. But as the arrangement came together, it seemed somewhat lifeless, so I decided to add some branches from the flowering shrubs in the landscape. The red twigs of Cornus sericea (dogwood), swelling buds of Syringa vulgaris (lilac), winged stem of Euonymous alatus, and flowering branches of Hammamelis vernalis (witch hazel) all added some life to the arrangement.
As I placed the completed arrangement on the sideboard in our dining room, I found it to be the perfect way to honor last year’s garden, while looking forward to this year’s landscape. Each day, it will be a reminder that the changing of the seasons is not a precise calculation, but rather a subtle, seamless transition from one year to the next.