Open My Eyes or The Veil Has Been Lifted

The fall garden is being viewed anew. The mad dash to clean up has been tossed by the way in favor of the design principles of gardening gurus Piet Oudolf and offspring Semi. This school of thought will heretofore be referred to as Semi-Piet. (Not to be confused with the famous chia pet that will be showing up on television ads soon as the perfect Christmas gift.)  To explain the idea behind Semi-Piet simply, plant your garden with perennials that have structural beauty not only during the growing season but that can be left standing over winter. The seed heads are beneficial to wildlife and offer a composition of varied textures for winter interest. To illustrate how that is a change from the norm for us, please study the above photo. The yellowing blades of the daylily behind the crisped umber of the Japanese painted ferns is striking. This is a never before seen combination because we always have cut both of these plants to the ground and mulched the area after the first frost.  Not this time.The long shot shows the vignette in context  within the garage deck bed.  The evergreens are heaths, Erica darlyensis mixed in with Spirea ‘Magic Carpet’ that is just turning to the reds and golds of a fine weaving.  There is weaving going on here. Lavender with another Magic Carpet spirea is attractive the whole year around.  This has always been a focal point located at the intersection of the base of the ramp that leads to the garage deck and at the top of the steps that lead from the garage side up into the garden.Never before allowed to remain standing are the spent stalks of liliums. These are L. ‘Black Beauty’.  The red leaves of Physocarpus ‘Summer Wine’ and ground cover Ajuga reptans join the lilies in the black garden.  The tall grasses are Calamagrostis ‘Karl Foerster’.  The many grasses grown here are normally left standing until March.Hydrangea paniculata grandiflora, Pee Gee, flower head pom poms will be left until spring.  A stem of rose ‘Moonlight’ blooms bravely.Echinacea seedheads have evaded the goldfinches so far, but will be picked clean before the weather warms again. Japanese Anemone ‘Praecox’ seed heads have not been allowed to pouf out ever before.  We did not know they became magical snowflakes! The stems were always cut to the ground. Look at what we have been missing!
There will be more examples of the sights that had been missed through fall garden clean up in the past. Less work and more enjoyment make the Semi-Piet version of gardening our new aesthetic.

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39 Responses to Open My Eyes or The Veil Has Been Lifted

  1. Cindy says:

    The Semi-Piet way of thought seems like the way to go! We need something to look at in the coming months. I was noticing my yellowing tiger lilies and decided not to cut them down yet. Maybe I’ll leave them all winter.

    Hi Cindy, my you are an early visitor! ;-> Thanks. Since this is new to me, I am going to have to write down what looked good for a longer time. The daylilies are usually the first to go and look at what I was missing with the beautiful yellows. The secret seems to be in planting the things that die well and getting rid of what does not. More study needed!

  2. layanee says:

    Great combination of fall foliage! This seems the easier way of gardening doesn’t it? I noticed just the other day the texture of the Japanese roof iris which are so structural that they stand out even more at this time of year when all is starting to wither. Love your fall color post below. The dogwoods are workhorses aren’t they?

    Hi Layanee, thanks. Not doing all that clean up is very freeing. It is much more fun to go out with the camera when there is something there to photograph instead of mulch! ;-> The dogwoods are rewarding us this year for planting so many of them. They were so small in the beginning, just twigs really. Your iris sound wonderful. Are they on your roof? ;->

  3. I don’t know how you do it. Your garden looks so colourful…this picture no.2 is a masterpiece a wish you could tell me allthe names of the plants. Just beautiful Frances. Have a great Election Day, it is sooo exiting. LOL Tyra

    Hi Tyra, thanks. The garden is having a great year, or I have just never noticed these things before. I know that taking pictures of dying foliage has not happened in the past. Picture number 2 shows yellow daylily foliage, dark brown painted fern foliage and some green still living, below the wall is a row of astible, the green mound shrub is the heaths, ericas, the gold/red mounds are the spirea magic carpet. In the background are the red leaves of Japanese maple and dogwoods farther back on the slope. It is an exciting day here. ;->

  4. Gail says:

    Frances, This is how I like to garden! It’s why the Susans are so prolific (well they might be anyway) and it helps give the garden more vertical structure each winter when we have no snow cover to disguise it. I did notice how beautiful the lilies look dressed in yellow and the daylilies are lovely again. Frances, I love what you said to Cindy…”planting things that die well!” That is funny, but a very good idea…shrubs and trees can have year round beauty, so why can’t we choose perennials that have more then a season of good looks. Gail

    Gail, of course you don’t clean up, you are a soul mate of Semi! I did a post called *Dying Well* that apparently nobody read about this topic. (Now Don,….) ;->

  5. LindaLunda says:

    Just Amazing photos Fraces! Fantastic! THose coulors are just so vigrant!

    Hi Linda, thanks. My camera is not doing justice to the way the garden really looks either. When the light is just right, late afternoon, the whole hillside glows.

  6. naturegirl says:

    I have always left certain plants in the garden for their WOW factor in the winter:hydrangea heads particularly coneflower too but this year we cut everything back due to the fact that we will winter in Arizona.My garden looks so bare now!
    I love the way the anemone puffs out!! Similar to the silky heads of the milkweed plant in Autumn!

    Hi Gardengirl, thanks for stopping by. Hope you enjoy your Arizona winter! I was amazed at the anemones puffs, they are enchanting.

  7. Randy says:

    Amazingly, our garden is still green although it is a little haggard.

    Hi Randy, will you get some fall color or is your garden growing all year?


  8. On Sunday as we were walking through the botanical gardens, I told my husband that Piet Oudolf is going to go down in gardening history for his designs.

    I’ve got his books on my wish list!

    Hi Cameron, so true. May I recommend Designing With Plants? I think it is the best one.

  9. I am a big fan of Piet Oudolf and it makes sense to me not to cut things down. I love the phrase dying beautifully – (I also love “Semi-Piet”)
    The photographs are beautiful Frances.

    Hi Karen, nice to see you and thanks for the kind words. Semi-Piet sums it up for me. Lazy by design!

  10. I have admired Piet Oudolf’s work and would love to visit his garden and nursery at Hummelo…field trip?
    I have never seen a private garden which illustrates these principles as effectively as yours. I really think you should do a book on a year in your garden.
    Your images are breathtaking. The yellow blades contrasted with the ferns is so poetic. I love the fluffy cotton of the Japanese anemones and the lilly stalks,Echinacea seedheads.
    Your garden delights all year long.
    Best regards,

    Hi Philip, thanks so much, what a high compliment! A field trip to Hummelo sounds wonderful. Take lots of photos! After I have been blogging a full year, coming up in December, and with the new camera, purchased last March I think, there might be enough photos to put something together for me to use as a reminder. Thanks for the great idea. The garden has always given me delight all year, but blogging and taking so many photos has really enhanced that enjoyment.

  11. Marnie says:

    Love the pansies on the header.

    In the far north (previously known as zone 4)my perennials are still actively growing. I’ve always left my garden plants standing thru the winter. There is at least interest if not beauty in the withered stalks and seed heads. Just before Thanksgiving I cover every inch of bare ground around plants with 8-10 inches of chopped leaves–never earlier.

    Hi Marnie, thanks, aren’t those unusual violas? I am always attracted to the weird ones. ;-> Thanks for the tip about the chopped leaves too. Our leaves haven’t fallen until nearly Christmas some years, but they really add to the nutrients of the soil. I wish I had more large trees, (sometimes!).

  12. nancybond says:

    Beautiful color combinations in your garden, Frances. I’m particularly struck by the color of those painted ferns. That lovely dark wine color would make a great companion for just about any other color. Lovely!

    Hi Nancy, thanks. And to think I never noticed that before, just saw them as *dead*. New eyes, I say! ;->

  13. nancybond says:

    (I just re-read and realized I used the word “color” FOUR times in two sentences. Oy.)

    Fall is giving us all color-mania! ;->

  14. Phillip says:

    I’m on a lily kick and just ordered several. One was “Black Beauty” – does it grow tall for you? Do you stake it?

    Hi Phillip, I can’t think of a better plant family to be on a kick for. Black Beauty, in its first year here, was staked and grew to about four to five feet. It may get taller in future years, hard to tell. Don’t know how the drought affected it, it did not get extra water. The flowers were incredible. I can highly recommend it.

  15. Jean says:

    Frances, you have got it down! The Piet look, that is. The garden looks beautiful that way. As we mature we come to appreciate and look at things in a different light. This is one great example of that. I love it.

    HA, hi Jean, I liked that one! I never thought about maturity being responsible for this vision, but have thought about needed brighter colors for my fading eyesight. Our need to justify our actions, such as the Semi-Piet design school rather than laziness or lack of energy, also happens to benefit the earth as well. No one cleans up in a forest, other than fire. Thanks so much for your input!

  16. Kathy says:

    One thing I have noticed is that not everything dies well every year. Some years my dwarf flowering almond has an amazing lime green color that makes a wonderful contrast to the dark ajuga and lavender colchicums, other years it just seems to fade to tan. So I would not rip out a plant because it doesn’t die well the first year you observe it, because it may die well the next year. That is, if you otherwise still enjoy it.

    Hi Kathy, so nice to see you. Thanks for the heads up about variation of attractiveness year to year. I am not going to pull anything up that isn’t dying well, it must have something going for it or it wouldn’t be here in the first place. Your almond sounds divine, especially with those companions. So far most things here are having a good year for fall color.

  17. Racquel says:

    I love the texture and beauty your garden has this fall Frances. Leaving all those interesting seedheads & spent foliage to remain has added alot of depth to the garden. This is a design principal I could get behind. I always leave my Hydrangeas blossoms to dry on the shrubs, they age so beautifully in the garden.

    Hi Racquel, thanks. It is having a banner year, I wonder if the drought has anything to do with that? NOT doing work cleaning up is a blessing, for I am tired just from planting bulbs and moving things, not ready to clean just yet. I love the hydrangea blossoms too, the pee gees are looking smart!

  18. Barbarapc says:

    As I was trolling through the gardens clippers in hand to take out the stuff that gets slimy – I noticed that the anemone had no seed heads at all – I’m now on a quest to see if I can find myself a nice poofy Prince Heinrich – he’s just divine.

    Hi Barbara, thanks, I can highly recommend the prince. He stands up well, spreads but not too much, although we’ll see what happens to the seeds! We may be awash in princes, but that is not a bad thing.

  19. Robin says:

    Sometimes it’s difficult to leave a “mess” in the garden, I want to get every dead thing pulled up or cut back. Then I think of the birds that will enjoy the seeds and shelter and that is usually the more important of the two choices.

    Great post as usual!

    Hi Robin, thanks for visiting, so glad to see you. The old pre blogging me would have these beds cleaned up, not knowing there was another way to go. Most articles in gardening magazines used to always say that you MUST clean up. Now I know that isn’t so, especially from seeing the success at offspring Semi’s house. The birds are already thanking me, and I agree, there needs should come first.

  20. Brenda Kula says:

    Tis Mother Nature’s work of art. (Oh, and with a little help from HER friends!)

    Hi Brenda, you are so right. Who am I to disrupt such a brilliant plan? Maybe just help it along, as you say. ;-=>

  21. Frances, that first photo of your is so very striking! Would you have room for a framed enlargement on your wall? 🙂

    Hi Shady, thanks so much. We actually have very little wall space because there are glass patio doors that cover most of the entire back of the house. ;-> I am in awe of what is happening in the garden as it goes to sleep without my interference.

  22. tina says:

    Yup, I like this method too. Then in early spring I slowly begin getting rid of the old stuff. I did not know it was a Piet advocation until you said it the other day. Semi-Piet is an apt name! P.S. I do cut down and dispose of peony foliage though. The only one and I never knew Japanese anemones get snowpuffs! Too cool!

    Hi Tina, I know it will eventually have to be tidied up a bit, like the cutting of the grasses in early March. It seems Yolanda begs to differ with Piet getting all the credit though. I must check it out! But we do know Semi has her own special school of gardening, without contention. ;->

  23. skeeter says:

    I leave most things to die a normal death in my garden. The birds enjoy the seeds during the winter months and the garden does not look so empty! When the early spring arrives, I have a reason to rush to the garden to play…

    I got the Saint a Chia Pet one year as a stocking stuffer! He loved it and so did our Cat Skeeter… lol….

    Hi Skeeter, only you would actually have purchased a ch ch ch chia! LOL And I mean that in the best possible way! ;-> I do like the way the garden looks now, we’ll see how long that remains so.

  24. Cindy says:

    Since we don’t have much of a winter here, I wonder if I could get away with leaving dried out husks of drought-stricken plants standing in summer and calling it Semi-Piet? The yard police might have something to say about it!

    My ornamental grasses might fit the Semi-Piet description in winter, though. I love the colors of Miscanthus as they age.

    Hi Cindy, just tell them about Semi-Piet, I’m sure they will understand and hop on board immediately. Maybe they would make it a REQUIREMENT! Power mad as they are. ;-> Surely the grasses could stay, they should stay, they look wonderful all winter and not messy at all.

  25. Perhaps you are giving Piet too much credit. It wasn’t just Piet who started this trend in gardening. Two other Duthc pioneers, Henk Gerritsen (who wrote a book together with Piet) and Anton Schlepers from the Priona gardens were also very much at the heart of it. You find them here:

    Great post and I’m glad the veil has been lifted, not only from your eyes but via your post of others too.

    Hi YE, do you think so? I have the Gerritsen book, I think it is the updated version, Planting The Natural Garden, mainly a plant list really. I will check out the link and get back to this comment. Thanks so much for letting me know. I am new to this way of thinking. It is not what has long been espoused in the US. We have been told for years to always clean everything up to fight fungus and insects. Like house cleaning. But the woods and forests don’t get cleaned up except for fire, right? I am hoping to plant the seed of leaving the garden over the winter as is, who needs unnecessary work and it benefits the wildlife.

    Okay, I’m back. Yolanda that is fantastic. I had no idea and it sounds like the real credit should go to Mien Ruys. I shall study this site at great length. Thank you so very much.

  26. I’m sure that by leaving more plants to go to seed you will find volunteers in lots of unlikely places next year. I love that, personally, but I’m in the “If it grows, leave it” mindset.

    Hi Jill, thanks for stopping by. We are rich in volunteers here, so more are always welcome. Surprises in the garden are fun, free plants!

  27. greenwalks says:

    I’m a big fan of “winter interest” although I don’t have as much of it as I’d like at the moment. Great photos, your garden looks gorgeous even as it is technically shutting down, especially as you’ve left so much to stay around for the colder months.

    Hi Karen, thanks so much. The garden here has been planted with winter interest in mind for several years now, mostly in the way of evergreens and evergreen perennials. This dying foliage is new and it is fun seeing what looks good as it shuts down, as you say.

  28. Rose says:

    When I saw the anemones, I thought you had snow on the ground, Frances! Ooh, I like the Semi-Piet approach to gardening. Your garden will look so much more interesting this winter!

    The winds have blown leaves onto all my flowerbeds; I don’t think I’ll disturb them till spring:)

    Hi Rose, thanks so much. It was a big surprise with those seed heads. One day they were tight little balls and the next time I looked they became fluffy poufs and so pretty. The garden will be more interesting on through the cold season. I will leave the leaves in the beds but have to clear them from the walkways so we don’t trip. They will be ground up and spread on the beds as well. We are together on this, Rose. So much less work! ;->

  29. Brenda Kula says:

    Love your pansies at the top!

    Hi Brenda, thanks. Those little violas are the most unusual color combo I have ever seen. They are planted on top of purple and peach tulip bulbs in a purple container. Should be nice come spring, I hope.

  30. Lisa at Greenbow says:

    I have always used this style of gardening. I always thought of it as being lazy. tee hee…My DB likes things a little more tidy than I. So we have spots of tidiness and places that aren’t so. I am comfortable both ways. The birds and bugs like my way best.

    Hi Lisa, I thought you were a follower of the Semi-Piet school. Not lazy but rather cutting edge with your design philosophy! HA And of course a friend to feathers and feelers!


  31. Kathleen says:

    Hi Frances. Beautiful fall photos of your fabulous garden. I rarely cut anything back in my garden this time of year. I read someplace (when I first started gardening) that trimming back will encourage growth which could damage or even kill plants when the cold hits. I also think all the foliage helps keep the mulch in place and provides protection of sorts, not only to the plants but also to toads, insects, etc. I’ve been the anomaly in my circle of gardening friends and in my neighborhood tho ~ most cut everything back very neatly. Just last week, my neighbors lawn crew cut all their beautiful grasses down. I almost felt sick. I love seeing mine in the winter. The only exception would be the hydrangea heads tho ~ it would be irresistable to the decorator in me!! (I’d want to cut them & bring them inside).

    Hi Kathleen, thanks so much. I guess I am late to the game with the not cutting things back, so many of you seem to have been doing this for years! That is sickening to this of a beautiful grass being cut, the winter is its best season, with little competition from the flowering plants. What are they thinking? Sigh. I know what you mean about those hydrangea heads, and by the way, I forgot to comment on how lovely your repurposed urns are with the fall arrangement. Beautiful!

  32. marmee says:

    frances i love this new insight you have about leaving things up. i think we all are changing the way we think about things. it’s beautiful.

    Hi Marmee, thanks so much for your support on this. I know there are many who feel they must clean it all up, I used to be one myself! This is change for the better in so many ways. The birds are already so happy, although there were always places for them to hide and eat during the winter along the edges of my property. It makes us feel good about following nature’s patterns.

  33. semi says:

    Those anemones are wonderful. I think most everything has beauty if looked at in the right light. You really do such good work on the photos! And I agree on the book idea! With your unique stories and wonderfull photos it would be a great joy for everyone to read! Love Semi

    Hello my dear Semi, thanks. We should be overrun with those anemones if the seeds all become plants! You will be getting a large swath for yourself. The book is something that will be fun to think about.
    Love, Frances

  34. Anne says:

    Excellent post! You’ve got a wonderfully striking combo of foliage shapes and colors, and I love the pitch you make for leaving seeds and other goodies around for wildlife.

    I always do a certain amount of cleanup, but its primarily pruning and removal of any diseased stuff. Fallen leaves are swept up and tossed into the beds, and if they shelter beetles, so much the better for the birds!

    HI Anne, thanks and welcome. This is the first time we have left so much standing in the garden and so far it is working out well. So much more to look at and the wildlife is happy too.

  35. I think that you will like this method, Frances. One added bonus that you may not realize for a few months: You know those first few lovely days of spring, when you know the cold is coming and you can’t really start planting, etc., but you are dying to go out in the yard and play? That’s when I do my spring cleanup–and there will be a little more of that next year for you given all that was left behind. 🙂

    Hi Kim, thanks, so nice to see you. I know that there will be some cleanup later on, but not as much as if it was done now. I love seeing the fresh emergence in the spring as the crowns of perennials put on new growth too. With our weird climate, there will be warm days mixed with cold ones to work outside from now on. I actually work outside in all weather except pouring rain which we never have anymore anyway, I just bundle up. I have to play outside every day! ;->

  36. Your garden is showing so many great scenes, with chnaging leaf colours, faded flowers, and interesting seedheads. The Japanes anemone puffballs are especially appealing. I like the hydrangea flowers and astilbe plumes best over winter in my garden. The fertile fronds of the ostrich fern are intriguing too.

    Hi Shade, thanks for those recommendations. I have been looking at those astilbes, I have two kinds and the pink vision, a chinenses I think stands up straight and tall nicely. Bridal veil seemed to just disintegrate. I also noticed that only the one plant of anemone made those puffballs, are there male and female plants? All had lots of pollinators visiting the flowers. I will have to check out the ostrich ferns, but with our drought those plants have suffered terribly. We are still in the discovery stage with the seedheads, this is a first for us! ;->

  37. I really do believe Semi & I are kindred spirits. I have long subscribed to this theory of fall garden cleanup (or non-cleanup). Your garden is still absolutely stunning in its fall finery!

    Hi MMD, I knew when I met you that was true. I really don’t see how you types get anything done and yet you do manage to pull off some outstanding events. Like the Chicago spring fling. She would have volunteered to do that too, and I would be thinking how is she ever going to manage that, and it will be stupendous! 🙂 Our fall color has been the best in my memory.

  38. chuck b. says:

    Your garden’s beauty defies description. It’s just absolutely lovely.

    Hi Chuck, what a nice thing to say. Thank you so much. It is a product of much work and lots of love.

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