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06 November 2018
As November brings darker evenings the herbaceous borders are looking a little sad.

As November brings darker evenings the herbaceous borders are looking a little sad and there is a great temptation to cut everything down and tidy them all up. In fact we have been encouraged to do that for years, think of the pests, think of the diseases, think of bent and blackened stems, quelle horreur!

We are more enlightened today and I like my borders to be an oasis for insects and amphibians, let alone shelter and food for birds and small animals throughout the winter. After all there is little succour in the wider countryside of winter wheat. Balancing this ecosystem is far more important and satisfying.

I therefore phase my approach from November through to March, which also makes it easier.

Broadly I divide into three categories:

First I cut down now those plants which are easily flattened and soon go soggy in the Winter when they become hard to cut with secateurs. They have no useful seed heads and their lack of structure means they have less hiding places for insects. These include peonies, iris siberica, this years’ annuals (sweet peas) salvias geraniums, hostas and crocosmia.

Second around mid-January I will remove the sedums which today have a nice structure, especially with the frost on them, but also become very wet and soggy if left any later. This also applies to globe thistle, nepeta and Japanese anemones. I will also do some digging and weeding at this time, making sure everywhere is clear where small bulbs are due such as snowdrops.

Finally around the beginning March I will cut down the Michaelmas daisies, phlox, helenium and hydrangeas that have provided shelter and seeds for the birds with their stronger more robust structures – there are goldfinches feeding now on the Michaelmas seeds as I write this blog. I find Michaelmas daisy stems useful for garden and sweat peas to scramble up in early Spring.
 
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