BEFORE IT’S TECHNICALLY GONE, a look at winter in the garden, in words and pictures. Shall we take a walk together through scenes of the months just past?
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Frost can come as early as late September or early October; by November, regular frost patterns on the toolshed windows are commonplace in the mornings.
The first snows make beautiful icing on the espaliered Asian pear tree trained up against the back (south) side of the house.
Out front, no entry in winter. The steep terrain of the front yard puts it off limits all winter long.
Moles, voles or mice, perhaps, have left their mark in the snow; rabbit tracks are also seen all winter long.
Buddha is up to his neck (and his beads) in winter.
The steep walk from driveway to house looks more like an Olympic bobsled run than a pathway for foot traffic.
From time to time, there’s a hopeful thaw, and the ice relents…but not for long.
Even in the coldest, shortest days there is hope and color, like twigs of dogwood Cornus sericea ‘Silver and Gold’ (its leaves are green and white variegated in season).
The leaves of the Korean maple, Acer pseudosieboldianum, a hardier small tree than the familiar Japanese maples, hold on all winter, cinnamon brown with reddish highlights to warm a sunny day.
Don’t clean up too soon: Leaving grasses like Hakonechloa macra ‘All Gold’ in place can add color and texture in deepest winter.
Another Buddha, from Java, senses the siege of winter is lifting…but will it be gone for good?
A concrete birdbath no longer holds water, but rather moss and sedum and other creeping perennial things (and a covering of snow).
By the back sheds, a native birch and a planted Chamaecyparis obtusa “Crippsii,’ with year-round golden foliage. The left cabin is home to Jack the Demon Cat.
On a snowier day, the ‘Crippsii’ holds more snow on its finely textured foliage. The right shed is used to store pots.
Uphill from the house, another steep ascent to a field that used to be managed as a meadow of little bluestem, a prairie grass. Eventually wild brambles infested the field: an example of the natural succession of woody plants over herbaceous ones.
The last two years, I have kept the uphill meadow mown to thwart the brambles. After a few years of this nontoxic weed control, I will be able to have my bluestem meadow again…at least for a few years.
One of several pairs of colorful chairs that make even the bleakest day seem happier.
To the west, out past the vegetable beds (hidden by snow), a tiny garden shed.
From the backyard looking to the southwest.
Another view from the backyard, of a concolor fir and old apple trees.
A large sheared ‘Candicans’ concolor fir, Abies concolor, is a blue beacon on the back hillside year round.
In the far field to the west of the house, one of two weeping Alaska cedars, Chamaecyparis nootkatensis ‘Pendula.’
My favorite of the six old apples that remain on this very old orchard remnant.
My favorite of the six old apples that remain on this very old orchard remnant. It often has red apples even well into the winter, which delights me (and hungry birds).
My favorite of the six old apples that remain on this very old orchard remnant. Its whirling structure is probably 30 feet across and 15 or more feet high.
Looking to the northwest from the western field, down the big shrub borders just below the favorite apple.
At the end of those big shrub borders, through the gate, and out onto the road.
A discarded pod and seeds of ‘Scarlet Runner’ bean, fallen onto the snow near the compost heap. Even winter has it magical moments.
I WATCHED A ZOOM lecture the other day that really put into words a lot of the ways my own deepening understanding of ecology is shaking up the way I practice horticulture—from spring cleanup, right on to the last chore of the active year. The lecturer was Rebecca McMackin, director of horticulture for Brooklyn Bridge Park in New York City, where she leads the team that manages 85 acres of diverse parkland with a central focus on habitat creation of woodlands, wetlands, and meadows to build soils and support birds, butterflies, and other organisms.
We talked about the dynamic tactics they use and when and why–a whole different approach to spring cleanup, where the life cycles of animals (from insects on up) dictate what happens when, garden maintenance-wise. Like why some things don’t get cut back, and others that are still seed-laden when they do have their seeds collected and set aside, then returned to the spot after whatever cleanup is needed there.