Amongst keen gardeners there is some debate about whether or not to 'tidy up' perennials in Autumn. This really is to stop your garden having lots of brown dead-looking plants in your garden for a few months until they shoot up again. Over the last decade or so, amongst some gardeners and garden designers there's been a slight change in fashion on this.
A key landscape designer who has influenced this is Piet Oudolf. Oudolf has challenged our thinking - why can't brown be beautiful too? After all it's part of nature's rich colour pallet. Most importantly though, Oudolf recognises the value of leaving seedheads on perennials, for their sculptural and architectural value to the garden. You lose height when you chop them all back.
But more importantly than this, you lose something far more important, and that's the magic of the frosted winter garden.
In fact, what happens, is when you have a frost, and especially a much sought after hoar frost, you begin to understand why keeping your seedheads is an essential part of a beautiful planting design scheme for a winter garden. A hoar frost (also called radiation frost or or pruina) is formed when the temperature of solid surfaces are below the freezing point of water. It creates that winter-wonderland feel, coating everything in a deposit of needle-like ice crystals. Most importantly though, for photographers and gardeners and landscape designers, a hoar frost, combined with low winter-light, can turn your garden into a magical art piece.
I've been experimenting over the last few winters, to establish which seedheads come alive with glamour when the frosts coat them. You can see from these photos, these are some of my favourites to keep: Alliums, Anglica Gigas, Chervil, Echinops, Fennel, Pennistum, Phlomis, Sedums and Pampas Grass.