Archive for February, 2012

We use our gardening knowledge and experience to challenge ourselves to create gardens we can enjoy into late Autumn.  Then Winter arrives, most gardening activities come to an abrupt halt, and we become armchair gardeners, paging through seed catalogues and occasionally looking out the window to see if the birdfeeders need filling.  Maybe we should get up out of our cozy chairs, take a critical look at our Winter gardens, and consider how we can improve them to extend the gardening season even further by adding more Winter interest.
Spring, Summer, and Autumn gardens are relatively easy to plan and execute when compared to Winter gardens.   During the warmer seasons we spend most of our gardening hours, hands-on, drawing, digging, planting, weeding, mowing, and simply enjoying everything connected to being outdoors.  Winter changes all of that.  The drop in temperature alone presents gardeners with an extreme obstacle to overcome:  we don’t want to go outside into the cold.  And there aren’t any flowering or green leafy plants to enjoy.  But gardening and garden designing are not just warm weather endeavors.
Winter presents us with an opportunity to enjoy the overall structure of our gardens because there are no plants to distract us.  Think about how you can adjust your landscape canvas by adding various elements when the weather permits.  Adding trees, shrubs, and grasses with dramatic colors or interesting shapes clearly extend the garden season beyond Summer and into Autumn To make an easy transition into Winter interest, plant deciduous shrubs likecontorted filbert and red twig dogwood.   To take Winter interest even further, add evergreens such as hemlock, spruce, or pines.  To complement the plant material, add hardscape elements such as fences, sculpture, or fountains. 
To fully appreciate Winter gardening, we must engage our senses of sight, smell, touch, taste, and hearing with greater intensity.  To do this you must go outside and observe your gardens like you do in the other seasons.  Look around.  With shorter days and tree canopies gone, the lighting is very different.  Breathe in the cold, clean air.  Touch the shaggy bark on a deciduous tree.  Taste a snowflake or an icicle.  Listen to the rustling of tree limbs in the wind. 
Once you’ve engaged your Winter senses, identify a structural element that you enjoy observing from inside your home during the Winter months and begin to track it with the seasons The  structural element you choose can be a tree, stone bench, rose arbor, or fence.  Does the element complement or compete with the surrounding plant material?  Should the element be relocated or should plant material be rearranged to create a more harmonious design?  How can you design this space for optimum appeal year round when viewing it both from inside and outside your home?        
I track several structural elements in my gardens, but I particularly enjoy tracking the garden seasons around the cairn my husband and I built in my shade garden.   Cairn is a word of Scottish origin meaning literally a “heap of rocks.”  As you will see, this heap of rocks, a permanent sculpture in my garden, changes with the seasons.  
Color in the Spring shade garden abounds where Trillium, sweet woodruff, ferns, and ginger punctuate the foreground of the cairn.
Long blooming Cornus kousa dogwood adds a splash of color lasting several weeks in the Summer shade garden.
Golden leaves crunch underfoot while the shade garden foliage continues it’s show in the Autumn garden.
Obscured by a deep Winter snowfall, the cairn becomes a perfect cone rising out of the landscape. 
If you don’t include your Winter gardens in your ongoing design process, you’re missing a great opportunity to extend your gardening into another season.  

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Cup Plant

Dutchman’s breeches
Switch Grass

Native plants are defined as those that grew naturally in our area before plants from distance places were introduced.  In Michigan, native plants are plants that were here before Europeans settled in the 1700s.  The five reasons I choose native plants; wildflowers, shrubs, trees, and grasses, for my landscape are:

  1. Native plants are adapted to the local climate, soil condition and are easier to grow and generally require less water and less effort in pest control.  They help reduce mowing costs, conserve water, and protect the soil and by the reduced used of fertilizer and pesticides.
  2. By introducing natives into my landscape I have provided a habitat for birds, butterflies and other wildlife.  Local wildlife, birds and butterflies have a relationship with native plants. They rely on them for food, shelter and nesting.  Because of human activities such as urban development, native habitats are disappearing at an alarming rate.  Planting natives is one step in restoration of the ecosystem.
  3. Natives rarely become invasive and we all know how invasive introduced plants can be,  such as garlic mustard, Russian olive, and purple loosestrife just to name a few.  These aliens crowd out our natives and reduce biodiversity.   The use of natives can help reverse the trend of species loss.
  4. Natives require very little long-term maintenance if they are properly planted and once established.  Because they are adapted to a local region, they tend to resist damage from freezing, drought, and common diseases.
  5. Native plants can be as attractive as the introduced ornamentals. The truth is that many native plants have interesting forms and foliage with a variety of textures and shades of green.   The use of natives also helps preserve our cultural traditions. Historically natives have played a significant role in Native American culture.  Many have been used as food, medicine, and dyes.  Early settler also used natives for similar domestic purposes.

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