As a gardener's attention turns to cleanup, it's best to accept all offers of help.

Earlier this week I had 20 such offers of aid. Granted, they were actually "clucks" of assistance, proffered by our flock of hens. The girls were eager to get out of their coop and into the vegetable garden. They hankered to attack the rotting pumpkin patch and weedy bean beds.

The good thing about chickens in the garden is that they are wickedly determined to eat every bug and weed. The bad thing is that precious plants, such as our finicky strawberries, are sometimes mistaken for weeds.

Still, I'm going to take my feathered helpers up on their offer. I've been away from home for about three weeks, traveling in Spain, and the vegetable garden is, frankly, a mess. And if the chickens manage to make their way around the garage and into my flower and shrub beds, so be it.

Early November presents a challenge in the garden - do I cut everything back, mulch and call it good? Or do I leave those last blooming roses on, watch the bees gambol about the still-flowering catmint and and enjoy the last show on the hydrangea bush? Time to grab the coffee cup and go for a quick garden walk.

The first thing I notice are the birds. My garden is full of jays and chickadees, sparrows and finches. All of those bursting seedheads, bugs and grubs are simply delightful to them. I guess that means I better not cut back the flopping fennel or the out-of-control ceranthus or valerian.

The volunteer butterfly bush could go, on the other hand. It's gotten too big for an otherwise tidy border. And ditto for the persistent and low-growing mint that keeps creeping out of a contained bed elsewhere. As for the huge, draping shrub rose that threatens to overwhelm the backyard, it's whacking time again. I make a note to myself to seriously question this plant come spring. Must it always be a thug?

Good. Two things to take out and one plant to whack. Now I can move on to the transplant category. I've been nursing along a dozen or so little grass-like sedges that have sprouted from seeds cast by their nearby mother plant. Unfortunately, the babies are located in the middle of the path, or else I just might leave them for their coppery, jungle effect. It's time to pop those pups out of the ground (they're very shallow-rooted and take well to transplanting) and move them into established beds.

Progress always makes me a little tired, so I think I will try to muster up a bouquet of fresh flowers for the house. The dahlia patch is about on its last legs - especially once the ravenous chickens hit the vegetable garden where it's located. I can still manage to scare up a couple of deep red blooms, as well as some sunny yellow-colored flowers. Somehow, these yellow beauties also managed to attract the most aphids this summer. Does anybody else have this problem with yellow dahlias? Please tell me if you do so I can commiserate. Next to these dahlias, I place some Verbena bonariensis, the perennial verbena with tall stalks and purple pom poms, and take the arrangement back inside the house.

After a productive morning in the garden, which probably looks more tidy only to me, it's definitely time for another cup of coffee and some couch time by the fire.

You needn't have a flock of chickens to get you through fall gardening, though they are lovely and helpful birds. There are several new, good books available for the gardener to assist in the fall garden. After all, if October gave us garden bounty, November gives us garden bones, which are good for planning. Timber Press publishes "The Essential Garden Design Workbook" by Rosemary Alexander and "Classic Garden Plans" by David Stuart. The workbook guides you through every stage of designing a garden, so if you see a planting bed in fall that you want to replace in spring, this book could be for you. The classic plan book, penned by David Stuart, shows you how to recreate historical classics, such as the orderly Renaissance parterre or even a Monet water garden.

If you can hold off until spring, Ian Adams' book, "The Art of Garden Photography," looks promising for its instructions on photographing winter landscapes, and how to use those visual records for planning. This is also a Timber Press production.

Cathy Peterson belongs to the Clatsop County Master Gardener Association. Send comments and gardening news to "In the Garden," The Daily Astorian, P.O. Box 210, Astoria, OR 97103 or peterson@pacifier.com

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