I don’t follow many blogs, but Garden Rant is one that I read and enjoy. How can you not like departments such as “Shut Up and Dig” and “Ministry of Controversy”? The writers at Garden Rant are on a crusade to eliminate conventional lawns and otherwise uproot conventional wisdom about gardens and landscape design.
Lately there has been ongoing discussion about “winter interest”. This is a design consideration of special concern to those who garden in northern latitudes. How do you make a dormant garden visually appealing during that most challenging of seasons? Conventional wisdom says that you plant some evergreens and red osier dogwood for contrast. You prune your trees and shrubs so that they reveal a pleasing structure when the foliage is gone. You leave the seed heads on grasses and flowers to provide a focal point and texture (my experience with this is that the grasses go to seed and a million little sprouts come up in your flowerbeds that you pull for the next five years). One of the Garden Ranters says forget it. Just let your garden sleep and force bulbs inside the house. Another says no, you can still go outside and look around at how the snow lays on pine boughs and arbors. Examine the larger landscape around you for subtleties of color, light, shape.
As far as I can tell, all this talk is academic. It’s something to do until we can get our hands in the dirt again. I went into my garden looking for winter interest and found it in the birds that flit back and forth to the feeder, then perch in the shrubs. In the chickens that are still happy to peck around in spite of the fact that there are no green plants or bugs. In the stillness of the beehive that produces a low hum when I tap it. In the messy randomness of dead leaves and stalks, the texture of bark, the raggedy patches of snow and ice. My collection of garden ornaments is visible (all of them given to me by people who are familiar with my outdoor obsession and just knew I had to have a resin rabbit, a sleeping gnome, a kitty with binoculars).
I can wait. My winter interests shift, and I don’t mind the break from watering and deadheading. A pink amaryllis blooms on my windowsill, and hyacinths and crocus are pushing up green leaves. From inside, I look out upon the dusting of snow on the pines. A growing pile of seed catalogs sets me daydreaming and I realize that someday I’m going to want a bigger plot of ground. The color I crave is in the photos and illustrations of flowers-to be, new varieties of tomatoes and lettuce, spreading leaves and twining vines. Garden Ranters who can afford it take a winter vacation away from the northern latitudes. I am going to work in California for a month and am wondering how I will respond to palm trees and green lawns in January. Stay tuned for that…
What interests you in the winter landscape where you are?