Collecting leaves

I remember walking to school in the fall with a beach-comber’s lurch looking for the most beautiful leaf. When I found it, I memorized it and then kept looking for a more perfect one. I don’t remember ever making anything from my found leaves – some people probably like to press them or make wreaths – I just kept them as bookmarks until they faded to boring or disintegrated. Now that I have a digital camera I collect only pictures of leaves and I have to say it’s not nearly as gratifying and I end up with way too many to look at when just one perfect real one tucked in a book would do.

Franklinia alatamaha (still in bloom)Sweetgum (Liquidambar styraciflua 'Silver King')Kousa dogwood (Cornus kousa)Scarlet oak (Quercus coccinea)

I also remember that the most strenuous garden chore I had as a kid was raking leaves and I thought that the whole point was to make a giant pile to jump into (preferably before the dog noticed it). It’s funny, the whole raking leaves issue. Why do we do it, really? This article from the Fine Gardening E-newsletter makes the claim that raking is actually unnecessary. The author, Terry Ettinger, recommends mowing the leaves into little bits and leaving them to break down on our lawns and in our gardens. I can think of two reasons not to do that. 1, I have had it with mowing by now and 2, the neighbors already give my garden the hairy eyeball for looking a little wild. I think tidiness is the main number-one reason we all collect leaves and I’m pretty sure Fred and Dan, now into their second or third pass with the blowers around the property, would agree. It’s bred in the bone. Gail and I also rake leaves out of the garden beds and our main reason for doing that is so that we can see beds as blank slates when we do our fall planting. Ettinger says, “observation shows that unraked leaves in planting beds don’t smother shade-tolerant perennials.” You know me – I’ll happily test that theory at home but here we’ll continue to mulch beds with shredded leaves instead which break down much faster than whole ones.

Red maple carpet

The great debate ends when all agree that collecting the leaves – not just one for a keepsake but as many as you can use in the garden – is what’s important. Whether they stay in bits on your lawn or in your garden beds, are added to the compost or shredded for mulch, we gardeners know that leaves are way too good of a soil amendment to let go of.

How do you feel about raking? And do you collect leaves too?