House & Home

View from the Garden: Assessing Life in the Winter Garden

Early in December, I had knee replacement surgery, a marvel of modern medicine for which I am grateful—but it does put one out of commission for much longer than one would like! As soon as it was reasonable, I took a brief cruise of the garden.

I like winter and I like the winter garden. Deciduous trees and shrubs become sculptural and readily show where they need to be pruned in late winter. Evergreens mark their spots with greater presence.

When the garden is in its green splendor, we look at it in the macro, but there is much to be seen in the micro in winter. Buds on my lilac are fat, rose buds are fat, oak twigs have fat buds. Look close enough and small buds can be found on all deciduous trees and shrubs providing reassurance of green to come.

Many perennials seem to be completely gone in winter, but many have a short fringe of growth lurking at ground level which will persist through winter and is ready to jump into growth in warmer weather. You will need to look deep to see it.

As I walked the garden, I saw several plants that seem to be hesitant to yield to the cold. They were only just slightly wilted: hollyhock, digitalis, rose Campion, euphorbias, phlomis and sages.

“Brilliance” and tassel ferns and arum italicum are as green now as they were in summer.

My borders and beds are covered with leaves and when I remove the top layer, I see worms and sprouted seeds(which will not make it through the leaves in spring). If I go to the places where snowdrops live and remove leaves to the soil level I see the tops of coming leaves. Early blooming daffodils will begin to show leaves soon.

Though I sometimes think about how wonderful it might be to garden year-round like my sister in California, I do like my winter rest and the changes in the garden throughout the seasons; each has its wonder.

Last week we had one of those snows that was so light that it fell onto even the smallest piece of plants, twigs, leaves and made the outside into a black and white wonder. This is my favorite kind of snow… it falls beautify, there’s not too much of it and it stays just long enough to show its beauty and then melts.

Snow brings good things to the garden: insulation, nitrogen from the air (in forms readily available to the soil) and moisture. Snow that melts and becomes ice and then rests on plants can be damaging, however. But what is one to do? The gardener and his or her efforts are second to nature.

Seed catalogues have been coming! I have learned over the years to keep only the ones that I know I will use after a good inspection of them all. I don’t want to miss something new. I have also learned to make a note in each listing of anything that looks promising, instead of thinking that I will remember that wonderful whatever and the catalogue it is in when it is time to order. How could I have ever thought that?

Don’t forget spring planted bulbs. I know that gladiolas are not necessarily in favor right now but I like them a lot and like to plant them in cutting gardens. Be sure to look at dahlias. They are easy to grow from tubers and are the star of the late summer garden. Be sure to check height as they range from 6 inches to 6 feet.

As we enter these deep days of winter, plants are sensing the lengthening days. They are gearing up for the spring, just like us gardeners.

Jeanelle Myers is a professional gardener, landscaper and consultant. For gardening discussion you can call her at 631-434-5067. jeanellemyersfinegardening.com

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