A Stroll Thru the Garden in Winter

The Winter Garden

I know most of us don’t do much with our gardens at this time of year and I’m no exception. It’s cold and rainy out most days and not exactly great weather for gardening of any sort. There are still things to do that I haven’t gotten to yet and some clean up I have yet to follow thru on, as well as some pruning of big trees I’m putting off for a nice day. But mostly what I find myself doing these days is simply strolling thru the garden and appreciating it for what it is in this time of year.

You may think there’s not much to look at now but there are still so many things that catch my eye as I wander around the yard and follow the paths I’ve got winding thru the garden. The first thing I notice are all the colors that are in such abundance even in this dreary time. One thing that catches my eye first off is that the Cryptomeria “elegans” is slowly turning from its usual green to an incredible purple for winter. It’s not fully there yet but it stands out now and is clearly no longer a green tree. And it’s still soft and ‘pettable” too!

The Leucothoe is very striking with its purple and red leaves overlaying the green and yellow ones. Its arching branches make it stand out in the empty space around it. And it’s almost starting to set those bloom buds that are so attractive later on in the season. Across from it I spot the Winter Creeper, which, tho it’s not dramatic, has gentle shadings of reddish/purple in the margins of the leaves that you have to get close to in order to appreciate. So that’s what I do. I get close.

One plant I don’t get close to is the Oregon grape and it’s varieties I have. The blue berries that covered them earlier in the season have mostly been eaten by the birds and are gone now but the plants are still prickly like holly and are covered now with holiday lights instead of fruit. The nandinss planted among them are all turning a lovely shade of reddish purple and make the whole front of the house look pretty against the backdrop of the tall dark Pyramidallis arborvitae that screens the house from the street.

Of course the conifers are the backbone of many gardens and mine is no exception. Many of the dwarf confers that line the paths and are at the junctions of the walks and at corners of beds are really holding things together now. You may think of them as green when you think of evergreens, naturally, and most are, but some of mine, like the Baby Blue False Sawara cypress are bright blue as are the Blue Spruce and its cultivars, and the Blue Star juniper at one corner. The Snow false cypress is a whitish green and the Lutea Hinoki cypress is a nice golden color as is the globe arborvitae in front. And the Blue Pfitzer juniper is actually a beautiful greyish color.

The bed of Scotch Heathers is really pretty at this time of year. The dead flower buds still hang on the plants in profusion and carry with them a sense of the season. They may be drab, their colors faded, but that’s so appropriate for this time of year that they seem beautiful to me even in their faded glory. There’s beauty all over if you look for it I think.

Of the deciduous plants the creek dogwood and the Sango Kaku Japanese maple both have striking red branches this time of year and stand out from the grey around them. I can’t wait to see them in the snow! Next to the creek dogwood the swamp cypress is still valiantly  holding onto a few of it’s leaves. It’s the very last thing to lose them and it amazes me how long they stay on there.

The choke cherry on the other side of the dogwood is covered with its usually biter fruit, but I ate one today and it was actually sweet. I guess the cold does that to them. I leave them for the birds of course but maybe I should try making some syrup or something from them some year. That’s what they grow them for commercially in Russia where this variety comes from, tho it’s an eastern US native. The purple/black berries really stand out in the border.

As I say most of the plants have lost their leaves by now so it’s the buds I look at next. The Pieris, or Lily of the Valley shrubs are most notable now because they’re all starting to put on long racemes of buds in various colors from the white of the Little Heath to the red of the now deceased Valley Valentine to the pink of the Mountain Flame, which also has some new red leaves on it amazingly enough. They strike me as quite beautiful with their abundance of buds that will bloom in a few months but are preparing us now with their displays.

Of course the main things for buds are the big Rhododendrons. The Sappho and the Blue Peter both are literally covered with them and they’re mostly big fat bloom buds so this will be a good year for flowers from them. The Anna Rose Whitney is a little slower but still is shaping up to have quite a few flower buds on it in the midst of all the growth buds I see. The smaller Rhodies also have buds on them as does the giant Camellia japonica in the front corner of the yard. It’ll be amazing soon.

I also notice near the Rhodies the flower clusters of the Viburnum rhitidophyllum that are growing larger day by day and will be a full 5 or 6 inches across by the time they bloom in spring. They’re a dusky brown now but open to a creamy white. They set these buds out to show us even now of their future beauty. I had to prop this one up this year as it was getting to be over 6 ft tall and I guess the peaty soil wasn’t firm enough for it. Kinda scary but I think we fixed it OK.

It may be my imagination or not since I so love to see things develop, but I’d swear that several others of the plants are also putting on buds. I know for sure that the metasequoia is doing so since it started just after the leaves fell and they’re on there solidly now. But even the enkianthus are putting on what looks to be the new buds for spring already and the Ural False Spirea has fat green buds that may not be swelling yet but will be soon.

Next to it is a winter daphne and it really is putting on some growth now and it’ll be blooming in another month or two. It’s got big flower buds and growth buds both and it’s getting large. I may have to prune it gently this coming year to keep it safe. Last year the snow broke a branch but I duct taped it back together and it’s been fine ever since. Bet you didn’t know you could use duct tape for fixing plants too did you? (Just be careful to take it off soon…)

The Himalayan Sweet Box is already close to blooming now and its buds are swelling even as I write this. They’re so strong smelling that the one I planted by the front walk will carry its scent up to the doorway when we open it to come outside and it will great visitors with its lovely smell. I have a couple of these because they’re such tidy shiny evergreens and have such amazingly sweet smells that they impress everyone who even comes close to them. They’re great plants to welcome people to our home.

Well I think I’ve covered the most significant parts of the garden for you now. I hope this little tour was interesting to you and shows you how much there can be to see even in the drab days of winter. It won’t be long now till some things start to bloom, in fact my Charity Mahonia has been in bloom for weeks now, but things will really start up soon and I’m ready for it. It’s past the Solstice and the days are getting longer now and the plants can tell that even if we can’t so easily. It’ll be spring again before you know it, but why wait to enjoy your garden. Go out in it now and see what pleasures you can find on your own Winter Stroll!

Have a nice walk,



8 responses to this post.

  1. You are an artist, painting the picture of your garden with words…. Happy New Year to you !!!!!!!!!!



    • What a nice thing to say. Thank you so much for your kind words. They mean a lot to me you have no idea. I struggle with being an “artist’ all the time because landscaping is such a different sort of Art, but it is one and I’ve come to see it as that over the years. Thanks for your insights. And a Happy New Year to you too!!



  2. Yes. You are great !!! Thank you !!!



  3. 盛り上がってるのはメディア側だけ。



    • Thank you for your comment. I wish I could read it tho. Can you write back in English please? Thanks.



      • Posted by Jay Williams on December 30, 2012 at 12:32 am

        Not that the translation makes a lot of sense, Steve, but Google Translate sez it means: “The media have Moriaga~tsu only.”

        Oh, and HI, by the way! :b Just found your email from November and am very much enjoying the blog! More in a bit…

        Jay ~



        • Hi Jay – So nice to hear from you. Glad you’re enjoying the blog, and thanks for the translation. Doesn’t make any sense to me either but I always try to be polite about comments, Ya never know what they might mean… Got your other email and will answer it soon. Love to see you guys and a Happy Happy to you both! Wow. Glad I voted for it! More soon.



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