I’d have a difficult time taking care of my garden if I didn’t get out there during the winter months.
For the most part, the garden is in a state of suspended animation. There are exceptions of course, but whether they’re growing, blooming or trying to set up new headquarters for neighborhood domination, they move slowly – much slower than I do when I’m trying to maintain a decent body temperature. I’ve got the advantage.
Everything appears so much clearer in the winter; particularly the bones of the garden – the things we can’t see when summer is raging and all around is growth and green. We need the winter to help us make careful decisions about pruning and relocation. We need the winter to open our eyes to invasive perennial weeds and micro-climates. We need the winter. Period.
For instance, stripped of leaves, flowers and all dignity, the forsythia hedge gives up her secrets on a frosty morning. I can see which stems are old and need removing. I can see the clever, wiry tendrils of honeysuckle suffocating branches, and exactly where I need to dig to rid them of it. If I cannot do it this morning, I will tie plant ribbon to the branches for later removal.
The vase-like shape of the Stanley plum is easily seen and kept tidy. It is the work of a moment to take off errant branches and pull back stems reaching ever-higher. During the summer, it just looked like a fruit tree with attitude.
Black raspberry and red raspberry canes are more easily worked when naked (yes I’m perfectly aware of how that sounds), as are grape vines, wisteria, silver lace and anything else that grows at a rate of sixty miles per hour in the summer months. I now wait for the winter to tidy these plants for that very reason – more time and more visibility. A messy autumn garden is a decent trade off in my mind.
When it snows, my sight is further magnified. I can observe the areas that retain their white blanket, and for how long – alerting me to the many microclimates that exist in my little hillside garden. If it snowed two weeks ago and most of the snow is gone, all except that one little spot that coincidentally has not managed to overwinter a single zone 7 plant in ten years – I may have finally figured out why.
The early spring weeds are getting a foothold right now. Bitter cress, dead nettle and chickweed pepper the beds and the pathways. Sadly for them, very little else is green. They are easily singled out and eliminated with a vicious scrape of my hoe. For every weed I destroy, I feel the joy of having destroyed the potential for hundreds more – particularly the bitter cress, whose seeds are violently catapulted in every direction when the gardener pulls it in May.
The winter landscape also affords us the luxury of time. There is no grass to mow, no vines to battle, no seedlings to transplant into endless paper pots. The landfill is not teaming with weekend warriors picking up mulch and compost, and lines are non-existent. There is no urgency to this season. We can work for an hour and feel quite proud of ourselves – work for several more and feel as if we have conquered the world. And when one pairs that work ethic with the sweet gift of an occasional warm front – winter loses its sting somehow.
You may be waiting for higher temperatures or the sound of glasses clinking on neighboring decks, but you may also be missing out. I couldn’t take care of my garden without winter – and I couldn’t face winter without taking care of my garden