The only time of year that you’ll see my neighbors out in quantities working up tremendous sweats in the their yards is the time that is coming to a full-stop now with our first hard frosts: leaf-raking time.
Everybody works so damned hard, too, getting every last curled-up maple leaf out of their flower and shrub beds. And when they finally hang up their rakes and drag their bags and garbage pails of leaves to the curb in exhausted triumph, the ground they leave behind is utterly denuded. It makes me shiver, just looking at those pathetic little euonymus and hemerocallis that are expected to head off into winter butt-naked and unprotected.
Of course, it’s not news to Garden Rant readers that this is insane behavior. Fallen leaves are nature’s gift to the soil, as well as significant worm-fodder, as Amy Stewart would tell you. Like any mulch, they will keep the frost from heaving plants out of the ground, a great killer of fall-planted things in my part of the world. It takes me only a few minutes to rake the leaves from my city yard into my flower beds. The usual recommendation is to chop up big leaves with a power mower first. I don’t even bother with this step and still have had zero problems with rot and smotherment in my sandy soil.
But my neighbors are in the grips of lawn culture, and gardening culture is completely alien to them. Everything they know about God, nature, and the cycle of life they learned from Scotts, and matted leaves will kill that fussy ground cover called grass. So they assume it’s good for everything to scour their beds clean of tree-products and sanitize the landscape before winter.
It makes me sad to see the leaves wasted, but they are not really wasted. My city composts them and sells the stuff back to those people who gave it away. The waste that really bothers me here is the wasted sweat. If my neighbors worked themselves up into a lather planting tulips instead, well, my fair city would really look like something.