Retraining Our Perceptions


Oh how dreadful! Quick, grab the felcos and get rid of this ugliness!


Look at those hideous spent blooms. They need to be removed from the garden immediately.


Really? Put those snippers down for a minute and let’s take a closer look. ‘Tis true, this Hydrangea macrophylla, (mislabeled as H. paniculata) may not appear to be as beautiful as it once was, back in April when it was first purchased and planted.


The fact that it even survived the bizarre early heat and later drought is thought to be a major accomplishment, even if our acid soil turned the blooms from pink to blue in only a few months. The post season flower was a surprise, but the spent blooms of spring had been left on the shrub intentionally. We find them attractive, if not as pretty as the pristine petals of its youth.


Oh gack! Look at those wet handkerchief hosta leaves, they are marring the view, as is the fading daylily foliage. Someone had better do some garden housekeeping soon!


Ah, no. Nothing at all needs to be done here. The problem seems to be in perception, not reality. This is Nature taking its course. Not everyone may see the beauty of it, but that might be because they have been trained for a lifetime to consider anything but peak of perfection to be unworthy of praise. How sad.


The environment is a system, a brilliant cycle of birth, life and death. It cannot be changed and works well when left alone. Leaves and flowers, tree trunks and roots will all disintegrate to feed the soil to grow anew. Some might disagree, but to me it is a thing of beauty and most of it will remain untouched.

Frances

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22 Responses to Retraining Our Perceptions

  1. Too often we – gardeners in particular – mistake pretty for beauty. And visa versa…

    Hi Jack, thanks for stopping by. There is a difference between pretty and beauty, another way to think about it.
    Frances

  2. Your ability to see things in a fresh way is why I always look forward to your posts, Frances. That pic of your Japanese maple surrounded by the fountains of grass is particularly lovely.

    What a kind thing to say, Georgia, thank you. The maple at the Athena corner is one of the best focal points in the garden, it is my view from inside the addition so special care has been taken with it. Even without leaves, the maple is a beauty.
    Frances

  3. pbmgarden says:

    Your post was a good confirmation for me this morning. I like to let the garden die back naturally–much less stressful–but sometmes feel guilty I’m not a more tidy gardener.

    Thanks PBM, but don’t feel guilty. Looking around at the countryside areas that remain untouched by bush hog or mowing, I find them to be beautiful all the year. More so than a lawn that requires chemicals and lots of labor to maintain.
    Frances

  4. I agree wholeheartedly Frances. I leave my garden to nature for the most part and the garden and critters are thankful. And I find it beautiful.

    Hi Donna, thanks for sharing how you handle the dying plants of fall. Age has helped me appreciate both the beauty of the spent plants and the wisdom of not doing extra work in the garden that doesn’t need to be done.
    Frances

  5. Layanee says:

    I see dead things….well just dormant plants and there is beauty in that.

    To each his own, Layanee. Some would rather look at a clean slate, especially if there will be snow cover over it for most of the winter anyway. We have no snow cover to hide the remnants, so try to grow things that *die well*.
    Frances

  6. Lea says:

    I’ve seen beautiful Autumn arrangements made with dried grasses and hydrangea blooms. Another lady I met a few years ago, spray painted her dried hydrangea blooms and made attractive arrangements with them, adding them to grapevine wreaths.
    There is something creative to be done with everything!
    Personally I leave my spent blooms and dried seedheads alone until spring.
    Have a wonderful day!
    Lea
    Lea’s Menagerie

    Hi Lea, thanks for sharing. Hydrangeas are some of the most beautiful of the dried blooms. I like that sentence, something creative to done with everything!!! You too, enjoy the day.
    Frances

  7. Alison says:

    I love the perspective that all of the decay is beautiful. The skeletonized Hydrangea flower IS beautiful. And I do tend to leave certain seedheads up for the birds (some I harvest). But here when stuff like Hostas dies back from frost, it turns to slime, and that is just not pretty to me, and can harbor slugs, a major problem in the PNW. I’m sorry, but I have to clean that up.

    Hi Alison, thanks for adding in here. Don’t be sorry for cleaning up your hostas, I would do the same if that was the situation here. Hostas don’t actually do very well here, too dry. They sort of just lose their colors and dry up, then leaves fall on top of them.
    Frances

  8. I’m with you, girl. Do you find that taking photographs of your garden has enhanced your perceptions of its beauty? I know that photography has given me new eyes.

    Absolutely, Helen. Not only the taking of the photos, but writing blog posts has enhanced my vision and understanding by leaps and bounds. Having to look up the correct botanical names and spellings, learning more about the plants themselves, and design principles have all made me appreciate Nature even more.
    Frances

  9. Cindy says:

    It’s harder to do in a climate like mine, where so many things never go dormant. I’m working on it!

    Where you live, Cindy, is a whole other ballgame!
    Frances

  10. commonweeder says:

    I appreciate the lovliness of many plants as they come to the end of their life – but I try to be ruthless to cut things back so that the new growth in the spring will be unimpeded and I won’t hurt the new growth trying to clean up. That’s what I am doing this beautiful unexpectedly warm November day.

    Oh yes, Pat, things get cut down here in late winter here, too. Before the bulbs are up too far and the new growth on the grasses gets too tall. Then there is always the tatty Hellebore foliage that needs cutting in January. But the remains of the garden can stand for a few more months and be enjoyed by critters and humans.
    Frances

  11. Cyndia M says:

    I spent an hour in the garden on Saturday; just walking through and observing, and I snapped a few pics. I often spend so much time WORKING there that I don’t pay enough attention to the beauty that just IS. It was lovely to not worry about what needed weeding or snipping, but to simply enjoy. I love autumn.

    Hi Cyndia, thanks for joining in the conversation. That is exactly the way I am, usually working, or seeing things that need doing. This time of year I can just sit, enjoy and let it be. Thank goodness.
    Frances

  12. Denise M. Carlin says:

    Hi,
    I do clean up my flower gardens a bit in the fall, however, I leave most of my beds untouched. I found out several years ago that goldfinches love echinacea seed heads and flock to my gardens like crazy in the fall. So I leave other seed heads and pods for the birds to munch on too. I find rudbeckia seed heads beautiful and such a great color in fall arrangements. Along with all the color from leaves falling, garden left overs, are just an added decoration. And, when the snow does come, what could be more beautiful than a little dusting on each stem.

    Well said, Denise! Letting things stand, most of them anyway, gives joy to critters and looks beautiful. The taller stuff and grasses will get cut down in due time. Now is the time to enjoy they cycle of Nature.
    Frances

  13. There is beauty at the end of autumn, as plants go dormant. I don’t know if I would have discovered it if I hadn’t been so busy planting bulbs and the snows came to keep me from “cleaning up.” If the snows don’t come, things get so battered by wind and cold that the autumnal beauty is destroyed. And some things look better in the spring if they are cleaned up in the fall. So while I agree with you for the most part, there are some situations where cleaning up in fall is the way to go.

    Hi Kathy, thanks for putting forth your situation on the clean up. Some things are cut here, some things left until new growth starts in spring. Where bulbs are planted, there must be timely cut downs before the bulb foliage is a few inches high. It is a fine dance, knowing when and what to do. But I am still learning what has to be done and what can be left alone.
    Frances

  14. Lovely photos, thanks! We went out a captured the last of japanese maple color, bare trees, yellow hostas, and sycamore leaves burying everything, inspired by your photos. We are in zone 7A or B and love the long season of light frosts from time to time and what it does to the landscapes. Besides it is an excuse to weed!

    How wonderful, Shenandoah! I am so glad you were able to get some enjoyment outside while there are still leaves to see. Fall is glorious in our zone, I agree.
    Frances

  15. I was just noticing all of the beautiful colors of the plants in decline. Some look just as good as when they were in their summer glory. I have certain varieties of hosta that turn the most beautiful gold rather than shrivelling up.

    Eileen

    Hi Eileen, thanks for joining in here. There are still beautiful things out there, we just have to look at them in a different way. Our hostas are the same, some fade gloriously to gold, some just become mushy.
    Frances

  16. Nature does have her own ways to take care of herself. Those mushy leaves will make great compost at the feet of the plant.

    Hi Lisa, that’s the way I see it, too. A layer of leaves, and if I get around to it, compost will finish off the cake!
    Frances

  17. Well-said, Frances. All the stages are beautiful — even when the garden goes to sleep.

    Thanks for the support, PP. There is beauty in all of nature, if we just look closely enough.
    Frances

  18. Rose says:

    Thanks for re-affirming my decision to leave everything alone in the garden in the fall. I, too, have learned to appreciate the beauty of a fading bloom and the changes from green to gold to brown foliage. Those lacy spent blooms in the first photos are far too lovely to snip!

    Hi Rose, I am glad to hear that you are saving yourself the effort of trying to make it all *neat and tidy*. Nature doesn’t play that way, so why should we? I like the hydrangeas too. They don’t always dry like that, but these are exquisite.
    Frances

  19. Oh I just love that you also leave your garden! I have always left it…allowing nature to break it all down and the worms to feed … unless, there were pest or disease present of course…. This year because of major splitting and dividing and putting in spring flowering bulbs and then mulching I actually cleaned it all up… My garden just looks so…”bare “. thats for sharing the lovely photo of the skeltonized leaves.

    Hi Kate, thanks for joining in. I am glad that you, too let the worms do the work. Nicely put. I know how the cleanup happens sometimes, and I find it demoralizing to see nothing but bare mulched ground. The fun of late winter here is finding the bulbs poking up through the leaf litter and detrius.
    Frances

  20. Donna B. says:

    No truer words have been spoken Frances. I follow the same belief that every stage of life in the garden must be enjoyed. When my DH asked me to do some garden cleanup, I just simply brushed some of the leaves INTO the garden beds… my “clean-up process”.
    He fails to see the beauty in seed heads and dried flowers like I do.
    I mean… I decorate the house with them – he should know by now I like my dead flowers! Hahaha!

    Thanks for the support, Donna. I had to laugh at your DH exchange, my own husband probably does not the beauty in the decay, either, although as I point out colors or special lighting, he does agree. It takes effort sometimes to get the perception open to seeing the unconventional beauty. I decorate my house with dried flowers too, especially alliums.
    Frances

  21. Gail says:

    You’re right, some of us have to be retrained to appreciate the beauty that fading plants offer. Many of the seed heads and decaying flowers number among my favorite autumn beauties. I have several photos of the Susans when their golden yellow turns a wonderful rich brown. That’s another thing we often fail to see~that there are many shades of brown in a garden even among the most faded leaves. Love the first two ‘hideous’photos! I know you do, too. xoxogail

    Thanks Gail, for adding to the conversation here. The shades of brown, tan and grey can be beautiful, too. Textures and form become more important in winter and the lowly evergreens take their rightful place as focal points. I do love those skeletonized hydrangeas.
    xoxoxo
    Frances

  22. Sandy & Richard says:

    A thing of beauty is a joy forever, and how much joy would we have if those skeletonized hydrangea flowers could be turned into the most exquisite lamp shades. Thank you for all your very observant images, you definately have the eye, Frances.

    Hi Sandy and Richard, thanks. Lampshades like the hydrangeas would be pure art. I love having nature inspired things in my home, too. Nature inspires us in so many ways, in fact, colors, shapes and textures, beauty abounds outdoors.
    Frances

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