It was the first snowstorm of the winter season in our area this week. This snow shower was a Goldilocks gift: meaning it was “just right.” The snow is so pretty; dissipated mid-day and the sun even came out, making the icicles’ prismatic shapes and snow crystals glisten like exotic jewels.
At dusk I was working in my home-office loft writing and looking out at the clear, twinkling, movie-set New York skyline just beyond, and sensing something,
I looked up to see a fox trotting along our shrub line and then jumping into the bird bath!
Sigh… I just adore the changing scenery that a four-season landscape offers, along with watching fauna be about their business. Not unlike the Roman god Faunus and his fauns, who were known for their love of pleasure and mischief, our creatures put on quite the performances, especially this time of year.
You can’t help but be awestruck by nature’s beauty.
I hope that I can tickle your garden aesthetic (smile) and boost your admiration for a season that too many folks want to just get through.
Plants are merely dormant, not dead. They are in their suspended activity slumber. After all, you put the garden "to bed" in the autumn.
Now is the time to enjoy the architecture of the garden.
Now is when you can truly appreciate the variety of plant and hardscape structures: the vertical and round and carpet conifers, along with the screens and ornaments. You can see what I mean about the “bones” referred to in good garden design in the header photo and in the video at the end of the post.
I designed our arbor ~ seen above looking like a spun-sugar fantasy ~ to bestow us with all-season beauty, especially in winter. The red of the Coral Bark maple, lit with solar lights at night is just so dreamy ~ straight out of a fairy tale ... The transporting path is also a glamorous vertical design element.
We love our lighted balls and use them in every season to great effect.
Garden Ornaments and Sculpture too are artful additions to the garden especially in winter.
I’ve always admired Pennoyer & Newman’s offerings and recommend them often for my clients. And me, too! You can imagine these posts, balls, and trapezoids with snow draping their shapes.
Ornamental grasses left in the garden are not only winter hotels for a variety of critters and pollinators, but when you view their soft, downy plumes or inflorescences shimmer with snow and precipitation, you’ll see them as winter’s magic wands and be happy you left them uncut till spring.
You can also cut the plumes and use in your winter floral arrangements.
There are evergreen ornamental grasses, including liriope, black mondo grass (love this look! I use it with frequency not only in my clients' garden designs but also in my own gardens).
I also love the winter look of the spring-blooming Grape Hyacinth ~ (Muscari armeniacum) that like a magician, sends up green grass-like beauties in the winter. Talk about a performance artist...
Depending on your zone, there are also some hakone/ Hakonechloa grass that have winter staying style. I think they look very pretty in winter even if some of their foliage fades. Don’t we all fade a bit at times?!
Good garden design allows you to create "garden rooms" with the plants and hardscaping. At this time of year, you can bask in the garden beds' layered look with the mix of perennials and evergreens. See what captures your gaze... What does the composition cry out for? You will be fine-tuning your winter garden aesthetic...
It’s Said There is Beauty In Every Storm
At the same time, being a garden designer and horticulturist, I recognize that seasonal changes and storms also have an impact on my gardens and my clients’ landscapes and garden beds.
Overall, bear in mind that gardens and plants are resilient.
In addition, utilizing “best-practices” preparations in anticipation of what comes in the next season, we do everything we can to nurture the beauty of our gardens for us and for the animals, insects, birds ~ all the bio-diverse life that is sustained by our thoughtful, well-managed gardens and community.
That means that you “leave the leaves” in the garden beds to provide habitat for all kinds of pollinators. Let the ornamental grasses stay for the same reason ~ plus they look so darn pretty during the winter, as noted.
You continued weeding ~ getting a head start on those bullies come spring. And planted your spring-blooming bulbs, being sure to continue to sprinkle red cayenne pepper on the tops to thwart these relentless, pernicious squirrels! And never to be overlooked, planted the garlic! My favorite.
Having put the gardens to bed for their winter slumber, having cleaned all the tools, now is the time of year when professional gardeners, for the most part, take down our clients’ holiday decor, indulge in perusing the seed catalogs to prepare for ordering, and begin garden designs for the spring season.
And attend lots of seminars and classes. A good horticulturist never stops learning. And with so many changes occurring in nature, there is ever so much more to grasp and inculcate.
“God grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, the courage to change the things I can, and the wisdom to know the difference.” Reinhold Niebuhr.
All of the “best practices” and chores are what we normally do. But if the last few years have taught us anything, it’s that there is no real “normal” any longer. The disarray of our weather and by extension, our climate, makes planning more, ahem, “challenging.” By definition, the opposite of unanticipated is not anticipation but rather, predicated or unsurprising. We shouldn’t be surprised. We must adapt and recognize that while good garden design and maintaining healthy gardens is so much about planning; the planning must include that well, we just can't plan too much... Can't count on April Showers to bring those May Flowers... I want to be singin' in the rain rather than crying in my cups...
There were signs; we just didn’t want to see them.
So if anyone is still thinking that climate chaos isn’t real or is a “climate ostrich” (sticking their heads in our rapidly decaying soil), I think the global storms of the last few years have shown that fires, floods, rising coastlines as a result of “unanticipated” tornadoes, hurricanes, tidal waves, extreme heat, and drought are indulging in pipe dreams.
a sewer grate I observed on a recent Wellness Walk… :(
Plants are not unlike the canary in the coal mine.
It wasn’t like we didn’t see it coming. I saw a recent news program highlighting how the viticulture world has been planning and modifying how and where they grow grapes for more than a decade. English wine is not a joke anymore…
I advocate for each of us doing what we can to help mitigate the effects of a changing climate in the gardens we manage and to participate in community work, and global efforts ~ on a more macro level. I won’t address global efforts. That’s above my pay grade.
As a guide for what to do in our own gardens, I have a few suggestions.
What You Can Do
Think about being a smart steward of your garden and by extension your community. If you don’t want to do this yourself, hire a good garden or landscape designer. A credited horticulturist. With all due respect to those who make a living mowing lawns, the “mow, blow, and go” crews for the most part (I know I’m generalizing) do not know plants nor concern themselves with sustainable, bio-diverse, long-term issues that need our attention. They are more concerned with a yard being “neat” rather than healthy. (Ergo the leaf blowers and chemicals and…)
You can change this.
Overall, studies show that consumers support sustainability beyond just the landscape and into social issues, with seven in 10 saying climate change sometimes influences their purchase decisions. And with more folks working from home, more communities are seeking to ban those gas-guzzling, noisy blowers. I recently read that “the amount of carbon monoxide emitted from a typical backpack gas-powered leaf blower for one hour is equal to the amount of carbon monoxide emitted from the tailpipe of a car for over eight hours,” according to a Garden State measure that seeks to prohibit the sale within a year; limit their use to about six months; eveniutally ban them after four years.
It’s so crazy that plants are working so hard to give us oxygen and then we allow these poisonous killers into our intimate, living areas! (I also hate them because they unnecessarily spread weeds into neighbors’/ and my spaces…)
We can do better.
Other things you can become more aware of / bear in mind when looking to be a smart steward of your garden and community:
the wild fluctuations in temperature ~ it’s the wide and rapid temperature swings that affect the health of the plants -- and of course wildlife, including insects and birds and reptiles and…
More aggressive rain storms ~ Inconsistent precipitation ~ It’s wise to consider the wild fluctuations. Plan for that.
Invasive/exotic plant species
Invasive, deadly insects
You can diligently observe these issues as they impact your gardens.
What to do?
Keep a garden journal or diary to detail what you see and what happens to the plants.
Ask yourself, did the heavy rains run off the land, swishing away soil and mulch?
Take care of the soil. This is the primary concern. Soil is everything.
Compost. It’s easy and the best way to nurture your soil.
Invest in rain barrels.
Implement a rain garden or two on your property
Monitor Frost Burn, Wind Burn and Desiccation. Fundamentally nearly all winter damage is desiccation -- freezing cellular water or indirectly by freezing soil water making it unavailable for a plant’s uptake. I refer to this as “sap-stop.”
Keep a kill count for Spotted Lanternfly. Don’t be seduced ~ these pretty little things are a plague. I killed quite a few last year. (Not my normal garden thing by any stretch but I became an eco warrior princess when I saw that lipstick-red ace enter my air space! They will decimate our agriculture and cause serious damage to ornamentals, such as leaf curling, dieback in trees, perennials, and more.
Please use Native Plants! It can’t be underscored enough that natives nurture our pollinators: you all love butterflies, bees, and birds, especially. They need you!
Rid your gardens of invasive vines, shrubs and weeds, including Japanese Honeysuckle, Kudzu, Porcelain Berry, English Ivy, Mile a Minute and more. For a full list, the Pennsylvania Department of Conservation and Natural Resources is a great resource. I’m not above begging for all to do this!
Start or expand your edible home garden. Besides taste, concern for the planet and supply chain issues has led to more homegrown, edible food gardening.
Want to help plan your garden with an eye to your zone’s Frost/Freeze dates? The Farmers Almanac does it for you. It’s official name is the “Old” Farmer’s Almanac but I’m just thinking that "old" and "Farmer" is sadly redundant. We need young farmers and not just in urban farming. But that’s another story for another day.
Read here Garden Glamour: Save Our Shrubs It’s a post I did some years ago about winter storm care for shrubs and trees. Lots of good information and references. I also posted about ridding our garden of that invasive Japanese Honeysuckle to create a new, deer resistant border. Argh. I share my pain with you to help you avoid the horror!
Thank you. I sincerely hope your seasonal splendor brings you comfort, gratitude and bliss. Enjoy the winter garden. It’s a gift…