Light in Winter


by Guest Blogger Elizabeth Licata of Gardening While Intoxicated


“Winter interest.” We in the not-so-temperate climes have all noticed this phrase in gardening books and magazines. We’re exhorted not to cut down such plants as echinacea, rudbeckia, and grasses so that their stalks and seedheads can remain in the winter garden, providing food for birds and “interest” in an otherwise desolate landscape of bare ground, snow, and naked branches. I for one do not find the sight of brown, withered plants the least bit interesting, though if they help keep birds alive, that’s fine. Grasses can look impressive in winter but the big grasses needed for “interest” are generally not suitable for the small urban garden.

Sorry, but “interest” doesn’t cut it for me. I want drama, spectacle, beauty. In Buffalo, the best place to find that in winter is either at our marvelous Botanical Gardens or throughout the city, at residences that have decorated their trees, shrubs, and buildings with artfully placed lighting.

I love holiday lighting. In my post on the use of the American flag recently, some comments warned darkly of the atrocities in store for us when December draws nigh. I’m not here to defend inflatables or manger scenes (though it’s kind of funny when you see the half-deflated inflatables lolling drunkenly about). Lighting is another thing entirely. In cold weather, it speaks of warm, cozy fireplaces, festive gatherings, and cheerful spirits. Bare trees can become light sculptures, while arched windows, pediments, and other architectural elements can be made even more dramatic. I’ve seen some fantastic examples of creative lighting in Buffalo and I’m sure you all have in your communities as well.

Indeed, some of the strategies of holiday lighting—particularly up-lighting from the ground—are great for the summer as well. And maybe next year I’ll have a camera that can capture some of this a bit better. (I hear some places in the burbs have strobe; I’ll shoot there next time.)


  1. I love Christmas lights outside, too. I’ll even admit seeking out a few over-the-top displays each year. I’ll miss them in a week or so when they all come down. You won’t find me ranting against outdoor Christmas displays!

  2. I agree, so let’s keep them up longer. We can think of it as decorating for the WINTER, not just for the holidays. I keep my lights and fake evergreen garlands up and to avoid looking out of season I don’t use red or anything overtly christmasy. The best part is getting to play with any colors you like – blues with greens and whites, lavender, whatever. Shit, Jan and Feb are by far the toughest months, when we really need to pretty things up out there, IMHO.

  3. I love Christmas lights when they’re done well… not so sure about the blue-pink-and-purple theme going on at one hose a street over, for example.

    I generally hate inflatables, but saw one today that made me laugh: Santa on a big green motorcycle! Hey, if you’re going to be campy, you might as well go whole hog, right? 🙂

  4. I’ve been telling everyone I know for years we need Christmas in late January much more than we need it in late December. I’m still holiday-satiated from Thanksgiving, and we stayed home this year. Give me another month, and I’ll be feeling festive.

    But I looove dead things in the garden. What’s the famous quote about dying interestingly? Whatever it is, I endorse it. But, being very much the temperate gardener, I’m endorsing it only for myself.

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