Saturday, January 7, 2012

The Bare Bones

Bare bones:   
"the basic elements or the essential structure of something"

I just did some winter clean-up of my garden to tidy things up a bit after recent freezes.   I cut most of the perennials to the ground, but left some for winter interest.   Basically my rule of thumb is, if it looks bad, I cut it to the ground.   If it still looks good (such as the ornamental grasses) or maybe has some benefit for wildlife (such as seed heads for the birds), I leave them until mid-February.

I leave some fallen leaves in the shrub/flower beds, but rake or blow any excess leaves onto the lawn and they are mulched with the mower and added to the compost pile.   

In my pond, anything that has turned to mush and has fallen down into the water is cut back and cleaned out of the pond.   The parrots feather that has grown out into the middle of the pond is raked back toward the sides to keep the water flow through the middle wide open.

And what is left behind after all of my trimming, raking, and mulching?  
The bare bones.  

For the most part, the only blooms in I have in my garden right now are the pansies and violas in containers.  But I'm okay with that.  I think the garden (and the gardener) deserves a rest now and then :-)   I love this time of year to re-evaluate the bones of my garden to see where it needs tweaking.  Thankfully it just needs a little toe bone added here and there and it isn't in need of hip replacement or spine surgery :-)

Here is my garden all cleaned up...
                                            ...and down to the bare bones 

The backyard:



The front yard:

Here are a few specifics on my clean-up list:

Perennials cut to the ground:

Mealy Cup Sage/'Henry Duelberg' Salvia (Salvia farinacea)
Mexican Bush Sage (tender perennial -- mulch well)
Summer Phlox
Black-Eyed Susan (Rudbeckia)
Katie's Ruellia
Mexican Mint Marigold
Turk's Cap
Salvia madrensis (Forsythia Sage)
Purple Heart
Wood Fern and Japanese Painted Fern
Tropical Giant Spider Lily

Just gave these a "haircut":

Salvia greggii

Pond Plants:

Umbrella grass, Lizzard Tail - cut down to water level
Pickerel Rush, Water Lily - pulled out mushy stems, but left roots down in water
Iris - cut or pulled browned leaves

Left these alone (for winter interest)
(will prune in February, if necessary):

Ornamental grasses
Daylilies (I will pull dried foliage in the spring)
Leopard Plant (Ligularia/Farfugium)
May Night Salvia
Russian Sage
4-nerve Daisy
'Powis Castle' Artemisia
American Beautyberry

Pulled up annuals:

Melampodium (saved seeds)
Holy Basil (saved seeds)
African Blue Basil
Salvia coccinea (scattered seeds back in garden)
Dragonwing Begonias
Blue Daze
Sweet Potato Vine

You can also check out my Fall "Diggin' in the Dirt" Newsletter for tips on how to care for specific perennials after a freeze.

For a fun look at garden bones, visit Casa Mariposa 
and find out how bony your garden is :-)

Toni :-)


  1. I really appreciate your sharing of these photos from your January gardens. I'm not one to 'swoon' but I do recognize an exceptional landscape when I see it and your design is outstanding. I particularly like the backyard and the pond. I sit here in some concern that we may have a sudden large drop in temperature because, as I'm sure you know, Wisconsin is too mild for this time of year. I'd feel much better were there about three inches of snow before the dreaded and almost certain cold comes this way. Take care Toni and I must say your wonderful gardening talents are obvious in what you've shared today! Larry

  2. Nice tutorial of your much different ecoregion and your spaces, all its vistas. But seeing you start with "bones", then seeing the "vertabrae" of the flagstone path and lawn edge so nicely accented with the greenery of that mondo grass...mmmm!

  3. It is so beautiful... even in winter. It does show that you have an exceptional eye when it comes to landscape design. It makes me realize that I need to plant the basic "bones" of my garden first.

  4. You have a wide and beautiful garden Toni, that even at its barest, it is still lovely to look at. How i wish i have a garden that neat!

  5. Beautiful bones! Thanks for letting us see them!

  6. Thanks for letting us see your garden's X-ray - it has great bones! Love the stone work with the green in between! You've got some nice evergreens, too. And the grasses look great. You truly have a beautiful garden - in all seasons.

  7. I'm kind of impressed by how much garden you seem to have squeezed into a comparatively small space.
    (Most of the gardens I'm in, you don't see the neighbor's house)

    I'm glad to hear that you try to limit the tidying that you do, dismayed that you do so much of it.

    At one of my gardens, the pond guy came and cleaned out the pond, and I started seeing dead fish in the filter, just like every winter. I explain over and over that cleaning out the plants exposes the koi fish to predation, and... nothing changes.

  8. Big. Deep. Sigh... When my garden grows up it wants to be your garden! LOVE the cathedral type windows cut into the fence!! Thanks for the shout out and the advice about the mini water rush. It's in a pot and I'll make sure it stays there!! In order to have as space as you do, I'd have to annex my neighbors yard, raise their house, and convince them to move out, which shold be easy after knocking down their house. Actually, that's not a bad idea.... :o)

  9. Your gardens look wonderful even in winter! Love your flagstone path and pond and the way everything flows so inviting.

  10. @Larry: Wow, thanks for such a great compliment! I appreciate that coming from someone with such an amazing landscape as you!! I hope you get the snow you are wanting -- and you can keep it up that way, thank you very much :-)

    @Desert: Vertebrae -- love it! That's a great description :-) Thanks for stopping by.

    @Wren, Andrea, Gaia, Holley: Thank you all for your compliments. As the years go by and I keep tweaking, I think I am finally becoming satisfied with the winter look. I have plans to add a few more evergreens in spots, so there's always room for more improvement.

  11. @Stone: My "small space" is just under a half acre. I wish I didn't have to look at neighbor's houses a few feet away!! I try to keep some balance between tidying up and not going overboard. In regard to the pond, in years past, I have not cut back the pond plants after a freeze, and by spring time I am left with a disgusting, mucky mess! The fallen mushy plants would inhibit the water flow and encourage algae growth and it was just awful by springtime. My pond guy suggested I cut everything back and keep the water flowing and it has helped so much!! I am actually enjoying my pond in the winter for the first time. I have a fish cave in the rocks for predator protection, and I netted the pond to help with predators and to keep leaves out (which further added to the mucky mess come springtime). Leaving the frozen pond plants never did anything to help with predators, from my experience. I lost fish every year until I had the fish cave built.

  12. @Casa: You crack me up! Please don't sigh! This did not happen overnight. You are getting there with all of your renovations. You will have the garden of your dreams in no time :-) I think gardens look larger in pictures than they really are. As I mentioned, our property is under a half acre. Nice size; but not huge. Just FYI, the cathedral type "window" is actually a mirror attached to a wrought iron piece that I attached to the fence so it looks like a gate going through the fence. I fooled my neighbor one time. He came over and said, "Why do you have a hole in your side of the fence and I don't have one on mine." Ha!! I copied the idea from another garden I saw, so feel free to copy mine :-)

    @Lee: Thank you, too, for your kind comment. "Inviting" I like that. I love to invite others to visit my garden. Speaking of which, my garden will be on tour in May, so if you're in the're invited :-)

  13. Thanks Toni... I just checked out the site you recommended and can't wait to dig deeper into the past posts.... looks like a great site! Larry
    p.s. no snow in sight for the foreseeable future and temps close to 50 degrees over the next few days... yipes!

  14. Such great info Toni. I have so many weeds in my perennial gardens along with young columbine that I don't know where to begin! I really need to get over that or I'll have more weeds than flowers!

  15. I appreciate your cheer!! I am so excited about the fall changes as well as the ones I have planned for spring. It's like putting together a puzzle. I feel like I finally found the piece that's been missing and now the picture is complete. Yay!! Happy!!!! It only took 9 years. :o)

  16. Order lovely order. Quite an oriental feel to your garden.

  17. Your garden looks fabulous in any season, Toni! These photos show that it has great "bones" no matter what the season. Enjoy your rest and planning!

  18. Loved seeing your garden from so many perspectives. Your design is always so inspiring and I'm taking close notes...I'd like to revamp my front yard. Not sure if it will happen soon. I'm leaning toward waiting for the drought to lessen its grip on us.

  19. Your bones, hardscape and plantings combined, are exquisite! If it looks this good in winter, you know it will be spectacular when it is blooming. I like seeing the long views of your garden. My own garden is not nearly so neat! You have made me realize it is long overdue for a clean-up.


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