Frosted flowers

Cold-season gardens let you revel in the beauty of the chill.

Nov 29, 2000 at 12:00 am
Winter is the season for armchair gardening — those long, delicious hours spent poring over a seed catalog, imagining what you’ll plant next year and listing the varieties of vegetables and flowers you absolutely must order.

But even — or especially — when there’s a foot of snow on the ground, there’s no reason — or excuse — for just dreaming about those perfect gardens of tomorrow. As garden expert Steven Bradley points out in his new book, Winter Gardening, your own back yard can easily become a winter wonderland.

The key, of course, is to plan in advance. Right now will do, but then again, you can also plan for next year’s garden with this book. It’s a practical guide to winter-flowering plants (yes, there are some), a lesson in creating texture and shape in a garden, and (best of all, if you haven’t planned ahead) even a brief course in appreciating the fleeting perfection of a morning-frosted lawn.

Besides giving a practical how-to course, Bradley brings home the idea that winter gardening is about appreciating what isn’t there, and examining anew what is. With no messy leaves to get in the way, it becomes possible to fully admire the twisting branches of a contorted hazelnut or the unique textures of a paper-bark maple. A fall of snow emphasizes the patterns in your carefully planned knot garden, while a coating of frost brings new shimmer to the silvery needles of a blue spruce.

Of course, there’s still little as thrilling as seeing a flower boldly growing through the snow, bravely fending off the wind chill factors with bright color. Bradley offers a wide selection of suggestions for winter color (and even fragrance), from hellebores to snowdrops, to the richly perfumed wintersweet.

Also included are a group of easy, achievable projects, from building a new compost bin to cleaning tree trunks (go figure) that will give you the sense of garden accomplishment even when it’s almost too cold to be out there.

Then, perhaps most exciting is the prospect of bringing the garden indoors during the winter months. Bradley offers suggestions for seasonal plants — not just that tired old Christmas poinsettia, but pink-and-white flowered azaleas, sensuous amaryllis, fragrant cyclamen and even spring flowers, forced to bloom earlier than their outdoor cousins.

Because even if the only gardening you do all winter is in the comfort of your armchair, you’ll still enjoy the colors and fragrances — put your chair by a window overlooking that frosty yard and you may actually get a pang of regret when the snow starts to melt and the real work begins.

For more wintertime gardening ideas, read Force the Season, and learn how to bring spring to winter with a few fragrant bulbs.

Alisa Gordaneer is MT features editor. E-mail her at [email protected].