Wednesday, January 5, 2011
The Winter Garden
So many gardening books seem to be written in the U.K., and I've got quite a few of them. I used to be frustrated that they could garden essentially year round, while here in the northeastern U.S. we're frozen solid for 4 months of the year (and that's being appallingly optimistic). Winter gardening? What a joke, a complete oxymoron. But the older I get, the more I value this season of rest, for the garden and for myself.
Winter is the season of bare essentials in the garden. You can see only the bones of your gardening space - trees, shrubs, and hardscape. It's stripped down to the bare minimum of color and form, and you can see at a glance where the strongest and weakest views are. It's like taking black and white photograph, and looking at it for four months to tease out every nuance of shape and form. (Well, okay, after a big storm and a muddy thaw, it's more like a sepia-toned photo - but you get the idea.) Take the time to look around your garden space, and really think about its permanent aspects. Does anything need to be moved, removed, added to or pruned? This is the best season to really look at trees and shrubs, and many can be safely pruned now while they're dormant. I took the hand pruners to our weeping cherry tree this week, after I removed the Christmas lights, because I could clearly see that it had multiple long whippy branches that needed to be cut back before spring. (And, it was over 50F - too good to waste the opportunity to play outside in the garden!) It looks much neater now, and will be a mass of white blossom in May.
Winter is the time to take inventory, especially if you are a seed-sower/seed-saver. It's good to keep some record of what you have planted in the yard, and make some kind of notes about performance each year. Some years I've done that, some I haven't. This year I want to start an inventory for this new garden. (I haven't done one for this house yet, and I've plunked enough stuff in the ground by now that I really should keep track of what I've got.) Last week I pulled out my seed box and went through EVERYTHING. I don't like to throw out seed, but quite a lot of stuff was several years old and older, and I noticed that I had reduced germination during last year's winter sowing. Now, age doesn't necessarily mean that seed isn't good. Some seed stays viable for decades, some for 10 years or more, some for 3-5 years, some for just a single season, and you can check online for average viability for different varieties. (keywords: seed viability table). But this time my main criteria for getting rid of seed was, "Will I ever grow this?" I had a large number of seeds from a seed exchange in early 2007, and much of it was unused. So, I tossed it, and I'm left with a core of seed for plants that I really do want to grow. I probably got rid of 1/3 of the seed I had, but now I can see what I really will use, and where I need to purchase new seed to fill in any gaps.
Winter is also a time to hibernate and read. I read more garden-related books over the winter than any other time of year. I got a new garden book for Christmas (I always get a new book or two at Christmas), and I'll also go back and read old favorites while the snow falls. Sometimes I'm planning plant combinations and have to go look up things. I also love good garden literature. I can't imagine gardening without books - they go together for me, like pieces of an elegant puzzle. Read, think, imagine, do (repeat).
Sweet garden dreams
to all of you,