There is a movement, increasingly popular, to use perennials and grasses year-round, even when they are not in flower. The mantra seems to be “Brown is a color too”. Well yes, brown is a color–but it isn’t as colorful as blue and purple and red and yellow—or even green.
And I certainly don’t plant perennials for their winter brown color. Like most of us I plant them for their cheerful, subtle, happy summer colors. That is how I choose them. For their color combinations and compositions.
I also choose them for their forms, the contrasting leaves and heights.
But, yes, I leave most of them up until the end of winter. And I do that for the masses and shapes that a varied perennial border can give to a garden.
For me, for this garden, the purpose of the perennial border is not just color. It is to give shape to the whole garden. And now is when that technique is so effective. We had about 5” of snow, a pure white canvas on which the form of the young garden shows up beautifully. And this perennial border is a destination, which shows itself better now than it ever can in the colorful, lively height of summer.
There are delicate seedheads, silvery in the sun. Masses of frozen (yes, brown) leaves. Icy stems. They don’t look that pretty when you are close up. In a smaller garden, where you are always close up, I might not do this. But in this garden, when you are usually 50’ or so away, ( with the temperature at about 15F, it is not a time for a garden stroll) the border is simply mass and shape. It helps define the garden, the now-white paths, and helps give a reason for the location of the leafless trees and shrubs.
I know a lot of my friends are longing for spring. I, on the other hand, am enjoying what I have now. I am enjoying the peacefulness and structure that a tidily deadheaded garden could never have.