Best of
 Wild Things…
Late Season Stroll
By Karen Vizzi
   Each snow-less day that passes offers one more opportunity to stroll through the wild garden. Go take a look…you might be surprised at what you find there.
   The main mission of my walks these days is to fill birdfeeders, but I find my eye wandering to the garden beds. Already, many perennials have begun a new growth cycle, with fresh leaves pushing through the debris. Although this new growth will not survive the winter, it is a good sign that the root systems are healthy. Some large maple leaves have drifted down on to a few special plants. I brush these away to be chopped in the last mowing. Although dried leaves are good compost/mulch material, they need to be shredded. Large, whole leaves left on beds can retain too much moisture, harbor mildew and smother the crowns of plants. 
   I will also spend a minute to skim my small pond. The fish are safely in their winter home inside, but I do not want a lot of leaves or plant material to settle in the pond over winter. Once frozen, there will be no escape for the gasses produced during decomposition of this organic material. This not only creates unhealthy water for replacement of the fish in spring, it smells horrible!
   Another thing my late season strolls provide is material for holiday decorating. Some gardeners feel plagued by wild grapevines, but I find them indispensable for making beautiful, rustic wreaths. Gather the vines before they begin to harden and become woody, or they will not bend. Form the clippings into the size circle that you want and secure with florists’ wire. One of my favorite things to make is a holiday table centerpiece. I begin with a small grapevine wreath (or use a store-bought evergreen wreath) and embellish it with the final clippings from the herb bed. Thyme, rosemary and especially sage are cold-loving plants and will still be fresh enough to use, even if buried under a light blanket of snow. Add a few silver bows, some white pillar candles of varying heights in the center, and you have created a masterpiece. It not only looks good, but it smells wonderful on any table. Don’t forget to save a big bunch of the sage for holiday cooking. Freshly cut, sage will keep for at least a week when placed in a glass of water inside the fridge. 
   There are also many interesting seed heads that can be used for great decorations. Rose hips, hydrangea, butterfly bush and the cones of black-eyed Susan look great bunched in a vase, or even strategically tucked into the branches of the Christmas tree. It’s also a good time to clip holly or other decorative berries before the birds devour them. Just don’t harvest all of the berries, as they provide an important source of winter nutrition for your feathered friends.
   I carefully inspect the last, brave flower of a larkspur, which is struggling to bloom in a sea of dead leaves. It looks like a sailor in blue, refusing to give up the ship. I never know which of these days will provide my last stroll of the season, but my hope is renewed knowing that new life lies just beneath.

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