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WINTER GARDEN WALK

Article by Anne K Moore

“O, it sets my heart a-clickin’ like the tickin’ of a clock.
When the frost is on the punkin and the fodder’s in the shock."

James Whitcomb Riley, When the Frost is on the Punkin, 1883.

After the frost leaves the pumpkin and a hard freeze turns it to mush, I say Halleluiah!  I can finally get some rest.  In the winter, I don’t really have to garden, just because I can. 

During this time of rest, if less work is “rest,” I like to take stock of how the garden is evolving.  A piece of paper and pencil replace the shovel and trowel as I wander through the garden.  Guilt often accompanies me on my walks.  There is so much to do and so little time.  Guilt is fleeting, though, as I make plans and discoveries in the winter landscape.

During these walks in our backyard private spaces, I notice the evergreen azaleas (USDA Zones 5-8) grouped in separate areas.  They were chosen to blossom at different times throughout the spring season.  I think azaleas are splendid in their short-lived spring glory.  The rest of the year, I like to hide them behind other greenery with more attractive foliage.

A good shady-side combination, much more attractive in summer and winter than the azaleas, pairs thick long-leaved, deep green cast-iron plants (Aspidistra elatior) and prickly, mature holly ferns (Cyrtomium falcatum), both zones 6-11.  Both of these attractive plants thrive in deep shade.  To keep them looking topnotch, I trim off the yellow leaves in early spring.  Otherwise, they take no care.  Any wonder why they are favorites?

A couple of weeping yaupons (Ilex vomitoria 'Pendula'), zones 7-10, have not been so favored.  They were puny looking when we bought this place.  They are finally beginning to fill out.  It does not hurt to be too busy to tackle some chores.  The yaupons have earned a reprieve from the axe.  That stay of execution might not last if they do not decide to set their translucent red winter berries by next year.

Dog hobble (Leucothoe racemosa), zones 4-8, is another tall, graceful plant.  Its arching branches screen out the ugly metal storage building.  Its evergreen branches also provide fine cover for the birds on frosty nights.  Sweet little bellflowers scent the spring air.  This native should find more homes in gardens.

Dwarf gardenias enhance the look of the azaleas out front and lay at the feet of an edgeworthia in the backyard.  Paperbush plant (Edgeworthia chrysantha), zones 6-10, is a member of the daphne family.  It is next to the screened porch, where the winter scent and unusual flower structures can be experienced close up from inside.

Variety zings up a garden.  There are so many innovative plants on the new plants lists.  I either have to quit falling for new plants or pull something out.  Something has to leave.  Last year we yanked out the Indian Hawthorns.  The Indian Hawthorns gave the front garden formality.  They have been replaced with looser, more informal and for the most part, deciduous shrubs.

Now my favorite bloomers, hydrangeas, occupy the beds where the Indian Hawthorns once crouched.  Hydrangea paniculatas come in many flower and shrub sizes.  ‘The Swan’, zones 3-8, is one of my favorites.  You must be patient to grow this beauty.  It can take up to five years for this ugly duckling to turn into a beautiful swan, but Oh!  The flowers.  ‘Big Daddy’ is another favorite with his huge flower heads, zones 6-9; and the hardy ‘Limelight’ and ‘Pinky Winky’, zones 3-9, are more favorites.  They all replace the sickly Indian Hawthorns, along with Weigela ‘Ghost’, zones 4-8, with its near-white foliage and bright red flowers, and white blossoming evergreen abelias, zones 6-9.

A winter garden is more than cloudy skies and rose hips.  The weather outside is not always frightful.  Count on spending some delightful work-free days in the winter garden.

 


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