Way to enjoy a garden in winter

Posted Jan. 08, 2010, at 5:13 p.m.

There was a brief moment, only for a few hours, when snow worked magic in Marjorie’s garden. It was early in the morning and early in the storm, the day before the big blow. I awoke to a landscape of stark contrasts, snow packed at the base of every angled deciduous branch, dark green fir boughs bending under their loads, brown sedum seed heads wearing gnomelike hats of white, clusters of golden seed capsules crowned in snow at the tips of enkianthus twigs, and the north-facing side of the old white pine’s trunk whitewashed with snow packed into its furrowed bark.

I was looking out on a mostly blank canvas. The lines of the garden beds were buried, along with most of the herbaceous plants and smaller shrubs. Plants that caught my eye, such as the enkianthus, did so because they offered contrast in color and texture to the whiteness. It is tempting to take credit for the sighting of the enkianthus, to say that we framed it with the fireside window for mornings such as this one, to pretend to have that much foresight. The truth of the matter is, sometimes you just get lucky.

Thoreau had the right idea. Winter days such as this one pull the gardener away from the fire and into the garden. Trying to stay on the invisible garden paths, I visited some of my favorite trees, the yellow birches with their shaggy honey-gold bark, a sight that always warms my heart even on a cloudy morning, and the old white pine. I wish we had planted a beech tree that would keep its dried paperlike leaves through the winter, leaves that give voice to the winter winds.

Wild turkey tracks came out of the woods and into the garden over an old canoe propped upside-down on cinder blocks. I found the snow shovel and soon cleared a few square yards to nearly bare ground, then threw down cracked corn, hoping the turkeys would check back later in the day. I shoveled out pathways to the bird feeders and a place for the dogs to do their business.

I found a few other excuses to stay in the garden, absorbed by the magic of the place, until the knees started hurting and I began to see the garden from Katharine White’s point of view. Not a hundred, but a sizable stack of garden catalogs have arrived in the mail over the holidays. When tramping through the snow is no longer fun, it’s time to sit in a rocker by the fire and repaint the canvas outside the window.

I leave you this week with another timely quote from an earnest gardener:

Send queries to Gardening Questions, P.O. Box 418, Ellsworth 04605, or to rmanley@shead.org. Include name, address and telephone number.

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