Cushioning the Garden Descent into Winter

Loving the garden as I do, I find November the most difficult month of the year. One by one the colors disappear from my gardens: the purples and pinks, reds, yellows, oranges, and even the green. I find myself just as incredulous as I was last year. How can I possibly endure six months without flowers or foliage?

But I do have to work a little at keeping my spirits up and I thought I’d share a couple of my winter survival techniques. Early this month I’ll be filling the two big planters near my entryway with evergreen boughs and branches of berries. I stand some of the boughs upright, sticking them right in the soil. Once the soil freezes solid, everything stays securely in place, even under the weight of snow. (In fact, by March, when I tire of the wintery look, I have to cut the boughs off at soil level because I won’t be able to pull them out until the soil thaws in mid-April.)

Last spring I positioned a 6 ft copper tuteur near the entryway to add some height and interest. Now that the morning glories are gone it looks a bit lonely, so I may try wrapping it in a string of white lights. For me, the more lights I can put out the better. White lights play a big part in my winter survival plan. In some funny way, I find their light incredibly comforting. The glow of firelight, candles, or a string of lights warms my heart and gives me courage in this season of darkness. So I wind white lights through the crabapple tree at the end of the front walk; weave them through the garland surrounding the front door, and wrap them around the wooden trellis we can see from the dining room window.

Indoors, one of my bougainvilleas is wrapped in lights, as is the plant stand that’s groaning under the weight of a dozen houseplants. All these lights are on timers so they come on at dusk and go off around 11pm. This way they’re already on to cheer me as I drive in from work, shining bravely as the wind howls and the snow swirls.

For the daylight hours, brief though they may be, I deploy several different strategies. Most of my garden animals (I only have a couple of them, mind you) are concrete and must be brought in for the winter. But I also have a portly bunny made of a heavy plastic (cuter than he sounds) who stays out near the end of the walkway, peeking from between some moss and lichen-covered rocks. I have a rusted steel cutout of a crow that stays in the perennial garden, and an iron lantern in the rock garden. This fall I added a steel gazing ball to my woodland garden. I look forward to seeing how it reflects the blue sky on a crisp, white January morning.

Though there are plenty of birds in the garden during the summer, I admit I pay them little attention. But once we’ve had our first hard frost, I get the feeders up and within a day or two the place is buzzing with activity. With nest building and family matters over, their days now revolve around food. From dawn to dusk we never tire of watching their busy activities or hearing their cheerful conversations.

So, fellow gardeners, take heart. Hang and fill your bird feeders, string some lights, position a few garden ornaments to hold your eye, and then put your feet up and settle in with a good book. Next season’s seed catalogs will be here in a matter of weeks!