The sun is low on most January days, but my hopes are high. When I walk the garden during the winter, I hope to find solace in nature. As I look around, the trees, void of leaves, show me structure and strength. They make me feel stronger with every step I take.
Color from the bark, mottled or brightened in their winter hue, intrigues me. I can stare in wonder; something that would never occur in the summer when there is a riot of stimuli. The white trunk of the sycamore (Platanus occidentalis), the red-colored new growth of the coral bark maple (Acer palmatum ‘Sango-kaku’), and the overlapping of browns, tans, and grays found on the main stem of the crepe myrtle (Lagerstroemia i.x fauriei ‘Natchez’) are just a few winter barks that add excitement in my winter garden.
Evergreen foliage is a misnomer when the green of summer turns yellow in the winter for certain pine trees. ‘Wate’s Golden Pine’ (Pinus virginiana) and the Eastern white pine, ‘Hillside Winter Gold’ (Pinus strobus) at first had me fearful of distress until I remembered this is their winter tone, and it was the reason why I added them to Helen’s Haven.
As I move on through the garden, I hope to find the sweet scent of flowers. I’ve been known to be boastful about my winter buds. I’m rather evangelical about winter gardening. I like to catch people off guard by showing them flowers in bloom. There are mahonia, daffodil, camellia, and hellebores flowering in my fourth season. There are snowdrops, flowering apricot, crocus, and the cornflower-colored rosemary flowers. There are winter flowering iris such as the Iris unguicularis, aconite, and the sweet smell of Chimonanthus praecox or known simply as the fragrant wintersweet.
There are hollies with red berries, and others with yellow orbs, and blue pointed berries on the juniper shrubs. The birds delight in these colorful offerings; as do I as I spy them in the garden.
It has long been my intention to teach my friends that gardening in winter is just as rewarding in January as it is in July; in many ways, even more so.
Others have suggested that winter is a time for rest. Certainly in areas with a winter snow cover, the gardener may feel the need to snuggle down by the fire. In my Raleigh garden, we often have mild temperatures in January, and we are rarely covered in snow. In fact, a snow fall is a requirement to grab the camera and survey the land. But even on an average day in the winter garden, the bugs are absent, the weeds asleep, and deadheading is not a chore. So you are still resting, but you moving as you do so.
Gardening in the winter is more about observing, then constantly doing. It’s about walking down the familiar paths with no sense of urgency, no need to grab a weed, or remove a yellowing leaf from an exhausted perennial. You are just observing.
Winter is also a good time to take on a project–straighten the stepping stones that sunk along the path or mend a fence, add lighting to you potting shed or paint a birdhouse to reflect your style.
Tread lightly in January, and rest with every step.