Winter Interest


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?

8 thoughts on “Winter Interest

  1. Mmm, yes, I agree. I don’t invest in how the garden will look in winter. If I’m lucky I get most of the perennials cut back before it snows. Here is what I love about our yard in winter. Birds! Lots of them. We put up feeders and have a steady stream of visitors, including quail cleaning up on the ground and Cooper’s hawks coming in after quail and the larger birds. This morning a coyote tiptoed in to the edge of the yard, probably also taking a look for quail. We have a beautifully shaped crab apple that we planted 22 years ago, and beyond that a wooden bench and two chairs. I like the aesthetics of that. And I don’t deadhead the Phlomis until spring because I like the seed heads. I like tromping out to the chicken house and the compost pile. And I like looking out at our cottonwoods and the spruce tree where quail hunker in the branches. I love the bird sounds, including quail clucking softly. And animal tracks going to and fro. We bring the yard ornaments in for winter, so a concrete owl perches on the kitchen ledge, overlooking cooking operations. I like that too.

    1. It would be my pleasure. However what I’ve really been thinking of is hosting you for a writing/quilting retreat at Hood Canal. Would you be interested in doing that sometime?

  2. This could be a product of living way out in the country with very few neighbors and an old windbreak that blocks the view of those very few neighbors, but I don’t do anything for winter aesthetics.

    I do tromp outside looking at all the places around the homestead that are going to need attention during the warmer months. With all the leaves on the ground I can really see where the lilacs are too thick, where I can squeeze another tree or shrub into the windbreak and I always head out the the garden picturing a beautiful garden in full bloom. The fantasy of my garden and yard during the winter is almost as satisfying as the reality. It’s lucky that my daydreaming outside can sustain me because as soon as summer rolls around my wife and I always remember that it gets BUSY with little time for projects.

    Luckily, I can trim back the hedges all I want in my brain.

    1. I enjoyed reading your description. That process of tromping around and imagining is necessary to long-term gardening, in my humble opinion. Happy hedge trimming!

  3. Hi

    I live in the city and so have a small back yard with fence around it and barely any front lawn- bushes to sidewalk.
    Every year I make sure there is some layer of leaves as cover in garden area and front bushes area.
    The bushes look fine and I love when the snow creates a white blanket on them.
    I enjoy a rather natural organic look.
    I also put out bird seed for the birds and squirrel- as it may.
    Many birds and the neighborhood squirrels visit my yard. We regualily have a cardinal pair come by, sparrows and others.
    Squirrels can be rather entertaining at times.

    Best to you
    Enjoy your trip.

    Lisa G.

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