Ok I know it’s cold, and lately it’s been pretty wet around the northeast, and perhaps getting out into the woods or walking the property isn’t the first thing on your mind. Maybe the last time you looked out at the garden you saw nothing more than a windswept tangle of dried stalks and shoots – empty of inspiration or any hope of an early pardon from the frigid, wintry purgatory we feel we’re cast into every year about this time.
Yes, things are very different out there now for sure. In the spring and summer our senses are slapped with an abundance of colors, texture and a host of shiny things all competing for our attention. In spring with winter behind us, it’s only then we stagger into the garden to once again re-discover what the color “green” looks like, and find ourselves surprised to learn we’ve stumbled on yet another brilliant shade of it which managed to escape us up to that point.
But for the brave that make the effort in the throes of winter, there’s magic to be discovered. Magic now hidden in the heaps and stretches of dried grasses and faded perennial mounds scattered about. It’s all there, the difference is you have to pull back the veil – and by veil, I mean yours.
What I’m saying is that to truly appreciate the garden in winter, many of us may need to unlearn what we’ve come to expect from the plants that occupy it during this time of the year. Yes, there will still be dramatic encounters for sure, like when the bright red berries of Winterberry receive a coating of snow before the birds finish them off, or when our native Witch Hazel (Hamamelis Virginiana) surprises us with a show of flowers in the middle of January. But these encounters are fleeting, outliars in the winter landscape, and looking for them in abundance or with any regularity after December will only leave us disappointed.
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European Cranberry Bush after snowfall
Witch Hazel blooming in January
For instance, it would be difficult to overlook the long pink, white and purple flower pedals of Echinacea in the middle of June, or ignore the brilliant and dramatic pedal arrangement of a Lacecap Hydrangea in late July. Yet, its’ only when these glorious pedals fade and fall away from their framework that we see the brilliant construction that lies within. If walking too quickly, or waiting for something to wow us during these wintry walks, one could easily miss the quiet reveal happening in almost every grassy clump, perennial massing or rolling meadow.
Hydrangea Flowers at height of winter
Curly Dock seed heads above the snow
Echinacea seed heads late fall/early winter after pedals have dried and fallen
Milkweed seed pod after heavy frost