The garden offers so much during the spring and summer season: Bounteous colors, flowers showing off their splendor, the smell of a freshly mowed lawn and an abundance of fresh fruits and vegetables, all engage all the senses.
With winter comes a change of season, a period when the garden demands less time. The list of garden chores becomes shorter, as do the hours of daylight for gardening.
December and January offer gardeners a chance to catch their breath. This time of year encourages gardeners to put away their tools and come inside at a reasonable hour. Granted, there are a few hardcore enthusiasts out in the yard with headlamps, but that’s another story. You know who you are.
The usual rainy, cool, gray weather in the Pacific Northwest makes being out in the yard a little less appealing. These months become a time for relaxation — but also a chance to indulge in a few gardening books, and a time for dreaming and planning for next season.
Perhaps the beautiful sunshine we’ve been blessed with in early December this year has coaxed you out of your winter cocoon. The days have been glorious, and I’ve made it a point to walk through many different neighborhoods, enjoying the seasonal beauty offered by a variety of gardens. The gifts of the winter garden don’t shout out like the riotous displays of summer — a person might need to slow down, take a second look, linger for a moment.
That becomes a gift in itself: The chance to just take a breath and be 100 percent present in the moment at this busy time of the year. The winter garden often shares its gifts in a more subdued or subtle manner.
What at first glance might seem to be a bush bare of much of its foliage, a second look reveals tiny red berries, glistening on a sunny December morning.
On a recent walk, bare branches of barberry were decorated with an abundance of teardrop-shaped, small red berries. These berries stood out in striking contrast to the deep burgundy color of the branches. Next to this stood a Nandina domestica “Gulf Stream.” This low-growing evergreen shrub puts on a colorful display of fiery foliage during the winter. The leaves take on dazzling hues of golds, oranges, crimson and lime green.
A bit further along on my walk that day, the vivid red flowers of Camellia x vernalis “Yuletide” would surely brighten the darkest of winter days. “Yuletide” Camellia, a Great Plants Pick choice, sports a profusion of flowers during December and January. This plant is happiest in light to open shade. Give it some room to show off these flowers against its shiny dark green leaves, as it grows with an upright shape to 7 to 10 feet tall.
All bundled up, sitting out on my back deck, yesterday morning’s garden gift was presented by a couple of hummingbirds engaged in an aerial display en route to the Arbutus unedo “Compacta” growing nearby. With a common name of dwarf strawberry tree, the November and December white bell-shaped blossoms are hummingbird magnets. If you add this shrub to the garden, be ready to enjoy a show.
Closer to ground level, Sarcococca hookeriana var. humilis, or sweet box, are starting to show flower buds, getting ready to release their sweet vanilla-like fragrance in January. These flowers are fragrant enough that I’ve seen people walking down the sidewalk stop, sniff, look around and sniff again as they wonder where the fragrance is coming from. Plant some of these along a path in part to full shade.
Yes, the garden offers so many gifts even during the darkest days of winter. One rainy day last winter — I know, I know, almost all the days last winter were rainy in the Pacific Northwest— I was pruning shrubs, hunkered down on one knee. It was my second day in a row of pruning in the rain with temperatures chillingly stuck in the upper 30s.
Just as a voice in my head was muttering (whining?) “Do we really need to be out here in this weather?” I heard a cheerful song. Looking up, I noticed that less than 18 inches from my head was a tiny winter wren, perched on a branch, singing for all it was worth. I stopped pruning and stayed motionless, thoroughly enjoying the serenade as this diminutive bird sang on and on. All I could think was, “What a gift!”
On colder clear mornings, frost-etched patterns on flower heads gone brown become the treasure. Sparkling in the early morning sun, these patterns may disappear as temperatures warm up. This has been another inducement for an early morning walk.
I invite you to take a stroll through the garden this winter. Enjoy the sculptural beauty of bare branches of paperbark maple, glistening with a coat of moisture. Allow the flaming red and orange twigs of Cornus “Arctic Fire” to help you overcome the winter gloom. Let the muted burgundy flowers of Lenten rose work their magic. Appreciate a winter-blooming heather in a container on the front porch.
Thank your garden for these gifts.
Pam Roy of Planscapes is an award-winning landscape designer with over 35 years of experience. Call 425-238-4678 or email her at firstname.lastname@example.org. Visit www.planscapesdesign.com for more information.