Diggin' it: Surviving the offseason

The fragrance of wintersweet (Chimonanthus parecox) blossoms is reason enough to get out in the winter garden.

Grace Peterson
The fragrance of wintersweet (Chimonanthus parecox) blossoms is reason enough to get out in the winter garden.

Recently a gardening friend asked me, “How do you get through the winter months when we can’t be in the garden doing what we love?”

I daresay my response was more of a complaint disguised as an attempt at humor. “I know, right? All the rain and wind and leaves and mud ... Bleh.” But as I got to thinking about it, I realized how important my friend’s question was and is. How do we who love gardening make the most of this long winter downtime?

I remember several years ago when I had planned to use the week between Christmas and New Year’s to get my bulbs planted. When a foot of fresh powder put the kibosh on my plans, I realized that the only thing that really keeps me from gardening is snow, which is, thankfully, rare in these parts.

Since my friend’s question, I’ve been paying attention to the different ways I fill the gardening void in my own life. December’s holiday activities have kept me busy, but January offers a bit more free time. When weather and time permit, you can find me in the garden, attempting to ignore the drizzle and the mud, reminding myself that I’m much more than a fair-weather gardener.

My small ponds are full of leaves and dead plant material, so I really like to get rid of the goo and refresh them with clean water. It’s important to get this done before the newts and frogs lay their eggs; it won’t be long now.

There are a few errant branches on my star magnolia (Magnolia stellata) that need pruning and, now that the tree is leafless, it’s easier to see them. But I’m judicious because I don’t want to cut off too many latent flower buds. I will also trim down the English laurel hedge to keep it from getting too tall.

Because the soil is soft, I will straighten the leaning arbor that was impossible to do last summer when the soil was baked clay.

Finally, I make sure to admire my many winter-flowering plants: camellia, clematis, Daphne, Edgeworthia, hellebore, honeysuckle, iris, jasmine, Oregon grape, viburnum and wintersweet. It’s worthwhile to grow these winter lovelies for my own mood-boost but they’re also excellent sources of nectar for the resident Annas hummingbirds — entertainment in their own right.

When the weather is inhospitable, I find there are many ways indoors to get my gardening fix. Because I can never leave well enough alone, I’ve always got improvement projects going on in my head. For instance, when spring comes I’ll be moving plants that didn’t quite work in the spot they were in last year. Also, I’m thinking about installing a small creek in an area where there is a natural slope.

Now — before I reach for the shovel — is a good time to research and evaluate whether this is really feasible or just a pipe dream (pun intended).

There are lots of gardening blogs to get caught up on. It’s fun to see what other gardeners are doing in their respective landscapes. Gardening is one of the arts where it’s OK to steal ideas and copying is the best form of flattery. If I see something inspiring, I make a note of it.

It’s not just blogs. The internet is full of seed and plant nurseries to visit and most of them are already taking orders. If there is something I’ve been longing for but is always sold out, I will order it now.

Finally, one of the things I like to do is to look for garden art. I have found many cool treasures at thrift stores, estate sales and Craigslist. Searching during the off-season usually means the prices will be more affordable. It’s inspiring to me to have a new piece to add to the garden.

Cutline/photo credit: Photo by Grace Peterson

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