First published on Charleston Gazette-Mail.
What’s a gardener to do in the winter months?
Plenty! After the holiday decorations have come and gone, after the final leaves have been raked and stray branches from windy days have been cleared away, this is when you can really see the garden.
Take a look at the lines and borders as they wind around the beds. Are they measured and straight? Curved and winding? Exact or somewhat blurred?
What type of hardscape is incorporated in the design? Does a path lead you to explore? Are there plantings that will last through the winter?
This stripped-down winter view of the garden is often when we see the true size and scale of the space.
Don’t get me wrong, I love a garden in full bloom bursting with colors. But I’m drawn to the simplicity and clear vision of a winter garden.
Lace up your shoes
The best way to beat the winter blues is a bit of fresh air. Now’s the time to take a walk.
Grab your mittens, put a leash on the pup and walk through your neighborhood. Try a nearby park or trail.
I guarantee you will view the garden beds that seem so familiar in the summer through a new winter lens. In West Virginia, we are lucky to be surrounded with opportunities for a quick stroll through nature.
Back to basics
What’s the style of the garden? Are there formal plantings of shrubs and trees?
I mentioned borders — this is often a clue to the style. Are they haphazard and carefree? Maybe they are bordered in the year-round green of ivy or liriope.
My garden has a series of decorative knobs that follow a curve I sketched years ago when creating the garden bed. It’s fun to watch the snow cap these spheres, creating miniature sculptures in the yard.
Do the borders wander through the space, encouraging your eye to anticipate what’s next? Is there a path? Maybe the path serves a very specific function, such as guiding the way from the car door to the front door.
Perhaps the path leads you to a seating area or to the always intriguing garden gate. Is it brick, pebble stones or maybe a well-worn dirt path created from constant traffic.
The deer have created their own path through my side yard leading under the trees, where they love to sleep. When the ground is soft from rain or snow, I’m sure to see their prints every morning.
Gone but not forgotten
The blooms may have faded, but I find a dried hydrangea bush to be a work of art. The delicate petals dried to an almost tissue-paper texture, the stems still long and curved, so delicate yet hardy enough to withstand the winter elements.
Maybe there are butterfly bushes with their leaves turned to silver gray, waiting to be trimmed in the early spring days.
I love to see tall grasses, brown from winter, swaying with the breeze. The sculpture of deciduous bushes, those that lose their leaves annually, can be a winter treat.
Or pictures. I love to keep a record of what might be duplicated in my garden. Maybe not an exact replica, but ideas that come from what I see.
A checkerboard-patterned stepping stone caught my eye several years ago, and, yes, I did copy the design in my front yard.
What’s that saying? Imitation is the sincerest form of flattery? Yep. I agree.
Copy the ideas, and make them your own in your own space.
Love the large urns that mark an entrance? Winter may be the perfect time to find bargain planters at an area retailer.
Hot chocolate, a stack of books and big plans
After the walk, settle in with a hot mug of cocoa and a big stack of books. Gardening books, magazines and seed catalogs are my guilty pleasure, and a cold winter evening is the perfect time to indulge.
Make time to dream, take more notes, rip out pages. Gaze out the window, sketch and make plans for the first thaw.
Where will the new perennials be planted? Maybe your borders need more definition. Maybe it’s starting from the beginning and creating the shape of the garden with a new border.
Should you create a pathway leading visitors on a journey through your space? Do you need to plant evergreens to give color and shape to your garden long after the blooms of summer fade?
Be your own architect, but do remember to enjoy what you have already created. Find the beauty in the simple designs. These are the joys of a winter garden.