Beyond the Bloom

A hard frost arrived in the Philadelphia area this past weekend and all the newscasters announced the end of the growing season. Viewers were advised to bring tender perennials inside during the arctic blast. While I didn’t have any tender perennials that I was concerned about, the announcement that another growing season was over got me thinking about what happens ‘beyond the bloom.’

I am not the only one to consider what happens after the blooming season is over. I recently attended a lecture by Carrie Preston, who spoke of innovative landscape designer, Piet Oudolf, the man credited with the ‘New Perennial’ movement. Carrie, who has worked with Oudolf, referenced his study of how plants live and die, an essential component in achieving a naturalistic design. Carrie said Piet intentionally seeks out plants that ‘look good dead.’

So often, as we peruse plant catalogues or look at online databases, we study the key features a plant offers – perhaps its leaf variegation, a stunning bloom, spectacular berries or fall color. I haven’t found any plant catalogues that highlight how a great a plant looks when it’s dead, but maybe catalogues should highlight this information.  As a designer, I agree with Piet that we should study the entire life cycle of each plant, not just its most beautiful phase.

I decided to conduct my own study and was pleasantly surprised to find a number of lovely ‘dead’ plants in my own back yard after the hard frost.

Spent Astilbe blooms look great in brown and provide winter interest too.
The seed heads of Rudbeckia nourish the birds during the winter and add interesting texture to the landscape.
Once the Anemone petals have disappeared, a lovely plant skeleton emerges.

I hope you will take the time to look beyond the bloom in your garden this fall and share your observations with me. As David Culp said in his book The Layered Garden, we need to keep our eyes working overtime, always asking the question, ‘What is beautiful?’  Don’t look for beauty as defined by someone else. If you create your own definition, you’ll find beauty everywhere – even in a garden’s decline.  

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