February, the shortest month of the year, can seem an eternity for a gardener. Here in the northeast, we are still about a month away from beginning any serious gardening chores. The vast array of seed catalogues has arrived at our doors, and we have moved from excitedly flipping through each, noting trusted old varietals and new and promising crops to try this season, back to waiting. Relief will eventually come, first in the form of seed starting for those newly purchased vegetable and bedding crops, then will come late winter pruning of fruit bearing and ornamental plants, then finally, temperatures will warm enough to begin working the soil.
Winter can seem an unproductive time, but for the gardener who is paying attention, it can be a valuable time to assess a landscape. Comprised of many components, a garden is built upon and is defined by its structural elements. Referred to also as the bones of a garden, structure might be found in an outbuilding, in stonework, sculpture, walkways and patios. Even plants themselves, can create structural elements; Trees provide ceiling, hedges act as walls, and individual plants act as specimens displaying architectural shapes and interesting growth habits.
Much structural elements of a garden lay hidden beneath foliage during the growing season, but now during the colder months, a garden’s bones are revealed as if by x-ray, enabling one to detect its balance, mass, and symmetry. Problems to any one of these elements can be quickly diagnosed, enabling the gardener to plan for changes to correct them. Walking the garden during the winter moths also gives a gardener an unobstructed view of the trunks and branches of deciduous plants, revealing damages or disease. There is much to find in the garden during the stark winter months.
There is also beauty. Experiencing a garden in winter can be a treat for the senses. The low arch of the sun casts long shadows that play with the bare branches against a snowy backdrop. Ice crystals form on every surface and backlit by the sun become like stars glistening in the sky. The frozen crunching of footsteps and the crackling of sap from nearby trees fill the air with song. If you have provided food and habitat for birds in your garden, then it will most likely be buzzing with activity, the brightly colored feathers acting as moving blossoms. Venture into the winter garden at night, especially on a full moon and it transforms into a surreal landscape. Never will you feel such a sensory connection to a place as a garden at night, be it winter or summer.
There is much to enjoy in a garden, and when planned for all seasons, the joy will last year round. Cast away your feelings of cabin fever, and shrub off the cold. Take stock in your outdoor surroundings, for at the very least, it will give you a new appreciation of your garden come spring!