Spring Cleaning

Posted by Courtney Skybak 4/10/09

This time of year, with its return to sunshine and warmer temperatures, is exciting for everyone, but it brings particular joy to the hearts of all of us who garden. For me it marks the transition from “knitting season” to “gardening season”, and it always starts with Spring Cleaning. We all know what spring cleaning looks like indoors: wool sweaters and ski gear take the place of shorts and camping gear under the bed, a few bags of accumulated clutter and worn out clothing are sent to Goodwill, things are tidied and cleaned and freshened up.

In the garden, Spring Cleaning means the grubby clothes, gardening gloves, hand pruners, and the lovely little digging fork I got in a London antique shop come out of hibernation. Timing is important, because if you wait too long and the first batch of weeds goes to seed, you will be paying the price all season. I had the ideal conditions this year: a sunny afternoon after a couple of days without rain, so the soil was still soft but not wet. The first step was pulling those pesky weeds. Because of the soft soil the chickweed, clover, and bittercress came easily, and the more tenacious weeds that tried to give me trouble (that would be you, dandelions) faced the little fork that popped them out of the ground.

Once the weeds were out of the way, it was time to bring the pruners into the game. I trimmed back all of the dead or dying remains of last year's growth. Bright, velvety new leaves were popping up from the base of my lady's mantle, so I clipped off all of the old gray leaves. The sweet woodruff was coming back to life, too, so I pulled out last year's dried, yellow remnants by the handful. I also trimmed back the old flower stalks and any dead leaves on the heuchera, bergenia, and liriope. Clearing away the dead stuff only takes a few minutes, but boy does it make a big difference!

My sword ferns took a beating during December's snow storm, so I ended up cutting back the worst of the sad, broken fronds to the ground. Once the new fiddleheads unfurl later this spring, I will come back and clean out the remaining damaged leaves, but I didn't want to do it all at once and deprive the plants of their ability to sustain themselves. I also noticed that the oxalis and woodruff, the beautiful spreading groundcovers that crowd weeds out of the beds, were starting to crowd my heucheras a bit too, so I pulled out handfuls of the aggressive creepers around their more restrained bedfellows. The final step was wheeling the weeds to the yard waste bin and the other clippings to the compost bin. Only an hour of work in my little back-door beds, and they were completely transformed! Everything looked neat and tidy and bursting with life, and I could see a couple of little spaces to be filled with something new. Luckily the following weekend brings the Hardy Plant Society's spring plant sale. Oh, joy!


Welcome to SHWA's new and improved website, and to its newest feature, our blog. Here we hope to update you every week with news of what is happening in our office and what we are thinking about as we create our designs. We will include photos of our projects under construction and introduce you to some of the talented and skilled contractors and craftspeople who transform our ideas into tangible objects. We may also share with you some of the beautiful and striking plants that we put into our planting plans (both well-loved favorites and new discoveries), as well as other interesting materials and elements that we come across in the course of our work. We will also give you thoughts on how to best take advantage of each season in the garden, with little bits of advice here and there. So check back once in awhile if you would like some insight into our little part of the world here at SHWA.

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