CAN YOU leave the garden be? Now that darkness lingers in the mornings and closes in early, we can slip into the slower rhythms of deep winter and recover from the buzz of spring and summer. The garden is resting, so why is it so hard for us to follow suit?
It’s time to respect the garden’s quietude and cultivate our own.
Greg Graves, co-owner of Old Goat Farm in Graham, Pierce County, and one of the hardest-working gardeners I know, says, “We live in a climate where we can garden year ’round, but why would we want to?” I take this as profound wisdom and also as an excuse to stay inside, guilt-free, on rainy, windy, dark days. Of which we’ll have plenty, unless this is the most unusual Northwest winter ever.
It’s transplants from the East Coast and Michigan (yes, Dan Hinkley, I’m thinking of you) that enthuse over winter gardening. Those who have endured harsher winters seem goaded to action by our milder weather. But, surely, even those from the most severe climates must eventually get over mucking around outside in January.
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It’s not that I don’t love my garden in winter, mess that it is. The ruffled flowers of Camellia sasanqua ‘Setsugekka’ glow white along the trellis. The light slants low through the garden, and on frosty mornings, even dying grasses appear freshly gilded. Robins, flickers and flocks of tiny chickadees rustle around in the duff on the garden floor. Skeletonized trees cast dramatic shadows when the sun breaks through the clouds. Austerity and decay have their attractions, especially when you know full well that beneath the soil, roots and bulbs are regenerating, preparing for spring. I duck outside between rainstorms and poke around looking for hellebore buds, cut bare branches and snippets of evergreens to bring indoors.
But that’s not gardening. It’s just inhaling fresh air while enjoying a brief and welcome connection with nature. For a sanity-saving plant fix, visit the fragrant witch hazels, blooming mahonia and colorful twig dogwoods going strong in the Witt Winter garden in the Washington Park Arboretum. The Seattle Japanese Garden in the Arboretum is an education in garden design when trees are bare, revealing elegance of line and form. Not the least of these gardens’ charms is that they’re beautifully cared for by others. You can stroll their paths, breathe in winter and return home with dry feet.
And there are so many good reasons to stay inside. Seed catalogs are arriving in the mail. Time to contemplate and to dream. There’s a gorgeous new book just out from Phaidon Press that is hefty enough to claim many happy hours by the fire. “The Gardener’s Garden” ($79.95) is a masterwork. Perusing this 470-page global survey of gardens past and present is like taking a course in garden history that brings you up to the present moment. You could spend the winter just looking at the photos, it’s that beautiful. You can have the pleasure of staying put, warm and cozy, while traveling the world of gardens, seeking inspiration for your own.
Believe me, plants and toil await you. March and April will be here soon enough. For now, we may as well enjoy the warmth of the house and the pleasure of looking out the window, the gardens in our imaginations and in the pages of books.
Valerie Easton is a Seattle freelance writer. Reach her at firstname.lastname@example.org.