It’s easy to plant a garden you’ll enjoy looking at even when the cold, wet weather keeps you indoors.
BY MID-NOVEMBER, when darkness closes in early and the soil is soggy, gardeners are ready to come indoors for a respite. As welcome as it is to stay snug and warm inside, doesn’t it tear at your heart to lose the vital connection with your garden cultivated over a long season outdoors? Don’t you find yourself wondering which bulbs will push up first, if the hellebore you planted will be truly pink or perhaps more mauve, and what type of carrots you’ll sow come spring?
Despite weather-resistant furniture and al fresco pizza ovens, year-round outdoor living remains a dream rather than a reality in our climate. Once the rain sets in, it’s more of a charade than a comfort to huddle around a fire pit, or even beneath one of those tall outdoor heaters.
So, short of the martyrdom involved in booting up and going outside to rake leaves, how to enjoy your garden on one of those penetratingly miserable wet Seattle days when the thermometer hovers in the mid-30s and the wind blows out of the north?
Let’s face it — for the next few months you’ll mostly view your garden through glass. So make the most of it by framing scenes that’ll give you a flavor for what’s going on out there. Where do you most often sit or stand to look out? At your desk, the sink, couch or reading chair? Just outside those windows you could plant ribbons of evergreen grasses to watch the wind ripple through and toss them about. Intersperse with a carpeting of hellebores for color, with a few swordferns for height and spiky texture. As backdrop, plant a mountain ash so you can see the birds fighting over its buffet of berries, and a contorted filbert (Corylus avellana) that by late winter drips long, yellow catkins off its wildly twisted branches. The pale trunks of birch trees, planted in a little grove, shimmer in the winter gloom. Just remember to add night lighting to illuminate the scenes you create so that your garden will remain a living presence, a source of pleasure and beauty even during the long, dark evenings to come.
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Make the most of every minute you spend walking to and from the car, or taking out the garbage, by planting winter fragrance and color along your regular routes. A bed of vanilla-scented sweet box (Sarcococca spp.), next to the front porch is a mood-lifter come December.
Camellia sasanqua is an antidote to winter-flower-deprivation-syndrome with blooms as silky and pretty as summer roses. Espalier ‘Yuletide’ against the garage for bright red flowers in December; ‘White Doves’ has double white flowers that light up a dark day. The leaves are deep, shiny green, and the branches gracefully shaped, ideal for cutting and bringing indoors.
Early blooming cultivars of intensely fragrant witch hazel like Hamamelis mollis ‘Goldcrest’ or H. x intermedia ‘Jelena’, with coppery-colored flowers, will draw you outdoors for a close look at their spidery blossoms. And don’t forget a mahonia or two to attract our native Anna’s hummingbirds to your garden. Mahonia x media ‘Arthur Menzies’ blooms first, followed by Mahonia x media ‘Charity’. The glimpse of quivering little iridescent birds sipping from a spray of golden yellow flowers is the finest of winter miracles.