Saturday, January 1, 2011

Winter Interest in the Garden

Winter interest, the best excuse a gardener ever had.

What should I NOT do in the garden this fall?  Taking a cue from Madame Nature, in some cases the answer is restful! 

My husband Bill (self-dubbed the 'garden slave') and I were driving north on a sunny highway this morning, enjoying a short thaw after over five weeks of deep freeze. We hadn't seen 45 degrees since Thanksgiving!

To his question "what can we do in the garden today?" came the surprising answer "Nothing!"

Thus in this inaugural blog, the advice is simple.  Let it be, for now.

Such advice is rare in a gardener's world.

Not one to turn down an offer of assistance, particularly from one as efficient as Bill, my response was protective in mode.  Stepping around the yard when the soil is spongy and only just thawed, can cause more harm than good.  Footprints in the lawn or stamped in a dormant flower bed could compact the soil.  Crushed molecules of soil will not as readily accept the organic matter which naturally trickles in along with the moisture of melting snow and spring rains. 

The cycle of life continues in the garden through the winter.  Freeze and thaw of the ground causes upheaval of tender roots which are vulnerable to bootprints and cold.

When clearing the snow (which seems to be perpeptual this winter) direct those shovelfuls towards your garden bed.  The thicker the blanket of snow, the better protected tender plants are from the freeze and thaw phenomenon.  The layer of snow actually moderates the temperature to keep it consistent, and, at times, warmer than the outside air when the thermometer reads in the teens and below. 

Lower Rouge pathway, January 2011

When the mercury tops twenty five and the sun finally peeks out, bundle up and take a stroll through a local  nature path.  There are many along the Rouge.  In late afternoon, the angle of the sun creates spectacular effects. The glint of the sun on the sparkling river offset against the partially submerged dark logs piped with snow is beautiful, sometimes breathaking. 

Winter "interest" is the concept of chosing plants which will not only provide color in the warm months, but texture and sculptural effects in the winter, especially after a snowfall.    Sturdy stemmed grasses are popular choices, but sedum and less common plants such as "turtlehead" and moppy headed hydrangea capped with clean snow create interesting "effects."  It's a great excuses for not cutting back plants in the fall.  And who needs an excuse?

The business of gardening will begin soon enough.  In the meantime enjoy a walk in the woods with a loved one.  Otherwise get busy sharpening and oiling those tools!
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