In the Garden:
Middle South
December, 2010
Regional Report

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Stripped of summer foliage, this allee of multi-trunked crepe myrtles and cobalt blue pots make a striking pair in the winter landscape.

Wonders of Winter

Though winter is just around the corner, I've returned home after weeks away to find autumn literally knocking at my door. A shocking number of leaves, blown into drifts against the house and even onto the porch, are testament to the vigor and industry of the mammoth hardwoods that tower over the garden.

Even more surprising, however, are the views beyond our private space that opened in my absence. Since my husband and I have only resided here for a short time, I had no inkling we would be able to see the river and hillside behind our property so clearly. Nearby homes and the changing sky are more visible too, and at night, lights twinkle in the distance.

I count myself lucky to live in a region with four distinct seasons and can't imagine anything less. In fact, I like the cool-season landscape as much as any other, perhaps more. Every year, I look forward to the quiet and repose winter brings, as well as its sophisticated palette of subdued colors. Where autumn's vibrant red, orange and gold recently dominated, gentle green and brown now rule. Even the tatters of spring and summer's prima donnas, such as alliums and hydrangeas, have faded to soft fawn, gray, purple or yellow.

Despite the cold, flashes of lively color still inject an occasional zing of excitement. Scarlet berries, orange rose hips, and stark white birch bark all grab the eye.

For now, though, I'm enchanted with the textures of bark that vary from tree to tree, the downy buds of deciduous magnolias, and the etchings of bare branches gliding across the garden as the sun makes its daily trek from east to west.

On especially cold mornings heavy frost highlights every detail, creating breathtaking effects. Some plants, such those that dry with feathery seed heads or flat clusters of flowers, seem custom made for this purpose.

Like Rosemary Verey, I've come to believe that winter is the absolute test of the true gardener. As the legendary English landscape designer wrote, "If your garden looks good in winter, you belong to a select band capable of bending nature to its will."

After the holidays are over, I'm looking forward to studying my new landscape in more detail. With summer annuals out of the picture and perennials reduced to twigs and stubble, it will be easy to see where improvements can be made in the garden's overall design, as well as among its supporting cast of trees and shrubs.

When time allows, I'll visit a few of my favorite public gardens too. There, new design ideas and fresh perspectives are always free for the taking and provide fodder for improvements at home.

I won't turn up my nose at a few days languishing by the fire either, especially if they can be spent with family and friends. But my happiest days, even when they require scarf and gloves, are always enjoyed in the garden.


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