Letting Things Go in the Garden (on purpose)

It’s mid-August, and the garden is taking on its late summer look– a gorgeous, tangled, fruitful mess.  I try to keep some things up:  tomatoes trellised, beans picked, nasturtiums guarded against aphids.  But some things I happily and intentionally let go.

I’ve been enamored of Imogen Cunningham’s photograph of Morris Graves in his leek garden ever since I first encountered the image over twenty years ago.  I always let a patch flower into their magical orbs.

Our sunflowers are all for the birds, so I never pick the passing blossoms–chickadees and goldfinches have been abundant in our sunflower forest the last week or two, as the seeds begin to emerge and dry.
We have one big artichoke plant, and some of the heads are left to open, exposing the stunning purple-blue silks that never fail to stop us in our tracks.  The dried heads will come in the house for seasonal centerpieces–they last forever.
This year we experimented by letting a giant burdock grow where it had seeded itself in the corner behind the chicken coop, just to see how big it would get.  It’s about nine feet so far, and though it’s an invasive European weed, it’s beloved by native pollinators. Even so–next year it’s coming out!
Fennel!  Oh, fennel.  Tom and I argue about fennel.  None of us like the taste of it, and it is such a ready weed–we spend half our spring pulling up its willful sprouts from the rest of the garden.  Tom (sensibly) wants to eradicate it, but when it flowers and then seeds, it is covered by bushtits and chickadees; the birds weigh nothing, and the light stalks barely quiver under their tiny bodies. I think it’s worth it to keep just one fluffy cloud of a fennel plant.  I always take a dried branch or two up on the deck in the fall, and the bushtits visit right by my table as I read and sip coffee.  Between the bushtits in the fennel and the hummingbirds in my hair, it feels like I’ve fallen into the land of Faery.
When greens bolt in the lettuce patch, I let them flower and stay stay for awhile.  The little yellow and white flowers attract more butterflies than anything else in the garden, and our native pollinators need all the help they can get.

I’d love to hear your own excuses for garden laziness!




  1. I have let things go in the garden and my p-patch though not on purpose…just through sloth and lack of time, I guess 🙂 Still, there’s radiant bits of beauty amid the chaos. I especially love the patches of calendula that are glowing like suns here and there in the galaxy of the garden!

    Funny, the day after you posted about hummingbirds and your hat, I was sitting and writing at my back-porch table and was visited by a pair of chickadee fledglings. They hopped all over the table taking no notice of me while their desperate parent sat in the lilac overhead yelling at them!

  2. I also let things flower and enjoy both the blooms and/or seeds and the birds and insects that find them. I hadn’t thought about bringing an artichoke flower inside after it dries somehow. Thanks for that idea! I let several flower and they are truly breathtaking.

  3. My garden is such an unruly thing this year! I’ve got volunteer coming up everywhere – strange zucchini hybrids (quite edible), pumpkins (I think), potatoes, and even one brave tomato plant!

    That is not even to speak of the borage and cosmos and snapdragons that are popping up everywhere – and one really big prolific sunflower! I’m very lazy about composting (everything goes), so now that I’m four years in the seeds are spread everywhere. I love it!

    I try to keep the worst of the weeds at bay – thistles, and the ever dreadful bindweed, but it’s pretty much a losing battle by August. My garden is producing, and I am happy.

  4. Amy

    Thanks for this wonderful post. I’ll have to live vicariously in your garden for now. The photos here are amazing… and thanks especially for the Morris Graves pic. Stunning!

  5. With all of our summer travel and wonky weather, nothing preformed as I predicted. I decided to let it all self-sow and try again next year!
    Our fennel flowers are covered in bees and wasps and butterflies! It’s an excellent opportunity to teach my kids not to be afraid of flying, stinging insects.

  6. Erica

    I have a love/hate relationship with the fennel too – I finally eradicated it because it was really in the wrong place. I may replant some – even though I KNOW it is an invasive — I have noticed that it is a food for the ladybug larvae, right about when the plant is blooming it is COVERED in those little black and red dragons that are the “pre-lady bugs”

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