I have been thinking about Elizabeth’s post on The Myth of Winter Interest. Having spent 25+ years in Minnesota, and recently moved halfway across the country to (among other things) escape the relentless northern winter, I do identify with the urge to focus only on the indoor world during the harshest season.
But I remember, too, the exquisite texture and salmon coloring of a river birch trunk rising from a snowy lawn, a chittering flock of lively waxwings divesting the tall juniper of its berries, a downy woodpecker gleaning seeds from a defunct mullein stem, the cream-and-green plumpness of a variegated holly (in a warmer-climate garden than mine), among many other cherished winter garden experiences. And I feel compelled to argue that hating winter is an excellent reason to plan a winter garden.
What constitutes winter interest? Obviously not just a few plants that show some sign of color or life during winter. A landscape might need more to entice the reluctant gardener.
I recently spent a weekend in the mountains of Idaho. The snow-cloaked evergreens displayed contrasting colors of needles and snow, textural variety, dramatic columnar shapes of the trees, and then there were texture, color, and contrast contributed by built elements from fences to lampposts to gazebos.
Though it didn’t deliver loads of color, the landscape offered ample scope for sensory exploration, natural and manmade beauty, plants and wildlife, and outdoor activities for people. I spent hours appreciating it while hiking, sitting on the deck, poking my head out to survey the night sky, and soaking up the view from indoors.
Obviously, we can’t all have (and wouldn’t all want) a landscape of this scope or character. But there are plenty of ways to make a more interesting winter landscape, whatever your location. If you find your garden drab at this season, why not add color and texture with hardscape, art, and lights? Why not add life with berries, bark, evergreens, and the winter birds they attract? Bring these elements close to the house, so you can appreciate them from indoors if you don’t plan on going outside much.
Like bulbs, we may benefit from forcing. Your winter garden might become more interesting the more time you spend in it. Gardens gain life through our interaction with them, our presence in them, our attention to them.
Wrap yourself in a blanket and sit out there with a mug of something warm. Catch snowflakes on your tongue. Note the pattern of bright green moss in the cracks between the bricks. Listen for sounds like the occasional slump of snow off a high branch, or the shrill cry of a winter bird. Admire the dead leaves skittering across the patio, the remaining parts of whatever plants are showing aboveground.
I’m not saying winter is the best season. Still… the unique pleasures of a winter garden can make the season more bearable and perhaps even enjoyable.